What the Church Fathers say about Sex

Sts. Joachim & Anna (Conception of the Theotokos)

Sts. Joachim & Anna (Conception of the Theotokos)

The Church depends on Holy Scripture and Tradition for her teachings. Contributing to this Tradition are the writings of venerable “Fathers” and elders. These men of God present us with the living Faith of our ancestors-i.e., those who have gone before us in the sure knowledge of the truth, and secure for us a continuity with the early Church of the apostles and martyrs. In the most limited sense, the Fathers are identified with the first days Christianity. However, we cannot relegate the teachers of the Faith solely to the earliest era of Christianity. We must see the Fathers in the recent writing of “contemporaries”, even if they speak to us through the echoes of the last few centuries. To do otherwise would be too admit that the Holy Spirit lives in the Church and speaks to us this very day. “Harden no your hearts” and learn the truth of the Lord. “Fear not, here is your God, He comes to save you” [Isa 35:4].

It is obvious from reading the teachings of the Fathers of the Church that sex is a wondrous and beautiful gift from Almighty God. The proper use of human sexuality is called chastity, and the improper use of human sexuality is lust. Secular society today has completely lost the true meaning and inherent beauty of this gift from God. To the carnal man and woman, sex is a plaything, a cheap imitation of a precious jewel. However, “sexual freedom” demands self-control. Otherwise, it is not only tarnished, but brings sorrow and suffering to those who abuse the powerful emotions which surround this transforming gift of creation and personal sanctification.
-Matushka Susane Young

Quotes by the Holy Fathers on Sex/Lust:

“Sex is not evil; it is a gift from our God. But it can become a hindrance to someone who desires to devote all his strength to a life of prayer…Concerning sex, we must strive for self-control. St. Paul tells us to seek peace and sanctification, without which it is impossible to see the Lord. Let us pursue holiness, then, in order to attain the Kingdom of Heaven.” -St. John Chrysostom

“Only the lifeless are exempt from the battles of lust. We know, then, that the struggle of flesh and the spirit is extremely useful to us..to gain self-control and mastery over our desires.” -St. Cassian the monk

“Concerning your body, and the passions which afflict its members..reverence the honor with which God has dignified the body, and do not reduce it to the vile conditions of sinful lust.” -St. John Chrysostom

“Christians practice self-control and exercise continence, observe monogamy, guard chastity, and wipe out all injustice, destroying sin with its root.” – St. Theophilus of Antioch

“In the sixteenth year of the age of my flesh…, the madness of raging lust exercised its dominion over me (through sexual desire), and my invisible enemy trod me down and seduced me.
In my sexual involvements, I drew my shackles along with me, terrified to have them taken off me. What made me a slave to lust was the bait of satisfying and insatiable momentary urge.” -St. Augustine of Hippo

“Living a chaste Christian life is sometimes more difficult than suffering a martyr’s death.” -St. Mark the Ascetic

“Lustful stories and drawings set up market-places for immorality, and establish infamous opportunities for the young to practice every sort of corrupt please.” -Athenagoras (2nd cent. Athenian Christian philosopher)

“The princes of evil have blinded me with their passions and by their cunningness they have robbed me of the beauty of my youth. What can I do, now that I have lost my purity? I will cry out to Christ, that He might return my beauty to me- and then will the evil ones be ashamed.
My Savior cries out to me, to His disciple: do not despair of they salvation; I will restore thee and forgive thee thy sins. I have found thee and I will not leave thee; for I have redeemed thee with my very own Blood.
Cry out, O sinner, with all your might, and spare not your throat; for your Lord is merciful and loves those who repent. As soon as you return, your Father will come out aforehand to meet you. He will slaughter the fatted calf, clothe you in a fine robe, and rejoice in you.” -St. Ephraim the Syrian

3 Responses to “What the Church Fathers say about Sex”

  1. 1 mike October 8, 2009 at 10:42 pm

    I am 64 years old and have been happily married for 38 years. Yet, I have questions on the teachings of the church as it applies to human sexuality. As I understand the teachings of the church, the same rules (teachings) apply to a 13 year old as they do to a 24 year old that is engaged. Basically, if in a relationship one is aroused, (sin) is committed. Yet, if two people who are not engaged have no passion, do not arouse each other, then you have a serious problem in the years to come.

    Thus, I would like to reconcile my thinking. The teachings by the Fathers of the Church may appear to be thoughtful in the abstract, but realistically there appears to be some serious disconnects.

    I do understand the young people when they talk of “Catholic Guilt”. As much as I have studied Catholic theology, I cannot get comfortable with this aspect of the theology.

    I would appreciate some thoughtful feedback on this.

    Thank you.

  2. 2 Sabrina April 25, 2010 at 8:47 pm

    Yes, I know I’m a janie-come-lately here, but I still wanted to say I truly appreciated reading this. I am a Roman Catholic who is considering converting to Orthodoxy. I was looking for the icon and that’s how I found this entry. Very educational. I think I like how much more open the Orthodox are about discussing this topic than the Catholic Church. Looks like it gets right where we all live…whereas in Catholicism there’s a lot of denial still, and I can’t help but wonder if that’s what’s causing some of the problems in the church right now with the priests right now…and even with lay people. Anyway, I found the quotes interesting, particularly Athenagoras. Wonder what he’d think of all this stuff today in terms of movies, TV shows, music and how hypersexual they are?

  1. 1 What the Church Fathers say about Sex « Sowing Seeds of Orthodoxy Trackback on July 14, 2010 at 6:37 am

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St. Poemen the Great

"A man may seem to be silent, but if his heart is condemning others, he is babbling ceaselessly. But there may be another who talks from morning till night and yet he is truly silent, that is, he says nothing that is not profitable."

St. Gregory the Great

"Every day you provide your bodies with good to keep them from failing. In the same way your good works should be the daily nourishment of your hearts. Your bodies are fed with food and your spirits with good works. You aren't to deny your soul, which is going to live forever, what you grant to your body, which is going to die."

St. Paisius Velichkovsky

"Remember, O my soul, the terrible and frightful wonder: that your Creator for your sake became Man, and deigned to suffer for the sake of your salvation. His angels tremble, the Cherubim are terrified, the Seraphim are in fear, and all the heavenly powers ceaselessly give praise; and you, unfortunate soul, remain in laziness. At least from this time forth arise and do not put off, my beloved soul, holy repentance, contrition of heart and penance for your sins."

St. Tikhon of Zadonsk

“Prayer does not consist merely in standing and bowing your body or in reading written prayers….it is possible to pray at all times, in all places, with mind and spirit. You can lift up your mind and heart to God while walking, sitting, working, in a crowd and in solitude. His door is always open, unlike man’s. We can always say to Him in our hearts Lord , Lord have mercy.”

St. John of Kronstadt

The candles lit before the icons of the Theotokos are a symbol of the fact that She is the Mother of the Unapproachable Light, and also of Her most pure and burning love for God and Her love for mankind.

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