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An Answer to a Question About Sexual Abstinence During Fasting Periods

Webmaster Note: This letter was in response to a clergyman who wrote Archbishop Chrysostomos to solicit his comments about those Orthodox who dismiss this tradition or who demand proof from Holy Tradition that this practice is required of the faithful.

Dear Father _________:

Evlogeite.

...Scripture establishes well the practice of fasting from the flesh (both in the Old and New Testaments). So do the ancient texts of the Church. If these people who question abstinence would read the lives of the Saints and the Fathers, they would understand that, in challenging us for adhering to the Faith, they show their own utter lack of understanding of what they claim to believe. How can anyone have the gall to challenge Church customs without reading such basic discourses as those by St. John Chrysostomos, who, in his "On Virginity," clearly states that married couples should abstain from marital relations when fasting? In times past, a simple, uneducated village Priest would have been as familiar with this advice from one of the Great Hierarchs of the Church as he would have been with St. Paul’s statements on the subject in his First Epistle to the Church in Corinth or the similar words of the Prophet Joel. And one would be hard-pressed to argue that the witness of St. John Chrysostomos is somehow not ancient.

Since they have also rejected our argument about the inspired and sacred nature of the Holy Canons, many modernists also ignore the canonical witness of Orthodoxy (when they are not using it in a legalistic way to justify their deviation from Holy Tradition). Hence, while it may be of little use in confronting those who war with Orthodoxy in the name of the Faith, you should note the canonical data in support of the ancient practice of fasting from the flesh: the commentary and notes on the sixty-ninth Apostolic Canon, which contain very enlightening and informative statements about fasting in general; the thirteenth Canon of St. Timothy, which, addressing fasting from the flesh on Saturday and Sunday, dates to the fourth century; regarding the clergy in particular, the commentary and notes to the thirteenth canon of the Sixth Œcumenical Synod; and any of the major canonical commentaries (such as those of Balsamon) that anyone daring to criticize the Church should at least have read thoroughly and carefully.

I might just say, from the standpoint of Church practice, to show how silly the contention over this matter truly is, that it stands to reason that the prohibition of marriages on Wednesday and Friday and during fasts is not unrelated to the issue of abstinence from the flesh by married couples. This point is so self-evident as to be embarrassing. As for those who cannot practice abstinence for short periods, this is often a sign of sexual maladjustment. Hence, one must admittedly consider this entire matter from the standpoint of pastoral considerations, too. Most modernists, in trying to remove the ascetic dimensions of the Faith, conveniently ignore the fact that we traditionalists are not legalists, but that our traditionalism stems from the pastorally-wise application of Church rules and regulations. This point is lost on those who wish, not to understand, but to abolish what has been handed down to us.

I ask for your prayers and remain, with brotherly and paternal affection,

The Least Among Monks,

Archbishop Chrysostomos