This article is a late answer to a very much discussed question a writer – doctor put : How can one live in abstinence without deranging himself, since medicine has proven a long time that the cause of many mental and even organic diseases is most of the time the sexual dissatisfaction ?. The organism needs the sexual activity as much as food or air. Man is part of nature and he submits the laws of nature , that is why bending ? them cannot be without destructive consequences.
The classic reasoning that everybody knows about. Nothing one can say against this sensible description that has been demonstrated by the so long a practice of medicine. We read about it in the magazines, we hear about it on TV, We learn about it in school.
We are bombed from all over the place by advertisements of all kinds: “ Do it this many times a day and you will be more beautiful! Those who this and that don’t grow old! ”. And so on.
We all know the looks of an abstinent person . He has pimples on the face, he is nervous, even hysterical , he is tyrannized by fantasies who give him a sullen look, in one word, he is a cradle of complexes.
It is difficult to use this argument when you present it to a young monk who does not show any of these symptoms. Male and female monks are in an overwhelming rate extremely beautiful people , first of all physically, people happy to be alive, and secondly embellished by an unusual sensitivity.
“ Never mind! We know, they have their own women, in the worst case they are all homosexuals!”
I wouldn’t want to argue a so spread an opinion about monks and neither will I defend the right of the monasticism to exist .I want to attend shortly and precisely to what is real. It is sure that monasticism exists, weather it infringes or not the laws of nature. This is the reason my answer is not a defense, but a story about a phenomenon that has been with us for 2000 years, gracefully overtaking the laws of biology.
Yes, man has instincts, Freud is right. So is Darwin, to a certain extent. Man is slave to these instincts and he satisfies them with animal appetite. I personally saw people deranged because of sexual dissatisfaction, women with hairy necks and lustful eyes. All this is true and I have no reason to contradict the medical point of view. To support the tradition of our Church I need not destroy scientific truths. On the contrary, I will use them in my argumentation because they are also my truths.
Indeed, if we cast God away from the Universe, as Darwin and Freud did, if we consider death the limit of human life , then man is a simple rational animal, who is born, grows, has descendants and dies. A healthy member of the species must carry out all these commandments , he must be a link between generations. In this picture, monks and the abstinent are dead links, parasites who ruin the natural harmony.
The man raised in this limited space, tyrannized by the imminence of death, the man who sees only sick and old people has reason to rely on this theory. He knows he was born, he watched himself grow, he sees himself taken over by organic impulses and therefore believes.
It is faith that determines the reactions and the state of man.
Freud knew it very well when applying his method of plunging into the patient’s past. He needed the memories and obsessions of his patient to devise for him a story that was good enough to believe! Out of these images and obsessions – that for the patient may have not even been related, Freud put together a creed. The creed was the easier to accept the more it consisted of very familiar but also very mysterious elements. This way, the patient regained coherence of thinking, and coherence made him healthy.
There are in a man’s life familiar things, new things, some of them pleasant, some unpleasant and shocking things. All depends on the tradition in which one was educated. Education determines to quite an extent not only mental reactions, but also the organic ones. For example, there comes to mind a story told by friends who worked somewhere in Astrahan cutting trees. It is known that locals eat dogs. They happened to be at a supper where they ate their fill, without knowing what they ate and, of course, liked it. It is just that when they were told what they had eaten, they ran outside and threw everything up. Their organism had taken the food in, but their mind, because of their education, expulsed it furiously, breaking the natural necessity the body felt.
The same happens in case of sexual necessity. A man educated in a society that is Freudian par excellence – such as ours, is natural to feel the symptoms described by the Viennese scientist.
The causes of the metabolic disfunctionalities that the abstinent described by Freud and postfreudian medicine experiences are not necessarily organic, but first of psychical .I personally met and I am still meeting persons with emotional problems who were recommended by doctors to lead a more intense sexual life . But they didn’t get to lose their neck hair, or get rid of their depressions, nor improve their relationships with others. On the contrary, after coming to sell things and gold from the house and giving money away to neighborhood teenagers “ for the treatment”, somebody I knew ended up killing herself. I think there are many ending up this way, I don’t have statistical results.
The atheist doctors’ belief in this hypothesis of sexual healing has been dreadfully exaggerated, al least in Romania. I know very well that in mental hospitals patients are released so they could mate like animals, and after a while surgeons come and perform abortions on the poor female patients. I wonder weather this method of treatment is more “human” than monasticism.
It is not the lack of coitus and the seminal deposits that put the patient to misery, but the lack of affectivity. Freud also took notice that the alienated melancholic masturbate a lot, so one way or the other, they fulfill their physiological needs. Nevertheless, this does not awaken their vitality and does not cure their diseases. If a temporary amelioration after this type of treatment was noticed ( I know doctors create couples of patients ), there must be that the poor people, humiliated this way, may have united their souls , beyond this animal- like, saddening seminal discharge, there is to say they must have known love, as much as made possible for them.
In order to understand the paradox of the fortunate abstinence of monks one must separate the world in two. There is the Freudian space – in which the contemporary society dwells and there is the Christ’s space, in which all saints have been dwelling since the beginning of time until the end of it.
Freudian space is limited – on one side , by the mystery of birth and on the other by the absurd, imminent death. Inside this morbid arch man has very few pleasures at hand, in exchange has lots of phobias ; fear of death, fear of malady, fear of growing old, fear of poverty, fear of loneliness.
From this perspective, a man’s life is a painful absurdity that he is compelled to transform into something beautiful. That is why man is bound to any opportunity for pleasure life offers him : sexual pleasure, the most powerful of them , the pleasure to create beautiful objects, the pleasure of knowledge, even the trivial pleasure of eating well.
From this respect, the evolution of Greek hedonism is interesting as explained by scientists like Mircea Eliade or Walter Otto . Greeks were not a non – religious people, they were not unaware of immortality or the intervention of supernatural forces. It is just that gods whom Greeks believed in were not philanthropic , they felt no compassion for the suffering of men and did not support them. On the contrary, when Prometheus , a minor god, wanted to bring fire to men, Zeus punished him severely , tying him up to a rock where vultures would chop his leaver that grew back over night to be devoured forever. These men filled with despair – amplified by their belief in an unchangeable destiny, at the end of which the flames of Hades awaited, ,decide to experience pleasure here, on earth. So the theaters, Dionysus’s orgies , Olympic games increased.
The Freudian man, who is anybody who watches TV with delight, has even more reasons than Greeks to demand his right to pleasure. After being born against his will, man is thrown in a world full of injustice, is compelled to do things he doesn’t like and eventually grows old and die.
The most powerful pleasure towards which man aspired since childhood , according to Freud’s opinion – without reasonable doubt, appears to man as a liberating oasis. This is sexual pleasure, adorned with the garlands of a minor mysticism – in the best case , like some oriental beliefs.
This pleasure becomes purpose and an evaluation criterion. A man is more of a man if surrounded by women and a woman more of a woman if surrounded by men. In one word, to live means to satisfy your physiological needs.
It is natural that the young man who has no access to these pleasures for various reasons feel unfulfilled, a waste. This state is bothering him and plunges him into the hell of melancholy and inutility. He creates o world of hidden thoughts in which he is a hero, had a motorcycle and money. He is never at rest, faces of mermaids take him out of the troubled waters of his imagination to the black shores of illness.
Here is the cause of Freud’s falling ill : the sensation of one’s inutility and failure, while threatened by the intransigent death closing in, and not at all the trivial unsatisfying of physiological needs.
Monks do not suffer any of these complexes. Their universe is configured differently. Monks are truly dead, that is to say they lost consciousness of the past or the future, they have only the present, a moment long present. Beyond this moment eternity begins .
Being out of this world, having the immutable belief that the earth is just a rented hotel room he will soon desert, the monk leads a rather out of body life as Saint Paul the Apostle wrote: “ But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the spirit is life because of righteousness”. ” For the law of the Spirit of life has freed me in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and of death” . “So then, brothers, we are debtors not to the flesh to live according to the flesh” (Romans 8.10,2,12.) Lodging, food and all his occupations represent and nourish this way of living called “angelic”.
In order to stop caring for the body, monks don’t even cut their hair or beard and oldtime ascetics did not wash their bodies – and so are doing many monks from Athos and from monasteries that are not open for public. According to monastic rules, monks sleep dressed with the same clothes they wear during the day ( or at least with the same type of clothes – the monachal clothes) , leather belts tied around their waists, like slodiers always ready to die. This helps them get rid of the obsession for the body and its necessities..
The unfaithful always mocked the non-hygienic conditions of Christian ascetic way of living. Soviet atheists used very seriously this aspect in their lectures as to prove the inhumanity of Christian religion that dishonours the dignity of man in the name of an absurd and sadistic God who enjoys the humiliation of his creature. How many of those have ever had the opportunity of knowing or at least seeing a true ascetic?
The bodies of these man don’t exhale the unpleasant smell of filth , as they should. I personally had the joy of living by the side of such a holy oldman , 93 years of age and I can share this with you. A trustworthy monk ( who is a graduate of the Faculty of Medicine of Bucharest) told me about another “unwashed” oldman of the kind from a Romanian monastery, whose hand he kissed and smelled like roses. He was not a monk at the time, and he said he was’t too keen on kissing it, as he stood tousled in a cell full of spiders, especially since he was not a priest , but a deacon. After leaving the room he asked the friend who brought him along ( who also became a monk) if they had given the oldman a bath, since he smelled so sweet. He was told the oldman had not taken a bath in ten years. The oldman weighed so heavily that he brought rain at drought time with his prayers.
The active passions make a body stink and exhale the scent of death. The body divinized by the gift of the Holy Spirit may spread an unnatural perfume, the same we experience in the closeness of the holy relics If bodies that have been dead for hundreads of years, others for two thousands – like those of the Saints smell so sweet there is no wonder they smell the same while alive.
To make myself understood, I am going to use an example more familiar and easy to verify. The slaughterers of pigs, bulls and whethers know very well that the males marked for sacrifice must be castrated a while before to spare the meat of the charasteristic odour. This odour is not a consequence of the filth of the animal, but the result of hormone activity. The men who had cleansed themselves of passions and smothered in themselves any desire or bodily interior motion , the holy monks we I speak about, spared their bodies of the stink of instincts that others cannot remove with the aid of the most expensive soaps and perfumes.
The monk’s central preoccupation is putting an end to fancy, to any human imagination, even of rigtheous subjects, in order to make way to the gift of the Holy Spirit. Therefore a monk advanced in virtue practically has no personal desires, it is no longer he who lives, but it is Christ who lives in him ( Galatians 2:20)., like one who has no past nor future, only the premonition of eternity, better said, lives eternity.
Under these conditions, the abstinent for Christ are protected of the factors that can cause organic and psychologic damages. Fantasies that entertain and amplify the Freud man’s suffering, as far as Christians are concerned, are either totaly missing or last shortly and so are unable to divert the will from its main goal which is Christ.
In order to put a perfect end to fancy, the orthodox ascetic tradition , unlike the catholic one, forbids any attempt to imagine even the aparently divine subjects like The Judgement Day, Christ on the throne or Christ hanging on the Cross.” He who sees nothing when he prays, sees God” , said Saint Simeon the New Theologian. With the aid of this uninterrupted practise and the participation of the Holy Spirit, the ascetic comes to the point where he no longer dreams, which means he is able to control even the subconscious motions during sleep. It is understood the reason such a man controls very easily the so brutal the impulses of lust, perfectly ending them.
The struggle of passions is not done however and by whomever. On the contrary, very few, even among monks, reach the level described above. The ascetic is first of all an expert of the human soul, a great psychologist and even psychiater. In order to gain this knowledge he studies treatises of astonishing preciseness his predecessors wrote, which are included in The Philocalia ( an encyclopedia of monastery life) and other works. Therefore no ignorant novice cannot penetrate and maintain himself in this dangerous space of virginity for Christ; this is proved by the many who have gone insane because they carried this fight without skilful masters – I mean especially the lay who attempt to imitate monks after reading without proper guidance the works easy to find today. Indeed, there are many among them in sorrow, cruely tormented by melancholy and irritability, which are the inevitable fruits of lust. But this doesn’t occur because virginity is impossible, but because they practise it wrongly, pray incorrectly and high – mindedly think they are doing something important. Therefore God takes away His gift, apart from Which we can do nothing ( John 15,5) leaving the man by himself with his wretched weapons against the irrational fury of this monstrous passion.
Man cannot stand alone to this furios ocean, cause love is as tough as death, and jealousy as horrid as hell ( The Songs of Songs). Therefore it is not easy to explain the phenomenon of joyous abstinence to the unfaithful who cannot accept the work of the Holy Spirit within man. The ascetis has the organic and psychologic configuration of any oyher man, so he is vulnerable. But he is protected as if under a bell by the gift of the Holy Spirit. All his refraining efforts are meant to prevent the desertion of the gift once he has earned it. More precisely, the refraining are meant to gain lowliness that God shall not persecute ( Ps 50)