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Understanding the Apostle's teaching about celibacy and salvation

Choosing our lives with wisdom

choosing our lives with wisdom

Speaking of marriage and celibacy, Apostle Paul taught: "he who marries the virgin does right, but he who does not marry her does better." He also said, "It is good for the widow to stay unmarried." With immense sympathy for the Christians, he recognises the hardships of married life. He says: " if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. Nevertheless, such will have trouble in the flesh." They would have trouble because two people become one and submit to one another. Wives submit to their husbands in all things, and husbands should love their wives as their own bodies (Ephesians 5:22-29). And it is a choice for life! The apostles, for example, would be dismayed at the thought of adultery as a cause for divorce.

Saint John of the Ladder instructs us to exercise extreme caution in the choice of our spiritual father because he will be the person to whom we will submit. The bond between the spouses is equally strong, but they do not marry to share the sorrows, or the way of the cross but to experience the joys of marriage. Frequently, however, they become like enemies shackled together by the same chain. They care little to please God or another, but they expect others to please them! David the prophet prayed, "Let us fall into the hands of the Lord, for his mercy is great; but do not let me fall into human hands." (2 Kings 24:14).

Yet in marriage, there is the danger of falling into human hands. It exists even when one is married in the Lord to someone of the same faith. Many are only too eager to forget about their obligations, but remember about the obligations of the other toward them; they are too keen to insist that they fulfil their commitments. They appeal to divine authority to disguise their selfishness. To reach God through man is problematic. It is far easier to see the Divine providence in a storm or fire than in malicious abuse. Therefore, the Apostle recommends celibacy as the most direct route to salvation: "I am saying this for your good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord." (1 Corinthians 7:35).

But notice that Paul does not recommend celibacy as the only possible choice. He only says, "do like I do." He repeats, with reference to widows, "I wish that all of you were as I am". To those who wish to serve the Lord, he provides an example. Monastic life has always been a feat and sophisticated art to be learned. Most of the learning will be from the example of one's spiritual teacher. But what if someone who lives in celibacy cannot find that one person who would say to him, "do like I do"? And what if that person can offer nothing beyond book knowledge, inspiring pride and ambition but not the love of God? If that were the only example available, would not that make the way of celibacy even riskier than marriage? At least in marriage, we do not ask ourselves what to do: we know we need to make each other comfortable and raise our children; doing both with prayer and patience can bring us salvation.

So let us choose our lives with wisdom. We should be wise not to disregard the goodness and certainty of one way in favour of a path with many unknowns and uncertainties because we have no guidance. And even if we hear a calling, and meet someone ready to become our guide, we should still be astute enough to question ourselves: would it be worthwhile and salvific, and would we truly please God if that person said to us "Do like I do", and we listened?

Archpriest Vyacheslav Reznikov



August 01, 2022
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