I recently read an article that intrigued me by its unusual title. In a world concerned only with war, crime and uncensored sensuality a title like "The purity Ball" captured my attention. So what is a purity ball? Its origins date back to 1998, when a group of evangelical Christians decided to do something to promote abstinence before marriage. So came the idea of the Purity ball where young girls, accompanied by their fathers make a public vow of preserving their purity until marriage. At their turns the dads commit to guarding their beloved pupils so nothing will harm their innocence.
Living aside the controversies around the true Christian nature of these balls and the clichéd nature of the fathers and daughters declarations of chastity, this initiative tries in its own eccentric way to address a growing problem in our society today: teen sexuality.
Looking at the alarming growth in the number of pregnant girls under 16 something indeed should be done. The schools have tried to do something dedicating an entire curriculum to teen sexual education. But instead of solving a problem they've created another one by trivializing the whole issue, focusing only on the safety side and less of the true education on the meaning of these acts. Simply promoting contraceptive devices is really not going to solve anything.
These kind of "educational" activities will be to no avail since the problem lays deeper into the decaying foundations of the society we live in. Rather than trying to quick-fix the issue at hand we need to go back to the fundamentals and reassess our baselines, trying to build again on a more solid base. We should try to be like the man "who built a house and dug deep and laid the foundation on a rock; and a flood occurring, the stream burst against that house and could not shake it; for it was founded on a rock" (Luke 6:48).
The only rock we can start building properly is the rock of faith, not just superficial and theoretical faith, but faith that permeates our whole being, body and soul, making us not only appreciate what faith is, but actually live our faith on an everyday basis.
The reason I bring the issue of purity today is that on August 15th we are going to celebrate the Dormition of the Theotokos, the Holy Virgin Mary. The troparyon of the feast reads like this: "In giving birth, you preserved your virginity! In falling asleep you did not forsake the world, O Theotokos! You were translated to life, O Mother of Life, and by your prayers you deliver our souls from death!"
The Mother of God is the very symbol of purity and chastity, giving birth and still remaining a virgin. This miracle that transcends time and matter still amazes the entire universe. But what is that amazes us, what is about purity that it needs to be preserved so dearly and not given away cheaply at a late night high school drinking party?
Virginity is a condition that once lost we cannot take it back because as the scriptures say: "the wife and the virgin are different. The unmarried woman cares for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit. But she who is married cares for the things of the world, how she may please her husband" (1 Corintians 7:34).
In purity there are no bounds to this world and its temptations, the body and the soul are free to roam with God in the Garden of Eden, uncluttered by the desires of the flesh. Once this is lost, man and women - doesn't matter if you're one or the other - loose their innocence and start being dragged down to the ground and there they live forgetting all about the splendor of paradise.
Virginity however is not only in flesh but also in the mind. Saint Basil the Great once said: "I have not known any woman, yet I am not a virgin anymore". Purity is not just about the act itself it is also about our attitude toward life and others. The Holy Theotokos being in the same time a Virgin and the Mother of our God is for us the perfect example of what our state of mind should be like. To bear and deliver a child and still be a virgin is a physical miracle that no one can imitate. But yet there is a way to be like her, to follow in her holy footsteps.
A perfect example is the Holy Martyress Thomaida who died defending the sanctity of her marriage. She married, according to the traditions of the time, at the age of 15 with a fisherman, also a Christian. But one day her father in-law, blinded by her beauty, wanted her, seeking to lead his daughter-in-law into sin. Refusing to subdue and abiding by the commandments of the Lord, Saint Thomaida received a martyr's death by the sword for her prudence and faith in the Lord.
This beautiful example of solid faith, extreme, as many will call it today, gives us a suggestion of what we are called for: being married and yet still keeping our purity. If we look carefully in this example we realize that marriage is not just about the body, is actually more about the spirit. In a world that considers adultery as something almost normal we should start realizing that the true purpose of marriage is not to indulge in the pleasure of the flesh, nor even to have kids at any price, but it is to enter in a redeeming relationship for the salvation of the souls of both the wife and the husband: together. Keeping this goal as a top priority will ensure the preservation of the purity of our bodies and souls.
All the other things that come in the wedding package, the marital relations, the kids etc. are additional blessings springing from the kindness of our Creator, but they should not be the sole purpose of our marriages. The union of Husband and wife is first in Christ: "a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two of them shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church" (Ephesians 5:31-32).
The Virgin Mary remained a virgin because she carried Christ in her womb until she gave birth and yet after she delivered Him she continued to carry Him into eternity on a spiritual level. God never left her because she never left God. Her faith was as strong when she entered into the temple as a little girl as it was when she was taken into heavens with her pure body at her Holy Dormition.
In the same way we can remain pure, married or not, if we keep Christ active in our lives, if we do everything to preserve the true goal of our marital relations. This is what the Lord and His Church bless in the Sacrament of Crowning, a wholesome relationship of both body and soul, in which the priority is salvation. Anything that falls outside of this goal is sin against the Lord because "the body is not for fornication, but for the Lord; and the Lord is for the body" (1 Corinthians 6:13).
Preserving our purity is therefore not just a matter of the body, it is also a matter of the soul; it is a state we should seek if we want to enter in the kingdom of heaven because we are warned: "Unless you are converted and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of Heaven" (Matthew 18:3).
Fr. Vasile Tudora pastors St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church in Euless, Texas.