The title of this entry comes not from me, but from Saint John Chrysostom’s homily at Matins. He is preaching on the parable of the wise and foolish virgins, Matthew 25:1-13.
Virginity then, being a thing in itself so great and so much esteemed among many, lest any man having attained unto it, and kept it undefiled, should think that he hath done all, and so leave the rest undone, the Lord putteth forth this parable, in order to show that if virginity, though it have all else, lack mercy, its owner will have his portion without among the fornicators, among whom Christ doth justly place the heartless and pitiless celibate.
Note the allusion to Matthew 23:23:
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites; because you tithe mint and anise and cummin and have left the weightier things of the law: judgment and mercy and faith. These things you ought to have done and not to leave those undone.
And to 1 Corinthians 1:2-3:
And if I should have prophecy and should know all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I should have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And if I should distribute all my goods to feed the poor, and if I should deliver my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.
Saint Chrysostom goes on to say:
The lust for bodies and the lust for money are two very different things, whereof the flesh is by far the keener and the stubborner appetite. They that strive with the weaker enemy are therefore much less excusable if they fall. Wherefore the Lord hath called such virgins “foolish,” for having first won the stern battle, and then been destroyed in the light one.
By the “lamps” spoken of in this parable, the Lord signifieth the actual gift of virginity and holy continency, and by the “oil” gentleness, almsgiving, and helpfulness toward the needy.
A haughty and coldhearted chastity is an affront to the King of Virgins. Purity of heart disposes one to receive the living flame of divine love, a love that manifests itself above all in mercy, in gentleness, and in humility.
In this regard, I cannot help but think of Father Lev Gillet — the “monk of the Eastern Church” — who synthesized in his very person a childlike purity and a boundless compassion in the face of every weakness and sin. In one of his dialogues with Our Lord, Father Lev hears Him say:
Take to thyself everything in the sinner which, however deviously, comes from Me and continues to be Mine. Discover in the midst of the visible impurities and egoisms the secret action of My absolute Purity, and of the generosity of Love. Unite thyself to My effort to transfigure what is not of Me. By thy brotherly prayer, by thy sympathy, not for the sin but for the sinner, join in My work of purification (In Thy Presence, p. 64).