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In his book The Arena, St. Ignatios (Brianchaninov) writes to male monks regarding their contact with women. Women need to heed these warnings as well, since we live in a time (rather, returning to a more blatant time) when women chase women as well. (cf. Romans 1:26). In Wendy Shalit’s book A Return to Modesty, Shalit says, “there was a time when the world was more ‘civilized’, it was when women practiced modesty, the reason for this was, … that men would then need to be gentlemen, because women honoured modesty“, with the Law of God. [cf. More Spirited Than Lions: Orthodox Response to Feminism and a Practical Guide to the Spiritual Life of Women and Feminism and Tradition: Quiet Reflections on Ordination and Communion]

Let no woman use this text as a “pretext” to judge, “the poor guys in the world,” thinking somehow women are ‘above’ nature (and impeccable), for as St. John Climacus (of the Ladder) says: “The good Lord shows His great care for us in that the shamelessness of the feminine sex is checked by shyness as with a sort bit (… and bridle). For if the woman (women) were to run after the man (men), no flesh would be saved.” [The Ladder of Divine Ascent – STEP 15:73]



by Saint Ignatios (Brianchaninov) of Bryansk

Our holy fathers, holy monks (et cetera) of all times, carefully guarded themselves from acquaintance with the opposite sex. Women were forbidden to enter men’s monasteries. This good and holy custom is maintained even now on the whole of Mount Athos. Monks who lived a especially attentive life guarded themselves with special care against acquaintance and meetings with women. This may be seen from the lives of Saints such as Arsenios the Great, Sisoes the Great, John the Silent and other fathers of the most sublime holiness. They acted ill this way not merely from self-will or personal choice, but because they discovered it was essential according to the guidance, which they read clearly as in a mirror in their attentive life. ( James 1: 22-27.)

Some monks (et cetera) say that, though they are often in the company of women, they feel no harm. We should not believe those monks (et cetera). Either they are not speaking the truth and are hiding their spiritual disorder, or they are leading a most inattentive and listless life and so cannot see their own state; or else the devil is robbing them by dulling their understanding and sense of harm, so as to make their monastic life fruitless and prepare them for eternal perdition.

Saint Isidore of Pelusium (Menology, Feb. 4th.) has shown superb discernment on this subject in his letter to Bishop Palladius: ‘If bad company corrupts good character and conduct’, (1 Cor. 15: 33.) as Scripture says, conversation with women does so in quite a special way. Even though the subject of conversation is good, yet its influence is such that it secretly corrupts the inner man with impure thoughts, and even if the body remains pure, the soul is defiled. As far as possible avoid conversations with women, good man. If you are obliged to have dealings with women, keep your eyes cast down, and teach those with whom you speak to look chastely.

Having said a few words to strengthen and enlighten their souls be off at once so as not to relax and weaken the vigour of your soul by a long conversation. You may say: ‘Though I often talk to women, yet no harm comes to me from it.’ Granted that it is so, yet I want all to be quite sure that stones are ground by water, and are broken up and worn away by the drops of rain that constantly fall on them. Just think! What is harder than stone, and what is softer than water, and especially drops of water? Yet nature is changed by the constant action. If such a hard nature is overcome, suffers and diminishes from contact with such a substance as water which is nothing in comparison with it, how can long habit fail to conquer and pervert the human will which is so easily shaken?’

Saint Seraphim of Sarov compared a monk living piously and guarding his chastity to an unlighted wax candle. And he said that a monk who had frequent dealings with women was like an unlighted candle when it is placed among many lighted candles. Then the unlighted candle begins to melt owing to the effect of the warmth emitted by the lighted candles standing round it. A monk’s heart, said the Saint, cannot fail to be weakened if he allows himself frequent association with women. (Instruction 9)

The union of the sexes in its essential form is natural (to fallen nature). Virginity is supranatural (above nature). Consequently, he who wishes to maintain his body in virginity must without fail keep it at a distance from that body with which nature requires that it should unite. The bodies of man and woman contain an invisible power that mutually attracts body to body. (The stomach ‘will take any food, yet some foods are better than others. Any woman is a mate for any man, yet some women are better than others.’ Ecclesiasticus 36: 18, 21.) The man who approaches a woman is inevitably subject to the influence of this power. The oftener the approach, the more it is augmented and therefore the stronger the influence. The stronger the influence, the weaker becomes our free will by which we resolve, with God’s help, to conquer nature. The figures of women, their glances, their voice, their tenderness and sweetness make a very strong impression on our souls by the action of nature, especially when satan co-operates with nature. At the actual time when we are keeping company with women and when the impressions are made, we may not feel it; but when we withdraw into solitude, then the impressions made on the soul rise up within it with extraordinary force and produce a severe conflict of lust.

Saint Jerome relates of himself that when he was living in Rome and. was frequently in the society of the pious ladies and maidens of the capital of the world, he did not feel the slightest lascivious movement either in his mind or in his body. But when the blessed man went to the Bethlehem desert and gave himself up to the strictest monastic exercises, then the figures of women he had seen ill Rome suddenly began to appear in his imagination. Then in his elderly body exhausted by thirst, fasting, vigils and labours, the lusts of youth made their appearance. Victory was very difficult to obtain because, as is usual in such cases, fallen nature was reinforced by the open collaboration of the devil. (Letter 22 to Eustochium)

What occurred with blessed Jerome occurs with all monks who pass from a social life to a life of silence. They learn from experience the importance of impressions, of which they have no idea so long as they live a life of distraction. All the impressions to which the soul was subject in the midst of human society rise up like dead men from their tombs in the heart of the solitary and urge him to commit sin in his thoughts and feelings, till by the mercy of God and by God’s decree all the hordes that came out of Egypt have fallen in the desert. Then a new generation of Israel enters the Promised Land. (Deut. 1: 35)

Pure souls that have had no experience of actual sin are subjected to the influence of impressions with special ease. They may be compared to expensive lacquered and varnished tables such as stand in the drawing-rooms of wealthy people. A little scratch on such a table becomes very noticeable and destroys its value. On the other hand, people who have not guarded themselves may be compared to kitchen tables on which vegetables and other provisions are daily chopped and cut up. A thousand new grooves or scratches mean nothing for such tables, which are covered with innumerable scores. A pure soul the devil tries to corrupt by means of carnal impressions or sensations. This explains why the holy fathers avoided women with such elaborate care. Saint Arsenios the Great said many hard words about the distinguished Roman lady who travelled all the way from magnificent Rome to the Egyptian desert on purpose to see him and suddenly appeared before him. The hard words of Arsenios consist in his hard but holy outspokenness: ‘I ask God: he said to the Roman lady, ‘to wipe the memory of you from my heart.’

By these words the Saint expressed all the burden and danger of the struggle with sensations, a struggle that can lead a monk to the gates of hell, and which Arsenios evidently knew from experience. In the same sense we must also understand the following words of Saint Makarios the Great:

‘The heat of a lighted lamp melts butter, and the fire of lust is stirred up by the company of women. A woman’s face is a cruel dart that inflicts a wound in the soul. If you wish to be pure, avoid the society of women like poison, because in their society there is a strong pull of sin, like the pull of ravenous beasts. It is not so dangerous to be near a fire as to be near a young woman. A void while you are young the turbulent action of impure passion and the society of women. Those who fill their stomach and at the same time hope to acquire purity are deceiving themselves. .More terrible is the shipwreck from the look of a beautiful face than shipwreck from a storm at sea. The face of a woman, if formed in the mind, will force one to neglect the very custody of the heart. Flame placed in straw will produce a fire; so impure passionate desire flares up from dallying with the remembrance of a woman.’ (Extract from a letter to monks.)

St. Makarios the Great could not have said this unless he had experienced the cruel struggle with impressions and sensations received unexpectedly in complete ignorance. Saint Tikhon of Voronezh has spoken very exactly and truly in his instructions to monks:

‘Beware of women, beloved, lest you get burned. Eve is always true to her character-she always tempts or entices.’ (8th Instruction to Monks, Tome 1)

An elder asked his disciple: ‘Why do the holy fathers forbid monks, especially young ones, even a short acquaintance with women?’ The disciple replied: ‘Lest by a brief acquaintance with a woman, a monk should fall into fornication with her.’

Elder: ‘Right! A fall into fornication is the crowning end. Brief acquaintance with women is forbidden a monk by the Holy Spirit.’

But this acquaintance, though it does not always end in a bodily fall, always leads to disorder and spiritual barrenness. A woman is guided by her feelings which are the feelings of fallen nature, and not by wisdom and spiritual understanding which are completely unknown to her. In a woman, the under standing is the servile tool of the feelings. Carried away by her feelings, she is very soon infected with passionate attachment, not only to a young monk and those of mature years, but even to an elder or old man-she makes him her idol, and then she usually becomes his idol. A woman sees perfection in her idol, endeavours to convince him of it, and always succeeds.

When a monk (et cetera) is infected with conceit and pride as a result of pernicious and incessant suggestions and praises, then the grace of God leaves him. Left to himself, his mind and heart become darkened, and in his blindness he becomes capable of the most senseless behaviour and a fearless disregard of all the commandments of God. When Delilah (Also spelt Dalida, Dalila) made the judge and ruler of Israel, the mighty Samson, sleep in her lap, then he lost the conditions whereby divine grace accompanied and co-operated with him, and she handed Samson over to the insults and tortures of the Philistines. ( Judges 16:4-21)

marina beating a demon sketchIt should be noted that a woman who has become acquainted for quite a short time with a monk (et cetera) living in a well-ordered monastery or receiving instruction from a spiritual elder considers it her first duty to draw her lover out of such a monastery and draw him away from his elder or spiritual father in spite of the obvious benefit to the monk of the strictness of the monastery and the instructions of the elder. She wants to have exclusive possession of the object of her passion. In her madness she regards herself as sufficient and able to take the place of the elder whom she considers and declares to be most inadequate and incapable. She will spare no means to attain her ends; neither means supplied by the world, nor means provided by satan. Her attachment or infatuation, and often even vicious passion, she calls a living faith, purest love, the feeling of a mother for her son, of a sister for her brother, of a daughter for her father; in a word, she gives it every holy appellation, trying in this way to keep in sacred inviolability her acquired possession — the unfortunate soul of the monk (et cetera) entrusted to her. In a woman blood prevails; it is in the blood that all the passions of the soul act with special power and subtlety, and pre-eminently vainglory, sensuality and cunning. The two first are protected by the last.

Here we are not in the least censuring or depreciating the female sex. It is honoured by God with the honour of the humanity and image of God, as also is the male sex. It is redeemed by the precious blood of the Saviour. Redeemed and renewed, it constitutes together with the male sex one new creature in Christ. (Gal. 3:28; 6:15.) Here women are represented as they are when they act according to the lawless laws of fallen nature, as prompted by their ungoverned blood. Having proved capable of expelling Adam from Paradise by means of lying and seduction, as Adam bore witness of his wife before God, (Gen. 3:12) even now they continue to display and evince this faculty, luring monks (et cetera!) who are subject to them from a pious life as from Paradise.

A monk (et cetera) is obliged to love all his neighbours, among whom also are women, with true evangelical love. He undoubtedly shows them this true love when, realizing his weakness and theirs, he guards himself and them from soul-destroying harm, and behaves in their regard with extreme caution, not allowing him self even a brief acquaintance, refraining from all familiarity, and guarding his senses, especially sight and touch.

[END — Chapter 42]

—St. Ignatios (Brianchaninov)

The devil is like a lion, hiding in ambush (1 Peter 5:8). He secretly sets out nets of unclean and unholy thoughts. So, it is necessary to break them off as soon as we notice them, by means of pious reflection and prayer.

—St. Serafim of Sarov

St. Seraphim of Sarov with bear