We Russian Orthodox are well into the Great Lent, that challenging season preceding Easter, the Pascha.
O HOLY PASCHA MOST JOYFUL AND CONVIVIAL!
O VENERABLE PASCHA MOST TENDER AND JUDICIOUS!
O HALLOWED PASCHA MOST BLESSED AND CONGENIAL!
If, as Metropolitan Porfiry wrote, we faithful are defined by our renunciations, I wonder what my renunciations this season say about me. I’m avoiding alcohol, needless to say, as well as meat and dairy. But these are run-of-the-mill abstentions, and I’d be hard pressed to read moral heroism into them.
More important, I think, are my sexual renunciations. Tender lovemaking with Mother is “on hold” until Our Savior rises from the grave. During these weeks I’ll demand from Mother not even the “judicious deployment of the distaff hand,” to borrow a phrase from St. Justinian the Lesser’s great tract on marriage, “On Corporeal Harmony in the Eyes of God.” And while those of us who grew up here in the American heartland will be familiar with the demotic injunction that “eatin’ ain’t cheatin’,” I’ve also given up asking Mother for those oral attentions that are my due as patriarch—those attentions that Saint Porfiry of Pit-Gorodok calls (unfortunately the translation from Old Slavonic is clumsy) the “gumly nummings of the whorish muzzle.”
I’d like to think that these renunciations testify to strength of character on my part. Obviously I have nothing to brag about as compared to the great Orthodox martyrs, who gave up their lives, and in the most wonderfully masochistic ways. But I’ve proven something: that chastity is possible even in the super-sexualized postmodernity in which we believers toil, much as the early Christians toiled in the decadence of the late Roman imperium.
Just as interesting, I think, is the question of what other people’s renunciations say about them. In Daughter’s case, I’m happy to report, they proclaim something surprisingly fine indeed. Long and admittedly tense conversations with Father Nicodemus, Brother Aiden, and me in her bedroom over the course of a three-week period finally compelled Daughter to pledge unto the Logos a cessation of her own self-abuse this Lent.
“My child—Christ gave up even his life for us, dying on the Cross so that we might be saved,” Father Nicodemus cooed in his most convincing register, a reassuring hand on Daughter’s bare knee. “No doubt, child, you can ignore the temptations of your tender bud until that Paschal day when, it is written, He confounds death itself?” He thought a little, then added, “No, on second thought, wait until after that Paschal day.”
Daughter looked stricken, her eyes as wide as saucers as she stared at us from the corner of the bedroom, to which she’d repaired like a wounded animal conscious of its guilt (so to speak). And yet, when all was said and done, she acquiesced in the path of self-restraint, and faith, and virtue.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I sense Daughter’s distance from the values of her upbringing. I have the feeling that, upon fleeing our nest, she’ll assume the mores of whatever famous left-secular institution of higher sodomy she chooses to attend. (I should state here that she’s an exceptional student, and after a lot of deliberation, not to mention 14 years of homeschooling, Mother and I have decided to let her attend any college she wants, as long as the financial terms are favorable.) Still, in this instance she agreed to the renunciation to which we led her, and while I can’t be sure that she’s completely kept her promise to God (she gives fairly convincing answers in response to my queries each morning), striving is all, and I’m touched by what I choose to believe is her sincerity.
Meanwhile, it occurs to me that the handling of the penis itself would be a good thing to renounce during next year’s Lent. Urination could be effected by cradling the penis in a sort of sling, or hammock if you will, fashioned from toilet paper. After the act of urination, the penis could be lifted up and tucked back into the trousers with the aid of a used-up toilet paper roll, kept in the bathroom just for that purpose.
—Follow John Harris on Twitter: @PaleoConDiarist