An Encyclical by Saint Philaret the Confessor of New York
Our Lord Jesus Christ, instructing His disciples and apostles, imbued in them the necessity of observing purity of heart and thought. From the thought, and from the heart proceed our sinful impulses: But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart, says the Savior; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witnesses, blasphemies (Matt. 15:18-l9). Unclean impulses of the mind, and images, composed in the heart, are the origin of sin, and by themselves, as a manifestation of inclination towards it, poison both the heart and soul.
The Savior pointed to this with the following words: Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart (Matt. 5:27-28).
This law of the psycho-physical nature of man is well-known to contemporary perverters, who are consciously striving to corrupt our youth.
We remember how in Russia those who prepared the revolution, and then the communists, began the spiritual weakening of our nation by imbuing the youth with shamelessness and depravity. Special circles were organized for this, which spread contempt for the ordinary laws of morality. Such propagation of “free morals” which surrounds us is even greater, frequently being imbued even young children of school age.
In our days, as in pre-revolutionary times in Russia, this propagation has the definite goal of corrupting contemporary society. This is an old method. History is filled with examples of nations which perished from the dissemination of depravity. The Lord turned Sodom and Gorrrorrah to ashes. Babylon fell. The Roman Empire perished. The free West could be subjected to this same corruption–and then, with a weakened will, like a ripe fruit, it could fall into the hands of the communists. Not for nothing does this propagation of so-called “free love” and the fight with the sense of shame come specifically from them, for the sense of shame is a person’s first defense against moral downfall. On the contrary, every contact, even a small one, with vice, already brings disease into our heart and poisons it. Can a man take fire in his bosom, and his clothes not be burned? (Prov. 6:27).
But the burning coals of shamelessness and dissoluteness are widely spilled about us. Slighting their murderous nature, under the influence of so-called “sex”, many gather them and are burned by them.
What do we see in the life which surrounds us? Indecency and shamelessness in clothing; shameless kisses and embraces on the streets and in public places; shameless advertisements, pictures, photographs, and depictions in magazines; insane, filthy, repulsive pornographic literature. … All of this dissoluteness and perversion pours into life in a wide wave. In truth there is no less shamelessness now, if not more, than in the time of pagans, when the holy apostles and their successors had to exhort Christians with especial zeal in the observance of modesty.
Man’s nature is such that in the sins of the flesh, the active role belongs on the one hand to the male sex, while on the other — is evoked in him by the temptation which comes from women. Because of this, Christian cultures everywhere established customs which helped the preservation of good morals, as well as modest dress for women, so that the exposure of the latter should not evoke sinful thoughts and tempting inclinations in anyone. The higher the spiritual culture, the more modest was the dress of’ the women.
Modesty in dress is our first line of defense. It must guard the purity of women and keep men from the temptation of sinful inclinations.
Meanwhile, the evocation of specifically these feelings is the goal of that half-nudity which characterizes contemporary fashion, reaching, incidentally, almost total nudity in the shameless exposure on the beaches.
What was peculiar before to fallen women, who, in the plying of their low trade dressed provokingly with the goal of evoking sensuality in men, is now becoming the mode and norm for clean maidens, in many cases not taking into account the meaning and consequences of this fashion which enslaves them.
If the raising high of the hem of a dress, or the sharp emphasizing of the contours of the body, contradicts modesty, which generally should adorn Christian maidens and women — then even more unbecoming is the appearance of them in such dress in the temple of God. Respect for it must be shown first. of all in modesty of dress. Not for nothing, until recent times, many heterodox churches demanded that women entering them cover their heads and shoulders, if their dress was too revealing. In this is expressed chaste veneration of something holy and the aspiration that nothing openly sinful and tempting for our neighbors be brought into the House of God.
With these elucidations, in concordance with the decision of the Synod of Bishops, we now turn to our God-loving flock, in which the pastors and elder representatives of it must take upon themselves the responsibility of reminding the young people that they cease to trample the laws of natural modesty in their following of contemporary fashions.
The duty of teaching modesty to youth lies especially with the parents who themselves must show an example in this, and persistently explain to their children the sinfulness of contemporary shamelessness.
We know that the fight against sin, which surrounds us from all sides, is not an easy matter. The path of salvation is made narrower in proportion to the intensification in the world of evil and apostasy. But the ancient. pagan world which surrounded the handful of the first Christians was no less corrupt. These latter, however, did not accede to the temptations of the pagan modes, even as some now do not accede to contemporary temptations.
The virtue and modesty of Christian women was one of the phenomena which conquered the pagan world. Now, when infidelity and the corruption accompanying it are renewed with new strength, our professing of the faith is demanded with especial force, not only in dogmatic teaching, but in everyday life, remembering the call of our Savior, Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven (Matt. 5:16).
The Holy Apostle Paul in his epistle to the Philippians (i.e. to the Christians living in the large city of Philippi) wrote that they shone as lights in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation (Phil. 2:15). A lofty spiritual disposition and irreproachably clean, strictly chaste life-these were the characteristic traits of the Philippian Christians, for which the Apostle praised them. We live in later times; nineteen centuries separate us from those days in which the Apostle Paul wrote his epistles. But now, just, as the Christians of the first centuries, we are encircled by an environment full of shamelessness and perversion. May the high and holy example of the pure and chaste life of the ancient Christians teach us to be as steadfast. and firm in the observance of the laws of Christian morals, and not accede to the temptations which surround us.
May the blessing of God be upon you all.
+ Metropolitan PHILARET