This is part of a series of articles on pursuing virtue. There are many virtues that Orthodox Christians should be working to attain in our own lives, while also teaching our Sunday Church School students to pursue them, as well. We have chosen to focus on the seven capital virtues mentioned in “the Pocket Prayer Book for Orthodox Christians.” As the book mentions, each virtue is the positive counterpart of a grievous sin. In order for us to help ourselves and our students to grow in theosis, we must learn to not only resist and repent from those sins, but we must also learn to desire and labor to attain the virtues. May the Lord have mercy on us and on our students as together we pursue these virtues!
How can we possibly teach our Sunday Church School students about chastity? The word itself has connotations that can be awkward to discuss in Sunday Church School! Yet it is an important virtue, that we all – our students included – must pursue! If we dig into the word a little deeper than its one definition of sexual purity, we find that it is so much more than that. We need to help our students learn about all of the definitions of chastity!
We may need to begin by identifying the actual meaning of the word chastity. Merriam Webster.com has a great “student” definition of the word: “the quality or state of being pure in thought and act.” This definition is quite Sunday-Church-School-friendly! Such purity is a lofty pursuit, but it is how we should live our lives as Orthodox Christians! We must find a way to teach our students to live in this way!
So, how can we teach our students to be pure in thought and act? St. John Chrysostom suggests teaching the Psalms to children as part of leading them toward chastity. “Teach him to sing those psalms which are so full of love of wisdom; as at once concerning chastity or rather, before all, of not companying with the wicked, …of companying the good, (and these subjects thou wilt find there in abundance,) of restraining the belly, of restraining the hand, of refraining from excess, of not overreaching; that money is nothing nor glory, and other things such like. …When in these thou hast led him on from childhood, by little and little thou wilt lead him forward even to the higher things.”
So, let us consider using an object lesson with our students based on St. John’s words of wisdom. For this lesson, we will need a clear quart jar, an electric candle, a variety of items that relate to St. John’s quote (see below), and either the Psalter or a Bible with certain Psalms marked for reading.
Begin your class with a discussion of what the students think chastity is. Write the word on the board or a large piece of paper, where everyone can see it. After a brief discussion, introduce the Merriam-Webster definition mentioned above and discuss what that means. Then tell your students you have a little demonstration that may help them see what it means to be chaste. We will base this demonstration on St. John Chrysostom’s quote mentioned above.
Set up the candle, and turn it on. Tell the students that this candle represents God’s light. Cover the candle with the clear quart jar. This jar represents each of us: we are, by God’s grace, created to be a dwelling place for the Light of Christ. Turn off the lights in the room if possible and note how the light shines through the clear jar. This is the kind of purity in which we should live! This is our goal, how we were created to be living.
Turn the lights back on, and then talk about what happens to all of us in life: how we embrace other things, making them more important to us than God is, and demonstrate the effect of those choices in this way, using St. John Chrysostom’s words as a guide. (Remember, his statement tells us how to teach children to live chastely, and we want to demonstrate the effects of the opposite, so we will demonstrate the effect of the OPPOSITE of his words):
“not companying with the wicked” – if we keep company with others who do not follow or love God, and make them so important in our life that we do not love God or serve Him as we should, it will block some of the Light in our life (demonstrate by putting some magazine pictures of movie or sports stars, mounted on dark paper for added light-blocking, into the jar around the light)
“restraining the belly” – if we eat too much or make food or other bodily pleasures gods in our life, our purity will be affected (demonstrate by adding some small plastic toy foods or magazine pictures of foods into the jar)
“restraining the hand” – if we do things that we are not supposed to be doing, we will not be chaste (add words like “hate,” “steal,” “hurt others,” etc., written on pieces of black paper with a gel pen)
“refraining from excess” – if we gather too much stuff that we don’t need or spend our time or money on unnecessary things, we lose some of our purity (add to the jar small toys including a car, a small animal, a small doll, anything that will represent things kids and adults may gather in unnecessary excess)
“not overreaching” – overreaching is defined by Merriam-Webster as “to get the better of, especially in dealing and bargaining and typically by unscrupulous or crafty methods”. Demonstrate this by adding words like “lie,” “cheat,” and “being unfair,” also written on dark paper. (You could also stuff in some cards or other game pieces or other things that represent ways kids would be tempted to overreach.)
“money is nothing nor glory” – things that our culture celebrates and reaches to attain, such as money and glory, cloud our purity as we pursue them. Demonstrate this by stuffing money, sunglasses and/or jewelry into the jar.
“other things” – What have we missed that we have not yet demonstrated, which also destroy our purity? Add small items that represent other things, if you can… the jar is probably pretty full by now!
Now look together at the jar. How nicely is the light shining through? Turn off the lights again and talk about how much the light inside the jar is able to show through all of this stuff. This demonstrates how the Light of Christ is stifled inside of us when we crowd our lives with this other stuff, when we do not live a chaste life.
Then, have students read a verse from the Psalms that talks about purity/chastity. As they read, remove some items from the jar. Along the way, talk about the fact that you are demonstrating how, if we repent and live in chastity as suggested in the Psalms, Christ’s light can shine through us into the world.
Here are a few Psalms that could be included in the ones your students read (mark the verses in the Psalter or Bible; or print and share them):
Who may ascend into the hill of the LORD? And who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, Who has not lifted up his soul to falsehood and has not sworn deceitfully.
Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being, And in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom.
Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Surely God is good to Israel, To those who are pure in heart!
How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Your word.
Return to the word “chastity” written on the board or the piece of paper. Ask again what it means. Together as a class, make an official class definition and write it with the word. Then brainstorm ways to live a chaste life and write them around the word. Before dismissing, pray and ask God to help each of you clear out the things that are keeping you from being a clear, pure “jar” through which the Light of Christ can shine.
Craft idea: provide each student with a baby food jar or pint jar and a battery-operated tea light to remind them of this lesson. Invite the students to use permanent marker or glass markers and write one of the Psalms or draw ways to live a chaste life (from your class list) on the glass of their jar. When they turn on the tea light and place it inside the jar, it will light up their room and also remind them of how to live as they should, so that Christ’s light can shine through them into the world around them!
Here are other ideas of ways to help your Sunday Church School students learn about chastity:
Find a story about chastity from St. Barsinuphius of Optina, as well as other things such as the prayer of a single person, so that you can share them with your Sunday Church School students here: https://www.scribd.com/document/19435690/Orthodox-Christians-On-Virtue
This object lesson on purity is not written from an Orthodox perspective, but could slightly adapted for use in a Sunday Church School classroom to demonstrate how we can live a pure life when connected to Christ (and His church) instead of filling our lives with impurity. (Note: as Orthodox Christians, we have the Scriptures as mentioned as a help, but we also have prayers, confession, communion, the prayers of the saints on our behalf, and so much more to help us become more pure as we connect to God!): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yl_892f2Ffc
Teachers of teens may want to spend a great deal of time on the virtue of chastity. One way to do so would be to post this statement in your Sunday Church School classroom as a discussion starter: “Chastity means being faithful to God first, in both soul and body.” Go on to read this SOYO document (or portions thereof) about chastity and purity: http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/2011_pvc_packet.pdf
Chastity is the virtue we struggle towards as we combat lusts of all sorts. We can learn so much from the lives of saints who have successfully fought against lust. Here are four whose lives we can study and emulate together with our students, while asking for the saints’ prayers: http://www.ocf.net/four-saints-who-struggled-with-lust/
A powerful tool we can offer to our students for them to use in their pursuit of chastity is prayer. These prayers of the church, specifically for chastity, will help our students (and us!). Print copies of one or more of these prayers in a small size. Pray them together as a class. Encourage each student to select the one that best resonates with them, and provide supplies so that they can craft a bookmark or fridge/locker featuring the small prayer. Encourage them to place the bookmark or magnet in a place where they will see it frequently and remember to pray the prayer as part of their pursuit of the virtue of chastity. http://www.saintgregoryoutreach.org/2010/01/prayers-for-purity.html