What is the passion of Lust?

March 28, 2017

What are the Passions and how to fight them ? – Lust – Part 2

We continue our series on the passions and today we attempt to answer the question what is lust and what is the understanding of the passion of lust within the Coptic Orthodox faith. We have to first understand the meaning of the word. Originally in Greek, “lust” translates into the word “porneia”, from which we get the word “pornography” for instance. However, the original word “porneia” did not exactly mean “lust” as it is known today, it actually meant “prostitution”. So, to clarify, when we speak of lust, we are not limited to just “prostitution”, but the fact that in the root of the word “porneia” we have this understanding of prostitution, means that prostitution covers a part of the subject of lust as a passion.

To the modern thinker, lust only means “appetite for sexual desire”. In reality, there’s a lot more to understanding this. Usually, when we speak of lust, we speak also of sexuality. However, lust is not synonymous to sexuality. Sexuality is a beautiful gift from God.  He intended it to be one of the ways humans can express their love to their (married) partner. Lust on the other hand leaves no room for love nor Gods intended plans for us.

The proper understanding of sexuality will be explained in another video. For now, let’s understand that sexuality is meant to be selfless, where each of the two married partners offers himself / herself to the other in love for the sake of the other in seeking unity. It is a sacrificial act to pour oneself out to love another. Lust is the complete opposite: a person becomes so selfish that they want to use or abuse people around them at whatever expense for the sake of pleasing themselves. In the process, the person is separating themselves from God. In the previous video, the first part of the passions series, we explained that passion misdirect the faculties and gifts God gave us and we therefore are no longer oriented toward God. By seeking to please ourselves only instead of our spouse, we destroy the proper meaning and expression of love. By giving into the passion of lust, the person creates war/violence against themselves. We see this perfectly expressed by the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:18-20.

Now this brings us back to the other meaning of “lust”, which is prostitution. Both prostitution and lust use an improper expression of sexuality for personal gain. In lust, we unfortunately use this improper understanding of sexuality to gain self-pleasure. When lust lingers in us, all the senses of our human body become deviated. An example of that is the sense of sight. In fact, our eyes can be very implicated in the sin of lust. Instead of using our eyes to see the beauty and image of God, in another person, we rather use them to take in violence against ourselves. It makes us realize why Christ in the gospel of St. Matthew makes the bold declaration that whoever looks at a woman with lust in his heart has committed adultery. St. John Chrysostom explains why Jesus said that:

“What then, one may say, if I should look [at a woman], and desire her indeed, but do no evil? Even so you are set among the adulterers! For the Lawgiver has pronounced it, and you must not ask any more questions. For by looking once, twice, or three times, you will perhaps have power to refrain [yourself]; but if you are continually doing this, and kindling the furnace, you will assuredly be taken; for your station is not beyond that nature which is common to men. As we then, if we see a child holding a knife, though we do not see him hurt, [discipline] him, and forbid his ever holding it; so God likewise takes away the unchaste look even before the act, lest at any time you should fall in act also. For he who has once kindled the flame, even when the woman whom he has beheld is absent, is forming by himself continually images of shameful things, and from them often goes on even to the deed. For this cause Christ takes away even that embrace which is in the heart only.” (St John Chrysostom – Homilies on Matthew – Homily17 – 2.).

He explains that the eyes are like a window that lets in sin/lust. The image the eyes lets in can make a person live in a morbid state where things may become phantasmal. The person lives in their thoughts and fantasies and seeks opportunities to grow this database of lustful images inside them. We have to consistently pray to God to protect us from this very dangerous passion. In knowing what the passion of lust is, how it manifests itself, and what God intends for us, this is the beginning of the spiritual struggle to overcome by God’s grace.

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