What is purity? I had generally thought that purity was based on what one didn’t do and didn’t think about. But Monks Callistus and Ignatius quote St. Isaac the Syrian who says that purity is to have “a heart filled with compassion for every creature.” Purity is not a negative–it’s not what we don’t do or don’t think–purity is a positive. Purity is to have compassion in our hearts. What we do or don’t think, does not necessarily have any direct influence on purity, for we cannot always control our thoughts.
The thoughts that occur to us can be controlled only to a certain extent. Of course what we choose to think about effects a great deal what comes to our mind involuntarily (when we don’t want to think about it). So controlling what we choose to think about does help control what occurs to us involuntarily. But even saints, according to St. Macarius the Great, experience unclean and bestial thoughts. St. Mararius says that it is like the weather: “downfalls constantly occur to those who have attained purity, just as air at times becomes cooler.”
Callistus and Ignatius expound on this word: “What do you mean, blessed Macarius? You say that as the weather changes, now cold, now hot, now hail, now fine again; so it happens in our life of striving [for God]: now we are attacked, now grace protects us; at one moment the soul is beset by cruel waves [of unwanted thoughts]; at another it changes again with the coming of grace and the heart is once more filled with joy and God’s peace, with chaste and serene thoughts.” The vicissitudes of our mind are not the measure of the purity of our hearts.
What is the measure of purity? Compassion. A pure heart feels the pain of others. A pure heart suffers with others. And a pure heart, Jesus said, sees God.