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When Same-Sex Marriage Was a Christian Rite 
11th-Dec-2009 10:47 am
Psyche
Contrary to myth, Christianity's concept of marriage has not been set in stone since the days of Christ, but has constantly evolved as a concept and ritual. Prof. John Boswell, the late Chairman of Yale University’s history department, discovered that in addition to heterosexual marriage ceremonies in ancient Christian church liturgical documents, there were also ceremonies called the "Office of Same-Sex Union" (10th and 11th century), and the "Order for Uniting Two Men" (11th and 12th century).

These church rites had all the symbols of a heterosexual marriage: the whole community gathered in a church, a blessing of the couple before the altar was conducted with their right hands joined, holy vows were exchanged, a priest officiatied in the taking of the Eucharist and a wedding feast for the guests was celebrated afterwards. These elements all appear in contemporary illustrations of the holy union of the Byzantine Warrior-Emperor, Basil the First (867-886 CE) and his companion John.

Original Article or

A Kiev art museum contains a curious icon from St. Catherine's Monastery on Mt. Sinai in Israel. It shows two robed Christian saints. Between them is a traditional Roman ‘pronubus’ (a best man), overseeing a wedding. The pronubus is Christ. The married couple are both men.

Is the icon suggesting that a gay "wedding" is being sanctified by Christ himself? The idea seems shocking. But the full answer comes from other early Christian sources about the two men featured in the icon, St. Sergius and St. Bacchus, two Roman soldiers who were Christian martyrs. These two officers in the Roman army incurred the anger of Emperor Maximian when they were exposed as ‘secret Christians’ by refusing to enter a pagan temple. Both were sent to Syria circa 303 CE where Bacchus is thought to have died while being flogged. Sergius survived torture but was later beheaded. Legend says that Bacchus appeared to the dying Sergius as an angel, telling him to be brave because they would soon be reunited in heaven.

While the pairing of saints, particularly in the early Christian church, was not unusual, the association of these two men was regarded as particularly intimate. Severus, the Patriarch of Antioch (AD 512 - 518) explained that, "we should not separate in speech they [Sergius and Bacchus] who were joined in life". This is not a case of simple "adelphopoiia." In the definitive 10th century account of their lives, St. Sergius is openly celebrated as the "sweet companion and lover" of St. Bacchus. Sergius and Bacchus's close relationship has led many modern scholars to believe they were lovers. But the most compelling evidence for this view is that the oldest text of their martyrology, written in New Testament Greek describes them as "erastai,” or "lovers". In other words, they were a male homosexual couple. Their orientation and relationship was not only acknowledged, but it was fully accepted and celebrated by the early Christian church, which was far more tolerant than it is today.

Contrary to myth, Christianity's concept of marriage has not been set in stone since the days of Christ, but has constantly evolved as a concept and ritual.

Prof. John Boswell, the late Chairman of Yale University’s history department, discovered that in addition to heterosexual marriage ceremonies in ancient Christian church liturgical documents, there were also ceremonies called the "Office of Same-Sex Union" (10th and 11th century), and the "Order for Uniting Two Men" (11th and 12th century).

These church rites had all the symbols of a heterosexual marriage: the whole community gathered in a church, a blessing of the couple before the altar was conducted with their right hands joined, holy vows were exchanged, a priest officiatied in the taking of the Eucharist and a wedding feast for the guests was celebrated afterwards. These elements all appear in contemporary illustrations of the holy union of the Byzantine Warrior-Emperor, Basil the First (867-886 CE) and his companion John.

Such same gender Christian sanctified unions also took place in Ireland in the late 12thand/ early 13th century, as the chronicler Gerald of Wales (‘Geraldus Cambrensis’) recorded.

Same-sex unions in pre-modern Europe list in great detail some same gender ceremonies found in ancient church liturgical documents. One Greek 13th century rite, "Order for Solemn Same-Sex Union", invoked St. Serge and St. Bacchus, and called on God to "vouchsafe unto these, Thy servants [N and N], the grace to love one another and to abide without hate and not be the cause of scandal all the days of their lives, with the help of the Holy Mother of God, and all Thy saints". The ceremony concludes: "And they shall kiss the Holy Gospel and each other, and it shall be concluded".

Another 14th century Serbian Slavonic "Office of the Same Sex Union", uniting two men or two women, had the couple lay their right hands on the Gospel while having a crucifix placed in their left hands. After kissing the Gospel, the couple were then required to kiss each other, after which the priest, having raised up the Eucharist, would give them both communion.

Records of Christian same sex unions have been discovered in such diverse archives as those in the Vatican, in St. Petersburg, in Paris, in Istanbul and in the Sinai, covering a thousand-years from the 8th to the 18th century.

The Dominican missionary and Prior, Jacques Goar (1601-1653), includes such ceremonies in a printed collection of Greek Orthodox prayer books, “Euchologion Sive Rituale Graecorum Complectens Ritus Et Ordines Divinae Liturgiae” (Paris, 1667).

While homosexuality was technically illegal from late Roman times, homophobic writings didn’t appear in Western Europe until the late 14th century. Even then, church-consecrated same sex unions continued to take place.

At St. John Lateran in Rome (traditionally the Pope's parish church) in 1578, as many as thirteen same-gender couples were joined during a high Mass and with the cooperation of the Vatican clergy, "taking communion together, using the same nuptial Scripture, after which they slept and ate together" according to a contemporary report. Another woman to woman union is recorded in Dalmatia in the 18th century.

Prof. Boswell's academic study is so well researched and documented that it poses fundamental questions for both modern church leaders and heterosexual Christians about their own modern attitudes towards homosexuality.

For the Church to ignore the evidence in its own archives would be cowardly and deceptive. The evidence convincingly shows that what the modern church claims has always been its unchanging attitude towards homosexuality is, in fact, nothing of the sort.

It proves that for the last two millennia, in parish churches and cathedrals throughout Christendom, from Ireland to Istanbul and even in the heart of Rome itself, homosexual relationships were accepted as valid expressions of a God-given love and committment to another person, a love that could be celebrated, honored and blessed, through the Eucharist in the name of, and in the presence of, Jesus Christ.


Updates
Corrected Article Link

Article Written By
ThosPayne at The Colfax Record.

Books Written by Prof. John Boswell
Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe and Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century
Comments 
11th-Dec-2009 09:55 pm (UTC) - Re: The EO Church in opposition to this theory
that first link you posted seems to focus on Michael Huffington much more than Boswell. The second link actually has some meat to it though.

what country/orthodox tradition did you do your ethnography in? by e.o. do you mean russian, greek, bulgarian...? as a greek, I'm curious.

the phrase "traditional understanding" is interesting to me... by traditional understanding, do you mean byzantine historical context (provided by the second link), or contemporary right-wing orthodox views from a blog (the first link)? Byzantine as traditional makes sense, the other doesn't, at least to me. to say that the orthodox church today disagrees that adelphopoiesis is a homosexual union does not indicate it's a traditional belief... at least if we're considering traditional to mean long-standing.

my reading of all this comes from my knowledge of greece and greek orthodoxy... knowing that greece has (or perhaps more appropriately, had) a long history of considering homosexual relations to be an appropriate supplement to (though not necessarily a replacement for) heterosexual relations. so, as a greek, I am skeptical of claims that adelphopoiesis is marriage, even before reading the links you provided, cause I know the first root word means brother. but isn't it possible (and maybe even likely?) that things like adelphopoiesis were ways of incorporating the greek historical tendency towards close (to the point of physical/sexual intimacy) into the new christian greek society? like coal-walking in northern greece is an originally pagan ritual christianized by the inclusion of icons, could adelphopoiesis be a way of incorporating an old cultural practice into a newly christianized society? it certainly seems to represent something closer than just being "best buds." marriage? unlikely. homosexual? I wouldn't rule it out.

I also know that homosexuality is a widely known, though usually whispered about, fact in the greek orthodox church. many many orthodox priests, some of them high ranking, are generally believed to be gay. this is scandalous but acknowledged as an element of greek clergy culture.
12th-Dec-2009 04:30 am (UTC) - Re: The EO Church in opposition to this theory
Yes, my ethnography took place at an Antiochian parish, not a Greek one. So far, I have not found a discontinuity across Orthodoxy in the way the rite was practiced, but I have emailed an Orthodox bishop for further insight. The other issue (in which I'm certainly not a historian) is the impact of ancient Greek sexual practices after the Byzantine empire takeover. It seems that much of the Greek world was "Christianized" after Constantine, I'll let you know what he says..
28th-Jan-2010 04:25 am (UTC) - Re: The EO Church in opposition to this theory
You might consider reading the book the article is based on, Same-Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe. The author discusses "adelphopoiesis" and the brotherly implications, making what I found to be a convincing case for men who saw each other as equals to use the term "brother" to describe each other. So the term "brother" did not necessarily imply a solely familial-type bond. There were references to heterosexual couples describing each other as brother and sister when the union was one of equals.

The beginning of the book discusses the definition of marriage, which really must be agreed upon before anyone argues the case for or against evidence of early same-sex unions. If two people share a household, enjoy emotional and physical intimacy with each other, even consider each other in their wills... what more is needed before we call this relationship a marriage? It seems entirely plausible to me that such unions could form between any two citizens.

Anyway! The book is very interesting. I recommend it to anyone with any interest in the subject.

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