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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-May-2012 03:50 pm (UTC)
Hi, just found this and thought I might interject into this interesting discussion.

You make some valid points but you tend to skip over a couple of very fundamental issues that pertain to this particular case. Everything in the Old Testament was tied in with the covenant between God and Abraham and by extension between God and his chosen people. That covenant underpins every action between god and man, and between man and fellow man because it was under the covenant that Abraham went out into the world and under the promise of the covenant that he interacted with other tribes. So when we read anything in the old testament we must keep that in mind and reflect what we are reading through covenant.

Now the covenant was very specific and related to in this order...

1: Abraham having a son
2: His sons having sons of their own
3: Those sons having sons who will form the tribes of Israel.

Every action was set against this basic contractual obligation to have children. So important was this idea that women were given extraordinary freedom to divorce their husbands if they failed to produce children. So important that a man spilling his seed (masturbation or "pulling out") was strongly condemned by both God and by tribal justice.
Now I do agree that part of Sodom's problem was their inability to provide hospitality for strangers and care of the needy. But even here we must understand this within the framework of covenant between God and Abraham. With this in mind it becomes clear that God mentions certain "sins among them, as you pointed out "arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy" because they were worth noting as part of a buildup, the way a lawyer will begin indicting the accused on lesser chargers and build up to the really nasty crimes. And we can’t forget that this story represents the first legal trial in the Bible. The accused was the city of Sodom. Aiding and abetting in their crimes but not directly involved was Lot and his family; For the Prosecution was GOD and standing in for defense and looking for witnesses (the ever decreasing number of good men) was Abraham.

But here is the point you gloss over... It goes on to say "and did detestable things before me" That detestable thing was their sexual license, but not just homosexuality; It was sex that was simply debased under the customs, ethic and law of the day. This would no doubt have included homosexuality, prostitution, Pedophilia, Masturbation, cross dressing, even bestiality and a lack of proper manliness. All of which are sexual acts that begin with the ego. In effect it is the person saying that my pleasure is more important than anything else and sex should exist to serve the ego and not the family. The text says simply "and did detestable things before me" because the covenant (a contract calling for a very precise purpose behind sexuality) was so ingrained into the people who wrote the text that it needed no further elaboration. It could have been written something like this...

The people were rude, mean to strangers, failed to provide for the needy, self-interested and worst of all, they engaged in those acts which are so unspeakable they must not be named.

So it was not because of Homosexuality that God destroyed Sodom. It was because Sodom allowed Sex (in all its manifestations) to not only define them as a people but to direct their actions towards other people. In Sodom the whole world was sexualized (physically, emotionally and metaphorically) and reduced to a state of primal rutting that reduced the status of humanity to a state lower than an animal. When it came to brass tacks the only things that could sate the people who were crowding at Lots door was the promise of sex. Not unlike a modern Rave party where Sexual inhibitions might be released, dancing becomes mindless writhing mimicking sexual acts and people lose their sense of morality by subsuming themselves in a sort of group think.

It may be confusing to claim on one hand that the problem was an ego run amuck and on the other to suggest the problem is also mindless group think but this is not really a contradiction at all. Ego is not the same thing as individuality.
11th-May-2012 04:11 pm (UTC)
Well said.
15th-May-2012 07:31 am (UTC)
because they were worth noting as part of a buildup, the way a lawyer will begin indicting the accused on lesser chargers and build up to the really nasty crimes

Pure assumption on your part.

But here is the point you gloss over... It goes on to say "and did detestable things before me" That detestable thing was their sexual license

I didn't gloss over it. You are simply making further assumptions about the intent of the author.

... and worst of all ...

More assumption.

I'm amazed at how people can twist things to support their point of view, adding layers of pointless complexity to what is a very simple statement. The broad message of the Bible makes it very clear that God is far more concerned with how you treat the poor and needy than whether you jerk off too often. But for some reason Christians are totally obsessed with everybody else's sexual behavior. Sigh. A symptom of repression, perhaps?

Your overly complex analysis of those verses falls into a quagmire of hollow intellectualism compared to how Jesus sums up the Law... "In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you". The underpinning of the entire Law was social justice, neatly wrapped up in that one simple sentence.
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