to Faithful to the Truth
A Byzantine Orthodox Viewpoint
This text is a redaction of an original that can be downloaded
from the excellent Axios
web site. The author is Nicholas Zymaris. My purpose is editing it
has been to tidy it up, highlight its distinctive features and remove less
original elements. In all passages written in the first person singular,
that person is Nicholas Zymaris and the editor [pharsea] has taken care
to retain his exact words.
There is a faction of scholars who seem to suspend normal
scholarly objectivity when it comes to John
Boswell, and dismiss anything that he has written. Having talked with
him, I know he made some errors,
but there are some things that the anti-Boswell faction tends to ignore:
As you will see below, critics constantly change their story
as to what the rite is, starting by saying it's a holy rite of the church
so it could never
have anything to do with that; and ending up by denying it ever
existed, because they realize that it
does indeed deal with that.
Years before Boswell published anything on this subject,
gay Orthodox knew about our Tradition. He
did not invent the idea of same-sex
union, but merely made a wider audience familiar with it. We know now
that a union ceremony has existed since before the ninth century. And since
all the editions of Adelphopoiia refer to Ss.
Sergius and Bacchus, it is safe to assume that their relationship was
an example to those engaged in similar relationships (their martyrdom was
in 296 A.D.).
Much is said about Boswell's errors. We all know that he
wasn't even Orthodox, but most of the material he cites is Orthodox, and
as he doesn't understand it too well, he makes some errors, such as interpreting
a Trisagion as "Holy, Holy, Holy", where of course it is not a "Sanctus"
but a "Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us".
What the critics of the Rite of Brotherhood and of Boswell's
work always fail to adequately explain is: if these ceremonies are not
for the blessing of same-sex love, what exactly are they for? The
answer is invariably a very jittery and unscholarly "We don't know, but
it's anything but that!"
is the Rite, if not "gay marriage"?
Critics of Boswell chose to write two reviews of his last
book a year after his death, to "eulogize" him with slander in Touchstone
Sourozh, as well as an article in St. Sophia Quarterly, which
had so little of substance to say that it began by saying it found the
picture of Boswell on the back cover of the book to be ugly, and supposed
that the university scene behind him is to lend academic legitimacy to
the book. There was also an article in the New Republic. All of these articles
gave lots of opinions, but few references; all theorized that Boswell was
mad to come to the conclusion he did; all of them repeat like a mantra
that Boswell is a terrible scholar whose work is worthless; none offer
a credible explanation of what the rite is, if not a same-sex union. One
even suggests that Boswell's work is terrible because the actual ideal
for Christians is some sort of super Platonic love: which seems suspiciously
like a homosexual relationship without the sex. The imagery used by this
proponent of total celibacy among gays was surprisingly erotic.
The significance of
the word brother.
If it seems strange that "brotherhood" is used in a spousal
fashion, consider that the term has several meanings aside from this:
No one disputes that one word refers to these different relationships.
Now look at the Song of Songs where the phrase "my
sister, my spouse" occurs repeatedly [e.g.
So 4:9-12, 5:1]. Are we talking about incest here? No, fraternal
terminology is being used for a relationship of eros between two persons
not related by blood.
brother by common mother ("a-delphos");
brother by common Father ("brother in Christ");
brother by common abbot (monk);
brother by common situation ("brother in struggle"), or
common race ("brother" in the black community).
The term "brother" is also seen in the aforementioned
account of the relationship between David
and Jonathan in I and II Samuel. Boswell has his own theories on the
use of the term "brother"; he considered it a synonym for "lover" among
medieval gay lovers; one might compare this to the term "warme Bruder"
("warm brother") in modern German which precisely means a gay person.
significance of the word spiritual
Adelphopoeia was performed in Greece, Russia, Romania, Serbia
and Montenegro (Crna Gora) in the nineteenth century, and before that even
in Italy. However, in nineteenth century Albania it seems to have enjoyed
a zenith of sorts, and a number of Europeans note this with incredulity.
The term "spiritual brotherhood" is often used
to describe the rite in question "akolouthia eis adelphopoeian pneumatiken".
This refers to the spiritual nature of the rite, as distinct from
blood brotherhoods where physical blood was exchanged. This was
a practice of Moslems and others, but Christians did not drink each other's
blood, instead sharing in the Body and Blood of their common Lord.
In countries, like Albania, where Christians and Moslems
freely mixed, there were all sorts of variations: Christian spiritual brotherhood
(with Holy Communion and no blood exchange), interfaith (Christian-Muslim)
"marriages" with blood exchange, and same-sex concubinage without ceremony.
This was reported by Paul Naecke in 1880 AD, but does not mean that any
- still less all - of these relationships were approved of by the Catholic
or Orthodox Churches in Albania. However, spiritual brotherhood was indeed
common and was performed by a priest in church, and the relationship was
clearly conceived of as a same-sex relationship not excluding eros: this
applied to both male-male and female-female relationships.
Later in the nineteenth century the Church of Greece issued
two local encyclicals against the Rite of Brotherhood. Nevertheless, one
must ask why it took the church nineteen centuries to ban something like
this. It had been permitted much longer than it has been prohibited.
significance of the term "un-natural".
Spiritual brotherhood was distinguished by saying that the
couple's love was "not of nature, but of the Holy Spirit"; which
I consider not only to be a wonderful explanation of the term "spiritual"
(it does not mean "non-sexual"; one should consider that heterosexual marriage
is sexual but is also spiritual) but a rebuttal of the tired arguments
about gay love being "against nature".
Nineteenth Century Albania gave birth to many gay love
songs. Some of these were compiled by the ambassador from Austria-Hungary
to Ottoman Albania, Johan Georg von Hahn, in 1854 AD. Hahn was a devout
Christian who loved to illustrate Albanian grammar and sayings by using
passages from the Old and New Testaments in Albanian. One song from Hahn's
1854 compilation goes:
You'll find no bird that
This is only one of many songs which Nechin composed, and
all of them were about male-male love. Hahn states that he was oriented
only towards males.
They all sit there and cry.
The poor lover, how strongly he
[For] they separate him from [his]
The sun, which rises in the morning
[Is] like you, boy, when you are
When you turn your black eyes to
You take spirit and mind from my
[Nechin of Permet, Albania, mid
19th century; tr June 1991, Nicholas Zymaris]
In 1994 AD, shortly before Boswell's "Same Sex Unions" book
came out, news of its impending publication was leaked to the Orthodox
internet list at Indiana University, which is dominated by Synodal Russian
Orthodox, many of whom are converts from Protestant fundamentalism.
adelphopoeia rite is common knowledge
At the same time, a translation I made of the
adelphopoeia rite (this is the Greek name for Rite of Brotherhood,
literally "Brothermaking") in 1989 was, without my knowledge, scanned or
typed into a computer with internet access and entered into the discussion
on that same list. I should note that my translation was from Jacobus Goar's
Euchologion of 1730 AD, which is easily available at many theological and
university libraries in the U.S. and abroad; it is not some recent invention
of gay activists, nor is it particularly inaccessible. It is and has been
familiar to many researchers of this subject in the U.S.A. and abroad,
before and after Boswell's research. When Boswell's book came out, he revealed
that his research was also started when a friend mailed him a copy of the
rite from the same Euchologion. My interest in this edition of the rite
was sparked when an Orthodox bishop in San Fransisco said he used Goar's
text when his parish performs the rite (this was in 1988 AD).
adelphopoeia rite is forbidden to monks
How did the Orthodox on the list react to this? A few desired
to look into it, and saw that the rite's content did seem to suggest a
same-sex blessing. The others at first did not take this seriously, and
used the standard argument I had heard for years from most of those who
knew about this rite: it is merely mutual
adoption. But wait, said the others, adoption is "yiothesia", not "adelphopoiia",
and canonists make an explicit distinction between the two. Well, then,
it must be a ceremony for two monks to do missionary work together. No,
said the other side, it is specifically forbidden to monks, which makes
sense since they had to be celibate. OK then, it was a rite to pacify
two warring kings, and they cited one king who united himself with a rival.
One advocate self-conciously said that he realizes many will just think
that they were too busy having sex with each other to bother fighting each
other; like "make love not war".
rite never existed
The anti-gay side was losing its credibility. Drastic measures
The list owners denied access to anyone they hadn't previously
screened; this was explicitly to weed out any gay sympathetic voices.
The new party line was declared: this rite never even
existed; it was invented by Professor Paul Halsall and Axios.
All proponents of this view, especially Halsall, were to
receive physical threats by phone, private e-mail, and U.S. mail.
A priest from a Serbian jurisdiction pronounced an anathema
on Halsall, which is strange since Halsall has nothing to do with that
jurisdiction (he is a Western Catholic!)
adelphopoeia rite is against nature
The lie that the rite never existed after all was made more
ridiculous by the posting of a passage from the Pedalion (Rudder), which
has a section devoted to Adelphopoeia. It is a subsection of the chapter
on Impediments to Marriage, and is separate from and after the section
on Impediments from Adoption. The commentary states (this is not a canon
but a commentary compiled by the Chicago businessman Aristotle Makrakis;
the original author may be St. Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain) that this
rite should be prohibited because it is the cause of much abuses; it is
against nature because adoption creates a son not a brother, and
we all know why people do this: to satisfy their carnal desires.
There, he said it. It's not just twentieth century gay
advocates who know about this, and it's not for monks, friends, or whatever.
It is for, as the rite says: "love not of nature, but of the Holy Spirit".
This love does not have biological reproduction as its end, but is still
Contemporary Albanian Orthodox Church
There are parishes both in the U.S.A. and abroad which have
never stopped doing adelphopoeia, and know exactly what it is for, particularly
in Albania. Now, John Boswell knew many languages, but not Albanian, but
even he found some references in translation to what went on there. I know
Albanian, and interviewed Albanian Orthodox in 1991, when the churches
were just reopening after decades of communist oppression. In the same
year, there were rites of vellameria (the Albanian name for the rite) performed
in the Orthodox church in Elbasan. All Albanians I spoke to knew about
the rite, but only the ones from Elbasan had witnessed one.
I talked with an individual from the late dictator Hoxha's
birthplace, who gave a simple but moving account of how Hoxha's attempts
at promoting both atheism and homophobia miserably failed. In his hometown
people now practised their religion, and as far as the anti-gay violence
and sentiments found elsewhere,
"that is unknown where
I come from; everyone eats at the same table and those differences don't
As far as vellameria and the fact that some researchers in
the U.S. think
it is a gay marriage,
he simply said, "Yes, that's what it is for".
No shock, no need to explain it away or make elaborate theories to obscure
the fact. Other Albanians had no difficulty, despite their heterosexuality,
with going over my translations, word for word, of a number of Albanian
gay love songs and giving their insights on the terms. Not one of over
twenty Albanians I spoke to about this was uncomfortable with this, unlike
most Albanian Americans who seem to have acquired American homophobia in
Contemporary Greek Orthodox Church
In fact, the rite continues to be performed even in N.W.
Greece, as the Church of Greece noted in "Adelphopoeia
from a Canonical Perspective" [Fr. Evangelos K. Mantzouneas, the Secretary
of the Greek Synod Committee on Legal and Canonical Matters of the Church
of Greece, 1982].
Often, but not always, it involved the pair receiving
Holy Communion together. It caused an impediment to marriage, and the pair
acquired many legal rights including that of inheritance. Fr Mantzouneas
cites the text of a contemporary (1982 AD) rite from Epirus, which is essentially
the same as the Goar text; which he also cites. This is a very Greek way
of saying that the rite is still performed and we don't have a problem
with that, even though there were two local encyclicals prohibiting it
in the Church of Greece in the late 1800's. In fact Fr. Mantzouneas admits,
like all scholars that these encyclicals were generally ignored and that
the rite remained popular.
Being Gay and Orthodox,
a personal testimony
I don't see what seems so strange about being gay and Orthodox.
It is hardly a new thing for Orthodox to be gay; if you talk to actual
gay people you will see that this is not something chosen, but an
innate thing which is discovered. To throw around terms like "the gay
lifestyle" is best left to the fundamentalists who don't know any better.
To the general population, it evokes images of evil rituals, orgiastic
back rooms, and the like, and encourages the mistreatment of gay people.
The gay lifestyle
What is the reality? What is the typical "gay lifestyle"?
The typical gay person gets up in the morning, has breakfast, goes to work
(or church if it is Sunday or a feast day, and he/she is Orthodox), comes
home, does the laundry, errands, etc. If he or she goes to a bar, chances
are it's to do nothing more than chat with some friends.
Yes, some of us have sexual relationships. Even though
society fails to support the relationship as it supports heterosexual relationships,
life goes on; and I look in admiration at the many truly devoted and loving
gay and le5bian relationships
I have seen over the years. Whereas many a heterosexual grudgingly stays
with his/her spouse till the children are grown, then divorces when the
"obligation" is past, these devoted gay couples stay together for no other
reason than love
and devotion. And there are many times when a couple loves each other
but is pressured by society, family or even the church to break up because
the love is of the same-sex variety.
Some are encouraged to have short-term relationships,
or even one-nighters, because at least that can be confessed,
and is not viewed as "living in sin", as a committed relationship would
be. That is not healthy either from a physical or spiritual perspective,
and the fault lies in anti-gay attitudes of society
and the Church,
and the individual's internalization of same. Even in these situations,
despite the cause of it, there is still much tenderness and goodwill shown
between the partners, who often become lifelong friends
(if they are not ordered by their
confessor to avoid the other on account of there being an "occasion
It should be noted that for many gays living in isolated
areas, this is the only way to achieve any kind of human contact with someone
who understands. It's a fallen world and a fallen
situation, but by God's
grace, sometimes good comes
This, then, is the "gay lifestyle". To suggest otherwise
is to encourage a slander against our community which has gone on for too
long, and by the grace of God is beginning to lose its credibility, finally.
Does our Holy Tradition oppose these things? Yes - it opposes
slander, and has nothing bad to say about what the real "gay lifestyle"
involves. Much can be found in our Tradition criticizing rape, pederasty
and fornication. Fornication, like the Greek
"porneia" found in the New Testament and the Fathers,
refers literally to prostitution, and is extended in meaning to refer to
forms of sexuality which do not involve money payment but nevertheless
resemble prostitution. It is as relevant pastorally to gay couples as rape
is to heterosexual couples.
Many Orthodox take the moderate
view that a homosexual orientation is more or less morally neutral;
however God help any one who acts on it! This outlook requires that all
gay people must be totally celibate, with no choice involved; which is
quite unlike the situation for heterosexuals.
Impact of these attitudes
Both from my own experience and the experience of many others,
such a view encourages the fragmentation and compartmentalization of personality.
It literally makes one sick, physically and mentally. For those whom God
has given the grace to live celibately, this
is fine: but it is not for most people. We realize this with straights,
and don't begrudge them marriage.
For gays, attempts to totally suppress their orientation lead to misery
and promiscuous, desperate "acting out" when they can't stand it anymore.
These situations are not likely to be conducive to either physical or spiritual
One expends all one's energy dealing with sexual issues,
and perhaps thinks one has accomplished a great work when having some small
"success" in this, where actually one's spiritual life is impoverished,
because one has no time or energy to deal with any other topic. Orthopraxy
should derive from sound theology. Simply spending one's whole life desperately
trying not to ma5turbate or have
any kind of sex or thoughts of sex is a little sad (and difficult, because
such a person is made to constantly think about sex by the anti-gay "pelvic
theologians" who are obsessed with the topic and expect everyone else
to be obsessed with it).
The end result of this is misery and separation from the
life of the Church as the confessor sees that the penitent is unable to
stop having or thinking about sex; so he is denied
the life-giving sacraments of the Church. If he realizes that it is
better to have a committed relationship, he is shunned for "living in sin".
No matter what he does, he is criticized.
All are sinners
Gay people should not have to waste years of their life being
tormented by the idea that their God-given capacity to love is a sin to
be utterly suppressed. As fallen human beings, gay people can and do sin
in many ways, sexually and otherwise: as do heterosexuals, but we sin because
we are fallen humans: not because we are gay. No one in his right mind
would suggest that heterosexuals are sinful by virtue of their heterosexuality:
if one cheats on one's spouse or otherwise sins sexually, the sin is not
due to whether a male or female has been wronged; it is precisely because
someone has been wronged.
God is Love
God calls us to love our neighbour, and this applies to all
relationships and all people. Our Lord said "God
is love"; we should not be so quick to judge a particular form
of love as bad. Indeed, the criterion to use
in looking at various relationships should be whether true love (of whatever
form, erotic or not) is present. If love is not present, then and only
then can the moralists talk about something "unnatural", especially when
their harsh anti-gay attitudes dismiss the idea of a gay
marriage and actually encourage the very promiscuity which they decry.
God has joined together, let no one tear asunder".
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