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When Same-Sex Marriage Was A Christian Rite

Note: This is a reprint of an article that originally ran in the Colfax Record last year. I thought it would be an interesting piece to present after all of the commentary and debate on my blogs last week regarding Miss California, same-sex marriage, and religion.

SS. Sergius & Bacchus - 7th cent.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.

References (1)

References allow you to track sources for this article, as well as articles that were written in response to this article.
  • Response
    MYTH: marriage is a religious concept and has always been between a man and a woman. FACT: marriage predates recorded history, but the earliest known traditions in Greco-Roman times were intended to define who got the dowry, who inherited what, and who was the boss of who.

Reader Comments (68)

How are you sure that the picture depicts two men?

May 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterL Mohan Arun

..mmm, no boobs?

May 2, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterguecxa

@ L Mohan Arun

What makes you think it is not two women?

I guess if you had actually read the article you would know exactly who they were and why your question is so lame.

May 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSteve

just a note, that link is (like the other one) to an older (but still relevant) post -- i didn't do as detailed a job with research as this article, but i did research every point i made.

May 2, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterdotlizard

@ Steve
I was just thinking that too. The article clearly names the two people depicted in the icon.
You know, the first time I read this article I found it very interesting how many that quote the bible, rarely take the time to do some research.

For all they know, what the bible might be speaking against is the act of rape. If I remember my history correctly, those who occupied the territories where many of these biblical authors were from, engaged in sodomy. I don't believe there was any love involved, it was just a case of power enforcement. They showed their power through sexual dominance.

Sadly though, those who oppose what they call the "homosexual lifestyle" have a one track mind. It doesn't occur to them that a same-sex couple can have a deep emotional connection. That maybe, just maybe these two people emotionally complete eachother. Once the emotional part is fulfilled, the physical part just comes natural. It's not always just about the sex. Affection between people who truly love eachother is a beautiful thing.

My question is this though. How do these people think they can just go around claiming that it is a choice or even worse, that it is not "valid" because it's a sin. Since when is love a sin anyway?

I'm so over reading the same tired argument as to why same-sex marriage is "wrong". the bible says many things, but they like picking and choosing what they like to preach to others. I guess their one track minds only permit them to think of homosexuality as a peversion. In fact, it almost sounds as if they are saying that the sole purpose of marriage is to just have sex. Doesn't it?

In my humble opinion, the bible is taken way too literally. Let's just suppose that same-sex couples (like some heterosexual ones) are just about the sex. Why is it anyone else's business? I mean seriously, obsessing over what goes on in the privacy of someone else's bedroom.. who is the pervert now huh?

May 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAdri

However, were these "unions" celibate? My understanding (and I could be wrong and am not a scholar like Boswell) is that these were Holy "Friendships" and not marriage and not sexual (as in the sexual act although clearly even if celibate a sublimination of sexuality)

May 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMichaelis

I am by no means suggesting I understand the history surrounding the topic of this article, but I was curious about "adelphopoiia" and did a quick search for it and the wikipedia article seems to speak a bit more about Boswell. His thesis is that there was a sexual aspect to these relationships. The link is right below, and I encourage others who are interested to investigate this topic further, because it is obviously something that is not very well understood or well known.

Brothers and Sisters, may you spread love and peace throughout your life.


May 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterWilco

@Adri - Completely agree with you - it's all this fear about an identity, not the peace that could come from love. Although what was kept private and covered up could be ignored - it's when the issues are brought into the public that such massive operations are needed to break down "perversions".

Fantastic article, definitely throws some spanners into the works of those who cannot see past identities and stereotypes and are bound up by blind faith.

Although I think it's worth noting issues about terminology and historiography - the word homosexual (and thus the concept of homosexualtiy) was created by a German sexologist in the 1860's, so from a historical perspective, they weren't a homosexual couple and the writings weren't homophobic (obviously it was blatant and hypocritical discrimination considering we are more aware of the power of love, concept of individuality, etc... but back then, it was an increasingly accepted norm).

My questions as a result are: how were these same-sex couples perceived, what was their function (to have continued when the discriminatory writings took place suggested there was an ulterior motive, if it wasn't a private or secret ceremony) and what context did these 'homophobic' writings came from? Attitudes evolve as well, so something happened after the Greeks/during the Roman empire to account for this change.

May 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTom

Wow, cool stuff dude!


May 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJOhn Davis

Sorry -- this is all complete nonsense, a tendentiously popularized and ideologically bowdlerized re-hashing of historical practices that have long been fairly well understood (and still are practiced today, in Eastern churches). The academic community does not take Boswell's 1994 arguments seriously, even while recognizing his general academic prowess and impact, if through error, on modern debate: see e.g. Cadden in Speculum, Vol. 71, No. 3 (Jul., 1996), pp. 693-696; Kaelber in Contemporary Sociology, Vol. 24, No. 3 (May, 1995), pp. 367-368. For an illuminating contrast see the glowing review by Timothy Perper in The Journal of Sex Research, Vol. 31, No. 4 (1994), pp. 315-318 acknowledges Perper's complete ignorance of Greek, and accurately emphasizes the book's contemporary relevance over its historical value -- which the lauding reviewer admits himself unable to judge. Young's review in First Things (http://www.firstthings.com/article.php3?id_article=4511), and rather more scholarly than that (non-academic) journal's wont.

In any case a great deal has been written on this subject since 1994 -- some much better, much far worse. Boswell himself is on considerably more solid ground when discussing tolerance elsewhere, rather than positive liturgical practice.

May 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJ

@ guecxa....

Your comment...hmmm, no boobs? Okay, let's think for a second. I am a woman, complete and for sure, I was born that way and I know that's what I'm supposed to be, and I am almost completely flat-chested. Got a problem with that? That doesn't mean I'm aman. I could be standing up there with my husband in a painting like that and if it wasn't for my long hair and that fact that I LOOK like a girl, you wouldn't know by the size of my chest! The whole "women have to have big boobs" adage is getting tiring. Women are NOT sex objects! It's rather insulting to me that people focus on that part of a woman's body so much!

I'm sorry for sticking my nose in this. I wasn't going to say anything on this blog because noone was listening on the blog referred to from last week that I read (but I do like to read them and see what other people believe) but I couldn't let this comment go by. How would you feel if you were a woman who lost her breasts because of cancer or something, and someone commented that you looked like a man because you had no chest? Let's get past the whole visual determination of a woman or man based on chest size!

May 3, 2009 | Unregistered Commenteryou'll never know

I can't quite buy the premise that superstition provides an argument either for or against same-sex marriage. Churches were for it once, they're against it now. Who cares? What makes it anyone else's business besides the people in the relationship?

May 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSome Guy

St. Catherine's Monastery and Mt. Sinai are actually in Egypt, not Israel.

May 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKate

@some guy: unfortunately the reason it matters is that people who believe things vehemently (ie religious fanatics) tend to be very powerful in persuading others to go along with their will. they also have nothing to lose by acting in hate if they think their ultimate destiny after the material world (ie the afterlife) will be in their divinity's good graces. "god WANTS me to kill these faggots", you understand? we need to educate the faithful on how their religion has been corrupted so they can continue on believing with much more tolerance.

May 3, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermonkibutt

@ monkibutt.....

and the faithful need to educate the world on how God's laws do not change! Homosexuality has been around forever, yes, but it has also been condemned forever! I could list a whole mess of scriptures that condemn it, claim it's an abomination, but what good would that do? Nobody gets it. I have read through the entire Bible, both Old and New Testaments, and not once in there is a scripture that says it's okay. But there are MANY that condemn it! We are not going to tolerate sin because God does not tolerate sin. In fact, we had this discussion in Sunday School today; that just because people want to go their own ways does not mean its' going to change the Bible. yes, God loves all people, including gay people by the way, but like any parent who loves their child, He will discipline and punish all those who disobey! which means, yes, He will punish ALL who disobey, gay, straight, etc. Our pastor said today that if we stick to the laws and will of God, people will condemn us for it, call us legalistic, but tough luck for us. That's the way it has to be. And yes, I respect and appreciate my pastor very much, even though he is blunt, to the point, and sometimes offends. He is a wealth of knowledge and everything he says makes sense when he lines it up with scripture. A question posed today is: would you rather be safe...or sorry? I'd rather live my life believing-and acting out my life according to these beliefs- everything that's in the Bible, and get to Heaven and find out I was wrong about everyone else, but I'd still be in Heaven and be rewarded for my faithfulness, than to live my life the way everyone else says I have to live my life and tolerate sin and get to Heaven and find out the "legalistic religious freaks" were right and spend my eternity in hell. In fact, I switched churches because the church I was going to before does not line up with Biblical teachings, either. I'm done arguing the whole gay marriage issue, believe what you want, do what you want, but don't even consider telling me I need to be educated about how my "religion is corrupted", because that is one argument I will fight you on and not back down. I know Jinxi probably doesn't want all this on her blog, but I will NOT back down on that issue!

Just so you all know....the reason I came to this blog is because I saw that wife swap episode that Jinxi and her family were on and searched them out and I've been lurking on this blog for awhile. I wasn't going to get involved but I saw some comments that I just found absurd and my mouth took over, via my fingers on the keyboard.

May 3, 2009 | Unregistered Commenteryou'll never know

It's like saying David and Jonathan had a homo-relationship. Gee... where did that come from? You mean just because me and my mate are good friends, we must be holding hands and 'loving' each other? Can't a person be good mates with antoher without our perverted thinking that it is homosexuality.

I think you have been watching Brokeback mountain too many times.


May 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKaffein


Who were you commenting on? I"m confused.

May 4, 2009 | Unregistered Commenteryou'll never know

The amount of ignorance and misinformation on this site - specifically in the comments, and especially by @you'll never know - is amazing. Sorry I stopped by . . . gotta go . . .

May 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGodbot

An anonymous poster said:

"...and the faithful need to educate the world on how God's laws do not change! Homosexuality has been around forever, yes, but it has also been condemned forever! I could list a whole mess of scriptures that condemn it, claim it's an abomination, but what good would that do? Nobody gets it. I have read through the entire Bible, both Old and New Testaments, and not once in there is a scripture that says it's okay. But there are MANY that condemn it! We are not going to tolerate sin because God does not tolerate sin"

** Actually, the word "homosexual" does not appear in the Bible as originally written (Greek , Latin, Aramaic). It appears only in the Bible translations done by people who play free and loose with the translations. Research this for yourself and you'll see I'm correct. Sodom and Gomorrah was not about homosexual love. It was about abuse of sex, wine, food, etc. The people involved were predominantly heterosexual.

Anyone who understands God knows that God would never condemn a union made from love. It's really that simple. Why are heterosexual people so threatened by same gender relationships? This is all about knee jerk reactions and lack of thought. Very few people think things through for themselves, preferring instead to take the easy route of adopting the belief system of their parents, their religious leader, or a book improperly translated by those with their own agendas (most versions of the Bible).

May 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterHalaluani

@ Godbot

"The amount of ignorance and misinformation on this site - specifically in the comments, and especially by @you'll never know - is amazing. Sorry I stopped by . . . gotta go . . ."

By on this site, do you mean by Jinxi? If so, you should really qualify that statement. If you mean simply in the comments, well welcome to the internet. Next question, do you mean directed towards you'll never know or by you'll never know?

May 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSteve

@you'll never know

Who cares what the bible says. I mean it, who really gives a shit. It is no more a true authority as to what is right and wrong as this blog or the white pages. It was written by man for man to control men. And as to your misinformed assumption that it has been "condemned forever!", I would recommend pulling your head out of the bible, and both out of your ass and read history. You know that when you use the word "forever" that means forever... I am not sure you know this, but there was things going on before MAN wrote the grand book to control man (aka the bible). The Greeks and Romans saw homosexuality as a gift from the gods. That gays were in fact special, and treated as such. Indians seek to have there weddings blessed by people that are "Between the sexes", in short, men expressing and living like women. That is today BTW, and today is part of forever.

Here is what I say. If you can show me that being gay is wrong without bring up the Majick Sky Farie you call Jesus, or whatever other fake faith, OR you can bring GOD to me and he can vouch for that farce of a book, I will care about your opinion. Until them, it is just that, an uneducated Christian speaking about something they know NOTHING about.

My beloved friend once said to me, "Marq, never listen to someone who invokes majick and faith, because once you bring "make believe" to the argument, logic, by it's very nature, is removed from the conversation."

So tell me why being gay is wrong again?

May 6, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMarq

Hey, you'll never know, I have yet to find any specific scripture that pertains to homosexuality being an abomination. There are maybe two or three verses, but if you read them in context with the other verses on either side of them and look at the actual words being used, you'll see there is an entirely different meaning that pertains to a specific group of people at that specific time in history. But, I know you will read it how you want to read it. I do have to ask, though, that you seem to relish in pointing out how the times to do not change the Bible, so my question is do you eat shellfish? Do you wear clothing of mixed materials? Do you eat pork? Do you have children? If so, have you exercised your right to kill them for speaking back to you? Sold your daughters into slavery? Or, if you're a man, have you stoned your wife lately? These are all from God's words, but how many devout Christians still follow any of these laws? Why does the one line written about the hedonistic Romans still apply to today's society when none of those others do? If you really did read your Bible, you'd see that your reasoning has a lot of holes in it. Unless you're willing to follow God's word to the letter, then you're just as bad as the rest of the "Christians" who are just brainwashed sheep who listen to one person's opinion each Sunday but never bother to actually do any research of their own.

May 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterFLICKTHEAFA

From http://whosoever.org/bible/leviticus.shtml

"Leviticus 20:13 states: "If a man also lie with mankind as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they should surely be put to death....". The passage is surrounded by prohibitions against incest, bestiality, adultery and intercourse during a woman's period. But this verse is the only one in the series which uses the religious term abomination; it seems also to be directed against temple prostitution.

These passages are part of the Jewish Holiness Code which also:

permits polygamy
prohibits sexual intercourse when a woman has her period,
bans tattoos
prohibits eating rare meat
bans wearing clothes that are made from a blend of textiles
prohibits cross-breeding livestock
bans sowing a field with mixed seed
prohibits eating pigs, rabbits, or some forms of seafood
requires Saturday to be reserved as the Sabbath

Churches have abandoned the Holiness Code; it is no longer binding on modern-day Christians. They can wear tattoos, eat shrimp, wear polyester-cotton blends and engage in temple prostitution without violating this particular section of the Bible. Although this code is obsolete for Christians, many clergy still focus on those passages which deal with homosexuality."

God loves us all, forego judgement, forgive, look to yourself:

'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." Matthew 22: 37-39

Jesus was the paradiem shift to love. Be brave enough to love.

May 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJames

WOW! I don't know what you are talking about. I say this, because I was born Jewish - although I am nowt an athiest that practices Buddhism (way of life, not a religion).
I cannot speak for the *Lord* you pray to - I believe in equal rights for all people, and if that means not going back a thousand years to follow some stuff that was written, then so be it. I would, however, like to respond to your post...

permits polygamy
prohibits sexual intercourse when a woman has her period
bans tattoos
prohibits eating rare meat
bans wearing clothes that are made from a blend of textiles
prohibits cross-breeding livestock
bans sowing a field with mixed seed
prohibits eating pigs, rabbits, or some forms of seafood
requires Saturday to be reserved as the Sabbath

I mean no disrespect to you - I just do not understand why people are always trying to:
* Influence others to join their religious beliefs.
* Ignorant to the FACTS of other religions.

This is why I am athiest. I am able to believe what I want to. You see, I feel that it is nobody's business what I practice, and normally don't spend time defending my beliefs. I do, however, want to clear up your statements regarding Judiasm that are false.

Thanks for *listening* to my side.

May 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJamie Baby

I still think those who oppose same-sex marriage because they are being "biblically correct" haven't really read (or understood) the article Jinxi blogged about.

Watch "For the BIble Tells Me So". It is an interesting look at this topic, and might actually enlighten some. I hope.

May 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAdri
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