A Twisted Tale of Two Saints: Sts Sergius and Baccus

Several weeks ago, I was preparing my Sunday bulletin and was searching on the internet for an icon of the Saints commemorated on that day – October 20 – the Holy Martyrs Sergius and Bacchus of Syria. I was shocked to discover that some elements in our society have proclaimed them Patron Saints of Same Sex Marriage and that icons of these holy martyrs have been distributed at Gay Pride events. Something I was told at Camp Nazareth last summer made sense…. During one of the clergy discussions with the teenagers, a young woman shared that someone in her family “had an icon of two gay saints”. I had no idea what she was talking about and could not believe such a thing was true until my internet search led me to find a 1994 icon of the Holy Martyrs Sergius and Bacchus first displayed at the Chicago Gay Pride Parade.

Their Witness

Who were these holy saints and why has their story been hijacked by the gay community? St. Sergius and Bacchus were officers in the Roman army during the time of the Roman emperor Galerius (305-311 A.D.) They were held in high esteem until it became known that they were Christians for refusing to take part in pagan sacrifices to the Roman gods. For their refusal they were tortured and publicly humiliated by being dressed in women’s clothing, chained and paraded through the streets of the city. St. Bacchus was beaten to death and St. Sergius was beheaded in the city of Rasafa, present day Syria. These holy martyrs are listed among especially venerated military saints including St. George and St. Demetrios. Their memory is especially venerated among Arab Christians and their shrine in Rasafa became a major pilgrimage center during the time of the Byzantine empire when the city became known as Sergiopolis. An ancient church dedicated to their memory in the city of Ma’loula, Syria was destroyed by Islamic militants just a few weeks ago along with a rare, 13th century icon of the two saints.

Kondak (Tone 3)

In our assembly let us crown with holy songs of praise
the two courageous brothers martyrs in the faith,
Sergius the fearless defender of the Holy Trinity
and Bacchus who suffered with him.
They both sang to Christ the Creator of all
Who rewards such worthy struggle.

Gay Married Saints?

The popularity of Sts. Sergius and Bacchus in the gay community stems from a controversial and discredited book by Yale professor John Boswell “Same Sex Unions in Premodern Europe.” In his study Boswell claims he discovered evidence that homosexual marriages took place in Eastern Orthodoxy, especially in the late Byzantine period (9th through 15th centuries) and that Sts. Sergius and Bacchus were united in such a marriage. He maintains that a rite known in Greek as “adelphopoiesis” was actually a same sex marriage that was blessed by the Church. The use of this rite of adelphopoiesis is documented in ancient Byzantine manuscripts. The texts of the prayers are clear that the ceremony is asking God to bless the uniting of two men as spiritual brothers – pneumatikous adelphous, not carnal, sexual brothers. Orthodox theologian Father Patrick Viscuso notes that the rite is a union that is closer to that of adoption and that “adelphopoiesis” should be translated as “adopting a brother” or “brother adoption”. This ritual of creating blood brothers was not limited to the ancient Byzantine Empire but can also be found in other cultures including American Indians, ancient Chinese, Germanic and Scandinavian peoples. While some in our society cannot imagine an intimate relationship between two men without a sexual aspect, television and movies have popularized the concept of a “bromance”. This type of relationship is a close, intimate relationship between two heterosexual men that is clearly non-sexual. Sts. Sergius and Bacchus are 4th century models of men who were intimate friends and also devoted disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ and were willing to die for their faith in Him.

Faith Under Attack

The Holy Bible and our Faith is clear on the incompatibility of the practice of homosexuality and Christian discipleship. In page after page the teaching of the Faith is clear: Genesis 19:4-11; Leviticus 18:22; Leviticus 20:13; Romans 1:27; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; 1 Timothy 1:9-10. The witness of the early Church Fathers and Mothers are unanimous in echoing the same teaching. It has only been in the past 30-40 years that Western culture has argued that these passages have been misinterpreted and only in our modern day are we sufficiently spiritually mature and enlightened to correctly understand their teaching. As a Protestant minister friend of mine observed: If the Bible isn’t clear on its teaching about homosexuality, then it isn’t clear on anything!”

Today we have come to the point that if anyone dares to witness to the unchanging truth of our Faith they are labeled “homophobic, bigoted, a hater, narrow minded”. If a business owner such as a florist, photographer or catering hall, refuses to participate in a same-sex wedding due to their religious convictions they are sued for bias and discrimination and victims of protest marches and boycotts. The prophecy of St. Anthony the Great of Egypt (3rd century A.D.) seems to have been fulfilled:

A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying: ‘You are mad, you are not like us’.

While we affirm and uphold the teaching of our Faith and teach the need for repentance, we must never treat those who identify themselves as gay with hatred, contempt, or rejection. Those who proclaim themselves as gay individuals and “come out of the closet” are embraced by the gay community with love, welcome and acceptance. Can they find love and welcome among us in the Church and a place for healing?

- Father Edward Pehanich