Oct 7, 2009


Saints Sergius and Bacchus

Another example of synchronicity, yesterday I attended evening Mass at the little church next door to my apartment (see posting below)., not realizing it was the feast day of these two gay saints. Sitting three rows in front of me was a young,  obviously gay couple enjoying their friendship throughout the service and being pleasantly tolerated by the rest of the small community (12 of us altogether, including one little girl skipping about in the sanctuary and a teenager with a skateboard). Both young men were greeted warmly by all during the kiss of peace. Interesting. I must find out more about this sweet little parish next door.

Saints Sergius and Bacchus were Roman soldiers, Christian martyrs and gay men who loved each other. They were killed around 303 in present-day Syria. Their feast day is observed on Oct. 7. The couple was openly gay, but secretly Christian -- the opposite of today’s closeted Christians.

The close bond between the two men has been emphasized since the earliest accounts, and recent scholarship has revealed their homosexuality. The oldest record of their martyrdom describes them as erastai (Greek for “lovers”). Scholars believe that they may have been united in the rite of adelphopoiesis (brother-making), a kind of early Christian same-sex marriage. 

A classic example of paired saints, Sergius and Bacchus were high-ranking young officers. Sergius was primicerius (commander) and Bacchus was secundarius (subaltern officer). They were tortured to death after they refused to attend sacrifices to Zeus, thus revealing their secret Christianity. 

The men were arrested and paraded through the streets in women’s clothing in an unsuccessful effort to humiliate them. Early accounts say that they responded by chanting that they were dressed as brides of Christ. They told their captors that women’s dress never stopped women from worshipping Christ, so it wouldn’t stop them, either. Then Sergius and Bacchus were separated and beaten so severely that Bacchus died. 

According to the early manuscripts, Bacchus appeared to Sergius that night with a face as radiant as an angel’s, dressed once again as a soldier. He urged Sergius not to give up because they would be reunited in heaven as lovers. His statement is unique in the history of martyrs. Usually the promised reward is union with God, not with a lover. Over the next days Sergius was tortured and eventually beheaded. 

Sergius’ tomb became a famous shrine, and for nearly 1,000 years the couple was revered as the official patrons of the Byzantine army. Many early churches were named after Sergius, sometimes with Bacchus. They are recognized as martyrs by the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches. The pair was venerated through the Mediterranean, the Middle East, Latin America and among the Slavs. Sergius and Bacchus continue to be popular saints with Christian Arabs and now among GLBT Christians and their allies. 

(taken from My Out Spirit)

Christ the Bridegroom

Christ the Bridegroom
Robert Lentz


William D. Lindsey said...

Jayden, the more you write about this particular church, the more fascinated I am. Not only two men kissing in the congregation, but a little girl skipping in the sanctuary, and a teen with a skateboard.

Sounds like my kind of parish. The only thing you need to complete the picture is a few dogs and cats. I have been to Catholic churches in Mexico City where people brought their dogs on leashes, and I loved that symbol of a church that welcomes all of God's creatures.

Churches without walls: that's my ideal of a real church.

Jayden Cameron said...

Bill, your comments remind me of a little Catholic village school where I taught in North Eastern Thailand in the seventies. We had several cats that liked to sleep right in front of the black board, a dog or two in the back and a large black cow who enjoyed sticking herself through the door and mooing during lessons. The students, village boys all of them, found nothing strange at all in this, but it took me a while to get used to the cow.