ON BEING ORTHODOX AND GAY
By Nicholas Zymaris
Christ is Risen! Truly He is Risen!
"You're gay and Orthodox? How could you possibly reconcile the gay lifestyle
Have you ever heard anyone say this? All too often, we see this sentiment
expressed; the implication is that this "lifestyle" is so heinous that it
should be self-evident that it cannot be compatible in any way with our faith;
the phenomenon is found in most other denominations as well.
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.
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 feastday, 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 lesbian 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 "living in sin" like a committed relationship would be
considered. That is not healthy either from a physical or spiritual
perspective, and the fault lies in antigay 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 of sin"). 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 of it.
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 (Needless to say,
when heterosexuals cheat on their spouses, this is not condemned as "the
heterosexual lifestyle", but when one talks about gays, it is assumed that
every gay person performs uniquely evil deeds which no heterosexual does; "we
are all equally sinners but some sinners are more sinful that others",
especially if they can be rationalized away as some marginal group existing
only in urban gay ghettoes with their bathhouses and raunchy bars.).
Does our Holy Tradition oppose these things? Yes -- it opposes slander, and
has nothing bad to say about what the real "gay lifestyle" involves. If one
wants to cite extreme cases like that of Jeffrey Dahmer (or even the leader
of the "Heaven's Gate" cult, which the _Philadelphia Gay News_ reported was
strict in his celibacy rules owing to his being closeted and at odds with his
own homosexuality), then one would have to make the same condemnations of "the
heterosexual lifestyle" based on the fact that the great majority of
criminals are heterosexual, and most heinous crimes by far are committed by
heterosexuals. Heterosexual rape is also much more common than homosexual
rape. As you see, it is obvious that only prejudice could permit one to
condemn all heterosexuals for the sins of a few. Does not the same seem
obvious with regard to homosexuals?
Are gays inclined to molest or otherwise corrupt children? From the
statistics I've seen, 99% of child molestations are heterosexual, so when one
considers that 4%-10% of the population is gay, and an additional percentage
are bisexual, child molestation is up to 10 times as prevalent (maybe more)
in the heterosexual community.
Regarding our Tradition, it should be noted that much can be found
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 nevetheless resemble prostitution. It is as
relevant pastorally to gay couples as rape is to heterosexual couples. Even
St. John Chrysostom states, about Romans chapter 1, that "ou gar eipen oti
erasthesan kai epethimisan allilon, all' `exekauthisan en ti orexei auton eis
allilous' " (P.G. 60:417, col. 1, near bottom of the column). The part in
single quotes is a quote from Romans 1:27; the full translation of the above
being: "for he did not say that they fell in love [< "eros"] or had passion
for each other, but rather that they `burned in their appetite for each
other' ". Because of this distinction, St. John Chrysostom says they had no
excuse. If they actually did love each other, or even "had the hots" for
each other (an admittedly colloquial translation of "epethimisan") it would
have been a different thing.
It is obvious from Romans, in fact, that the sin was idolatry, and giving up
the truth of God for a lie, for which God allowed their errors to permeate
the rest of their lives; it strongly suggests pagan cults of the time where
men as well as women engaged in frenzied rites which were indeed sometimes of
a same-sex character (much like the Eleusinian or Bacchanalian mysteries),
which culminated in the men being castrated and thus literally "receiving in
themselves the penalty" for their error (Rom. 1:27). Again, how could one
claim that this is even remotely relevant to a loving gay or lesbian
relationship? Does the typical gay man today engage in frenzied rituals and
call out the name of various pagan deities as he castrates himself? Do
lesbians lacerate themselves into a bloody mess while dancing around an idol
of some fertility goddess (a very persistent and heterosexual form of
idolatry, I might add)? People dedicated to the slander of gay people might
want us to think this, but I'd rather pursue the truth. And please keep in
mind that these revelers in Romans chap. 1 "exchanged" the natural for the
unnatural; it should be clear that a gay person is already gay, and has not
"exchanged" anything; St. Paul is not only referring to idolaters, but to
people who are not engaging in same-sex activity out of love or passion, but
gave up what is in their nature (loving heterosexuality; they were
_heterosexuals_) to engage in depraved acts. The fact that these acts were
depraved and loveless is shown by St. Paul's and St. John Chrysostom's
description of how they got to doing such things. To say that all homosexual
acts are this way is ridiculous, however.
If one wants to cite I Cor. 6:9 and I Tim. 6:10 which condemns "malakoi" and
"arsenokoitai", I would advise the reader to note that "malakos" is an
adjective meaning soft, and is used to refer to a number of morally neutral
things; to use "soft" in a negative sense is hardly a condemnation of
homosexuality; as for "arsenokoitai", it is strange that this feminine plural
is used to condemn gay males; some even have taken it upon themselves to
consider "malakoi" as feminine homosexuals and "arsenokoitai" as masculine
homosexuals; they obviously don't know their Greek. St. John the Faster notes
that "some men even commit the sin of arsenokoitia with their wives" (P.G.
88:1893) so one can hardly consider it as something uniquely homosexual.
The first known usage of the word "arsenokoitai" (always a plural, by the way)
is in the apocryphal Sibylline Oracles (Oracula Sibyllina) where it is
prophesied that the arsenokoitai will come from the north and steal the
children. Kidnapping or child molestation, perhaps; a relationship it's not.
As for the Old Testament, the King James Bible's condemnations of "sodomites
and whores" refers to "qedeshim" and "qedeshot"; i.e. male and female temple
prostitutes, respectively. We know that service as a temple prostitute was
often forced, that the victims had to "perform" regardless of their gender or
inclinations, and that sometimes this involved castration or other
effeminization of males. It makes the condemnation in Leviticus of "men lying
with men as with a woman" make more sense; in a gay relationship there is no
imitation of heterosexual intercourse, and a man having sex with a man as with
a woman (i.e. vaginally) is a biological impossibility. Furthermore, why are
lesbians not mentioned, is this then permitted while male-male sex is not?
And the proponents of anti-gay uses of Leviticus don't care to observe its
other precepts on avoiding mixing of fabric types, seeds and the like. I
don't think even Orthodox Jews nowadays would check a potential synagogue
member to see if his "stones" have been crushed, another O.T. cause for
excommunication. Christ, of course, had no problem with eunuchs in the kingdom
of heaven, and the account of the Ethiopian eunuch's conversion is inspiring
to all. Why are we so selective, and ignore these O.T. rules if they can't be
made to apply to gays? Could it be simple prejudice and misunderstanding?
What about David and Jonathan in I and II Samuel? Such was their love for
each other than they exchanged their garments, their souls were knitted
together as one, and when Jonathan died, he was eulogized with the words "My
love for you was pleasant, passing the love of women". Doesn't this remind
you of another place in the O.T. where it is said "the two shall become one"?
And don't forget Ecclesiastes chapter 4 (KJV used):
8 There is one [alone], and [there is] not a second; yea, he
hath neither child nor brother: yet [is there] no end of all his
labour; neither is his eye satisfied with riches; neither [saith
he], For whom do I labour, and bereave my soul of good? This [is]
also vanity, yea, it [is] a sore travail.
9 Two [are] better than one; because they have a good reward
for their labour.
10 For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe
to him [that is] alone when he falleth; for [he hath] not another
to help him up.
11 Again, if two [men] lie together, then they have heat: but how
can one be warm [alone]?
12 And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and
a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
What an eloquent way of describing the need for companionship! In fact, this
very passage is used by a 19th century saint who feared that his beloved would
leave him (see the life of Ss. Zosima and Basilisk, published by St. Herman of
Alaska Press, Platina, CA).
If one wants to cite Sodom, then just get out your online Bible and check
every single mention of the word "Sodom" in the O.T. and N.T.: it is very
clear what Sodom does and does not represent. Look at what Ezekiel and Our
Lord have to say in particular; also note that a mob gathering around Lot's
house shouting "Bring them out that we may know them" (Gen. 19:5) looks
awfully like an attempted gang rape; hardly relevant to a _loving_
relationship. And if that passage was about sexual morality, why is it that
as soon as the family escapes Sodom, being the only righteous there, each of
the daughters in turn get their father drunk and commit incest with him?
Shall we say that incest is permissible, heterosexually, because Righteous
Lot permitted his daughters to do what they did? (I don't think one can argue
that Lot was unconscious and did not know what happened; after all, each
daughter conceived, and this means that he had to be able to get aroused
enough to sustain an erection and to ejaculate, _twice_, which is difficult
for many a sober man with an adult, nonfamilial partner). Or shall we
condemn all heterosexuals because of this incident?
Also from our Tradition, it is right there in the Patrologia Graeca, that the
relationship between the martyrs Ss. Sergius and Bacchus was described using
the term "o glykys hetairos kai erastes" (sweet companion and lover; erastes
is derived from eros and has the expected meaning) (P.G. 115:1024B; i.e.
paragraph 15, which begins with "O synathlos de Sergios...")
It is not just one phrase either; read the whole Life of these saints and see
what you think.
If it was good enough for St. Simeon Metaphrastes, it's good enough for me.
By the way, this was not the edition that John Boswell used. 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:
1. 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. The Protestant Metropolitan
Community Church has been doing what it calls "Holy Unions" since the late
1960's, and though they used to think they invented such a ceremony, we know
now that a union ceremony has existed since before the ninth century A.D.
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.).
2. 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".
3. 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!"
As you will see below, some of these 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.
Critics of Boswell even chose to write two reviews of his last book a year
after his death, to "eulogize" him with slander in _Touchstone_ and
_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 (actually,
Boswell was a popular history professor at Yale; why should he have pretended
otherwise?). There was also an article in the New Republic. All of these
articles cited lots of opinions, and had a 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 (if they
just came out and said that they dislike gays, they'd be labeled as bigots,
but this way they appear as "legitimate scholars"); 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 is surprisingly erotic; and it would seem likely that the
author is just another frustrated closet homosexual who sadly does not
realize that what he advocates does not work.
In 1994, 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 fundamentalist-like Synodal (ROCOR) Russian
Orthodox, many of whom are actually recent converts from actual Protestant
fundamentalism and don't seem to have shaken it very well (As an example, one
of them admitted that he considered pastoral concerns "irrelevant" to
homosexuals and that most of his peers would rather that all gays just die off
of AIDS. Of course the gay community is not only not dying off, but
flourishing, despite all the obstacles people try to put in our path. There
are still, of course, plenty of gays in isolated areas who live in constant
fear of violence, estrangement from family and friends, and the like, not to
mention eternal damnation from the slightest thought about their orientation.
Truly, they are in great need of a little genuine pastoral support, not
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, 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. 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
Now, if it seems strange that "brotherhood" is used in a spousal fashion,
consider that the term has several meanings aside from this: brother by
common mother ("a-delphos"); (2) brother by common Father ("brother in
Christ"); (3) brother by common abbot (monk); (4) brother by common situation
("brother in struggle"), or (5) common race ("brother" in the black
community). 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 (So. 4:9-12, 5:1). Are we talking about incest
here? No, we are talking about fraternal terminology being used for a
relationship of eros between two persons not related by blood. 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.
To return to the discussion of adelphopoeia on the net, 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 (where does the rite mention that? And they say Boswell was picking
at straws? Indeed the pot was calling the kettle black). 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".
The anti-gay side was losing its credibility. Drastic measures were taken.
First of all, the list owners denied access to anyone they hadn't previously
screened; this was explicitly to weed out any gay-sympathetic voices.
Second, the new party line was declared: this rite never even existed; it
was invented by Paul Halsall (a professor at Fordham University) and Axios.
Third, all proponents of this view, especially Halsall, were to receive
physical threats by phone, private e-mail, and U.S. mail. Such Christians!
Fourth, a priest from a Serbian jurisdiction pronounced an anathema on
Halsall, which is strange since Halsall has nothing to do with that
jurisdiction (more to the point, the anathema was simply a smokescreen to
avoid dealing with the implications of the existence and use of adelphopoeia
in Orthodoxy). I was apparently the only critic of them who did not get
threatening phone calls and other forms of harassment, etc.; even a straight
professor who said he's against homosexuality but thinks one can't just brush
this under the rug got harassed. Those tactics prove that they had not a
foot to stand on. Their lie that the rite never existed after all was
made more ridiculous by the posting of the passage from the Pedalion
(Rudder), which even 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 (you know what _that_ means) 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 20th-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 love.
But I am not merely relying on books. There are parishes both here 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 (not
Albanian Americans, I might add, who do not seem to generally be familiar with
vellameria) 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,
Gjirokaster (also known as Argyrokastro, Greek for "silver castle") 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 practiced 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 matter". 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 20 Albanians I spoke to about this was uncomfortable
with this, unlike most Albanian Americans who seem to have acquired American
homophobia in many cases.
(Note: the former communist government of Albania passed a law banning all
"marredhenie seksuale ndermjet meshkujve", i.e. "sexual relations between
males"; in the 1990's this law was repealed and homosexual relations are now
legal for males or females of 14 years of age or higher, as with heterosexual
relations; and there is also an advocacy group, the Gay Albania Association
[Shoqata], which was also legalized, it is located in the capital, Tirana).
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_ (Athens, 1982).
(It was written by Fr. Evangelos K. Mantzouneas, the Secretary of the Greek
Synod Committee on Legal and Canonical Matters of the Church of Greece). An
English translation is available on the Axios website or via e-mail, as is
the discussion on the Orthodox list and other items I refer to. The author
links the underlying relationship historically with the Sacred Band of Thebes
(an all-gay military unit which required its members to swear they were not
"addicted to women"; it was the embodiment of the widespread belief that "an
army of lovers cannot fail" because the love would motivate them to ever
greater heroism and a desire not to be disgraced in front of their beloved),
as well as the _Erotikos_ of Plutarch and various historical manifestations
However, the Christian form of the blessing of this relationship was distinct
(there was even an attempt to suppress the blood-brotherhood and encourage
the "spiritual brotherhood" in its place; see Aries, P. and Duby, G., _A
History of Private Life_, vol. 1, p. 596). 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. He cites the text of a contemporary (1982) rite from Epirus,
which is essentially the same as the Goar text; which he also cites. This is
a very Greek way of saying it without actually using the "G-word" (i.e. "gay");
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 (Fr. Mantzouneas admits, like all scholars including the Albanian
Eqrem Cabej, that these encyclicals were generally ignored and the rite
remained popular). Adelphopoeia is even a part of the secular Greek history,
and many of the fighters in the Greek War of Independence of 1821 were
adelphopoitoi ("united with adelphopoeia"); I'd say that if anything, this
helped them win the war, as homosexual love has been associated for millenia
with personal uplifting and the overthrow of tyranny (Plato said, in the
Symposium, that this is why oppressive governments like the Persia of his
time prohibited it, but Athens encouraged it. The same might be said of
modern-day Iran, though there are of course other factors also). Now, please
note that I am supplying these notes on pre-Christian and secular practice in
order to supply background information, and to explain such references which
Fr. Mantzouneas makes. I am not saying that Ancient Greece or Albania or any
other culture is an across-the-board model for what we should do today in
either the Church or society; but it is certainly interesting nonetheless
(However, I certainly think that the ancient view on gays in the military,
not to mention in society, makes a lot more sense than Colin Powell's).
A note about "spiritual brotherhood": This is the term often used to describe
the rite ("akolouthia eis adelphopoeian pneumatiken"), which of course refers
to the spiritual nature of the rite, especially as distinguished from blood
brotherhoods where actual blood was exchanged. Blood brotherhood was
performed by Moslems and other non-Christians, and was discouraged.
Christians (both Orthodox and Roman Catholic) were not to drink each other's
blood, but only to receive the Body and Blood of our Lord, which they did.
In countries like 19th century 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 and is not to say that all these
relationships were approved of by the Catholic or Orthodox Churches in
Albania; he is talking about what existed in the society. 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. While
later in the 19th century the Church of Greece issued two local encyclicals
against the Rite of Brotherhood, one must ask why it took the church 19
centuries to ban something like this. It has been permitted much longer than
it has been prohibited). Spiritual brotherhood, moreover, was distinguished
by the phrase in it which stated that the couple's love was "not of nature
but of the Holy Spirit"; which I consider not only 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".
Adelphopoeia also was performed in Greece, Russia, Romania, Serbia and
Montenegro (Crna Gora) in the 19th century, and before that even in Italy.
However, in 19th century Albania it seems to have enjoyed a zenith of sorts,
and a number of Europeans note this with incredulity (especially the gay
ones, who left the Victorian era for what seems to be the same matter of fact
attitude that the modern Albanians I spoke with had). There were even gay
love songs, which were compiled by the ambassador from Austria-Hungary to
Ottoman Albania, Johan Georg von Hahn, in 1854. One of these was reprinted in
part (starting with "The sun...") in Havelock Ellis' _Studies in the
Psychology of Sex_ (1928); the translation of the full song from Hahn's 1854
(diacritical marks omitted for clarity)
S'gjen ndonji zok qi kendon, You'll find no bird that sings,
Te gjithe jane e po qajne. They all sit there [lit., "are" ] and cry.
I mjeri ashik sa fort po duron, The poor lover, how strongly he endures,
Prej dyllberit po e dajne. [For] they separate him from [his] beloved.
Dilli, qi len ne mengjes The sun, which rises in the morning
Si ti, o djal, kur me zallandise [Is] like you, boy, when you are near me.
Kur me kthen syt' e zes' When you turn your black eyes to me
Shpirt ment prej kres' mi gremise. You drive me crazy.
(lit.,"destroy the spirit and mind from
Author: Nechin of Permet, Albania, mid 19th century
(Translated June 1991, Nicholas Zymaris)
(Note: the terms "ashik" and "dyllber" are analogous to the Greek terms
"erastes" and "eromenos", respectively. Also, the gender of both
("lover" and "beloved") here is male. The dialect is Geg, with some
(See J.G. von Hahn, _Albanesische Studien_ (Jena, 1854) re archaic terms, i.e.
the verb "zallandis" and the derivation of "ashik"; there are also other terms
used for the beloved such as "xhan", which means "[my] soul, [my] darling",
and is still in common use today).
(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.
Naturally, the term "homosexual" (or the German or Albanian equivalents of
this word) was not used since the term was not invented until five years
later, by Benkert in 1859. But that didn't prevent the topic from being dealt
with, with terms like "ashikun le te gezoje" ("let him gratify his [male]
lover", from another song), or "manmaennliche Liebe" in German.
Incidentally, Hahn was a devout Christian who loved to illustrate Albanian
grammar and sayings by using passages from the Old and New Testaments in
This does not directly prove anything regarding what the Church should do or
has done, but is a refreshing change from the obfuscation and slander one
usually sees on the topic of homosexuality. And I fail to see how obfuscation
and slander can have any place in a Christian discussion, even though nowadays
an otherwise intelligent Orthodox writer like Fr. Thomas Hopko or the
(now-retired) Fr. Stanley Harakas can go off the deep end when it comes to
describing homosexuality (according to them, we are all child-molesters who
should be prohibited by law from working with children, and so forth).
There is also the common, more moderate view that gay people are not monsters
and in fact their orientation is more or less morally neutral; however God
help them if they act on it. It assumes that all gay people must, without
exception, never have a relationship and be totally celibate, even when one
cannot avail oneself of the benefits of either marriage or monasticism.
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. Look at the dismal record
of the group Courage, as well as the various 12-step anti-gay groups around
the country; their members have a very high AIDS rate (the NY chapter of
Courage stopped functioning for a while because of this) and are generally
quite miserable. For those whom God has given the grace (charis) to live in
celibacy, such techniques may work. 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 (i.e. re STD's)
or spiritual safety. 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. Orthopraxia
should derive from sound theology; simply spending one's whole life
desperately trying not to masturbate or have any kind of sex or permit
thoughts of same 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 thus expect everyone else also to be obsessed
about 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.
To conclude, it should be said that 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 calls us to love our neighbor, 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 antigay attitudes dismiss the idea of a gay
marriage and actually encourage the very promiscuity which they decry. "What
God has joined together, let no one tear asunder".
(Font: DEC Multinational; applies only to diacritical marks)
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