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On Being Orthodox And Gay

You're gay and Orthodox? How could you possibly reconcile the gay lifestyle with Orthodoxy?

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 phariseeism).

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 in 1988).

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 "waerme 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). 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 of blood-brotherhood.

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 compilation is (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 my head")

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 nonstandard spelling).

(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 Albanian).

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 as under".

Nicholas Zymaris ("Axios")
May 1997


Adelphopoiia - The Rite of Spiritual Brotherhood
by Nicholas Zymaris
Introduction to the rite of spiritual brotherhood practiced by the Eastern Orthodox Church to unite same-sex couples in a way similar to the marriage from as early as the ninth century AD.

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