This service is a rite of the Eastern Orthodox Church dating from very early times and assuming its present form between the fourth and ninth centuries AD. This service is translated from the Euchologion of Jacobus Goar, which was printed in 1647 and revised in 1730. A facsimile of the 1730 edition, published in Graz, Austria, in 1960, is the edition available in many theological libraries. With the rising influence of Western ideas in recent centuries, this rite ceased to be practiced widely and was largely forgotten or ignored except in isolated areas, most notably Albania and other areas in the Balkans, where it flourished throughout the nineteenth century and up to at least 1991. Both men and women were united with this rite or similar ones. Nowadays, this rite is performed in the Orthodox church at Elbasan in central Albania, and at some Orthodox churches in the U.S. (while other Orthodox will vehemently reject the rite). There are other manuscripts of this rite available, e.g. in Russian trebniki (prayer-books); John Boswell has looked over about 100 adelphopoiia manuscripts which he will discuss in John Boswell, Same-Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe (June 1994).
This rite is called "spiritual" because the relationship between spiritual brothers is not one of blood-relation but of the Holy Spirit, and also to distinguish the rite from blood-brotherhood, which the Church opposed. In the service, the saint-martyrs Sergius and Bacchus are invoked, who were united in spiritual brotherhood "not bound by the law of nature but by the example of faith in the Holy Bacchus are invoked, who were united in spiritual brotherhood "not bound by the law of nature but by the example of faith in the Holy Spirit". These saints were tortured and martyred late in the third century A.D. when they refused to worship the emperor's idols. In their biography by Simeon Metaphrastes (available in J.P. Migne, Patrologia Graeca, vol. 115, pp. 1005-1032) they are described as sweet companions and lovers to each other.
This rite is incorporated into the Divine Liturgy. It begins with the usual blessing and prayers of a Liturgy. During the Great Synapte, petitions for the couple to be united in spiritual brotherhood are added to the usual petitions. After the First Antiphon, two special prayers are said for the couple, after which they kiss the Gospel Book and each other. After the priest sings a hymn, the Liturgy continues at "Have mercy on us, O God .. ". Accounts of the use of this rite (such as Naecke, Jahrbuch fuer sexuelle Zwischenstufen 9 (1908), 328) confirm that the spiritual brothers receive Holy Communion together, thereby forming the sacramental bond in this union. However, Goar mentions in a footnote that in some manuscripts, the couple is only blessed with holy water.
In Albania the existence of the rite is common knowledge but only a few knew any details about current practice, due to the 1967-1990 religious ban in Albania. In 1991 the rite was performed in Elbasan, central Albania and was considered as a "gay marriage".
According to Kodifikimi i pergjitheshem te legjislacionit ne fuqi te Republikes Popullore te Shqiperise (Tirana, Botim e Kryeministrise, 1961), Communist-era Albania had no prohibition on vellameria (adelphopoiia) or homoseksualizmi (homosexuality), though there was a penalty of jail time for pederastia which was defined (incorrectly, I would add) as "marredhenie seksuale ndermjet meshkujve" = "sexual relations between males".
This may have interesting implications for women who used this rite; John Boswell reports (in the video of his talk at Integrity) of an Albanian female couple thus united, one of whom had to vow never to have sexual relations with a male.
25 May 1994
Nicholas P Zymaris (Axios)