Radfem Reboot has exceeded every last one of my expectations and hopes– what a wonderful, amazing, fabulous conference. Probably three-fourths of the women attending (and there are many, far more than I expected to be there) are under 30 years of age. Thrilling! The workshops have been nourishing, inspiring and energizing, every one of them. Kathleen Barry’s keynote was stunning, as was the consciousness-raising that followed. Indigenous women from Vancouver B.C. have presented workshops and panels on how colonialism, genocide and patriarchy have created generations of prostituted women and girls, raped women, murdered women, missing women and shared their ongoing strategies of resistance. We have heard from Lierre Keith, Renate Klein, Susan Hawthorne, Sam Berg, others, and I presented as well, and it went so well, and I am so pleased. Today we’ll hear from Cathy Brennan and Maggie Hayes and will finish with a social this evening. The food has been delicious. I hugged Lucky Nickel and Stillwater and Cathy Brennan and Lierre Keith and Susan Hawthorne and Renate Klein and Kathleen Barry and Maggie Hayes and Sam Berg and Allecto (many times! had a wonderful dinner with this beloved young woman), and Kat and Emzy Femzie and Bunny from Michfest and Pisaquari! I met some women who live close to me, exchanged contact information. My heart is so full, I feel so nourished, I have so much hope, once again.
Cathy Brennan, a lesbian, was attacked at the New York City Dyke March this past weekend by a group of trans women and their supporters, one of whom was an organizer of the march. Cathy was one woman and she was targeted by a group of people, one ringleader of which acknowledges she “lost it.” Cathy used her one voice to speak her own truth and assaulted nobody.
This is despicable behavior, unconscionable and disgusting. To be silent about it when speaking up is possible, to ignore it, to fail to acknowledge it, would be wrong. Hence, this post.
There is some fallacy of human nature that allows people to view practicing as women only as exclusion rather than inclusion. When we gather in an all women rite we are offering a sacred space for the benefit of those attending – the rite is for women, especially if the focus is Women’s Mysteries. Those rites center on menstruation, birthing, and cessation of menstruation, all functions of women who came into this world at birth as female. Even if the rite does not focus on those Mysteries, women need sacred space to grow and heal from growing up in a world that often excludes, puts down, or otherwise attempts to control them as the “less than” gender. Coming together in this way has nothing to do with excluding men – it is about giving women a place of their own.
A Kiev art museum contains a curious icon from St. Catherine’s Monastery on Mt. Sinai in Israel. It shows two robed Christian saints. Between them is a traditional Roman ‘pronubus’ (a best man), overseeing a wedding. The pronubus is Christ. The married couple are both men.
Is the icon suggesting that a gay “wedding” is being sanctified by Christ himself? The idea seems shocking. But the full answer comes from other early Christian sources about the two men featured in the icon, St. Sergius and St. Bacchus,two Roman soldiers who were Christian martyrs. These two officers in the Roman army incurred the anger of Emperor Maximilian when they were exposed as ‘secret Christians’ by refusing to enter a pagan temple. Both were sent to Syria circa 303 CE where Bacchus is thought to have died while being flogged. Sergius survived torture but was later beheaded. Legend says that Bacchus appeared to the dying Sergius as an angel, telling him to be brave because they would soon be reunited in heaven.
While the pairing of saints, particularly in the early Christian church, was not unusual, the association of these two men was regarded as particularly intimate. Severus, the Patriarch of Antioch (512 – 518 CE) explained that, “we should not separate in speech they [Sergius and Bacchus] who were joined in life“. This is not a case of simple “adelphopoiia.” In the definitive 10th century account of their lives, St. Sergius is openly celebrated as the “sweet companion and lover” of St. Bacchus. Sergius and Bacchus’s close relationship has led many modern scholars to believe they were lovers. But the most compelling evidence for this view is that the oldest text of their martyrology, written in New Testament Greek describes them as “erastai,” or “lovers”. In other words, they were a male homosexual couple. Their orientation and relationship was not only acknowledged, but it was fully accepted and celebrated by the early Christian church, which was far more tolerant than it is today…
Prof. John Boswell, the late Chairman of Yale University’s history department, discovered that in addition to heterosexual marriage ceremonies in ancient Christian church liturgical documents, there were also ceremonies called the “Office of Same-Sex Union” (10th and 11th century), and the “Order for Uniting Two Men” (11th and 12th century).
These church rites had all the symbols of a heterosexual marriage: the whole community gathered in a church, a blessing of the couple before the altar was conducted with their right hands joined, holy vows were exchanged, a priest officiated in the taking of the Eucharist and a wedding feast for the guests was celebrated afterwards. These elements all appear in contemporary illustrations of the holy union of the Byzantine Warrior-Emperor, Basil the First (867-886 CE) and his companion John.
Such same gender Christian sanctified unions also took place in Ireland in the late 12th and early 13th centuries, as the chronicler Gerald of Wales (‘Geraldus Cambrensis’) recorded.
Same-sex unions in pre-modern Europe list in great detail some same gender ceremonies found in ancient church liturgical documents. One Greek 13th century rite, “Order for Solemn Same-Sex Union”, invoked St. Serge and St. Bacchus, and called on God to “vouchsafe unto these, Thy servants [N and N], the grace to love one another and to abide without hate and not be the cause of scandal all the days of their lives, with the help of the Holy Mother of God, and all Thy saints”. The ceremony concludes: “And they shall kiss the Holy Gospel and each other, and it shall be concluded”.
Another 14th century Serbian Slavonic “Office of the Same Sex Union”, uniting two men or two women, had the couple lay their right hands on the Gospel while having a crucifix placed in their left hands. After kissing the Gospel, the couple were then required to kiss each other, after which the priest, having raised up the Eucharist, would give them both communion.
Records of Christian same sex unions have been discovered in such diverse archives as those in the Vatican, in St. Petersburg, in Paris, in Istanbul and in the Sinai, covering a thousand-years from the 8th to the 18th century.
The Dominican missionary and Prior, Jacques Goar (1601-1653), includes such ceremonies in a printed collection of Greek Orthodox prayer books, “Euchologion Sive Rituale Graecorum Complectens Ritus Et Ordines Divinae Liturgiae” (Paris, 1667).
While homosexuality was technically illegal from late Roman times, homophobic writings didn’t appear in Western Europe until the late 14th century. Even then, church-consecrated same sex unions continued to take place.
At St. John Lateran in Rome (traditionally the Pope’s parish church) in 1578, as many as thirteen same-gender couples were joined during a high Mass and with the cooperation of the Vatican clergy, “taking communion together, using the same nuptial Scripture, after which they slept and ate together” according to a contemporary report. Another woman to woman union is recorded in Dalmatia in the 18th century.