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The Life of St. Theodore of Sykeon (7th Century)


In all the debate over John Boswell's book Same Sex Unions - which studied the Byzantine adelphopoiia rite, it is not usually realized that adelphopoiia ("the making of brothers") had a distinct history within Byzantine culture. It did not always have the same meaning. Commentaries by classicists or western medievalists neglect to notice this central point. Some of our earliest evidence of such rituals, much earlier than liturgical manuscripts, comes from hagiography. [See for instance the Life of Symeon, The Fool of Emesa recently translated into English by Derek Krueger]. In the Life of St. Theodore of Sykeon, just such a relationship is made between Theodore and the patriarch Thomas is narrated in Chaps 134-135.

In this example, as in the Life of Symeon of Emesa, we are at the stage in the history of adelphopoiia in which it ritualized intense male-male relationships, perhaps always between monks or other consecrated persons. Later on it was to enter a more secular practice, and become the basis of kinship claims. Here the personal still prevails.

Is the institution portrayed here "homoerotic" as Boswell claims? Although such claims may make sense in later periods of Byzantine history, in the seventh century this is the wrong question. The relationship between Thomas and Theodore is "homophiliac" - that is it relates to the tradition of intense male "friendship" or philia. This philia is not, however, fully conveyed by the modern western practice of friendship. There are themes of eternal soul-union (cf. Aristotle's definition of friends - "two souls in one body") which have a long tradition in both Greek and Latin civilizations. In modern Western culture such themes are nowadays invoked most frequently in the context of marriage [and not only among Mormons]. In other words, a claim of homoeroticism about these male-male relationships is going much to far, but floating the idea that they relate to modern ideas about marriage is not.

[The full text of this life is available at the Medieval Sourcebook]

Ch. 134

When he had left the palace the most blessed Patriarch, Thomas, would give Theodore no peace, for he held him in great respect and had such full confidence in him that after many entreaties he persuaded him to adopt him as a brother, and Theodore promised to ask of God that in the future life, too, they might not be separated from each other.

Next he asked him whether the tale about the extraordinary jumping of the little crosses during processional litanies was really true; and on learning from the Saint that the story told him about them was true, he began privately to beg him to explain to him what such a sign meant. However, Theodore, pleading his own insignificance and calling himself an abject sinner, asserted that he did not know how to answer the question. Then Thomas fell at his feet and held them and protested that he would not get up from the ground unless he consented to satisfy him on this point, saying, 'I know and am convinced that you understand not only this sign, but many others as well; for you cannot have been content up till now to consider this as of no account and not to seek an explanation of it; if, however, it has been concealed from you till this moment and you have not been anxious to learn about it, yet now if you ask God, He will certainly reveal it to you'. Then the servant of Christ, having consented to satisfy him, made him get up and weeping bitterly said to him, 'I did not wish you to be troubled, for it is not to your profit to learn these, things. But since you insist, the shaking of the crosses portends many painful and dangerous things for us-it means instability in our faith and apostasy, and the inroads of many barbarous peoples, and the shedding of much blood, and destruction and captivity throughout the world, the desolation of the holy churches, the cessation of the divine service of praise, the fall and perturbation of the Empire and perplexity and critical times for the State; and further it foreshadows that the coming of the Adversary is at hand. Therefore do you, as governor of the Church and shepherd of the people, implore God continuously, as far as in you lies, to spare His people and to order these things with pity and with mercy'. At these words the most blessed Patriarch was seized with an agony of fear and began with tears to beg Theodore to pray God to take away his life and not let him be overtaken by any of the disasters he had foretold.

And from that time forth the Patriarch continually lived in retirement in his palace and poured out confessions to Theodore and besought him with tears saying, 'Since you have with your whole heart deigned to accept me as your brother and are thus so closely bound to me and to my welfare. pray to God on my behalf that he may take my spirit and that 1 may not see the dangers which are to come upon us. My courage fails me and I have not the strength to see these things come - and live

135

(Summary) The Patriarch Thomas earnestly prays Theodore to spend his yearly period of seclusion in the capital, as the city will soon need his presence. There was a fear that Constantinople might fall. He agrees thereto and after Christmas he shuts himself up in the diakonikon of the winter church of the monastery of St. Stephen or monastery of the Romans near the Petrion.* The Patriarch implores Theodore to pray to a God to grant him a speedy release from the troubles threatening the Empire. After some resistance Theodore complies and God grants the prayer: the death of the Patriarch soon follows.

From Three Byzantine Saints: Contemporary Biographies of St. Daniel the Stylite, St. Theodore of Sykeon and St. John the Almsgiver, trans. Elizabeth Dawes, and introductions and notes by Norman H. Baynes, (London: 1948)