Now there’s three words I bet you never thought you’d see together. Well, I’m about to add one more word to the mix that may shock you:
Yesterday was the feast day of Sergius and Bacchus, two high-ranking young officers who became martyrs in 303 in modern-day Syria. Sergius, a primicerius (commander), and Bacchus, a secundarius(subaltern officer), were tortured to death after refusing to attend sacrifices to Zeus, thus revealing their secret Christianity.
The men were arrested, stripped of their rank, and paraded through the streets in women’s clothing in an unsuccessful effort to humiliate them. Early accounts say that they responded by chanting that they were dressed as brides of Christ and, according to a website created in their honor, “In prison, while singing and praying, they were visited by angels who comforted them. Calling each other ‘brother’, they claimed that in their ‘union’ they became as one, as well as one with Christ.”
Union, huh. So that’s what they called it back then.
Sergius and Bacchus were eventually separated and beaten so severely that Bacchus died. After some additional torture, Sergius was beheaded – but not before Bacchus appeared to Sergius as an angel dressed once again as a soldier. He urged Sergius not to give up because they would be reunited in heaven. As one source points out, this is unique in the history of martyrs, because what is usually promised is being reunited with God.
As you can imagine, Baccchus and Sergius being a gay couple is something quite controversial – and something that is up for interpretation. Some accounts refer to their relationship as agape (brotherly love), while others refer to them as erastai (lovers).
Frankly, I haven’t done enough research to know which word is used to describe them more frequently – brothers or lovers but I do plan on getting myself a copy of “Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe” by John Boswell and “Passionate Holiness” by Dennis O’Neill to find out.
Regardless of their orientation, as two men who were marginalized and persecuted because they were part of the minority, Sergius and Bacchus are definitely saints the LGBTQ community should keep in mind.
Does anyone else find it strange that one of these presumed gay soldiers is named after the god of wine, parties and ecstasy?
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