The Abbot’s Sexual “Right” In Pre-Modern Romanian and Other European Culture (Andrei Oisteanu, 2016)

NOTE: The following article is excerpted from Studies in the History of Religions XIXXX:317-351.

CONTENTS:

  • “Do as the Priest Says, Not as the Priest Does!”
  • “I Worship the Icons | My Eyes on the Matrons”
  • Men vs Women: Isolation And Discrimination
  • “The Abbots’ Right Over Gypsy Women”
  • Homosexuality and Pedophilia in the Monasteries

“DO AS THE PREIST SAYS, NOT AS THE PRIEST DOES!”

At the beginning of the 18th century, Romanian Metropolitan Antim Ivireanul created, through his Didahii (Sermons), a genuine “theology of sin,” setting the stage for the immorality of erotic voluptuousness. To him, women were “reprobate and tempting to evil things.” All vices, but especially sexual ones (“the bitter sweetness of foul fornication”) were demonized by the Metropolitan (“He who sins is from the Devil”), Hell being “the consummate payment for sin”:

“Think […] that you have defiled your soul with fornications, adulteries, sodomies, soblazne-s [= pollutions], with debaucheries and food galore; your hands, with foul fondling [= masturbation], with perversions and rapes [= sexual violations], with killings and others.” Didachies (Sermons), 1709-1716.

The metropolitan was speaking not only to Christian laymen, but also to clerics, handing them genuine “textbooks of the confessor.” The confessor had to know “how he will question” the wretched sinner during “confession” and “how to bring him back to the righteous path” (Teachings for Confession, 1710).1

…Most of the sins confessed into the priest’s ear were surely those of an erotic nature. As Michel Foucault put it: “sex has been the privileged matter of confession.”2 Compared to the rigorism of the clerics, the peasants’ mentality was more flexible, more permissive…Quite often, however, the confessors needed confessors themselves, as they were not immune to the temptation of sin either…More than that, “due to uninterrupted idleness and abundant food,” some clerics “are naturally more exposed to the temptation of the body than other people.”3

The sinner’s confession took place in the intimate and dark space of the confessional or, with the Orthodox Christians, in a less “hygienic” space, under the priest’s apron (patrafir, Neo-Greek epitrahilion = “around the neck”).4 The confessor (who played the role of the psychiatrist in ancient times) had to know relevant details, but he also wanted to hear them. Listening to countless illicit sexual exploits, told by their parishioners with hundreds of licentious details, the confessors saw them with the mind’s eye, becoming inclined towards erotic fantasies. They were prone to sin first “in thought” and then “in deed.” As an old Romanian proverb goes, which was recorded in a manuscript dating back to the middle of the 18th century: “The appetite for fornication is much whetted by gazing” (Mss. BAR no. 273, 1759)5 . “Gazing,” but also “lending an ear” whets “the appetite for fornication.” That is what Antim Ivireanu also said explicitly, at the beginning of the 18th century:

“You have defiled your ears with dirty songs and words […] you have [defiled] your eyes with impious sights and signs of fornication” (Didahii [Sermons], 1709-1716).

“There are men who rape a woman with their eyes,” says a character from a novel by Octav Şuluţiu (Ambigen, 1935)6. The sensory system plays a paramount role. The rest is a matter of the imagination. The main sexual organ is not the penis or the vagina, but the brain.

One of the first Romanian poets who addressed the hypocrisy of the Christian Orthodox priests was Alecu Văcărescu, around 1795: “Should a priest walk your way | He acts in a hallowed way | But he’s masked his face away.”7 When Eminescu wrote in a poem (Egipetul, 1872) about the “debauched clergy,” he was surely not referring only to ancient Egyptian clergymen. Presumably, he also had in mind contemporary Romanian, Christian Orthodox clerics. There are many debauched priests and monks in Romanian literature…

A caricature on the cover of a Romanian magazine, 1896, representing a hetero- and homosexual orgy of members of the clergy.
A caricature on the cover of a Romanian magazine, 1896, representing a hetero- and homosexual orgy of members of the clergy.

Even when they were married, some Orthodox priests would not refrain from bedding one of their women parishioners or from raping a maid. The following is the real testimony, from a complaint dating back to 1791, submitted to the Metropolitan’s office and probably signed by a neighbour, who bears witness to the way in which a certain Father Toma had raped and deflowered his young maid, Pena:

“(One evening), as he came back home drunk, [Father Toma] beat up his wife and threw her out of the house and then he turned upon this girl [Pena] and spoiled [=deflowered] her. And to prevent her from shouting, he gagged her. And he repeated that exploit twice that night.”8

Following the girl’s complaint, the Metropolitan’s office launched an inquiry, opening a “case.” The confrontation was, however, asymmetrical and unjust. The priest’s sexual privileges, even if they are not provided for (and are even banned) by law, through custom and use, became tradition, into lex non scripta: “[b]ut the legal battle did not give [the maid] a winning hand”, Constanţa Vintilă-Ghiţulescu rightly comments, “for the priest had on his side his friends from the slum, his prestige and his power. To denounce such a master involved much greater risks than keeping the secret: losing the job, dishonour, the impossibility of finding another job.”9

In their turn, abbots and monks from Christian Orthodox monasteries were not guileless either. On seeing a beautiful maiden, they feared they would be tempted to sin:

The poor monk’s desire, See his soul burning on fire […] Where he sees a maiden fair His frock is blown in the air, For his soul is in despair, Afraid a great sin to bear!10

Obviously, some monks got over their “fear to sin” and raped girls. One of them, in a monastery in Moldova, in 1739, tried (without success) to avoid sanctions (“beating” and “gaol punishment”), confessing that it had been a freely consensual act, not a sexual violation: “with the girl’s approval he committed fornication, not forcefully.”11

The monk and priest Eufrosin Poteca (1785-1858), the future prior of the Gura Motrului monastery, also suffered from “the disease of loving maidens,” being always “consumed by love” and feeling “in the depths of his heart, the fire of love” for fair maidens. These are almost innocent vices, which, he claimed, he had to experiment in order to be able afterwards “to bring others to the right path as well”: “I wanted to learn better the passion of love so that I might learn by trial and error how I might lead others to the right path, too.”12

Small wonder that the reformist theologian was deeply resented by the senior clergy of the Romanian Orthodox Church. For the early decades of the 19th century, but not only, Eufrosin Poteca behaved at the limit of scandal and sacrilege. As to Prior Eufrosin Poteca, the Metropolitan was “full of rabid venom.”

Eufrosin Poteca promoted a sort of “erotic mysticism,” as George Călinescu dubbed it. In 1828, for instance, while in Pest, the Romanian monk and priest experienced a state of supreme spiritualization, of mystic de-materialization (“she seemed to have turned me all into spirit), making love to “a mystery maiden.” A very beautiful maiden, true, but who proved to be of light mores, “a harlot”:

“[The girl] was very pretty, indeed, like a fresh rose bud, like an angel, like a goddess […] We slept together in bed and we tasted a sweetness, a pleasure which to me, seemed a blessing from God […]. She seemed to have turned me all into spirit.”13

And all this, he confesses to the reader, not because he might have been a “virgin,” it was “as if he hadn’t known a woman before.” More than anything, the reformist priest-monk and Prior Eufrosin Poteca stood up against monastic asceticism. “He did not fast or bow down to the ground in church,” G. Călinescu wrote. He lamented his fate (and the fate of the monk in general) of leading a sad and unfulfilled life without a wife: “[t]his is a life against nature, against the consorting law, against God.”14

“I WORSHIP THE ICONS | MY EYES ON THE MATRONS”

A whole chapter in the index of folk motifs by ethnologist Stith Thompson (Motif-Index of Folk-Literature, 1932-1937; T330- T350) is devoted to the theme of folk tales and legends related to the sexual temptations of monks and hermits: T350. Anachorites under temptation.15

The monks in Buddhist monasteries were banned from all sexual activities: masturbation, sodomy, zoophilia, etc. As we have seen, it is precisely the bans of some practices that prove their existence. However, paradoxically, the greatest sin was the heterosexual sex act. A woman could not be penetrated by a monk in any of “the three impure orifices” (the vagina, the anus, the mouth). The erect penis was not allowed to penetrate inside “not even the length of a sesame seed,” according to the Buddhist texts.16

…For the Christian-Orthodox space, see Cânticul călugărului (The Monk’s Song), collected at the middle of the 19th century by Vasile Alecsandri17 and the song Călugăritul (Donning the Monk’s Frock), collected around 1868 from the repertory of the Bucharest Gypsy rhapsodists by G. Dem. Teodorescu18, a great admirer of Eufrosin Poteca19. The poor monk lived in a true state of schizophrenia, his eyes and his mind juggling “from icons to matrons”20 and “from (the pages of) the Bible,” to “fair maids”:

I was not good for the frock, For my heart is like a rock, Nor was I good for the cloth, But for love I am no sloth, ‘Cos I worship all the icons My eyes set on the fair matrons, As I read, the Bible fades When I watch the fairest maids, When a fair maid walks my track, My frock shivers on my back. The Monk’s Song, 1856. 21

Continuing the Orthodox tradition of hypocritical pietism, Fr. Luke Melackrinos was suspended for sending lewd selfies to a female parishioner.
Continuing the Orthodox tradition of hypocritical pietism, Fr. Luke Melackrinos was suspended for sending lewd selfies to a female parishioner.

 

Or, as one of those “matrons” sexually harassed around the nooks and corners of the church might say, the priest or the monk is “His mind all to the Kingdom come, his hands deep in my bosom.” That is a popular saying collected by the beginning of the 19th century “by Lord Governor (dvornic) Iordache Golescul” (Pilde i tâlcuirea lor (Parables And Their Meaning), c. 1832). 22 Sometimes, worshipping icons and reciting verses from the Holy Book could appease sexual impulses. In other cases, it did not work that way:

When to church I go to pray, My lover stands in my way, I try to worship the icons, My lover around me fawns, He beguiles me from my canons; I pray and I cross my heart, My lover thinks it is smart To think that hell won’t us part. Tulip leaves will entwine, Lord, it is no fault of mine: If my sins do make me blunt My lover should bear the brunt. La biserică (In Church), 1871. 23

The Christian icons (and the saintly women painted on them) are not always remedies that repress the erotic fantasies of the monks, secluded behind the walls of their monasteries. On the contrary, they even provoke fantasies, verging on blasphemy.  It is not by accident that Gustave Flaubert (The Temptation of St. Anthony, 1872) imagines the Christian theologian Tertullian (early 3rd century AD) urging “the smashing of icons” (that was a long time before the iconoclastic crisis), as a proponent of asceticism and of the cultivation of values:

“Smash the icons! Cover the virgins with veils! Pray, fast, cry, make penance!”24

Even if the religious motivation is replaced by the sociopolitical one, we are not too far from the romantic revolt of Eminescu’s proletarian, who claimed the smashing of “all that entices their sick heart”, of all that sparks “the voluptuousness of the ribald orgy”:

Smash down the antique bronze that Venus naked shows, Let pictures that do wickedly entice be brought to dust.Emperor and Proletarian, 1874. 25

…The monk Hans (Adeodatus, by his monastic name) – a character imagined by novelist Liviu Rebreanu (Adam şi Eva [Adam and Eve], 1925) – passionately falls in love with the icon of the Holy Virgin adorning his cell in the Abbey of Lorsch, near the town of Worms, in Germany: an icon which had accompanied all his trials as a young man, throughout his monastic life. Adoring the icon, he had started to notice the anatomical details of the painted body of the Holy Virgin, her “alluring and caressing” eyes, her “beguiling” smile, “(her) round bosom heaving under the silky gown,” etc. Eventually, due to his erotic fantasies, the monk’s love for the icon becomes carnal, bodily, sexual:

| “Adeodatus took the icon, with both hands, and kissed it rapturously, without realizing that his passion might be unholy. (…) The Virgin Mary seemed like any woman of flesh and blood, and he himself, without true faith in his soul. And they made love with a sinful love: they embraced each other passionately and bit their lips with such devilish pleasure that, waking up, he still felt for a few moments, in all his body, that damning voluptuousness. […] All day long, he flogged his body, but he dared not glance at the icon. And the following night, the dream repeated itself, even more wicked than before. (…) And the third night, the same.”26

…It might be that the apocalyptic state around him, the Sodom and Gomorrah atmosphere, is leading the monk towards such “Satanic” fantasies. It must be the millennium crisis situation, of a “world gone out of joint,” which motivated and pushed Rebreanu to insert that strange episode into his strange novel…

Obviously, not only the monks, but also the nuns – “the brides of Christ” – were (are) dominated by sexual impulses in the convent. “With a courtesan’s smile and a churchgoer’s eyes,” as Eminescu might say (Scrisoarea [Letter] V, 1881).27 Unbridled, these propensities can lead to the supreme sin, of replacing religious feelings with erotic ones. Even worse, to replacing their supreme “groom,” Jesus Christ, with a young, beautiful and very much alive layman, of flesh and blood:

“Woe betide the poor nun, For her heart is on the run, Where she sees a handsome lad, Her white veil will billow glad, Where she sees a youth, Her step’s small in sooth, For she would follow, smooth; Where she sees a dapper man She bends down as much she can To pray, like to Jesus then.”28

Obviously, the sin is lurking around the nun all the more so as to bring the sinning layman closer to her. As the popular saying goes, which was reported by Governor Iordache Golescu around 1832: “I tell him that I’m a nun and he unties my pants (to tell the brassy ones).”29

In the first decades of the 19th century, the custom had it that some of the daughters of the boyars from Moldova should take the veil, especially at the Agapia and Văratec convents in northern Moldova. That is how two younger sisters of Gheorghe Sion took that path. Around 1840-1841, Gheorghe Sion (then aged 18-19) led them to the Agapia nunnery. He spent three to four days there, and he met many novice nuns, all coming from aristocratic families:

“Some (young nuns) were so fair,” Gheorghe Sion reminisced, “and even, God forbid, so flirtatious, that, had I not feared to sin and had I not been naïve and shy (as I was at that time), who knows how many sins I would have burdened my soul with! (…) Besides the jams, cups of coffee, breakfasts and lunches I was treated to (by these nuns), I felt bathed in their charming glances and rocked in dreams of voluptuousness.”30

Constanţa Vintilă-Ghiţulescu associates this story with the fact that, at the same time (1 st May 1844), upon the express request of the Metropolitan, reigning Prince Mihai Sturdza issued an order for young unmarried men to avoid visiting the Agapia and Văratec convents, where they would have gone only to commit “misdeeds.” “In other words,” – the scholar concludes – “to twist the minds of the young nuns. Knowing the story of Anton Pann or of Barbu Mumuleanu, we also know why the Prince was right to be worried…” 31

In a well known apocryphal text, The Apocalypse of the Holy Mother, which has some eighty versions in the Romanian language, attested to the 18th -19th centuries, the “Pregesta” (The Holy Mother of God) visits Hell and sees the sinners doomed to infernal ordeals. The wanton nuns have a special place in “The River of Fire.” At some point, “The Holy Mother of God saw another place of great toil, and only women labouring there”: “These are the nuns which have slipped into fornication (…) and are led by their carnal desires, and who do not seek to redeem their souls from sins.”32

In an article dating from 1922, Tudor Arghezi raised his voice against the common mentality that perceived the monk as a “hypocritical libidinous man.” The great poet and publicist considered that it was just a stereotype, a bias, a mental cliché:

“Whoever sees in monasticism the permanently present image of sex, and nothing else, is making a simplistic and vulgar judgment.”33 However, Arghezi realized that erotic drives are hard to rein in during a prolonged monastic seclusion. In a poem also written in the 1920s, he tried to describe the sexual fantasies of an ordinary deacon, Iakint (a kind of Eufrosin Poteca). It is about the phantasms experienced by a deacon during the period of spiritual and food fasting which the other monks from the monastery observed before the Easter holidays:

While all the hermits, Lord, it grieves, Are punishing themselves, like thieves, With bitter fasting and obedience, In Holy Week, doing their penance, In his small cell (the deacon’s), last night, A real girl made darkness bright With her firm breasts and narrow hips Of Florentine lute, an ellipse. Mâhniri [Sorrows], 1927.34

The materialization of the deacon’s erotic vision was so strong, so concrete and real, that even the almighty God, “who sees all,” caught a glimpse of the girl, as she sneaked out from monk Iakint’s cell, in the morning.

The love of beauty, specific to God, can mitigate the guilt of some sins committed “willingly and unwillingly,” “in deed,” but also “in thought.” As we have seen, for the rigorist Antim Ivireanul, the eyes are soiled “with unbecoming views and with signs of fornication” (Didahii [Sermons], 1709-1716). As Cantemir put it: “by day and night, he would punish and torment himself in his thought even worse and in a more terrible fashion than in his body” (Istoria ieroglifică [The Hieroglyphic History], 1705)…

MEN VS. WOMEN: ISOLATION AND DISCRIMINATION

In the sacred spaces of the temples, the meeting and the nearness of men and women were limited, if not altogether banned. The mere sight of a woman was considered to be apt to distract a man’s concentration from “the things holy.” An erection could even happen in the space of a church, as happens, according to the Romanian popular saying: “The poor man’s oxen won’t pull the cart, his bread falls in the mud and his cock gets a rise in church.” That is why special, isolated, places have been imagined and built for women in churches, synagogues and mosques. The idea is to isolate women, doubled by their discrimination. Not only did women sit completely separated from men in synagogues and in mosques (on a floor upstairs, behind a parting screen), but sometimes they also had separate entrances (like in the Choral Temple, built in Bucharest over 1864-1866). Sometimes, in the Jewish quarters of some mediaeval cities (for instance, in the judería from the city of Gerona, in Catalonia), there were so-called “women’s streets,” which they could use to get to the synagogue, without meeting men on their road.

The worshipping men used to sit (in the conservative regions they still do) separated from the women in the Christian Orthodox churches too, even if not on different floors. The men sat in front, in the naos, and the women at the back, in the pronaos.35 Or the men sat to the right side of the naos, while the women sat on the left. The gender considered “weaker” (the woman) was seated on the side which was considered “weaker” (the left)36. Exceptionally, following the Islamic (Turkish) model, even in some Christian Orthodox churches in Romania, the women sat on a different floor.37 As I have said, the separation of men from women goes hand in hand with the negative discrimination of the latter. In the synagogue, church or mosque, the place destined for women is always in a less favourable space, a “weaker” space from a symbolic and ritual point of view: behind a screen, on a higher floor (on a different floor than the altar and the officiating priest); in the pronaos or in the back (further away from the altar); in the naos, but on the left, etc.

Another way to limit the temptation of men (this time, of Christian monks) is the interdiction of women to enter the precincts of a monastery dressed in an “immodest” (“indecent”) way, or with their hair untied and uncovered. There are also other places where there are prohibitions for women, regarding “immodest clothes”: in the public space in some Islamic states, but also in the district of the ultra-orthodox Jews in Jerusalem, called Mea She’arim (“One Hundred Gates”).

In some monastic spaces, the presence of women is totally prohibited. The best known case is the monastic complex at Mt. Athos (20 monasteries and 12 hermitages), where the interdiction of women is total. “If women came here, – one monk from Mount Athos said, – two-thirds of us would follow them and would get married.”38 This is, of course, an exaggeration, but a significant one. From the so-called “ascetics of the wilderness” (3rd -4 th centuries A.D.) to the monks from Mt. Athos, the total repression of any sexual intercourse (happening “in thought or in deed”) was a steadfast rule: “Looking at a female, even at a chicken,” – as I. P. Culianu ironically said – “posed a great spiritual danger.”39

An old monastic parable – also reported by Culianu, – says much about the monk’s interdiction to look at (to admire) a girl, even accidentally. The hero of this story is Serbian Athonite monk St Sava (1175-1235), the founder of the Hilandar monastery on Mount Athos, who became the first archbishop of the autocephalous Serbian Orthodox Church, and was later canonised. The parable attests to a test of monastic restrictions, of total erotic abstinence. Whoever failed the test was excluded:

“When the old Saba (= Sava) and a disciple walked on their way past a good-looking girl, Saba said that she had only one eye, and his disciple protested: he had seen that the girl had both eyes. That had been however, a trick of Saba’s, to see if his disciple had taken a good look at the girl. Then the disciple was driven away.”40

“THE ABBOTS’ RIGHT OVER GYPSY WOMEN” 

Besides the settlements of “princes’ gypsies” and of “boyars’ gypsies,” there were also gypsy slaves living around the monasteries in Wallachia and Moldova. They are the so-called “monastery gypsies”.41 In this case, the “abbot’s right” (that of the egumen, in Romanian: from the Neo-Greek igúmenos), worked just as the “boyar’s right” worked over “the boyar’s gypsies”.42 Speaking of the sexual privileges which the boyars arrogated over the young slaves, historian Radu Rosetti synthesized in a few lines the similarity of behavior with that of abbots in monasteries of the 18th century, and the first half of the 19th century:

“You should not believe that only the lay masters (the boyars) used royal rights over the gypsy women belonging to them: these slaves made up genuine harems for the abbots of the monasteries which the generosity of the pious donors had endowed with a great many gypsy souls. Especially the Greek abbots of the dedicated monasteries had a reputation of knowing how to build up seraglios of gypsy beauties, through exchanges (of slaves).”43

…It is not only the lord of the land that was entitled to ius primae noctis over the boyars’ slaves, but also the abbot, over the monastery slaves. Let us switch to the non-fiction area. Some documents attest to the existence of this situation until very late. In 1843 (and previously, in 1836), the slaves from the Râncăciov Monastery (Muscel county) sent a complaint to Wallachia’s ruling Prince Gheorghe Bibescu (and previously to ruling Prince Alexandru Ghica), exposing the “tyrannical” behaviour of the “famous abbot, Father David.” One of the complaints in the princely supplication went as follows:

“Our daughters who are of marrying age, if we want to marry them to a lad, the abbot hides them and he puts them under lock and key, with his armed guards, ordering us first to take the girls to his Holiness, to deflower them, and then only to be free to marry them”44

The supplicant slaves – who most probably were helped by a lawyer – note the fact that the abbot illegally applied this sexual “right” (“like a lawless man”), both from ecclesiastic and legal points of view: “a consequence totally alien to the church and political laws.” Moreover, as we saw how things happened with the boyars, the abbot’s erotic privileges did not stop only at the gypsy women slaves of the monastery, but extended over “the wives in the village with (whom) he has his pleasure.”

The sexual slippages of the priors and abbots were so usual that they could be invoked even when they did not happen. Blaming them was quite likely, even if the erotic abuses of the monks were not always real, but on occasion estaged. In the spring of 1785, for instance, a girl named Stana went to Prior Gavrilă (a confessor at the Radu-Vodă monastery in Bucharest) to pay the rent for the hovel on the monastery estate where she was living. The monk jokingly made some sexual innuendos to the girl, but nothing more. However, prodded by a neighbour, the young Stana sent a complaint to the Metropolitan, alleging that she was raped and deflowered, thinking that “she would get 300 thalers from the confessor”: “Then, at the moment of giving the money (for the rent), the said Prior (Gavrilă) allegedly took her in his cell and spoilt her virginity.”

Fr. George Passias inhaling Ethel Bouzalas' feet.
Fr. George Passias inhaling Ethel Bouzalas’ feet.

To stay in the spirit of the age, we are not too far from the stories told by Marquis de Sade, in his novel Justine (Justine ou Les Malheurs de la vertu, 1791). The accusation brought against prior Gavrilă was easy to believe. It was plausible because, at the time, in the monastic environment, that was a fairly common sin. In order to be even more persuasive, Stana cut a chicken’s crest and, with the blood dripping from it, smeared her blouse, as a proof of the deflowering. Although some witnesses (especially women neighbors), conniving with Stana, defended her version, the Metropolitan council ruled in favour of Prior Gavrilă, also taking into account that the poor man was old, sick and impotent: “And even more vigorously as we have ascertained (Confessor Gavrilă) is also a man tormented by rupture (hernia) and he is also past his prime.”45

For her false statements and perjury, Stana was banished to the convent of Viforâta, near the town of Târgovişte (Wallachia).

This true story reminds me of a hagiographic legend from the collection Vieţile sfinţilor (The Lives of The Saints).46 It is an etiological legend about the genesis of the Gypsy people, told by Costache Negruzzi in 1839. Negruzzi’s text is titled exactly like this: Pentru ce ţiganii nu sunt români (Why Gypsies Are Not Romanians).47 It says that several heretics, some “lost sheep,” complained to ecclesiastic authorities that Bishop Gregory (Grigorie) was a sexual profligate and that he had a mistress, “a young and beautiful girl.” A priestly synod was sent to the place to look into the facts. And indeed, in the bishop’s bedroom, they discovered “a young girl,” in a state of “scandalous lack of clothing.” The bishop was sentenced to death. But in order to convince the priests that “he doesn’t know what the sin of fornication” is, St. Gregory “lifted the hem of his frock.” And then, “the gathering was dumbstruck, for the holy father was…like Abeilard [sic]”. In other words, he was castrated, just as had happened to French theologian Pierre Abélard (1079-1142), as a punishment for having deflowered his beloved Héloїse. St. Gregory was exonerated, and the heretics who had “badmouthed the man of God” were cursed to be “black skinned,” “to live from thieving,” and “in eternal slavery from father to son,” with their owner “having the right to sell them as beasts,” “to call them Gypsies,” etc. “The Romanians immediately rushed in and took them as slaves.” This is how the Gypsy population allegedly appeared in the world…48

Sifting through and reading the supplications kept at the Department of National Archives, researcher Constanţa Vintilă- Ghiţulescu found many important social history documents. Some of them are related to the subject under discussion. Here, for instance, is a case dating from the end of the 18th century, which happened in a monastery in Wallachia. The Butoiu Monastery (village of Potoc, Dâmboviţa county) was rebuilt in 1648-1649, under ruling Prince Matei Basarab, who also endowed it with a settlement of Gypsy slaves. At the beginning of the year 1799, some Gypsies belonging to this monastery mustered their courage and complained to father Climent (probably a bishop) and then higher up, to his Holiness the Metropolitan, alleging that Abbot Ignat lived with a young slave woman, Gherghina, and also committed other abuses. In their complaint, they alleged that “due to one woman called Gherghina the gypsy, we cannot live.”

It is interesting that if a boyar had been in the same situation as the abbot, the civil authorities (“the lay judge”) would not have intervened at all. The boyar would not have infringed any rule, be it legal or moral. The sexual “right” of the boyar over the Gypsy women slaves from the settlements on his estate was tacitly recognized by everybody, even if it was based only on an archaic custom, on a lex non scripta. An unwritten law which dates back to the Greek-Roman Antiquity. Artemidorus of Ephesus, for instance, defined as being “links in keeping with the norm” (kata nomon) the sexual relations between a master and his slave, be the latter “a man or a woman.” “Unfit for the norm” (para nomon) would have been only if the slave had been the one who “possessed” the master, not the other way round: “It is no good to let yourself to be possessed by the slave: through his touch, he would show contempt towards you.”49

In the case of Butoiu monastery, however, the monk was not violating the lay norms, but those of the church. Even more, the actions of the abbot ran counter to the rules of monastic asceticism. In keeping with their own regulations, the ecclesiastical authorities were compelled to intervene, be it only to appease public opinion. Indeed, in the summer of 1799, the Metropolitan’s office sent a group of priests, led by Father Nicodim, to investigate the case and to propose possible sanctions, This is what the situation in Bucharest looked like, at the beginning of the 19th century:

“Besides the jail, besides the police prison from the dungeons of the Old Princely Court, and the vaults of the military governor and of the Aga, the Metropolitan also had a jail for priests.50

Returning to the case of the Butoiu Monastery, before the authorities, even the ecclesiastical, all the slaves from the settlement (except for the signatories of the complaint) were afraid to confirm the situation which was known to all the Roma community. Especially as they were accused of sending over the complaint. The fear of the authorities was a typical behavioural attitude for the traditional Romanian society. That psycho-social illness has tenaciously survived to date. For the collective mind, nothing good could come from the authorities. Be they administrative or ecclesiastical, central or local, police or financial, the authorities in the Romanian space have been high-handed, corrupt, abusive and punitive over the centuries. The situation was even more dramatic with respect to “aliens” (Romas, Jews, etc.). As such, the Romas under investigation at the Butoiu Monastery in 1799 shrugged in fear, insisting they knew nothing: “(We) had no idea, nor did we prompt them to make a complaint.” Eventually, it seems that Abbot Ignat was not found guilty of fornication with the Gypsy woman slave Gherghina. The only culprits were the elderly Gypsies from the settlement. Headed by their chieftains, Nedelco and Stan, they wrote (probably under dictation) and signed a deed whereby they pledged to make the younger slaves “more submissive”: “In duty being bound, we, the elders, to advise all the other younger ones to do good and to be submissive.”51

HOMOSEXUALITY AND PEDOPHILIA IN THE MONASTERIES

Seraphim Storheim, former OCA Archbishop of Canada, was convicted of sexually assaulting a young altar boy at a Winnipeg church has been demoted to a monk.
Seraphim Storheim, former OCA Archbishop of Canada, was convicted of sexually assaulting a young altar boy at a Winnipeg church has been demoted to a monk.

Exactly ten years later, in February 1809, things repeated at the same Butunoiu Monastery. This time, another abbot was accused by another two slaves of the monastery of other “frightening deeds,” including homosexuality, pedophilia and rape:

“For abbot Constantin there have been many a complaint against him, that for a while now he has fallen into fornications (…); also that for a young gypsy boy that he started to rape him.”

This was a copycat scenario: the dean sent an investigating commission to look into the case, and the Gypsies were herded “in front of the church” and investigated “one by one.” For fear of reprisals, they disassociated themselves from the two “rattling” plaintiffs. Eventually, the latter were the only culprits and they were sentenced to have their soles flogged. Afterwards, they were forced to sign a writ, whereby “they recognized their guilt and that they would desist.”

Serial child molester, Archimandrite Stanley Adamakis, started abusing church members in the 70s. http://ocl.org/ex-clergyman-sexually-abused-at-17-by-his-priest-attempted-suicide/
Serial child molester, Archimandrite Stanley Adamakis, started abusing church members in the 70s. http://ocl.org/ex-clergyman-sexually-abused-at-17-by-his-priest-attempted-suicide/

Historian Constanţa Vintilă-Ghiţescu is right when she wonders whether things really went that way at the Butoiu Monastery, in 1799-1809 (which is very likely), or if the Gypsy slaves had other misunderstandings with the two abbots of the monastery, and tried to have them punished, knowing that the worst accusations in the eyes of the ecclesiastical authorities were fornication, sodomy, pedophilia, rape and the exertion of the lord’s right, etc.52

It is common knowledge that heterosexual and homosexual (including pedophilic) relations were quite usual in the Christian monastic milieu, be it Orthodox or Catholic. I need not go into too many details; only a few examples from Romanian and world culture…

In the middle of the 14th century, Giovanni Boccaccio (The Decameron, 1352) had the courage to raise the thorny issue of debauchery and carnal sins accomplished by “all” the Catholic cardinals, priests and monks. He wrote about sodomy, fornication, pedophilia, etc.:

“From the most senior to the most junior one, the (Catholic) priests were all sinning through carnal debauchery; and not only in those ordred by nature, but even in the debauchery of sodomy, without knowing the rein of repentance or shame, so much so that the most wicked women and the small children had the greatest appeal when it was about winning their favours” (The Decameron I.2).53

The homosexual relationships among monks are also present in Romanian literature, for instance, in Vasile Voiculescu’s prose. In one of his short stories (Chef la mânăstire [Revelry at the Monastery], 1952), which the writer presented as a “true story,” Father Iosafat, the abbot of a monastery in Moldova lives with a very young monk, Brother Minodor. The latter was “the abbot’s darling,” “a rosy-cheeked lad,” “a girlish boy,” “with long and sweet lashes,” who “was inclined more towards women’s sweet and liquor wines.” Everything happens under the complacent gaze of Father Dean Ilie, “the ecclesiastical head of the county,” who had come on an inspection at the respective monastery:

“The Abbot [Iosafat], heaving in his armchair, drew to him, holding him on a protruding knee, Brother [monk] Minodor, who, with his chubby cheeks, his languid blue eyes, and a semblance of black hairs on his upper lip, with rings of hair floating on his back and along his monastic frock, looked like an angel reclining on the chest of an old saint.”54

The defrocked monk Ion Creangă could speak volumes on this subject: “he had learned some of the secrets of life in a monastery.” He was always critical of the monks, the priests and other clergymen: “they burst out of their belts, pot-bellied as they are.”55 Creangă lived among priests and, as a teenager and as a young man, he lived in boarding houses of all kinds of “factories of priests,” such as the theological schools in Fălticeni and Socola. Small wonder that the only homosexual episode in his work has a priest as its hero, in his famous Poveste a poveştilor (The Story of All Stories): “And as he was whistling in surprise, the cock dashed with a smack! right in the priest’s ass! Then, the priest started to yell…”56

As an old popular saying goes, which was commented upon around 1832 by boyar Iordache Golescu: “Another one in the priest’s ass (used when something happens unawares, something irksome).” The same learned boyar wrote down another popular saying, which concerns a man who is in love with a priest: “One loves the priest, another the priest’s wife, and another the priest’s daughter (it shows the variety of pleasures).”57 Speaking openly about “the variety of (sexual) pleasures,” Golescu had a quite Liberal attitude for a boyar from Wallachia, in the first half of the 19th century. True, he was a boyar who had travelled across Europe.

Homosexuality and pedophilia are still big problems among priests and monks today, especially among the Catholic, problems that the Pope himself is at a loss to solve.58 The Vatican is being blamed for putting a lid on these forbidden sexual practices, for decades (centuries, actually).

Coming back to the illicit erotic relations between the Orthodox abbots and the slaves in the monasteries, we must say that homosexual, even pedophilic relations have been attested. Obviously, the latter did not go unpunished by the church authorities. Not only were the jails for priests – as we have seen above – special, but so were their punishments. It seems that for the crime of pedophilia, the clergymen got a special physical punishment, called “the iron child”:

“A device used to punish the priests, when they committed an immoral act, was the “iron child.” This “child” weighed 50-60 kg. The punished priest was forced to hold that weight in his arms for four to five hours.”59

At the end of the 18th century, it was proved that Abbot Teofil of the Căldăruşani Monastery (near Bucharest) “had committed sodomy with the Gypsies, but the Gypsies have committed sodomy with him.” On account of this “ill and wicked deed,” the abbot was demoted to the lowest rank, that of “simple monk.” Moreover, he was banished to the Tismana monastery, “to weep for his sins” there.60

Virtually, in the case of the abbot of the Căldăruşani Monastery, the law (glava (chapter) 333, titled “For Sodomy”), was applied in its letter and spirit:

“If it were that anybody from the church clergy is found to be a sodomite, he shall then be bereft of everything, as the law of the church writes, of all the good he will have had from the church and they shall take him and lock him in a faraway monastery; and they shall even more vigorously demoted him from his position…”

Exceptionally, in aggravated situations, the “sodomite” clergyman was handed over to “the lay judge,” who was supposed “to scold him with death, namely, to behead him.” (Pravila de la Târgovişte [The Codex from Târgoviște], 1652). As the folk saying goes: “Do as the priest says, not as the priest does!”

Perhaps all these illicit sexual practices – which sparked more or less public scandals – have hastened the moment of the liberation of Gypsies from slavery in the Romanian space, which happened around the mid-19th century. Or, at any rate, perhaps they did not push the liberation per se of the slaves from the monastic settlements (1844 in Moldova and 1847 in Wallachia) to happen around one decade before the liberation of the Gypsies owned by boyars (1855 in Moldova and 1856 in Wallachia). The big landowners (and implicitly owners of Gypsy settlements) blocked as much as they could the act of liberation of the boyars’ Gypsies. Although he was in an open conflict with the government of ruling Moldovan Prince, Mihail Sturdza, Kogălniceanu paid homage to the ruling prince for promulgating the law of the emancipation of the monastery Gypsies on 31st of January 1844:

“We, the youth from Moldova, – I speak only of those with whom I have worked – forgot that day our fierce fight against ruling Prince Mihail Sturdza for his abuses” (Dezrobirea ţiganilor, ştergerea privilegiilor boiereşti, emanciparea ţăranilor [The Liberation of the Gypsies, The Eradication of The Boyars’ Privileges, The Emancipation of The Peasants], 1891).

On 6 th of February 1844, a few days after the liberation of the Gypsy slaves from the monasteries, Mihail Kogălniceanu – who was fairly aware of the mechanism which had led to the decision to abolish slavery, “the most heinous social enormity,” – did not forget also to pay tribute to the Romanian Orthodox Church:

“Honour be to the Church, too, today, which has no slaves any longer; for it now shows itself as the true Church of Christ, who brought freedom on Earth, saying that before him there are no rich or poor men, no masters or slaves!” (Dezrobirea ţiganilor [The Emancipation of the Gypsies], 1844).61

Obviously, in the Catholic Middle Ages, too, the sacred space of the churches and monasteries could also become a place for the forbidden fantasies and love affairs, be they homo- or heterosexual. The nuns and abbesses from the Catholic convents were also subject to those types of sins. Boccaccio’s stories (The Decameron, 1352) abound in such erotic monastic prowess. 62

Adam Metropoulos, former priest at St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Bangor was sentenced Monday to 12 years in prison with all but 6½ years suspended for sex crimes involving children.
Adam Metropoulos, former priest at St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Bangor was sentenced Monday to 12 years in prison with all but 6½ years suspended for sex crimes involving children.

NOTES

  1. Dan Horia MAZILU, Law and Sacrilege in the Old Romanian Society, Iaşi: Polirom, 2006, pp. 394-397.
  2. Michel FOUCAULT, Istoria sexualităţii [The History of Sexuality], Romanian translation by B. Stanciu and A. Onete, Vest Publishing House, Timisoara, 1995, p. 48.
  3. Andreas Capellanus, Despre iubire (About Love), bilingual edition, translation and notes by Eugenia CRISTEA, study, introductory note, notes and bibliography by Anca Crivat, Polirom Publishing House, Iasi, 2012, p.215.
  4. With Alexandru Macedonski: “Father Cioaca care on Christmas Eve to put his apron over our heads,” or in Dan Botta’s translation, with François Villon: “The Holy Apostles” are “Girdled with sacred aprons | To better seize the villains | who revel in their sins” (François VILLON, Balade şi alte poeme, translation by Dan Botta, presentation by Tudor Arghezi, the Publishing House of the Romanian Cultural Institute, Bucharest, 2006, p.47).
  5. Folclor vechi românesc (Old Romanian Folklore), edition, preface, notes and bibliography by C. Ciuchindel, Bucharest: Minerva, 1990, p. 246.
  6. Octav ȘULUȚIU, Ambigen [Ambigenous], novel illustrated with etchings by I. Anestin, Bucharest: Vremea, 1935, p. 26.
  7. Nicoleta ROMAN, „Deznădăjduită muiere n-au fost ca mine”. Femei, onoare şi păcat în Valahia secolului al XIX-lea, Bucharest: Humanitas, 2016, p. 37.
  8. Constanţa VINTILĂ-GHIŢULESCU, Focul amorului. Despre dragoste şi sexualitate în societatea românească (1750-1830) (The Fire of Love. About Love and Sexuality in Romanian Society (1750-1830), Humanitas Publishing House, Bucharest, 2006, p. 55.
  9. Ibid.
  10. G.Dem. TEODORESCU, Poezii populare române [Romanian Folk Poems], critical edition, notes, glossary, bibliography and index by George Antofi, preface by Ovidiu Papadima, Bucharest: Minerva, 1982, p. 349.
  11. Dan Horia MAZILU, op. cit., 2006, p. 422.
  12. Constanţa VINTILĂ-GHIŢULESCU, Focul amorului. Despre dragoste şi sexualitate în societatea românească (1750-1830) (The Fire of Love. About Love and Sexuality in Romanian Society (1750-1830), Humanitas Publishing House, Bucharest, 2006, p.221.
  13. George Calinescu, Istoria literaturii române de la origini până în prezent (The History of Romanian Literature From The Origins to The Present), second, revised and enlarged edition, overseen and with preface by Al. Piru, Minerva Publishing House, Bucharest, 1986, p.121. Constanţa VINTILĂ- GHIŢULESCU, Focul amorului. Despre dragoste şi sexualitate în societatea românească (1750-1830) (The Fire of Love. About Love and Sexuality in Romanian Society (1750-1830), Humanitas Publishing House, Bucharest, 2006, pp. 219-220.
  14. G. CĂLINESCU, Istoria literaturii române de la origini până în prezent (The History of Romanian Literature from the Origins to the Present), second, revised and enlarged edition, overseen and with preface by Al. Piru, Minerva Publishing House, Bucharest, 1986, p. 121.
  15. Stith THOMPSON, Motif-Index of Folk-Literature: A classification of Narrative Elements in Folktales, Ballads, Myths, Fables, Mediaeval Romances, Exempla, Fabliaux, Jest-Books and Local Legends, revised and enlarged edition, vol. 5, Rosenkilde and Bagger, Copenhagen, 1958, pp. 379- 381.
  16. Bernard FAURE, Sexualités bouddhiques: Entre désirs et réalités, Paris, Flammarion, 2005, pp. 71 sq.
  17. Vasile Alecsandri, Poezii populare ale românilor (Folk Poems of The Romanians), preface and bibliography by Stancu Ilin, Minerva Publishing House, Bucharest, 1982, p.228.
  18. G. Dem. TEODORESCU, Poezii populare române [Romanian Folk Poems], critical edition, notes, glossary, bibliography and index by George Antofi, preface by Ovidiu Papadima, Bucharest: Minerva, 1982, p. 349.
  19. G. Dem. TEODORESCU, Viaţa şi operile lui Eufrosin Poteca (cu câteva din scrierile’i inedite), Academy Press, Bucharest, 1883.
  20. A similar saying is also attested by Dinicu Golescu, in 1832: “One eye on the icon and another near the icon” (Iordache GOLESCU, Scrieri alese, [Selected Writings], edition by Mihai Moraru, Bucharest: Cartea Românească, 1990, p. 192).
  21. Vasile Alecsandri, Poezii populare ale românilor (Folk Poems of The Romanians), preface and bibliography by Stancu Ilin, Minerva Publishing House, Bucharest, 1982, p.228.
  22. Iordache GOLESCU, Scrieri alese [Selected Writings], edition by Mihai Moraru, Bucharest: Cartea Românească, 1990, p. 193.
  23. G. Dem. TEODORESCU, Poezii populare române [Romanian Folk Poems], critical edition, notes, glossary, bibliography and index by George Antofi, preface by Ovidiu Papadima, Bucharest: Minerva, 1982, p. 393.
  24. Gustave FLAUBERT, Ispitirea Sfântului Anton [The Temptation of St. Anthony], Romanian translation by Mihai Murgu, preface by Irina Mavrodin, Bucharest: Univers, 1977, p. 68.
  25. Mihai EMINESCU, Poezii [Poems], text selected and established, critical fragments by Perpessicius, volume supervised and chronology by D. Vatamaniuc, Bucharest: Romanian Cultural Institute, 2004, p. 67. English translation by Corneliu M. Popescu, http://www.gabrielditu.com/eminescu/emperor_and_proletarian.asp.  
  26. Liviu REBREANU, Adam şi Eva, edition supervised by Niculae Gheran, preface by Ion Simut, Minerva Publishing House, Bucharest, 1998, p. 173.
  27. Mihai EMINESCU, Poezii [Poems], text selected and established, critical fragments by Perpessicius, volume supervised and chronology by D. Vatamaniuc, Bucharest: Romanian Cultural Institute, 2004, p. 164 (our translation).
  28. G.Dem. TEODORESCU, Poezii populare române [Romanian Folk Poems], critical edition, notes, glossary, bibliography and index by George Antofi, preface by Ovidiu Papadima, Bucharest: Minerva, 1982, p. 349.
  29. Iordache GOLESCU, Scrieri alese [Selected Writings], edition by Mihai Moraru, Bucharest: Cartea Românească, 1990, p. 170.
  30. G. SION, Suvenire contimpurane [Contemporary Memories], complete edition, Iaşi: Polirom, 2014, p. 372.
  31. Constanţa VINTILĂ-GHIŢULESCU, Patimă şi desfătare. Despre lucrurile mărunte ale vieţii cotidiene în societatea românească, 1750-1860 [Passion and Delight. The Small Things of Everyday Life in Romanian Society, 1750-1860], Bucharest: Humanitas, 2015, p. 353.
  32. Timotei OPREA, Rai şi Iad în cultura populară românească. File de apocalips (sec. XVIII-XIX) [Heaven and Hell in Romanian Folk Culture. Pages from an Apocalypse (18th -19th c.)], Buzău: Alpha MDN, 2005, p. 167.
  33. Tudor ARGHEZI, Opere, vol. V: Publicistică (1919–iulie 1928) [Works, vol. V: Journalism (1919-July 1928)], edited by Mitzura Arghezi and Traian Radu, preface by Eugen Simion,), Bucharest, National Foundation for Sciences and Arts & Univers Enciclopedic, 2004, pp. 132-134.
  34. Tudor ARGHEZI, Cuvinte potrivite [Fitting Words], preface by Liviu Papadima, anthology by Mitzura Arghezi and Traian Radu, Bucharest: Minerva, 1990, p. 13 (our translation).
  35. Nicolae IORGA, Istoria românilor în chipuri şi icoane [The History of the Romanians in Faces and Icons], Foreword by Andrei Pippidi, Bucharest: Humanitas, 2012, p. 164.
  36. See the study by Andrei OIȘTEANU, „Stânga versus dreapta. Farmecul discret al dihotomiei” [“Left vs. Right. The Discreet Charm of Dichotomy”], in ID., Mythos & Logos. Studii şi eseuri de antropologie culturală [Mythos and Logos. Studies and Essays in Cultural Anthropology], second, revised and enlarged edition, Bucharest: Nemira, 1998, pp. 267-282.
  37. Under Turkish influence, ruling Prince Petru Cercel (1583-1585) built a balcony behind the naos of the Big princely Church in Târgovişte, above the entrance to the naos, where the Prince’s wife would sit during the mass, hidden behind a curtain. She got to that balcony in the church through a passageway built right from the Princely Palace.
  38. Robert DRAPER, “Chemarea muntelui sfânt” [The Call of the Sacred Mountain], National Geographic Romanian edition, December 2009, p. 104 (our translation).
  39. Ioan Petru CULIANU, Cult, magie, erezii. Articole din enciclopedii ale religiilor [Cult, Magic, Heresies. Articles from the Encyclopaedias of Religions), Romanian translation by Maria-Magdalena Anghelescu and Dan Petrescu, afterword by Eduard Iricinschi, Iași: Polirom, 2003, p. 120 (our translation).
  40. IBID., p. 188 (our translation).
  41. Neagu DJUVARA, Între Orient şi Occident. Ţările române la începutul epocii moderne (1800-1848) [Between East and West. The Romanian Principalities at The Beginning of The Modern Times], Romanian translation by Maria Carpov, Bucharest: Humanitas, 1995, p. 267 (our translation).
  42. See Chap. 27, “The Boyar’s ‘Right’ over Gypsy Women Slaves” in Andrei OIȘTEANU, Sexuality and Society. History, Religion and Literature, Iași: Polirom, 2016.
  43. Radu Rosetti, Amintiri. Ce-am auzit de la alţii, (Memories. What I Heard From Others). Edition and Preface by Mircea Anghelescu, Romanian Cultural Foundation Publishing House, Bucharest, 1996, p.155.
  44. Bogdan Mateescu, Căsătoria robilor. Între alegerea cuplului şi voinţa stăpânului, (The Marriage of The Slaves. Between The Couple’s Choice And The Master’s Will), Etnous Publishing House, Braşov, 2014; Bogdan Mateescu, „Căsătoriile robilor din Ţara Românească după 1830: reglementări ale Statului și ale Bisericii”, (“The Marriages of The Slaves in Wallachia after 1830: State and Church Regulations”), lecture delivered on April 14, 2014 at the New Europe College, as part of the project “Group of Reflection on Political and Social History (18th -19th centuries).” I thank researcher Bogdan Munteanu (a doctoral student at the Nicolae Iorga History Institute of the Romanian Academy) for signaling the presented documents.
  45. Constanţa VINTILĂ-GHIŢULESCU, Focul amorului. Despre dragoste şi sexualitate în societatea românească (1750-1830), (The Fire of Love. Of Love And Sexuality in Romanian Society (1750-1830), Humanitas Publishing House, Bucharest, 2006, p.49.
  46. The legend of St. Gregory, bishop of Agrigento (7th c. AD), is old. On a Byzantine thread, it penetrated the collection of The Lives of the Saints, translated in Wallachia.
  47. Constantin NEGRUZZI, Păcatele tinereţilor [The Sins of Youth], Iaşi: Adolf Bermann, 1857, pp. 271-285.
  48. O mie de ani de singurătate. Rromii în proza românească, (One Thousand Years of Loneliness. The Romas in Romanian Prose), Selection, notes and afterword by Vasile Ionescu, “Aven Amentza” Publhsing House, Bucharest, 2000, pp.74-84 (our translation).
  49. Paul Veyne, “Homosexualitatea la Roma”, (Homosexuality in Rome) in the volume Georges Duby et alii, Amor şi sexualitate în Occident, (Love And Sexuality in The West), introduction by Georges Duby, Romanian translation by Laurenţiu Zoicaş, Artemis Publishing House, Bucharest, 1994, p. 53 (our translation).
  50. Gr.I. Dianu, Istoria închisorilor din România. Studiu comparativ. Legi şi obiceiuri, (The History of Jails in Romania. A Compared Study) Laws And Customs) The Royal House Publishing House, Bucharest, 1900, p. 44 (our translation).
  51. Constanţa VINTILĂ-GHIŢULESCU, Focul amorului. Despre dragoste şi sexualitate în societatea românească (1750-1830), (The Fire of Love. Of Love And Sexuality in Romanian Society (1750-1830), Humanitas Publishing House, Bucharest, 2006, pp. 163-164 (our translation).
  52. Constanţa VINTILĂ-GHIŢULESCU, Focul amorului. Despre dragoste şi sexualitate în societatea românească (1750-1830), (The Fire of Love. Of Love And Sexuality in Romanian Society (1750-1830), Humanitas Publishing House, Bucharest, 2006, pp.164-166.
  53. Giovanni Boccaccio, Decameronul, (The Decameron), Romanian translation by Eta Boeriu, with an introductory study by Alexandru Balaci, vol. I and II, State Publishing House for Literature and Art, Bucharest, 1957, I, p. 78 (our translation).
  54. Vasile Voiculescu, Capul de zimbru, Povestiri, (The Aurochs Head, Stories) vol. I, Edited bby Victor Iova, Cartea Românească Publishing House, Bucharest, 1982, p. 147.
  55. Maria Luisa Lombardo, Erotica magna. O istorie a literaturii române, dincolo de tabuurile ei, (Erotica Magna, A History of Romanian Literature, Beyond Its Taboos), Western University Publishing House, Timişoara, 2004, pp.80/81.
  56. Ion Creangă, Povestea lui Ionică cel Prost (poreclit şi Irimiea) şi Povestea poveştilor (povestea pulei), (The Story of Ionica the Dumb (also nicknamed Irimiea) And The Story of All Stories (The Story of the Cock)), introductory study by Paul Anghel, edited by Nedic Lemnaru, „Roza vânturilor” Publishing House, Bucharest, 1990, p. 31 (our translation).
  57. Iordache GOLESCU, Scrieri alese [Selected Writings], edition by Mihai Moraru, Bucharest: Cartea Românească, 1990, pp. 166, 176.
  58. This very day, as I am writing these lines (September 25, 2011), Pope Benedict XVI (meantime, the former Pope), while visiting Germany, said he was “moved and deeply troubled” after his meetings with persons / children and youths / who had been the victims of the sexual abuse committed by Roman Catholic priests.
  59. Marian Munteanu, Folclorul detenţiei. Formele privării de libertate în literatura poporană. Studiu, tipologie, antologie de texte şi glosar, (The Folklore of Detention. The Forms of Freedom Deprivation in Folk Literature. Study, Typology, Anthology of Texts and Glossary), Valahia Publishing House, Bucharest, 2008, p. 645.
  60. Constanţa VINTILĂ-GHIŢULESCU, Focul amorului. Despre dragoste şi sexualitate în societatea românească (1750-1830) (The Fire of Love. About Love and Sexuality in Romanian Society (1750-1830), Humanitas Publishing House, Bucharest, 2006, pp. 162-163 (our translation).
  61. Mihail Kogălniceanu, Tainele inimei, (The Secrets of The Heart), selected writings, edited by Dan Simonescu, The Publishing House for Literature, Bucharest, 1964, pp. 205, 348 (our translation).
  62. Giovanni Boccaccio, Decameronul, (The Decameron), Romanian translation by Eta Boeriu, with an introductory study by Alexandru Balaci, vol. I and II, State Publishing House for Literature and Art, Bucharest, 1957, I, p.265; II, p.366, a.o.
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Christianity’s Promotion of Pedophilia (Dr. David C.A. Hillman, 2012)

NOTE: The following article is the 13th chapter of Original Sin: Ritual Child Rape and the Church, pp. 97-102.

ORISIN-2front

Christianity redefined the ancient woman to the extent that it stripped her of age-old political and social rights. The priesthood’s actions were neither accidental nor purposeless; redefining femininity reshaped society for both women and children.

The aggressive denigration of women and the association of feminine allure with spiritual corruption had one horrible consequence for western civilization: in taking a stance against the feminine voice, the Church willingly justified, promoted and defended pedophilia. The early Church purchased its political power at the expense of children and the women who protected them. Priests and bishops actively perpetuated the violent, institutional abuse and rape of young boys.

It’s difficult to identify the most vitriolic of the Christian fathers, and perhaps even more difficult to distinguish them from ordinary priests and Church elders with more moderate misogynistic views. However, Tertullian, a late second-century Christian, was certainly among the foremost authorities in antiquity to rigorously stigmatize and oppress women. His peculiar affinity for violent opposition to social and political rights for women set the stage for a centuries-long conflict with paganism that fostered the protection of pedophiles.

According to Tertullian, womankind—by means of women’s tempting sexuality—had brought sin into the world, thus forcing the son of God, the most virtuous of men, to be put to death. According to Tertullian, Eve’s greatest vice was her beauty; Eve’s sexual allure was meant to attract only the devil and thus allow evil to come into the world. In the eyes of Tertullian, femininity was a gateway for vice and ruin; it was certainly the duty of all Christian men—themselves sons of the sexually deceived first man—to oppose the perceived power of women.

“When the depths of our hearts have been stripped of unclean thoughts, let them dream of you.”—St. Ambrose of Milan on Passions of Desire
“When the depths of our hearts have been stripped of unclean thoughts, let them dream of you.”—St. Ambrose of Milan on Passions of Desire

Tertullian summed up his views of women in a single sentence. In an apologetic work meant to defend his religion, Tertullian said: “The Christian man, once saved, no longer sees women: he is blind to feminine allure.” And with these words, Tertullian provided an entire generation of priest pedophiles with the theological justification for the rape of boys.

The real problem with the misogynistic rhetoric of the early Church, found in authors like Tertullian, was what appeared to be an attack directed against the goddess Venus. Venus was Desire—particularly feminine sexual attraction. Condemning any attraction to the female form was nothing less than a crime against Nature; it was a view in dissonance with the created world, and the pagans believed the Christians would suffer serious consequences for meddling with the natural makeup of the cosmos.

Tertullian, like Paul, Peter and Jesus, may have preferred to “cast out his eyes” rather than use them to “lust after a woman,” but his public push to stifle any trace of feminine sexuality had dire, and readily observable, consequences.

Within a century after the death of Tertullian, violent and aggressive Christian movements meant to stifle female sexuality sprang up in Europe, Asia and Africa. Women were forced to wear non-revealing clothing; young girls and mature women were forbidden from using makeup—something the Romans had been quite fond of—and those who had the audacity to adorn their skin with pigments made from botanicals and animal products were labeled prostitutes. Women were stripped of their jewellery, and eventually limited in their ability to appear in public.

The dire consequences of Christian social movements designed to stifle female sexuality were manifold and arose from the basic sexual philosophy that the Christians had attempted to prohibit. Stated otherwise, these movements, by their very nature, supported the promotion of pedophilia.

Venus on seashell, from the Casa di Venus, Pompeii. Before 79 AD.
Venus on seashell, from the Casa di Venus, Pompeii. Before 79 AD.

According to the pagan world, Venus was the dominant sexual element of the cosmos; as a creator, she was depicted as a conveyor of attraction—something that made her role in the universe a very active one. The masculine desire to “celebrate Venus” was considered a response, a passive reaction to a desire initiated by the goddess. In other words, following Venus (aka “desire”) meant answering a call given by a receptive female; the pagan world viewed this masculine response to female sexuality as a form of non-violent submission.

When Christianity condemned classical female sexual allurement as a tool of Lucifer, it simultaneously condemned the passivity of the male sexual response and promoted the role of the male aggressor—one who partakes actively in the sexual act by pacifying the object of his desire. Eve, like Venus, was considered to possess power by means of her force of attraction; Christian Church Fathers labored to transfer the pagan concept of active, dominant sexuality from the feminine to the masculine sexual experience.

In an attempt to quell the powers of feminine sexual attraction, the Christians created a serious social problem, which the pagans claimed was a conundrum of their own making. The Church spiritually criminalized the attraction of a man for a woman, but simultaneously demanded that the masculine sexual role be the dominant one. Thus, in the third and fourth centuries, for the first time in western history, sex became a tool of spiritual dominance; intercourse was viewed as a heavenly act, employed exclusively by men, in order to further the kingdom of god.

“You are like the holy Church which is unsullied by intercourse, fruitful in bearing, a virgin in chastity and a mother in offspring.”—St. Ambrose of Milan on Sexuality
“You are like the holy Church which is unsullied by intercourse, fruitful in bearing, a virgin in chastity and a mother in offspring.”—St. Ambrose of Milan on Sexuality

A Novel View of Sex

When this novel view of sex as a spiritually significant, masculine act was combined with the emerging Christian belief in the virtue of suffering and the value of temptation for the purification of the soul, the first institutional pedophiles were born. For decades, Christian priests had taught that their God used special trials of temptation to cleanse, test and initiate believers. Special priests known as “exorcists” believed that they could summon the devil himself, and that by way of possession, they could apply the “fires of temptation” to an initiate, in order to establish these new believers as members of the body of Christ. Otherwise stated, priests forced young candidates for baptism to confront sexual pleasure in the form of rape; in a dominant, masculine role, priests tempted young initiates with forced sexual acts, in order to encourage them to flee the sin and prove themselves as secure followers of Jesus.

By applying “the fires of temptation” to young initiates, the Christian priesthood was able to establish its own sexual dominance, while denying the precepts of competing pagan religions. Cults of Dionysus, Pan and Osiris may have been celebrated by the public with the display and veneration of large phallic objects—something the Christian clergy vehemently condemned—but each of the gods who represented a form of masculine sexuality was considered to be subservient to the feminine authority of Venus. By abolishing the pagan concept of sexual receptivity from the celebration of intercourse, the Christian priesthood established its own cult precedent: forced intercourse was a valid means of ritual purification. And with this, exorcist priests obtained the moral and ecclesiastical authority to sodomize initiates.

“If a man is called with the marks of circumcision—that is, a virgin—‘let him not become uncircumcised’—that is, let him not seek the coat of marriage given to Adam on his expulsion from the paradise of virginity.”—St. Jerome on Sexuality
“If a man is called with the marks of circumcision—that is, a virgin—‘let him not become uncircumcised’—that is, let him not seek the coat of marriage given to Adam on his expulsion from the paradise of virginity.”—St. Jerome on Sexuality

For centuries following the misogynistic pronouncements of authors like the Church father Tertullian, the pagans argued that the Christian attack on Venus was merely one aspect of an all-out war on sexuality; they believed unnatural views of human sexuality ultimately turned the most ardent Christians into sexual deviants—or perhaps in modern parlance, predators.

We knew that the pagans considered the Christians sexually perverted because, despite the fact that Christian monks destroyed any documents critical of the clergy, the Christian Fathers themselves wrote in great detail about the many ways they ran afoul of the non-Christian population.

Juno
Juno

Of course, Christianity eventually won the cultural war it initiated against the pagan world during the late Roman Empire, and the medieval period was born. The pagans claimed that the Christian cultural victory over their age-old traditions was made possible by the fear they instilled in their new members. This psychological weapon, a distinctive characteristic of early Christianity, was reinforced by episodes of intense sexual abuse. Christian priests used fear and abuse as a means of converting the pagan masses to willing and subservient stewards of Christian authority.

As a result of their cultural victory, Christian culture came to dominate the retelling of classical history, and most historians, even of the modern era, have argued from the Christian perspective—particularly with respect to sexual matters. Contrary to the expected—and often recorded—historical accounts, Christianity did not enforce a higher moral sexual standard, but instead, it initiated a period of sexual brutality; the Church ushered in an age of abuse and rape.

The pagan warning against abandoning Nature for dogma went unheeded, and the age of the institutional pedophile was unleashed on western civilization. For the first time in western history, sexual predators were given state-sanctioned protection. No matter how much the non-Christian population protested, pedophiles remained insulated in the Church, where they could pursue their practices without any fear of justice.

Ritual rape within the Church was standardized within just a few centuries of the death of Christ. The consistent application of a standard means for abusing children is evidenced in the writings of the earliest leaders of the catechetical schools that sponsored the indoctrination of new members. However, these standards did not just reinforce prohibitions; they also employed a positive element in the spiritual lives of initiates. Priests used the concept of “inspiration,” a religious idea that was universal in pagan culture, to provide positive reinforcement for the brutality of their sodomy ritual. The Church’s Holy Spirit became a psychological and inspirational means of positively reinforcing altered views of sexual intercourse forced upon new members.

“Where there is fear, there is observation of the commandments; where the commandments are observed, there is a cleansing of the flesh.”—St. Gregory of Nazianzus on the Effective Use of Fear
“Where there is fear, there is observation of the commandments; where the commandments are observed, there is a cleansing of the flesh.”—St. Gregory of Nazianzus on the Effective Use of Fear

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A Monk by Any Other Name… (Dr. David C.A. Hillman, 2012)

NOTE: The following article is the 11th chapter of Original Sin: Ritual Child Rape and the Church, pp. 82-88.

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“What can I do? My mind is always thinking about fornication and does not let me rest even for an hour, and my heart is suffering.”—Question posed to a Monk.

The Christian monk came to the fore on the stage of history when cultural customs concerned with the protection of children became the purview of men—and not just any men, but men of the cloth. This transference of traditional roles facilitated a much greater tolerance for child abuse within the Church. The teachings of monks are a reflection of both a virulent hatred of feminine authority and a disregard for the safety of children. The inflexible misogyny of Christian monks helped to create an environment that enabled priests to abuse children.

Christian monks didn’t materialize out of thin air; they stepped into a vacuum left by Roman religious officials who followed in the footsteps of the earliest Greek temple servants who had protected priestesses and reinforced their proclamations. Archaic Greek Medusae defended and upheld the decrees of temple priestesses and thereby set a precedent for the generation of Greeks and Romans that followed. Christian monks merely assumed the roles that classical “enforcers” had carried out for centuries.

The Medusae who served oracular priestesses acted as the law enforcement, secret service and special operations agents of ancient temples; they carried out the will of the gods, as revealed by the priestesses they were sworn to protect. The Christian world had similar sorts of religious figures, who attempted to live up to the highest and most extreme spiritual standards of “The Way.” During the early history of the Church, Christian monks served Christianity in much the same way as the Sphinxes and Wolves served the Greco-Roman gods.

The Medusae were best known for their hatred of injustice. As temple guardians, these women enforced the declarations of oracular priestesses who were very much involved in civic affairs. It’s fair to say the Medusae were wrapped up in human affairs.

The Medusa's head central to a mosaic floor in a tepidarium of the Roman era. Museum of Sousse, Tunisia
The Medusa’s head central to a mosaic floor in a tepidarium of the Roman era. Museum of Sousse, Tunisia

When it came to ideology, Christian monks were very much the opposite of the Medusae. Rather than being burdened with earthly affairs, monks moved out of large urban centers into isolated communities where they prepared for the cataclysmic return of their messiah. Christian monks did not champion causes to further civilization. On the contrary, they promoted an ascetical lifestyle—and perhaps most symbolically important, they encouraged combat with the forces of spiritual darkness.

Like pagan Medusae, Christian monks possessed a distinctly independent authority. While they were indeed under the authority of the priestly hierarchy of the Church, they were much freer than priests and parishioners to set their own lifestyle and personal standards. In addition, monks, like oracular guardians, were considered to be the defenders of the ancient world’s prophetic voice. This office gave them a level of respect not accorded to other religious figures. Monks, as the practical defenders of the Christian faith, had a way of communing with God that went beyond the forms of divine communication used by priests and Church elders.

The teachings of monks and hermits often provide an interesting glimpse into the psyche of the most involved and dedicated of the early Christians. Their thoughts and reflections tell us much about the undercurrent of opinion and ideology that flowed beneath the surface of official Church doctrine.

One particular story, the popular account of the life of a nameless hermit in Egypt, strikes a serious chord when considered against the background of the prominence of the feminine political voice in classical society and the stark contrast of the movement against women waged by priests in the first few centuries of the Common Era.

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Extremist Monks

“Look what the child of the devil has done to me”—Christian Monk on Lust

The monks of the early Church period sometimes carried the teachings of the Church Fathers to an extreme, and frequently manifested the concretely bizarre expressions of theological theories and propositions demanded by Church officials. The story survives of one such monk in Egypt who struggled against the temptation to have intercourse by developing his own unique method of self-mutilation.

This hermit lived by himself and established his own reputation for continence, something highly valued in the community of ancient Christian monks, who, like most Church Fathers, considered sexual intercourse with a woman to be a contaminating influence that always resulted in eternal judgment. At some point in this hermit’s life, a woman familiar with the monk’s sterling reputation made a wager with some local boys that she could successfully seduce him. The boys agreed to pay her if she could do so.

After dark, the bet was on, and the presumably attractive woman approached the monk’s domicile with ill intentions. After pretending to be lost and afraid, the girl pleaded with hum to allow her to stay for the evening. The monk was visibly distressed by the proposition of keeping a young woman in his home for the evening, but he allowed her to stay in order to provide her charitable shelter.

As she predicted, it didn’t take long for the monk to become aroused. However, his reaction to her feminine allure was not what she anticipated. For the monk became so preoccupied with his current sexual temptation and the prospect that he could end up in Hell if he should act on his impulses that he placed one of his fingers in the flame of an oil lamp. The monk stoically blackened his entire finger, to the point that it would be permanently deformed. This overwhelmed the girl with fright, and she cowered in the corner as the monk celebrated his willingness to sacrifice his physical well-being in order to maintain his continence.

The next morning, the boys who made the bet with the woman gathered outside the monk’s dwelling, knowing that she had spent the night with him; they doubtlessly wanted to mock the poor monk for having given in to temptation to have intercourse with the girl, and stood ready to celebrate her triumph.

Eventually, the door opened and the monk emerged with his hands tucked into his robes. The boys asked if a woman had spent the night with the monk, and the hermit replied in the affirmative and pointed them to the inside of the dwelling after telling them she was asleep. When the young men entered the home, they found the girl dead. Exiting the house in horror, they confronted the monk again. The proud, historically anonymous, ascetic monk removed his hand from his cloak and showed the stunned boys that every finger on his hands had been burnt to the bone, with an air of triumph, he proclaimed that the woman, a child of the devil, had cost him all his fingers.

pompeibrothel11

The story of this nameless desert-dwelling monk’s victory over the desires of the flesh was a tale related by Christians that was meant to illustrate the power of God and the ability of the followers of Christ to resist the onslaught of the devil. Christians spread the story of the Egyptian hermit who burned off all his fingers, not to express the horror and extremes of their beliefs, but to provide a positive example for all men, everywhere, who struggled with sexual temptation.

The ghastly reckoning of the story must have rattled even the Christian community, for the form of the tale handed down to posterity—as Desert Fathers, On Lust—includes an addendum that the monk raised the girl from the dead after the boys had learned their lesson.

The story of this monk resonates with the myths surrounding the exploits of the Medusae who served oracular priestesses throughout the classical world. Christian monks, like temple bodyguards, were willing to go to extreme lengths to protect the dictates of their religious authorities—be they bishops, priests or simply New Testament scriptures. And like the Medusae, Christian monks perceived that they were at war with an element of their society that rejected their teachings.

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Sources of Authority

“We cannot make temptations vanish, but we can struggle against them.”—A Monk’s Words on Temptations of the Flesh

Although pagan temples viewed their war as one waged with murderers, tyrants and the immensely wealthy aristocrats who trampled on the freedoms of the common person, Christian monks battled for the teachings of their own priests, regardless of their conception of justice and injustice. That is, the real difference between the monks and the religious pagans was simply the source of their authority: whereas the pagans believed their ultimate moral source was Nature, the Christians believed they were compelled to obey the dictates of the Church.

This difference is important when we consider the accomplishments of both groups and the stark contrast of their respective influences on western civilization. For example, the oracular temples and the Medusae who served them ultimately pushed the Greek world toward the creation of democracy. By intimidating and occasionally executing tyrants, the pagan religious world reinforced a natural democratic inclination. Much the opposite, Christian monks popped up and defended a political system that favored oppression and the subservience of all people to the will of a small oligarchy.

Christian monks were the “boots on the ground” of the cultural war between Christians and pagans. Monks put the teachings of priests into practice and essentially enforced the social demands of the Church. Monks taught that women were spiritually corrupt temptresses, whose allure was the work of demonic forces. And according to these same monks, all such trouble started with a young man’s interest in a woman.

Greek-orthodox-monk-preparing-to-throw-a-molotov-cocktail-to-the-police-7gw5d

Monks abolished the figure of the nurturing woman who traditionally protected her offspring from masculine forms of abuse, and replaced her with a masculine defender of doctrine. The result was a cultural catastrophe, and the fear of judicial retribution by priests for crimes committed against children practically disappeared—as witnessed by the flippant attitude toward the victimization of children seen in the writings of such prominent Church Fathers and abusers as Cyril and Ambrose.

This seeming disregard for human suffering shown by Christian priests and bishops was not just a personality flaw of callous individuals; it had very real consequences. Women and children became the victims of abuse and even murder, as a direct result. Despite pagan claims that the early Church was involved in various forms of sexual perversion, Church leaders continued to protect their own members; when monks attacked women for sexual allure, they helped to redefine womanhood itself.

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Metropolitan Seraphim of Piraeus opposes revision of the Church tradition regarding sodomy (April 5, 2015)

NOTE: The metropolitan has similar sentiment to Geronda Ephraim who recently told visiting spiritual children: “…Those [i.e. homosexuals] who are marrying illegally here…The Old Testament says: “My spirit will not remain with man because they are flesh.” This applies today. Sodom burned just like a nuclear bomb. Christ does not tolerate such sins. Everywhere the sins of the flesh are worshipped. The Venerable Mary of Egypt repented. All homosexuals will be eliminated. Everything will become dirt, nuclear, all dirt. The war will begin because of our sins.” http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2014/08/a-conversation-with-elder-ephraim-of.html

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Athens, April 5, 2015

Metropolitan Seraphim of Piraeus has severely criticized attempts revise the Church tradition regarding sodomy, reports AgionOros.ru with reference to Romfea.

“The enemy is striving to make us, people, slaves to the flesh and to the sin, to turn spiritual creatures into material ones, like dumb animals…”

“The Orthodox Church respects private life and man’s free will. However, it should be noted that the process of legalization of the crime against the human nature and physiology is going on: today the vile passion of homosexualism has been legally recognized; tomorrow pedophilia will be legalized (take Holland, for example); the next will be bestiality (Germany). This is the gravest crime against Eternal God and the human personality, repeating the blasphemy of Sodom and Gomorrah.”

“Justification, support and promotion of these shameful and ungodly passions as well as attempts to present them as a variation of the norm are unnatural and inadmissible. The Holy Scriptures which express the Will of God more than once condemn homosexuality as a passion, a sin and abomination.”

“For all the Holy Fathers homosexuality is one of the most corrupt and unclean sins, an outrageous ingratitude to the Creator, blasphemy and denial of the Gospel. The public propaganda of homosexuality is like a plague on both the family and the society. Moreover, it will cause psychopathological disorders in children raised by same-sex couples (and we are being actively urged to accept this practice).”

http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/78465.htm

24 The destruction of Sodom. Mosaic, duomo of Monreale, Sicily, twelfth century

Sex and the Orthodox Church in Medieval Russia (Howard Brent Rachel)

Howard Brent Rachel is a former soldier from Alabama who has, with his wife and childhood sweetheart, settled down in San Antonio where he currently works as a teacher.

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Orthodox Notions of Sex in Medieval Russia
Strict interpretation of scripture, at least by the long lineage of church fathers, gave little religious significance to women. Womankind was viewed as the root of sin and women serpents to lead men from righteousness, just as Eve did to Adam in the Garden of Eden. Yet, Orthodoxy had to find some way to reconcile this attitude with God’s admonition to be fruitful and multiply. Unfortunately, this called for them to deal with the problem of sex.
Sex was the Church’s number one concern, in terms of sin, carrying heavier penances than even murder, theft, or child neglect. Women being little more than walking, talking sexual temptation, couldn’t get a break in Orthodoxy’s web of sexual philosophy. A woman’s period was, at the same time, both proof that she had failed to conceive -further defiling any sexual activities that might have occurred–, and a glaring reminder of how a man had to defile himself in order to obey God’s command to multiply. Further, a woman could not even enter a church while she was experiencing her period. The number of times a woman attended church on Sundays in a given month were noted, and coming four Sundays in a row was proof of transgression, and brought with it heavy penance. Such penance could be up to 3 years denial of the sacraments, especially if it were proved that she had taken communion. Contemporary accounts, surely trumped up to scare women into line, had God turning one poor woman into a horse for taking communion during her cycle, and another stuck by lightening for inadvertently walking over the grave of a saint while thus ‘unclean.’ Though nothing further is known of the horse, the latter woman later repented and was cured of her period.
Orthodox writings decried the physical union of man with woman as base and squalid, even in marriage. Sex was for the sole purpose of procreation, and that only because of Eve’s folly. St John Chrysostom, one of the most famous philosophers of Orthodoxy, explained that it was actually the Word of God that provided the divine magic of procreation, and that had Eve not led to mankind’s ejection from Eden, some other, less base, way of procreating would have been bestowed upon them by God. Thus, though procreation was a duty, the very act that allowed it was a defilement rooted in original sin. The Church urged a celibate life for the married, with the exception of procreation. They even went so far as to discourage marriage for the sake of love, encouraging rather the opposite, that a man should not care over much for his wife, and should spend as little time with her as possible, so as not to be tempted into sin. (This despite the fact that one of the main reasons the Church cited for a man to get married in the first place, was to help prevent his fornicating or committing adultery.) The Church, in an attempt to help men abstain, dictated times when he was forbidden to engage in sexual activity: Sunday (of course), Saturdays (to prepare for Sunday), during pregnancy of partner, within 60 days of wife’s delivery, during her period, and all holy and feast days. As a final deterrent the church celebrated as examples the lives of prominent celibate couples such as Grand Prince Dmitri Donskoi, who, it is said, abstained from physical contact with his wife with the sole exceptions of those coupling which produced his children.

ST. DMITRI DONSKOY GRAND PRINCE OF MOSCOW
ST. DMITRI DONSKOY
GRAND PRINCE OF MOSCOW

Sex within Marriage
Despite the Church’s cajoling, and surely to no one’s great surprise, married men and women still had sex. So, the church, not satisfied with it’s efforts merely to dissuade them, also placed restrictions on the very methodology of the act. As might be expected, the only church-accepted “mode” of sexual intercourse between a man and his wife was vaginal penetration in the missionary position, with the man ‘astride’ his wife (called “na konye”, or “astride a horse”). Everything else was considered to be illicit fornication, sodomy, or sacrificing the man’s seed to the Devil, all punishable by great penance as circumstance warranted. The dominant position of the man was of paramount religious importance. As man was made in God’s image, sex with the woman astride the man was placing the man in the more properly female, or submissive position. This was seen as shameful for the man, and thus defiled the image of God. As such, this position was considered a very grave sin, the penance for which was on par with that for adultery or incest.
Sex ‘from behind’ was punished according to the particulars of the circumstances, though fundamentally it was considered far too similar to the sexual activities of beasts of the field. Anal penetration from behind, having no procreative potential was considered sodomy and was more heavily punished than vaginal penetration from behind. In an interesting turn of circumstance, the woman was routinely assigned heavier penance for her role in activities involving anal penetration because they too closely mimicked the role the male homosexual. Vaginal penetration from behind, because it could result in procreation, was regarded as less serious. Penance would be made more or less severe according to the age of the participants, the frequency of engagement, and -for the woman- whether or not she engaged willingly or reluctantly at her husband’s urging. Penance ranged from multiple hundreds of prostrations and a lengthy fast to being denied the solace of the church for 10 or more years. It is notable that mutually agreed to anal intercourse is one of the few instances where penitence manuals mandate the same penance for both the man and the wife.
Other sexual activities within marriage seem to have been handled as lesser forms of sodomy, or in terms of wasting the reproductive effort and needlessly encouraging sexual excitement. Open-mouth kissing was never appropriate, even as foreplay and carried a mandatory two-week fast as a penance. Manual stimulation, the insertion of non-penis extremities into the vagina, and mutual masturbation were technically sodomy, but were usually punishable by a mere several weeks fasting. Oral sex, though mentioned seldom in extant penitence manuals, was considered a serious sodomy and was dealt with quite harshly, with fasts exceeding a year and possible restriction from communion. Attempting birth control or abortion was punished in a similarly strict manner, often with lengthy restriction from the Church.

The Patron Saints of Marriage, Love, Family and Fidelity. Celebrated in Russia up to 1917. Saints Peter and Fevronia.
The Patron Saints of Marriage, Love, Family and Fidelity. Celebrated in Russia up to 1917. Saints Peter and Fevronia.

Sex Outside of Marriage
Willfully engaged in, potentially-procreative sexual contact outside of marriage was termed either adultery or illicit fornication, the marital status of the woman being the defining factor. Because this behavior was willfully committed outside of wedlock, the penance was higher for both involved parties. Sodomy, a subset of illicit fornication, committed outside of wedlock carried far stricter penance due to its lack of procreative potential.
Homosexuality and beastiality were the most common forms of willful sodomy. Though not always willfully engaged in, incest brought on severe penalties, especially if through duress. These penalties, despite the duress, however, were sometimes applied to both parties. In all the above activities, penance was much higher for men who took on the submissive, or woman’s role. Beyond that, circumstances of age, frequency of engagement, and social standing could serve to increase or decrease such penance.
Adultery was defined as sexual intercourse between a woman and a man who is not her husband. Everything else was illicit fornication, regardless of the man’s marital status. As one might expect, adultery was considered far more serious, for both parties, than illicit fornication. Adultery, in some penitence manuals, carried a recommended minimum 15-year exclusion from the sacraments. There are, however, ample recorded instances of lesser penance from 2 years exclusion, accompanied with fasting and prostrations. The penalties were always more harsh for the woman, since for her there could be no mitigating circumstance, and she would inevitably be branded the instigator who tempted the otherwise pious man. If the husband knew of, and thus condoned, his wife’s adultery, he was held to be more severely guilty in the matter than the unknowing cuckold. Regardless of circumstance, anyone who died in the act of adultery was forbidden Christian burial.
Illicit fornication was virtually any other type of sex not already defined as adultery. The most common type of illicit fornication was premarital sex. Betrothed couples were discouraged from engaging in any private contact, and responsibility for this was laid upon the parents. Thus, the penance levied on the betrothed for engaging in any sexual activity before marriage was shared by those parents. This penance was not too severe, as long as it was potentially procreative, which fact tended to lend a sense of ‘naturalness’ to it. Of course sodomy was more severely punished, with the usual multipliers associated with position.
More severe was the penance for bachelors and maidens engaging in sex before marriage, with the penance often being twice as great for the maiden than the bachelor. The degree of penance for the bachelor was determined by the scandalousness of his partner. However, a ‘boys will be boys’ attitude did come into play when assigning penance to a young lad who was seen as ‘simply sewing his wild oats.’ Not so for the maiden or her partner, for deflowering a maiden, even if she was willing, was seen as rape. Further the maiden ran the risk of pregnancy, and the Orthodox Church offered her no opportunity to be ‘saved by marriage.’ Such a fallen maiden faced penance as great as 9 years cut off from the Church.., that is, if she was not immediately dispatched to a convent. Widows, as sexual partners, were treated as maidens in terms of the penance, with one notable exception: you could certainly never be accused of ‘deflowering’ a widow. In any case, the Church tended to be a bit more forgiving in cases involving widows, making them very attractive sex partners for young unattached men. Divorcees were considered to still be married, thus fornication with them was automatically considered adultery.
Sex with prostitutes and slaves carried the lightest penance, with certain exceptions. Potentially-procreative sex with a prostitute was not any more serious that simple illicit fornication with a willing partner. The fact of payment for services never seems to enter into the equation. It seemed a generally held, if little expressed, opinion that if a man was going to have sex, doing so with a prostitute was far less serious to the community’s well-being than with some other man’s wife. (This feeling, however, in no way excused sodomy.) Sex with a female slave carried the lightest penalties of all, seldom denying sacraments to either party, unless the man was married and keeping the slave right in his home. The Church recognized the difficulty a slave might have spurning the advances of her master and adjusted the penance according to whether or not her participation was willing. Women, not technically being allowed to have slaves, did not routinely face similar situations. As always, the position, the age, the frequency, and the social status of the participants often affected the penance.

Whore of Babylon: Babylon the Great, the Mother of Prostitutes and Abominations of the Earth.
Whore of Babylon: Babylon the Great, the Mother of Prostitutes and Abominations of the Earth.

Sodomy
Sodomy, as has been previously discussed, is a term encompassing any sexual activity that is un-natural, counter to the ‘proper order of things,’ and could never result in procreation. Sodomy included beastiality, homosexuality, heterosexual anal sex, oral sex, woman on top (in some cases), vaginal penetration from the rear (in some cases) and mutual or individual masturbation. Because this covers such a wide range, from the seemingly harmless to what was then viewed as heinous, gradations of sodomy eventually emerged.
Though still considered quite serious, masturbation was perhaps the least significant. Masturbation by men and women was treated the same for men and women in term of penance, usually calling for a week or less of fasting, according to the frequency. It was seen as inciting sexual excitement within yourself, which was evil, and usually resulted in a waste of seed. Nocturnal erections and wet dreams were viewed as instigated by the Devil, and fasting was always called for. Mutual masturbation was only a bit more serious. It could not result in childbirth, but neither was it quite actually ‘sex.’ As long as incest was not involved the penance was only a bit more severe than for regular masturbation.
Beastiality was more common in the smaller agricultural communities. Cows, pigs, and dogs were the most common ‘partners,’ though birds and reptiles were not unheard of. Because the mechanics of the matter were easier for men, it was therefore more commonly associated with them. The penance, however, was the same for men and women, with 15 years restriction from the sacraments or several years fasting being quite common. Frequency, as always was a deciding factor, with some documented cases of greater penance being assigned for sexual intercourse with mammals than was assigned for sex with yard fowl.
Canon law regarding homosexuality was the confusing product of two rival traditions. On one hand Old Testament precedent ranked male homosexual activity among the most serious of crimes. This feeling was reinforced to maintain discipline within the monastic communities of the Church. Yet the bulk of early Byzantine philosophical tradition came from the ancient Greeks who did not blanketly condemn all homosexual contact. Thus, medieval Russian Orthodoxy came to view male homosexuality as wrong not because it was evil or unnatural, but because it confused the narrowly defined gender roles inherent in Orthodox belief. As a result, the otherwise unflinchingly strict Orthodox penitential views on sex, actually made distinctions between types of male homosexual contact.
Anal intercourse between males was regarded as seriously as heterosexual adultery, carrying a similar 15-year restriction from communion. Age was the mitigating factor –young men sowing their wild seeds again- as long as it could be seen as a mere youthful experiment. Bachelors were cut a bit of slack, as well. Regardless, repercussions were even greater for the male in the submissive role, especially if the act was habitual, and much more so if he altered his appearance in any way to become more feminine. A male who thus shaved his beard would be anathematized, cut off from the church forever! In instances where an adult used a boy below the age of five, the abuser bore all the sin. If the child was greater than five, but still less than the age of majority, the parents of the child bore most of the sin for not teaching him any better.
Because mutual masturbation required neither man to assume the female role, it was viewed with more tolerance than anal intercourse, and the penance was accordingly less. Interestingly, intercrural homosexual intercourse, whereby the dominant male inserts his penis between the thighs of his partner for sex, was viewed as merely an extreme form of masturbation, despite the presence of a clearly submissive partner. The penance for this activity was typically only fifty percent greater than for simple masturbation. This is a striking departure from the norm –which commonly held the submissive as more guilty– and evidence of the strong impact of early Greek thought on Slavic Orthodoxy’s view of homosexuality. Similarly, lesbian activity was also viewed as mutual masturbation, though with slightly greater penalty than that of males. It seems from records that much lesbian experimentation and play among young women was tolerated because there was less chance to break the hymen and thus call her maidenhood into question, and it prepared them for married life without risking pregnancy.

Sodom & Gomorrah Today.
Sodom & Gomorrah Today.

Incest
Incest, at least according to existing records, seemed to be less a problem for the Orthodox Slavs than for their western counterparts. Though less than for adultery and anal intercourse, the penance for incest was certainly great especially if coercion was involved. Several years’ restriction from the sacraments was the price of violating medieval Russia’s laws on consanguinity. According to Orthodox canon there were four types of consanguinity: by blood, by marriage, by spiritual bond, and by adoption. Consanguinity by blood was determined by how many levels of births, called degrees, separated the two. For example: A father and his daughter were separated by one degree, the birth of that daughter. First cousins in modern reckoning were of the third degree in medieval Russia. Marriage was forbidden within the eighth degree. God-parents were considered to be spiritually related to god-children to the same degree as actual parents, unless already of another degree, or complicated by a couple being god-parents to more than one child within varying degrees of a family. For both blood-relatives and spiritual relatives, sexual activity within the eighth degree was considered incest. Relatives by marriage, or in-laws, were governed by the same definitions of consanguinity as if they were actually related, thus a man’s sister-in-law was considered of the same degree of consanguinity as the man. Restrictions against marrying relatives by marriage extended only to the sixth or seventh degree. Ignorance of pedigree was not considered a mitigating circumstance. An adoptive sibling was not within any degree of consanguinity, but the concept of adoption was considered pagan in origin, so the Church maintained its seriousness as incest despite the lack of true relation.
Sexual activity between mother and son, father and daughter, or between siblings was second in severity only after adultery. Relation between a parent and a child were often seen as the product of possession by the devil, the very idea of it being so repulsive to the medieval Russian. Penance for such incest ranged from five years fasting to 30 years without communion. Sexual activity between cousins was dealt with a bit less severely, especially as the degrees of consanguinity grew greater. As in the west, dispensation could be secured for the Princely caste.

King David's son Ammon, guilty of incest and the rape of his half sister, is killed by Absalom (2 Samuel 13:14)
King David’s son Ammon, guilty of incest and the rape of his half sister, is killed by Absalom (2 Samuel 13:14)

To Keep in Mind
Having covered this dizzying array of penance for sexual activity, it is extremely important to keep certain realities in mind. Despite these Church preachings and admonitions not to marry for love, and to keep your wife at a distance, most marriages were actually made for the political or financial gain of the families involved. With our vantage point of another thousand years of history beyond that of the Orthodox medieval Russians, we can see than no church –or government, for that matter-has ever managed to check the sexual drive of it’s constituents. Indeed, despite the seeming strictness of penance called for in the cases above, it must be realized that not all of these restrictions were imposed to the same degree everywhere. The Church then, as now, was peopled with the both the free-thinking and the narrow-minded; with the understanding and with the sadistic. Medieval Russia herself was peopled, as was any place, with all manner of folk just trying to eke out a living and live a happy life by placing their faith in God and their fellow man.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  • Coniaris, Anthony M. Introducing the Orthodox Church – Its Faith and Life. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Light and Life Publishing, 1982.
  • Gilbert, Martin. Atlas of Russian History. New York: Dorset Press, 1985.
  • Kollman, Nancy Shields. By Honor Bound – State and Society in Early Modern Russia. Ithaca, New York and London: Cornell University Press, 1999.
  • Levin, Eve. Sex and Society in the World of the Orthodox Slavs, 900-1700. Ithaca, New York and London: Cornell University Press, 1995.
  • Martin, Janet. Medieval Russia 980-1584. Cambridge: Canbridge University Press, 1995.
  • Pouncy, Carolyn Johnston (ed and trans). The Domostroi – Rules for Russian Households in the Time of Ivan the Terrible. Ithaca, New York and London: Cornell University Press, 1994.
  • Riasanovsky, Nicholas V. A History of Russia (Third Edition). New York: Oxford University Press, 1977.
  • Resources for Ecumenical Encounter, No. 2: Toward a Protestant Understanding of Orthodoxy. New York: Commission on Ecumenical Mission and Relations, The United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., n.d.
  • Volkoff, Vladimir. Vladimir the Russian Viking. Woodstock, New York: The Overlook Press, 1985.
  • Wallace, Robert. Rise of Russia (Great Ages of Man Series). New York: Time-Life Books, 1967.
  • Ware, Timothy. The Orthodox Church. Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin Books, Ltd, 1980.

Remarriage and Arsenokoetia: Shifty Byzantine Views of Sex (Stephen Morris)

NOTE: The following article is taken from Something Wicked this Way Comes: Essays on Evil and Human Wickedness, pp. 143-165

 Something Wicked this Way Comes

Abstract: Patristic canon law condemned remarriage, under any circumstances, in no uncertain terms. Penance for remarriage demanded repudiating the wicked sexual relationship and decades of excommunication. Penances for remarriage were gradually reduced and two Byzantine political/theological crises in the 8th and 10th centuries allowed these condemned sexual relationships to be eventually tolerated and even accepted. Same-sex behaviour was condemned as satanic and diabolic by many of these same patristic authorities, often in the same breath and with the same words as they condemned remarriage. Penances assigned were virtually identical. During the 6th century, however, these penances for sex between men (especially “anal sex”) were reduced to little more than a slap on the wrist. These reduced penances suggest that just as remarriage was eventually able to be accepted into polite Byzantine Christian society, same-sex relationships might also come to be accepted in Byzantine/Eastern Christian society.

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“Beware of Greeks bearing gifts,” warned Laocoön in Virgil’s Aeneid and the medieval West took his warning to heart. Western mistrust of the Byzantines led to the negative stereotype of Byzantine bureaucracy, so much so that the modern epithet “Byzantine” describes any complex, difficult-to-navigate, apparently unstable body of rules – such as those at New York City’s City Hall. As a slur, “Byzantine” stands for both “shifty” and “shifting;” perhaps better, “shifty,” in both popular senses – shady as well as unstable – can stand as a synonym for ”Byzantine” in Western perceptions. The medieval West did not always understand how or why Byzantine Christian theology, liturgy, and practice could vary so markedly from Western norms.

One area of such difference involved marriage and sexuality. Western canonists and theologians were baffled by how Byzantine apprehension of evil or wicked sexual behaviour could differ so from theirs. The body of Byzantine canonical rulings was simply allowed to grow like topsy and was never systematically codified as was common in the West during the latter Middle Ages (resulting in what we know today as the Vatican’s Code of Canon Law.) The redundancies, repetitions, and conflicting answers simply hung together in the practice of the Eastern Church; the Eastern canonical tradition was “talmudic,” in that it maintained the practices and rulings of all the sages and conciliar bodies that preceded whatever the “current” situation might have been and then required a current sage to apply these rulings as appropriate. It is this Byzantine approach to divorce, remarriage, and “homosexual” behaviour that I wish to turn.

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Individual fathers and early Christian thinkers began to grapple with questions concerning Christian sexual behaviour before the New Testament itself was completed.1 Some authorities were satisfied to stress the need to confine sexual expression to heterosexual marriage (Didache, Hippolytus2) while others (Athenagoras, Tertullian3) felt the need to confine the definition of “marriage” proper to the first such union a Christian experienced. According to these authors, the death of a spouse did not free the survivor to remarry; any further sexual relationship was considered inappropriate and an act of infidelity to the spouse who had died but whose death did not end the marriage. (It was the later Byzantine refusal to acknowledge that death of a spouse ended a marriage which constituted one of the differences the medieval West found difficult to comprehend.) If remarriage and further sexual relationship was improper for the survivor, how much more so if the other spouse was not even dead but merely separated or divorced – practice which was allowed by Roman law. The early apologists stressed that simply because an action was legal did not make it proper, especially for Christians who were held to a higher standard of behaviour.

The practice of public penance, which patristic sources take for granted, evolved as the mechanism for reintegrating members of the Christian community who had sundered their participation in the community’s life and who wished to be restored to full membership and participation – as evidenced primarily in the reception of Holy Communion at the Divine Liturgy. The sins and transgressions, which served to sunder participation in the communal life of the Church, had to be renounced and – upon ceasing the behaviour – the penitent would begin the penance (epithemia) which had to be fulfilled before the penitent could be restored to participating in the Eucharist. The penance, or epithemia, was considered a therapeutic or medicinal tool. It was not a juridical sentence that “paid off” the debt a criminal owed society. Rather, it was a method – similar to surgery – that might prove painful in the short term but which aimed at restoring the (spiritual) health of the patient; it should be remembered that the Greek terms for “health” and “salvation” have the same root and the Gospel miracles of healing were considered paradigms of salvation by the same preachers who gave their “canonical opinions.”

This system of years of penance was predicated on the practice of an extended catechumenate of three years or more preceding the baptism of the candidate who wished to enter the Christian community in the first place. The division of the penitents into a variety of ranks, indicating their distance from or proximity to full Eucharistic participation, was indicated by their position in the church building (relative to the altar-table). As can be seen in Table I, the view that remarriage was virtually identical with adultery remained the canonical pastoral response; in order to be reconciled with the community, the couple would need to repudiate their subsequent marriage and live separately before the epithemia would commence.

Constantine VI (right to the cross) presiding over the Second Council of Nicaea. Miniature from early 11th century.
Constantine VI (right to the cross) presiding over the Second Council of Nicaea. Miniature from early 11th century.

Two revolutions occurred in the eighth and tenth centuries to change this approach. The first was the “Moechian Schism” of 795 A.D. in which the emperor Constantine VI divorced his wife and married again; he was eventually permitted to begin the epithemia for a second marriage without repudiating or separating from his second wife. The second was the “Tetragamy affair,” the dispute – probably the “most dangerous crisis between the Emperor and the Patriarch in the middle Byzantine period”4 – which rocked Byzantine society from 903 – 923 A.D. over Leo VI’s fourth marriage, resulting in an official truce between the Church and the remarried. Shifting allegiances, changes in civil law, early or unexpected deaths, clergy both willing and unwilling to comply with imperial designs, secret negotiations, pious public sentiment, loud-spoken monastics, differing interpretations of how to apply oikonomia5 – the principle of pastoral discretion in applying canonical penances more rigidly or more freely, in manner that seems appropriate – all contributed to the chaos. It was the Tome of Union, summarized in Table I, which resolved the issue and led to the use of a different wedding service for those embarking on a second/third marriage. (This was a considerable difference from the Western Christian practice, which used the same service for all weddings and refused to ever officially countenance “remarriage.”) Not only were second and third marriages regularized, but the various epithemia could all be undergone while the couple began their new life as husband and wife. Rather than serving as the means of reintegration with the larger Christian community, the epithemia became the “price” a couple paid to be able to live together in a sexually suspicious relationship which was disapproved of but tolerated.

A mosaic in Hagia Sophia showing Leo VI paying homage to Christ
A mosaic in Hagia Sophia showing Leo VI paying homage to Christ

During this same period, a variety of responses to same-sex behaviour developed. The oldest canons, those of Basil, stipulate that several sins were considered moral equivalents and subject to the same penance of 15 years: bestiality, murder, sorcery, adultery, idolatry, and arsenokoetia.6 (Arsenokoetia is derived from the root “male” and the verb – koitai, which “is a coarse word, generally denoting base or licentious sexual activities (see Romans 13:13), and in this and other compounds corresponds to the vulgar English word “fucker,” i.e. a person who, by insertion, takes the active role in intercourse.”7

(The modern Latinate “coitus” may well be derived from this as well.) In the canonical literature, therefore, it appears that arsenokoetia is the technical term for what we now refer to as “anal sex.”

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Arsenokeotia, as a specific act, was not singled out as being necessarily worse than a wide variety of other activities.8 However, John Chrysostom’s Homily IV on Romans decries what we now call “homosexual behaviour” in no uncertain terms.

“All these affections then were vile, but chiefly the mad lust after males; for the soul suffers more and is more dishonoured in sins, than the body is when diseased.”9

Arsenokoetia is clearly inspired by the Devil.

“But when God has left one, then all things are turned upside down. Not only was their doctrine satanic, but their life was also diabolical.”10

Their beliefs and behaviour go hand-in-hand, one reflecting the other. Same-sex behaviour is also inherently violent.

“… [T]hey become enemies to themselves and to one another, bringing in a pernicious kind of strife, and one even more lawless than any civil war, rife in divisions, and of varied form…. It was appropriate that the two should be one; I mean the woman and the man. For “the two” it says, “shall be one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24) But this desire of intercourse affected, and united the sexes to one another. This desire the devil having taken away, and having turned the desire in another direction, he thus sundered the sexes from one another, and made the one to become two parts in opposition to the law of God. For it says, “the two shall be one flesh;” but he divided the one flesh into two: here then is one war.”

“These same two parts he provoked to war both against themselves and against one another. For even women abused women, and not men only. The men stood against one another, and against the female sex, as happens in a battle by night. You see a second and a third war, and a fourth and a fifth; there is also another, for beside what we have mentioned they also behaved lawlessly against nature itself. For when the Devil saw that this desire it is, principally, which draws the sexes together, he was bent on cutting through the tie, so as to destroy the race, not only by their not copulating lawfully, but also by their being stirred up to war, and in sedition against one another.”11

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Instigated by the devil, same-sex behaviour portends the end of the human race not only because normal reproductive processes cease but because men and women begin to fight one another. The men, fighting each other, would eventually come to blows while the arguments with women would be the cause of friction, anger, resentment – all the attitudes which conspire against a common household or urban life. Fighting against each other, each would also – in Chrysostom’s view – be fighting against each person’s own true, inherently heterosexual, desires. Not only would this aspect of the universal warfare unleashed by the devil be fought by each against himself but it would be a fight against nature: against the heterosexual nature of mankind and against the natural cycle of birth and reproduction. There would be as many wars let loose in the world as there were individuals engaged in same-sex behaviour.

St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory Nazianzen

As can be seen in Table II, the practice of arsenokoetia (anal sex) was the primary sexual act between men which prompted discussion. It was compared to adultery and was penanced accordingly: St. Basil gave an epithemia of 15 years to both adultery and arsenokoetia while his younger brother Gregory of Nyssa suggested an epithemia of 18 years to both behaviours. Both presumed that the behaviour would cease when the epithemia commenced. Although it is arsenokoetia (anal sex) which receives Basil and Gregory’s attention, they make no distinction in assigning penance to either the “active” or “passive” (“top” vs. “bottom”); the word itself implies the “top” role as the most blameworthy, however.

This condemnation of arsenokoetia apparently remains constant for approximately 300 years. Although it is not repeated by other canonical authors, neither is it repudiated or altered. St. John the Faster, Patriarch of Constantinople (582-595 A.D.), is credited with a new approach to penances. In general, he adds ascetic exercises as well as deprivation of Communion to the epithemias and significantly reduces the time a penitent would spend doing “penance.” He adds masturbation and intercural sex between men (“between the thighs,” the equivalent of the heterosexual “missionary position”) to the acts which concern him but he suggests the epithemias involved be reduced to little more than a “slap on the wrist.” The epithemias for masturbation and intercural sex vary from 7 to 80 days while the epithemia for arsenokoetia is reduced to three years, thanks to the introduction of a certain number of prostrations during the penitent’s daily prayers as well as fasting during the day with xerophagy (“dry eating,” i.e. no animal products and those vegetables or fruit that were eaten were not to be cooked) after 3 p.m. It should be noted that this “double masturbation” of intercural sex between men is a significantly less grave transgression than heterosexual fornication (to which he assigns a penance of two years with xerophagy and 250 daily prostrations. The wicked sexual acts between men that had previously cost 15 years estrangement from the community were suddenly reduced in severity to less than a third of the time involved. Not only is the epithemia for arsenokoetia reduced, that for adultery is also reduced from fifteen to three years but adultery is taken to be a more serious offence as 250 prostrations, as opposed to the 200 assigned to “perfect arsenokoetia,” is stipulated. A later manuscript, used by leading medieval canonical authorities, adds a series of subcategorizations of arsenokoetia: between brothers, with a brother-in-law, and with women. A leading 18th century Greek canonist comments that, in general, arsenokoetia between men was preferable to that between a man and a woman while anal sex with a “strange woman” was “less reprehensible …than [with a man’s own] wife.”12

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 The behaviours of heterosexual divorce and remarriage constituted sexually suspicious relationships that were wicked, condemned, finally tolerated, and even gradually accepted. Although condemned by the canons, a service which acknowledged this paradox developed to bless these second and third marriages. Condemned in many of the same ways, same-sex behaviour – especially arsenokoetia – was deemed wicked but eventually tolerated as the reduced epithemias for the various grades of arsenokoetia indicate. The satanic sexual behaviour of men with men was always castigated in tandem with the diabolic behaviour of divorce and remarriage. As the one was finally admitted and integrated into polite Eastern Christian society, might this not show the way to eventually include the other as well?

Notes

  1. Didache 2, 3.3; English translation in Cyril Richardson, Early Christian Fathers. (New York: Macmillan.) 1970, 1975. See also Athenagoras Plea, 33; English translation in Cyril Richardson, Early Christian Fathers. (New York: Macmillan.) 1970, 1975 and Clement of Alexandria, Stromata, ii.23; cited in Pat Harell, Divorce and Remarriage in the Early Church: A History of Divorce and Remarriage in the Ante-Nicene Church. (Austin: R.B. Sweet Co.) 1967. p. 177.
  2. Apostolic Tradition 15; English translation in Geoffrey Cuming, Hippolytus: A Text for Students. (Bramcote Notts: Grove Books.) 1976.
  3. Tertullian, Exhortation to Chastity, 5; English translation in Ante-Nicene Fathers (ed. A. Roberts and J. Donaldson.) (Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson ) 1885, 1995. Vol. 4, p. 53.
  4. Steven Runciman, The Byzantine Theocracy. (London: Cambridge University Press.) 1977. p. 102.
  5. Patricia Karlin-Hayter, “Further Notes on Byzantine Marriage: Raptus – αρπαγή or μνηστείαι?” in Dumbarton Oaks Papers 46 (Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection) 1992. pp. 133-134.
  6. Basil the Great, Canon 7.
  7. John Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press.) 1980. p. 342. See also Steven Greenberg, Wrestling With God and Men: Homosexuality in the Jewish Tradition. (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.) 2004. p. 84.
  8. See Origen, Homily 11 on Leviticus (11.3-4). English translation available in Gary W. Barkley, Origen: Homilies on Leviticus, 1-16. (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press.) 1990. pp. 212-213; also John Chrysostom, Homily XVI on I Corinthians (16.8). NPNF, vol. 12, p. 93 and his Homily II on I Timothy (2.1). NPNF, vol. 13, p. 414.
  9. John Chrysostom, Homily IV on Romans (4.1). NPNF, vol. 11, p. 355-256.
  10. John Chrysostom, IV Homily on Romans (4.1). NPNF, p. 356.
  11. John Chrysostom, IV Homily on Romans (4.1). NPNF, p. 356-357.
  12. John the Faster, The 35 Canons. English translation in D. Cummings, The Rudder (Pedalion). (Chicago: Orthodox Christian Educational Society.) 1957, 1983. pp. 942-943.

Stephen Morris is an independent scholar living in New York City.