Role models of greatness.

Here you will discover the back stories of kings, titans of industry, stellar athletes, giants of the entertainment field, scientists, politicians, artists and heroes – all of them gay or bisexual men. If their lives can serve as role models to young men who have been bullied or taught to think less of themselves for their sexual orientation, all the better. The sexual orientation of those featured here did not stand in the way of their achievements.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Gay Saints Sergius and Bacchus

Third-century Saints Sergius and Bacchus were openly gay, but secretly Christian – the opposite of the way most of today’s closeted gay Christians deal with their situation. The couple were high-ranking Roman soldiers who were described in historical accounts as erastai, Greek for “lovers”.  Modern scholars report that they were united in the rite of adelphopoiesis, a kind of early Christian same-sex marriage. The saints' story is told in the Greek text known as The Passion of Sergius and Bacchus, which dates from the fifth century, when their veneration began. During the Byzantine Empire, they were venerated as protectors of the army.

According to Kitt Cherry*, in the year 303 in present-day Syria “They were tortured to death after they refused to attend sacrifices to Zeus, thus revealing their secret Christianity. The pair were arrested and paraded through the streets in women’s clothing in an unsuccessful effort to humiliate them... Then Sergius and Bacchus were separated and beaten so severely that Bacchus died. According to the early manuscripts, Bacchus appeared to Sergius that night with a face as radiant as an angel’s, dressed once again as a soldier. He urged Sergius not to give up (by renouncing his faith), because they would be reunited in heaven as lovers. His statement is unique in the history of martyrs. Usually the promised reward is union with God, not with a lover. Over the next days Sergius was tortured and eventually beheaded...

Note: Some scholars swear by this account; others doubt its veracity.

...Sergius’ tomb became a famous shrine, and for nearly 1,000 years the couple was revered as the official patrons of the Byzantine army. Many early churches were named after Sergius, sometimes (paired) with Bacchus. They are recognized as martyrs by the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches. The pair was venerated through the Mediterranean, the Middle East, Latin America and among the Slavs. Sergius and Bacchus continue to be popular saints with Christian Arabs...”

I have just returned from a trip to Istanbul, where there is a famous church dedicated to Saints Sergius and Bacchus, just down the hill from the city’s storied Hippodrome from Roman times. Located just a few yards from the shores of the Sea of Marmara, the church, built in 527, is so old that the interior frieze is in Greek, not Latin (Istanbul was a Greek-speaking city before the arrival of Roman emperors Constantine and Justinian). The church, like most in Istanbul, was converted to a mosque in the 15th century, but it existed as a church dedicated to Saints Sergius and Bacchus for nearly a thousand years. The church is commonly known as “Little Hagia Sophia” (Küçük Ayasofia), although it predates its landmark namesake by a few years.

Noted British photographer Anthony Gayton does stylized homoerotic photos based on the history of gay culture. At right he shows Sergius and Bacchus stripped and bound as prisoners in two separate photos. The images are intended to be shown together, but by design they can also be separated. Appropriate Bible quotes are on banners above them. For Bacchus: “But I will not take my love from him, nor will I ever betray my faithfulness.” (Psalm 89:33). For Sergius: “All thy commandments are faithful, they persecute me wrongly; help thou me.” (Psalm 119: 86)

*Kittredge Cherry is a lesbian Christian author and art historian. She founded Jesus In Love in 2005 to support LGBT spirituality and the arts. She was ordained by Metropolitan Community Churches, an LGBT-affirming Christian denomination, and has served as its National Ecumenical Officer. Her blog can be found at: