Thursday, September 20, 2012

Chapter Nineteen of Naked Man With Naked Man

Once upon a time in a world far, far removed from our own, there was a great icon displayed at St. Catherine's Monastery on Mount Sinai. It showed two robed and beardless Christian saints and standing between them is Christ. The painting now sits in a museum in Kiev but it was 'rediscovered' by the late Chairman of the Yale history department John Boswell who claimed that this was a depiction of Jesus presiding over a same sex marriage. Boswell’s analysis is incorrect. There is no evidence to suggest that this was a depiction of a marriage at all. It may well be a symbol of adelphopoeisis as he suggests but there are no outward signs of matrimony anywhere in the image.

The key thing to focus are the large gold rings around the martyrs’s necks. As Piotr Grotowski notes these neck rings were known as maniakion in Byzantium and were a sign of office received from the hands of the emperor. The maniakion was worn primarily by men who from the fourth century served as the emperor's personal guard on expeditions, in particular: kandidatoi (gold neck-rings, set with three knobs on the chest),“ 'beardless' protospatharioi (i.e. eunuchs; gold, set with pearls and precious stones), and 'bearded' ones, imperial katepanoi and kometes (differing in the level of decoration of the precious stones and large pearls set in them).

Almost every art historian who have ever commented on the icon have noted the unusual depiction of the beardless saints. The sixth century icon is clearly representing a special class of warrior in the Imperial retinue - that of  the beardless protospatharioi who were especially close to the emperor.  In other words, Sergius and Bacchus were originally understood to be 'intimates' of the Emperor who were given 'little necklaces' as a sign of their beloved status.  They were eunuchs who ultimately transferred their loyalty from the ruler of the  world to Christ the ruler of the kingdom of God.

Indeed the Passion of St Sergius and Bacchus makes this intimacy with the Emperor Maximianus (286 - 305 CE) quite explicit. Sergius is said to be "the primicerius and commander of the schola gentilium, a friend of the emperor and trusted by him so much that he acceded swiftly to his requests."  The schola gentilium ("school of tribesmen") were an elite group of personal bodyguards for the emperor. Each schola was formed into a cavalry regiment of around 500 troops.  There is some debate in scholarship whether such a unit existed before Constantine.  Nevertheless there is no compelling reason to doubt the idea that the two originally took the role of elite eunuch bodyguards to Maximianus.

The narrative tells us that the Emperor originally refused to believe that these elite soldiers were Christians. Yet they eventually confess their true belief as "martyrs and most brave soldiers of Christ" after being directly questioned by the emperor - "We must discharge to you, O emperor, the earthly military service of our bodies; but we have a true king, Jesus Christ eternal in heaven, the Son of God, to whom we devote our souls, he who is our hope and saving refuge." The narrative goes on to tell us that "the emperor was infuriated, his whole face changed, and he ordered that their military belts be immediately removed, that they be stripped of their cloaks and any other military garments, and, at the same time, that their golden collars be removed from about their necks. He dressed them in women's clothing, and he ordered that they be dragged in this way, with the heaviest chains about their necks, right through the middle of the city as far as the palace."  The two are eventually executed and celebrated as one of the most popular saints in the churches.

The pair is said to have been sent to Syria circa 303 CE where Bacchus is thought to have died while being flogged. Sergius survived torture but was later beheaded. Legend says that Bacchus appeared to the dying Sergius as an angel, telling him to be brave because they would soon be reunited in heaven. As we have already seen the pairing of saints was not unusual in the early Church. To this end, alongside Sergius and Bacchus we also hear the names of Cyrus and John as well Cosmas and Damian. We must remember that it was relatively rare for two 'brothers' to end their lives together in martyrdom.

Most of the examples we have seen over the course of the third century have one half of the 'pair' sacrificed for the benefit of the other partner. The point that we should keep in mind is that in the course of time - and with the general coarsening of intellect in the Church after the fifth century - if you didn't die with your 'brother' you weren't celebrated as a same sex pair. In any event, if we return to the example of Sergius and Bacchus for the moment it is worth noting that the association between these two men was regarded as particularly intimate. Severus, the Patriarch of Antioch (512 - 518 CE) explained that, "we should not separate in speech they [Sergius and Bacchus] who were joined in life".

Moreover in the definitive 10th century account of their lives, St. Sergius is openly celebrated as the "sweet companion and lover" of St. Bacchus. Sergius and Bacchus's close relationship has led many modern scholars to believe they were lovers. But the most compelling evidence for this view is that the oldest text of their martyrology, written in New Testament Greek describes them as "erastai,” or "lovers." Boswell and others used this two emphasize that the two were remembered as a male homosexual couple.  Yet their status as eunuchs makes at least some of this untenable.  Once again we confront the strange paradox established in the Alexandrian Church from the very beginning.  Here were 'lovers' who chose castration so they could not make love, could not actualize their impulse for physical intimacy.

The striking testimony that this icon provides for the homoerotic in early Christianity explains Boswell's decision to put it on the cover on his 1994 book Same Sex Unions in Premodern Europe. Boswell went on to reveal that Sergius and Bacchus played an important role in an important role in a brother making rite which he argued was an ancient precursor to 'gay marriage.'  Yet the same tendency for overstatement and blurring of distinctions complicate this argument too.  The bottom line is that this strange same sex union rite like did indeed exist from earliest times.  The difficulty however is actually created a historical context which makes sense for adelphopoeisis.

After going through countless ancient liturgical documents Boswell discovered that in addition to heterosexual marriage ceremonies there were also ceremonies called the "Office of Same-Sex Union" (10th and 11th century), and the "Order for Uniting Two Men" (11th and 12th century).  He claimed that these church rites had all the symbols of a heterosexual marriage: the whole community gathered in a church, a blessing of the couple before the altar was conducted with their right hands joined, holy vows were exchanged, a priest officiatied in the taking of the Eucharist and a wedding feast for the guests was celebrated afterwards. Yet it is important to keep in mind the transformation which necessarily occurs from the original culture of castration to the later Byzantine cultural milieu.  In other words, one might wonder if the homosexuality Boswell identifies appear only as a result of removing the original barrier which prevent the actualization of homosexual impulses.

Boswell noted that these elements all appear in contemporary illustrations of the holy union of the Byzantine Warrior-Emperor, Basil the First (867-886 CE) and his companion John. One Greek 13th century rite for instance is called the "Order for Solemn Same-Sex Union" and invokes St. Serge and St. Bacchus, calling on God to "vouchsafe unto these, Thy servants [N and N], the grace to love one another and to abide without hate and not be the cause of scandal all the days of their lives, with the help of the Holy Mother of God, and all Thy saints". The ceremony concludes: "And they shall kiss the Holy Gospel and each other, and it shall be concluded".

Another 14th century Serbian Slavonic "Office of the Same Sex Union" has the function of uniting two men or two women, with the couple lay their right hands on the Gospel while having a crucifix placed in their left hands. After kissing the Gospel, the couple were then required to kiss each other, after which the priest, having raised up the Eucharist, would give them both communion. As Boswell notes the ecords of Christian same sex unions have been discovered in such diverse archives as those in the Vatican, in St. Petersburg, in Paris, in Istanbul and in the Sinai, covering a thousand-years from the eighth to the eighteenth century.

Yet it should be noted that the Yale professor is only following in the footsteps and at times exaggerating the original work carried out by the Dominican missionary and Prior, Jacques Goar (1601-1653), includes such ceremonies in a printed collection of Greek Orthodox prayer books, “Euchologion Sive Rituale Graecorum Complectens Ritus Et Ordines Divinae Liturgiae” (Paris, 1667). Indeed the earliest example of adelphopoiia pneumatike rite - literally "the making [or creation] of spiritual brothers" - is found in an eighth century prayer book known as the Barberini euchology originally referenced by Goar - our earliest surviving witness for the Byzantine rite. In the end Boswell found versions of the ceremony in some sixty Greek and Slavonic manuscripts dating from the eighth through the sixteenth or seventeenth centuries.

A typical example 'Office for Ritual Brotherhood' (Akolouthia eis adelphopoiesin) which Boswell uses to great effect:

The priest shall place the holy Gospel on the Gospel stand and they that are to be joined together place their right hands on it, holding lighted candles in their left hands.
Then shall the priest cense them and say the following:
In peace we beseech Thee, O Lord.
For heavenly peace, we beseech Thee, O Lord.
For the peace of the entire world, we beseech Thee, O Lord.
For this holy place, we beseech Thee, O Lord.
That these thy servants, N. and N., be sanctified with thy spiritual benediction, we beseech Thee, O Lord.
That their love [agape] abide without offense or scandal all the days of their lives, we beseech Thee, O Lord. That they be granted all things needed for salvation and godly enjoyment of life everlasting, we beseech Thee, O Lord.
That the Lord God grant unto them unashamed faithfulness [pistis] and sincere love [agape anhypokritos], we beseech Thee, O Lord....
Have mercy on us, O God. "Lord, have mercy" shall be said three times.
The priest shall say:
Forasmuch as Thou, O Lord and Ruler, art merciful and loving, who didst establish humankind after thine image and likeness, who didst deem it meet that thy holy apostles Philip and Bartholomew be united, bound one unto the other not by nature but by faith and the spirit.
As Thou didst find thy holy martyrs Serge and Bacchus worthy to be united together [adelphoi genesthai], bless also these thy servants, N. and N., joined together not by the bond of nature but by faith and in the mode of the spirit [ou desmoumenous desmi physeis alla pisteis kai pneumatikos tropi], granting unto them peace [eirene] and love [agape] and oneness of mind.
Cleanse from their hearts every stain and impurity and vouchsafe unto them to love one other without hatred and without scandal all the days of their lives, with the aid of the Mother of God and all thy saints, forasmuch as all glory is thine.

There can be no doubt that this 'making of brothers' existed since earliest times in Christianity.  All signs seem to point to its being associated with the cult of eunuchs, twins and brothers within the tradition.  As it is well established that there was a concerted effort to curb 'second baptisms' within the Church in the third century, it can be argued that what began as a second baptism rite was transformed into something else - a sacrament of same sex union without any reference to water immersion.

In the end the real question for us isn't whether not Boswell overstated his case with respect to these ceremonies representing the equivalent of same sex marriage, but rather whether or not they represent a continuation of the ideas we uncovered within the early Alexandrian brother-making rite.  The acknowledged contemporary authority on adelphopoeisis Claudia Rapp draws a distinction between (a) brotherhood language used in a metaphorical sense for larger groups, generically for monks, or for monks in a large community, or for all Christians as a result of the incarnation of Christ, (b) brotherhood references to two men (this may partially overlap with the first usage) and finally (c) references to adelphopoiesis (with the use of that word and its derivatives) that implies the use of the ritual prayers to bless a bond between two men.  Does Rapp think the liturgy of the Letter to Theodore and adelphopoeisis are related?  Her published works never touch upon the issue directly but she has demonstrated herself on many occasions to be open to the suggestion.

There is one important link between adelphopoeisis and secret Mark which is almost inevitably overlooked - a same sex couple who spent many years at both the monastery of St Catherines, where the icon was shown, and St Saba (= Arabic Mar Saba), the place where the Letter to Theodore was discovered. John Moschos and his friend Sophronios came to Mar Saba after a ten year period they spent together at the Monastery of St Catherines in the Sinai Peninsula (580 – 590 CE). In 603, they left Palestine before the approach of the Persians and in 614 Sophronius refounded the rules of the monastery.  A close associated of Sophrinus, Maximus the Confessor was granted land by Pope Martin I (649-53; d. 655) for a replica monastery in Rome after Palestine was overrun with Persian forces.  The Roman monastery housed Greek-speaking monks from Palestine like Maximus himself and survives in part in the remaining walls of the present-day church of St Saba.  The monastery continued to be used until the tenth century when conflicts between Rome and Constantinople led to the monks to be thrown out.

Almost everyone who has ever studied the pair has noticed something odd about their partnership. As Derek Krueger notes in his article 2011 Between Monks: Tales of Monastic Companionship in Early Byzantium, the relationship between John and Sophronius very much embodies the spirit of monastic cohabitation from their classic work the Spiritual Meadow. In his words their relationship “conformed to a master/disciple dynamic and suggest a Platonic/pederastic context through which to understand these celibate pairings.” Krueger’s article is particularly interesting as it begins with a story from the Spiritual Meadow narrated to John and his companion Sophronios by Abba Stephen the Cappadocian while they visited Mount Sinai.

Stephen was in church on the Thursday of Holy Week, the feast of the Lord’s Supper, when in his words “as the holy sacrifice was being offered and all the fathers were present, I looked and saw two anchorites enter the church. They were naked, yet none of the other fathers perceived that they were naked except me.” After communion, as the two monastic brothers left the church, Stephen followed them and begged them to take him with them. They refused, saying, “It is not possible for you to be with us; stay here; this is the place for you.” The men offered prayer on his behalf, and then in Stephen’s words, “before my eyes, they went onto the water of the red Sea on foot and departed across the sea.”

As Krueger notes “this strange narrative inhabits a liminal space between the erotic and its sublimation, between ascetic chastity and monastic desire. Its fantasy of naked monks, utterly unashamed of their nakedness, reveals the perfection of their ascetic practice. Naked, they receive the Eucharist; naked, their bodies are joined to Christ’s at the Last Supper. That they can walk on the water of the red Sea confirms their conformity to Christ, and like the Israelites fleeing Egypt, they pass over into redemption.” Krueger also points to their nakedness as indicating that “the brothers have attained the presexual purity of the garden of Eden. They are like Adam and his companion Eve before the fall into corruption, and yet they are also significantly different, for they are a pair of men.”

It is worth emphasizing that only Stephen saw them naked; the other monks were apparently unworthy to attain this vision. Krueger adds that Stephen’s “clarity of vision exposes his desire. This brother—who no doubt prayed daily not to be led into temptation and to be delivered from evil—wanted to go with these naked men, to make it a threesome. The brothers denied him. Was it because he was unworthy of this next step? He was perfected enough to see them but not enough to join them. Was it because monks should come in twos, and three is a crowd? Or was it because Stephen continued to desire, while the naked men of his vision transcended the homoerotic desire that they represented?”

Krueger also sees great significance in the fact that this story is now told to another pair of monks – the authors of the Spiritual Meadow – John Moschus and Sophronius who were “two clothed monks who were also traveling together and sharing the monastic life.” John Moschos completed the Spiritual Meadow shortly before his death in Rome in 619 (or perhaps 634). He entered the cenobitic Monastery of Saint Theodosios in the Judean desert at some point in the 560s before moving a few kilometers away to spend ten years in the remoter Paran Monastery. It was probably here that he met the younger and better-educated Sophronios the Sophist, a man of higher social status who in 634 would become the patriarch of Jerusalem.

In his own writings, Sophronios referred to Moschos as his “spiritual father and teacher,” while in the Spiritual Meadow Moschos termed Sophronios variously “my companion Sophronios” “brother Sophronios”, and occasionally “Lord” or “my Lord Sophronios.” In his preface he addressed his “sacred and faithful child Sophronios.” As Henry Chadwick observes, Moschus “was evidently responsible for Sophronius’ spiritual formation.” Krueger notes that they spent more than forty years of their lives in each other’s company, dwelling and traveling together, crossing both land and sea. Together they journeyed to Alexandria and throughout Egypt. They spent ten years at Sinai before traveling to Jerusalem, the New Lavra of Saint Sabas, Syria, and eventually Rome, where they established the second St. Saba monastery.

It was at Rome that Moschus put the finishing touches to his text, a rich account of anecdotes and sayings heard and collected during their travels. According to Moschos’s introduction, he gathered up the stories like flowers into an anthology, to work “the finest flowers of the unmown meadow” into a garland to present to his faithful disciple, and through him “to the world at large.” As Krueger notes the Spiritual Meadow is “ literary posy, the text is a gift exchanged between two members of a monastic pair, both a chronicle and a token of their years together … [it] is not only about the potential for the perfection of monks but also about the power of their pairing.” He goes on to say that “in Stephen’s vision the goal of the monastic life, to the extent that it is a recovery of the state that god intended for humanity, is a state not simply of solitude or singleness, being a monk/alone in the original sense of the word monachos, but rather of chaste companionship. Within the narrative Moschos and Sophronios also are left behind, beholding this vision of the monastic life that exposes the tension between perfection and desire.”

Through the composition and publication of his text, Moschos became another conduit for such visions, dazzling his audience with images of monasticism that both inspired eros and constrained it.”  It is important to note that John Moschus and Sophronius become the biographers of John the Almsgiver Patriarch of Alexandria and in the process make the earliest mention of the rite of adelphopoiesis. It is also interesting to note that the next reference comes a few decades later in Leontios of Neapolis’s Life of Symeon the Fool. This narratives tell us of the relationship between Symeon and his companion John met as adolescents while on pilgrimage to the holy places.

As Krueger notes about the text these paired monks quickly formed a friendship and “would no longer part from each other.” They dwelled together as hermits in the Judean desert for twenty-nine years, until Symeon decided to leave John to go to the city of Emesa and convert the populace to a more moral life. As Krueger points out the scene of their parting depicts John’s perplexity and grief: “We agreed not to be separated from each other. remember the fearful hour when we were clothed in the holy habit, and we two were as one soul, so that all were astonished at our love.”The mention of monastic garb underscores that theirs was a union of two monks. Krueger see also the presence of the description of marriage in Genesis 2:24, where “the two become one flesh.” As he notes “the trope of two monks having a single soul had already entered the literature of monastic friendship, but Leontios continued to underscore the tightness of their bond.

In the end, John understands that “nothing would separate them except death, and perhaps not even that.” We are told that they prayed together for many hours, and “kissed each other’s breast and drenched them with their tears.” John’s “soul would not let him be separated from him, but whenever Abba Symeon said to him ‘Turn back, brother,’ he heard the word as if a knife separated him from his body.” Krueger argues that “as early as the fourth century the literature of Christian monasticism celebrated long-term friendship and cohabitation between two male monks.”  Much of the work done with respect to tracing the development of this culture of Christian same sex union has been done for us by Claudia Rapp of the University of Vienna.

There was certainly a great diversity of monastic communities in the fourth century.  As Rapp rightly points out "we are faced with the simultaneous availability of several options for monastic living, not only in larger communities and as individuals, but also in smaller groups of two or three." Some monks lived on their own, others in pairs or triads or even larger groups. The dyad or triad (a father or 'abba' leading a pair of younger initiates) was a distinctly Alexandrian mystical conception. Its perpetuation through the ages is the survival of the original model of Secret Mark and indeed the grouping witnessed by Origen, Theodore and Athenodorus.

Palladius of Galatia who visited Egypt in the 390s offers important details which are very important to consider about the survival of this 'Origenist' culture into the post-Nicene age. As Rapp notes according to his very generous estimate, Nitria was home to 5000 monks. Palladius further remarks that they “have different ascetic practices (politeias), each one according to his ability and desire. Thus it is possible to live by oneself, or as a twosome, or in a group of many." It would be impossible to go through all the paired monks listed in her book. Yet any survey would necessarily start with the pair of 'Origenist' monks Pambo and his disciple Ammonius mentioned as living with two sisters and who "having reached the perfection of the love of God, made their home in the desert, the women living separately by themselves, and the men by themselves, so as to have a sufficient distance between them."

It was from Nitria that an exodus of hundreds of 'Origenist' monks into Palestine prompted by the persecutions of the Patriarch Theophilus in 399. There was after all a sympathetic bishop in Jerusalem named John at this time (387 - 417 CE) and beyond. It will be argued in fact that Palestine was recognized as the place to be for neo-Alexandrian monks everywhere in the world at this time. It was something like an ancient precursor to Woodstock. There was a sudden influx of monks from Cappadocia some of whom happened to be disciples of Basil and Gregory - others came from the related neo-Marcionite cultures of Armenia and other remote regions.

This sudden gathering of like-minded people in this region is demonstrated by collision of St Saba the Sanctified, the founder of the Mar Saba monastery, and a group of famous Origenists from Nitria in the very same year. Saba was drawn from Caesarea in Cappadocia to the teachings of a famous monk Armenian monk named Euthymius who had settled in Palestine. It might be useful to gain some background on the pattern of pairing among Palestinian monks by using Euthymius as an example.

At first Euthymius was partnered at the time with a certain Theoctistus. The two men left the laura of Pharan to found the first coenobium or communal monastery in the Judean Desert in the early fifth century. The pair went deep into the desert and this monastery, named for Theoctistus, was Euthymius’ home for about ten years (411-421). It was then that Euthymius chose to leave the monastery of Theoctistus and begin an anachoretic life with his pupil Domitian. The two reached a mountain called Marda (identified with Masada) and stayed on its top for some time, feeding on wild plants and salt bushes (Atriplex) and drinking the water collected in reservoirs which they found on the site. The chapel erected by Euthymius later served as the core for a small laura on the hilltop. Euthymius and his pupil Domitian later moved into the desert area east of Tell Ziph. Here Euthymius founded another coenobium, named after the main settlement of the area, Capar Baricha (Bani Na’im).

After founding the Capar Baricha monastery, Euthymius decided to return to the plateau area west of the monastery of Theoctistus. According to Cyril, “he loved this place dearly, for it was rather level and at the same time quiet and blessed with fresh air, and most important of all... the place was lonely and not situated on a thoroughfare”. Thus, Euthymius and his pupil Domitian left the Ziph area and settled at Mishor Adummim, in a small cave which later served as the burial place of Euthymius.In the years following the council of Chalcedon, the monastery of Euthymius reached the peak of its prestige. In the spring of 457, Saba was received by Euthymius, who sent him as a novice to the monastery of Theoctistus. In the summer of that year, Elias and Martyrius the Cappadocian – two experienced monks – arrived from Nitria, in Egypt. They stayed in the monastery of Euthymius for a time, and then went on to found their own monasteries. Yet most significant of all is that Elias went on to become Patriarch of Jerusalem and maintained a close relationship with Saba both during and after his rule (494 - 513 CE).

Irfan Shahid in his Byzantium and the Arabs notes that Elias's "relations with St. Sabas, whom he knew from the days of Euthymius, remained close after his election to the patriarchate of Jerusalem." Indeed Shahid marshals a wealth of information to demonstrate how close Saba was to the former Origenist monk. It would be impossible to argue based on this evidence that Saba merely 'co-existed' with the refugees from Nitria. The evidence clearly suggests some sort of common spiritual heritage. Indeed, in spite of what is preserved in Cyril of Scythopolis's Life of Saba it is hard to believe that Saba's own building activities weren't somehow related to the sudden influx of 'Origenists' from all parts of the world. There was after all an Origenist core at the heart of the New Laura of the massive monastic compound which bears his name to this very day.

Indeed up until recently we had no living testimonies of this Origenist community at Mar Saba. Nevertheless Panayiotis Tzamalikos rediscovered at least part of that heritage in 2012 with the publication of a hitherto ignored codex at a remote monastery in Greece which came from that sixth century milieu. From this lost book Tzamalikos concludes that one of our most famous monastic voices - that of 'John Cassian' - was wholly fabricated in order to hide the existence of this Origenist Cassian of Mar Saba or as Tzamalikos calls him 'Cassian the Sabaite.' As Tzamalikos notes "we come across an unknown Greek Father, who was condemned to spiritual death and total extinction, only because inquisitors of doctrine deemed him as a sympathizer of Origen and an admirer of Didymus the Blind and of Evagrius; in other words, an author who drew on ‘heretics’ into his own writings."

By the time the Emperor Justinian assembled the fifth council of Constantinople in 553 CE to condemn Origenism in the monastery the tradition went underground. The emperor tried to control the situation in the monastery and perhaps to some degree the manuscripts of Origen were destroyed or removed from Mar Saba. Nevertheless it becomes quite clear that the texts of Clement of Alexandria known to Cassian the Sabaite continued to exist in the library. Indeed they were probably spared from the fire owing to their association with someone other than Origen.

Annick Martin put forward the possibility that the Letter to Theodore might have been a fifth century composition by an Origenist monk deliberately falsified under the name of Clement. This is a radical hypothesis of course which fails to take into account the obvious similarities in language and ideas with respect to the real Clement of Alexandria. Nevertheless it draws our attention to the perpetuation of neo-Alexandrian culture at Mar Saba which ultimately accounts for the survival of the letter there for over a thousand years. By far the most basic conception that was passed forward from the 'Origenist' monks was that of the grouping of monks in dyads and triads. This becomes very apparent again as we return to Palladius's account of the region before the expulsion of Origenist monks. Aside from the pair of other prominent names mentioned include the brothers Paesius and Isaias, Macarius and his two disciples, Macarius and Paphnutius, Anthony and his two disciples, Sarapion who used to walk about naked in linen cloths and his associate, and Chronius and Jacob later joined by Paphnutius.

Yet it is often overlooked that Palladius himself explicitly mentions that he was similarly yoked to a brother. The Lausiac Histories concludes with his impassioned declaration of love for "the brother who has been with me from youth until this day." He continues "I know that for a long time he has not eaten from desire nor fasted from desire. I consider that he has conquered desire of riches, the greatest part of vainglory. He is satisfied with what he has, he does not deck himself out with clothes, when despised he gives thanks, he runs risks for his close friends, he has engaged in contests with demons a thousand times and more ... He has visited 106 cities and stayed in most of them, but by God's mercy he has had nothing to do with a woman, not even in a dream."

While scholars have attempted a number of implausible interpretations of the passage - including the idea that Palladius was talking about himself.  This would make Palladius fit within the overall pattern of Egyptian monasticism highlighted by Rapp.  She notes that it was not only in context of eremitism that two (or three) monks could live together. The cenobitic life, too, offered opportunities for two or three men to share close quarters and to enjoy recognition as a social unit. At the White Monastery, of Apa Shenoute, for example, each cell within the monastery was shared by two monks. The monastic site experienced its first heyday in the sixth century, although its origins reach back to the fifth century. Various parts of it continued to be inhabited until the 14th century. Of particular relevance are the 89 hermitages, largely founded in the sixth century, because most of them were intended for habitation by two monks.

The spatial arrangement within some of these hermitages suggests that the hermits who lived there were of equal status, as “brothers.” They consist of two adjoining suites of two or three rooms each, with a shared kitchen and courtyard in the center. There are no facilities for storage of foodstuffs or for baking, which suggests that the hermits depended on regular deliveries of bread, water and wine. A careful reading of the textual sources complements the picture suggested by the archaeological record. The monastic literature of late antique Egypt makes frequent reference to two monks living together and being recognized as “brothers."

Most prominent are stories where two “brothers” went to the city together to sell their handicraft. When one of them fell into sin with a woman, the other promised to share the burden of his penance. This is depicted as a great example of charity, and indirectly confirms that hagiographers and their audience were familiar with the notion that two monks could share the same spiritual capital, as it were, through the act of vicarious penance. This commitment extended even beyond death. Paired monks, as Rapp like to call them, are often reported to have made a promise to one another to be united in death and to be buried in the same tomb, so that their relation may extend into the afterlife. Various paths could lead to such an arrangement of monastic companionship: the two may have been biological brothers who took up the monastic life together, or a disciple (sometimes two disciples) lived with an abba whose cell he (or they) would later inherit, or two men who already knew one another made a joint decision to become monks.

Pachomius, for example, was joined in his initial explorations of the eremitic life by his brother, until the latter passed away, and Anthony, as has been noted, was assisted by two disciples who lived with him on the Inner Mountain. Relations between such paired monks were not always easy, as one particularly interesting papyrus from the monastic settlement at Labla of the year 511 illustrates. Aioulios, the legal owner of the monastic cell which he inhabits with his “brother” Eulogios makes a written promise: “[...] that after my death my cell will belong to Eulogios. [...] If I leave Eulogios during my lifetime, my cell will belong to Eulogios, or if I bring any layman or monk to be senior to (?) Eulogios into my cell without permission of Eulogios, my cell will belong to Eulogios.” Having received such assurances of of the permanence of Aioulios' commitment to honor the status of Eulogios as his only equal companion and sole heir, the latter in turn declares in the same document that “it is not lawful for me to cast you away from me while you live, until you die."

Indeed, one hermitage at Kellia features, in addition to the dwelling for the abba, symmetrical accommodation for two disciples. After their abba's death, they would have inherited the enclosure and taken on a disciple of their own, necessitating the re-arrangement of the inner walls. These would have been the setups envisioned by Benedict when he criticized monks who lived in groups of two or three. Rapp goes on to note that this pairing of monks was certainly still a viable option in the seventh century, when John Klimax, the leader of a community on the Sinai peninsula, explained in his Spiritual Ladder: “All monastic life may be said to take one of three forms. There is the road of here is the road of withdrawal and solitude for the spiritual athlete; there is the life of stillness shared with one or two others; there is the practice of living patiently in the community."

John Klimax likely presided over the Sinai monastery shortly after the icon of Sergius and Bacchus was introduced.  At the very same time he was actively thwarting the homoerotic associations between other monks by sowing dissention between them.  As he notes in the Spiritual Ladder “Blessed are the peacemakers [Matthew 5:9]. No one will deny this. But I have seen foemakers who are also blessed. Two monks once developed a lascivious fondness for one another. But a discerning and very experienced father brought them to the stage of detesting each other. He made them enemies by telling each man he was being slandered by the other, and by this piece of chicanery he warded off the demon’s malice, and by causing hatred he brought an end to fornication.  As Krueger notes in his commentary on this passage "the panopticon of the monastery thus, ideally, held homogenital activity in check."

Krueger also points to the writings of John as witnessing the need to developed strategies in the case that close friendships between monks might generate rumor within the monastery even when the men were chaste.  Klimax provided an example of how to avoid such concern, again justifying the use of deception: “I have known young men who were bound to each other in accord with god, but who, to avoid harm to the conscience of others, agreed to avoid each other’s company for a time.”  As Krueger notes the intimacy between these young monks did not pose a risk to them, but it could cause trouble for onlookers.  As he goes on further to note the passage recalls the story from the Apophthegmata patrum of the two chaste monks placed under the same blanket - "the participle proskeimenoi in the passage above, which can be translated 'were bound (to each other),' literally means 'were lying beside (each other),' and thus John might have been indicating that the two young monks regularly 'slept together in a godly fashion.' Maintaining physical distance prevented moral damage to others.

It is important to note that it was only slightly before these efforts of John Klimax to curb what appear to be rampant homosexual relations at Saint Catherines that John Moschus and Sophronius stayed at the same monastery.  Just as John Klimax recommended physical space, Krueger points to Moschos and Sophronios receiving almost the exact opposite advice as they consulted an elder for advice on how to conduct their paired monastic life.  We read in John Moschus's account:

I took my lord Sophronios and we went in search of a particularly distinguished elder, an Egyptian, at the lavra [a collection of monastic cells along a path] that is located eighteen miles from Alexandria. I said to the elder: “give us a word, Lord Abba, about the way in which we ought to live with each other for my lord the sophist here has a desire to renounce the world." [The elder said] “Well done indeed, my child, if you renounce the world and save your soul. Settle yourselves  in a cell [together]. Where does not matter: only that you live there in sobriety and maintaining quietude, praying unceasingly."

As Krueger notes the elder's advice regarding monks dwelling together conformed to instructions for the monastic life in general.  The terse charge to avoid wine, to keep restful silence, and to engage in constant prayer even reproduced the tripartite form of the sayings of the founders of the Egyptian monastic tradition.  Yet he also pays special attention to the fact that "the elder did not dissuade them from cohabiting but rather instructed them to settle (in the plural) together in a cell."

The point then is that it is possible to see a line connecting the early Alexandrian community of Clement and Origen to the Egyptian monastic communities of the fourth century.  These paired monks are known to have settled in Palestine in great numbers and at the Great Lavra of St Saba in particular.  It was here at Mar Saba that a large 'Origenist' library was known to have been kept which included the various writings of his teacher Clement.  Many of these works that were in the hands of monks at Mar Saba are no longer available to us.  A collection of letters of Clement of Alexandria existing in the monastery until the time of John of Damascus (c 9th century).   The Letter to Theodore was probably part of that collection which "probably perished in the great fire which burned out the treasury of Mar Saba in the early years of the eighteenth century."

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Stephan Huller's Observations by Stephan Huller
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