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Adelphopoiesis, or adelphopoiia from the Greek ἀδελφοποίησις, derived from ἀδελφός (adelphos) "brother" and ποιέω (poieō) "make", literally "brother-making" was a ceremony practiced historically to unite together usually two men in church-recognized friendship in Greek and Russian traditions. It is no longer practiced in the Orthodox Church, although reportedly has still been done recently in a Syriac Oriential Orthodox context.[1] Some secular scholars have compared adelphopoiesis to blood brotherhood rituals practiced by other cultures, including American Indians, ancient Chinese as well as Germanic and Scandinavian peoples, and it may have replaced for a time such pagan rites in earlier times in Orthodox lands when they became prohibited by the Orthodox Church and even involved political alliances,[2] However, the Blessed Martyr Pavel Florensky argued that the rite could be understood as deeply Christian in meaning, as indicated by the texts for the ceremonies.[3] Documented in Byzantine manuscripts from the ninth to the fifteenth centuries, prayers established participants as "'spiritual brothers' (pneumatikous adelphous)" and contained references to saints noted for their friendships, including Saints Sergius and Bacchus.[4] In the late twentieth century, the lapsed Orthodox tradition gained some popular notoriety as the focus of controversy involving advocates and opponents of secular and religious legalization of homosexual relationships in the West.


Adelphopoiesis in Christian tradition

The Russian Orthodox scholar, priest, and martyr Pavel Florensky offered a famous description of adelphopoiesis in his 1914 book The Pillar and the Ground of The Truth: An Essay in Orthodox Theodicy in Twelve Letters, which included an early bibliography on the topic.[5] Florensky described traditional Christian friendship, expressed in adelphopoiesis, as "a community molecule [rather than an atomistic individualism], a pair of friends, which is the principle of actions here, just as the family was this kind of molecule for the pagan community," reflecting Christ's words that "wherever two or more of you are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of thee."[6] Florensky in his theological exegesis of the rite described an overlap of Christian agapic and philic love in adelphopoiesis, but not eros, noting that its ceremonies consisted of prayer, scriptural reading, and ritual that involved partaking in presanctified eucharistic gifts [7]

Current controversy

The ritual has gained popular attention in the West in reimagined form in the late twentieth century and early twenty-first century as a result of writings by the late homosexual historian John Boswell, who translated the term adelphopoiesis "same-sex union" and argued that it reflected the presence of homosexual identities within the earlier Church.[8] However academics experts on the issue, notably UCLA historian Claudia Rapp, in a special issue of the Catholic scholarly journal Traditio (vol. 52) in 1997, which was devoted to a critique of his thesis, highlighted inaccuracies in his translation and interpretive work.[9] The Greek Orthodox Church has also in effect termed Boswell's thesis an anachronistic modern American cultural appropriation of Eastern Christian tradition, noting that the rite involved chaste spiritual friendship in a traditional Christian context, not modern Western secular constructions of sexual identity. [10]

Possible analogues

The Slavic term "bratotvorenie" has been associated with adelphopoiesis, and a Slovenian Latin Catholic rite, "Ordo ad fratres faciendum," or "Order for the making of brothers," has been compared with it as well.[11]

Problem of Appropriation

Boswell's argument continues to live on often as assumed fact in popular discussion today, especially on the internet. Orthodox canon scholars and a number of secular church historians writing on the issue have seen popular efforts to appropriate adelphopoiesis to current debates over homosexuality as anachronistically seeking to apply contemporary Western secular epistemology and anthropology with regard to sex to a traditional non-Western Christian context. [12]

Archimandrite Ephrem Lash criticized Boswell's book in the February 1995 issue of Sourozh. According to Ephrem, Boswell mistranslates, misinterprets, and tendentiously organizes texts, and his "knowledge of Orthodox liturgiology is, in effect, non-existent."[13] With regard to Boswell's central claim to have found evidence for the use of wedding crowns in the rite for making brothers, Ephrem notes that what the relevant text says, "somewhat literally translated," is this: "It is inadmissible for a monk to receive [anadochos is a standard Greek word for 'godparent'] children from holy baptism, or to hold marriage crowns or to make brother-makings.[14] 150:124]" In other words, "monks are forbidden to do the following: 1. To act as godfathers at baptisms, 2. To act as supporters of bridal couples, 3. To enter into brotherly unions. These are, of course, the natural consequences of a monk's having given up all ties of earthly relationships."[15] Turning back to Boswell's thesis, Ephrem writes, "What does Boswell make of this? Here is his paraphrase of the text given above: 'monks must also not select boys at baptism and make such unions with them'. There is absolutely nothing in the text to suggest that the three prohibitions are linked in the way Boswell implies, nor that the 'children' are 'boys' – the Greek has the neuter, paidia. In short, this first piece of evidence for the use of crowns in the ceremony of brother-making is not evidence for anything, except Boswell's ignorance, not to mention the prurient suggestion that Byzantine monks went round selecting suitable boys at baptism so as to 'marry' them later on."[15]

In his review of Boswell's thesis, Miodrag Kojadinović says: "it starts from a premise that to me seems insufficiently proven...based on relatively meagre evidence [about] a very idiosyncratic relationship sanctioned among certain ethnic groups....It goes so far to refer to the emperor Basil as a 'hunk'. It neglects the fact that adelphopoiesis/pobratimstvo can be achieved through simple invocation: 'My-Brother-Through-God!' in case of peril. A foe suddenly turns an ally." [16]

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