TODAY, 7th October, is celebrated in many Eastern and Western churches as the feast day of Saints Sergius and Bacchus, (died c. 303, Syria), who are among the earliest authenticated and most celebrated Christian martyrs.
Their story also includes one of the earliest known references to ‘Brother-Making’ in the early church. This rite, found in Western and Eastern Christian churches from early centuries, is a celebration of a loving, life-long, Christian relationship between two men, ‘not by the bond of nature but by faith and the spirit’.
Sergius and Bacchus were third century Roman officers, and were highly favoured until they were exposed as secret Christians. They were severely punished, and Bacchus was beaten to death. The next day Bacchus’ spirit appeared to Sergius and encouraged him to remain strong so they could be together forever. Sergius was beheaded a few days later.
The visual imagery depicting them indicates that they were united in a ‘Brother-Making’ rite, similar to the imagery used to portray married couples in this period. In a 7th-century from St. Catherine’s Monastery on Mt. Sinai in Israel, now in an art museum in Kiev, Ukraine, hey are depicted with the cameo of Christ’s halo joining their two halos, both wearing torques (large, rigid, neck rings made from strands of metal twisted together exchanged as gifts instead of rings) and having similar features, clothing and colours, typical of portrayals of the rite of‘ Brother-Making’
My husband and I took inspiration from this story in writing the service of blessing for our civil partnership in May 2012. It was our intention, like Sergius and Bacchus, to be united ‘not by the bond of nature but by faith and the spirit’.
The rite of ‘Brother-Making’, included in our civil partnership blessing service was adapted from an Eastern Orthodox liturgy translated from the Greek Adelphopoiesis and a Roman Catholic liturgy translated from the Latin Ordo Ad Fratres Faciendum. Both names translate as ‘Order of Brother-Making’.
As well as something old, we were also doing something new. This was the first civil partnership to be registered in a place of worship in the UK.
The Equality Act 2010 made this possible – following a public consultation, it became law in December 2011. Ullet Road Unitarian Church registered to conduct civil partnerships on its premises in April 2012, only the second church in the country to do so. We thank the Unitarian Church for making this happen.