Sergius & Bacchus

This is the sixth post of ten on our #TenSaintsTenDays series, counting down from All Saints to Veterans Day. Check back in every day until November 11th for a new saint, their story, and a prayer to guide us into the way of peace. 

Sergius & Bacchus – Out of the Closet and Into the Streets Saints

The presence and propriety of gay couples has been hotly debated in both military and Christian communities for many years now, and it is a conversation that can draw out the worst in people. In 1994, the military adopted a policy that seemed like a good compromise at the time; soldiers would not be asked about, and they were forbidden from disclosing, their sexuality. Churches often lived by a similar, but informal, code of silence. Gay Christians and gay service members, however, soon learned that silence is betrayal, that communion with one another requires a Word. It is therefore unfortunate that our saints for today do not hold much wider recognition than they often do in either martial or ecclesial communities. After all, Sergius and Bacchus were battle buddies in the most elite Roman military unit, the Praetorian Guard, and have  also been venerated by the Church as early as the fifth century.

In the early life of the Church, Christianity was prohibited by law and punishable by death. Most Christians were not high profile enough to be found out, and Rome rarely wasted resources hunting them down. But for those in high places, theirs was a closeted faith, known only to others like themselves. It became important for them to consider what kind of actions they would be willing to do publicly and what things would be so bad as to rob Christ of his glory. Sergius and Bacchus served at an unfortunate time, however, under an emperor who insisted upon overt displays of pagan worship. The bond between the two was as close as Jonathan’s was to his friend David, who covenanted with the future king “out of love for him, because he loved him as he loved himself.” When they accompanied their unit to a pagan shrine, they knew that they would be expected to participate in false worship once inside, that they would soon be “outed” as Christians. With one loud voice, they proudly proclaimed that Jesus alone is God. The torturous consequences for their insubordination included being stripped of their rank, paraded publicly in women’s clothing, and being beaten severely, abuse which cost Bacchus his life. Battle buddies until (after) the end, Bacchus’ spirit appeared to Sergius in order to encourage his perseverance, which lasted many more tortures before his beheading in Syria, where there is a church dedicated to them both.

 

The Bible is often interpreted in diverse ways to either support or oppose the legitimacy of gay relationships, but it is not the only ‘canon’ we have as Christians to inform our faith, for the saints themselves are a kind of canon. After all, they undergo a rigorous “canonization” process, at the end of which we think of them, maybe not as highly as ‘scripture,’ but certainly as scripts by which we might read and understand the history of our one, holy, universal, and unbroken faith. The question of sexuality in the Church has been about modesty and chastity because the two are virtues needed to restrain passions for satisfying what early Christians would have called “carnal appetites.” For the majority of its history, the Church has been much more interested in condemning lust and adultery (with which all us crooked sinners struggle), not committed monogamous relationships reflective of the sacrificial love of Christ for his Body, the Church. Sergius and Bacchus may or may not have been gay in modern terms, but their love for one another is a model for all Christians to live by, and they provide much needed fodder for theological engagement. Their feast day falls on October 7th.

 

God in three, we give you thanks for your glorious martyrs, Sergius and Bacchus; their love for and dedication to each other until death is an inspiration and joy. These servants of the Lord, whose trust in the one God was so great, that neither public humiliation, nor torture, nor threat of death swayed their devotion to Jesus, the Son of the Father. We pray for those in the military and armed forces throughout the world that they may always see God as their authority and obey his orders first. Amen.

Follow @centurionsguild on Twitter to get updates each day as our series unfolds, or work backwards by reading yesterday’s postLearn about Sergius, Bacchus, and more than 45 other #SoldierSaints in Logan’s book For God and Country [in that order], © 2013 Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Va. Prayer adapted and reprinted by permission. 

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