The information for this pair of same sex lovers is sparse, but the story important. I quote directly from the LGBT Catholic Handbook Calendar of gay & lesbian saints :
“The story itself is about a same-sex relationship. Symeon..and John…. meet on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. They become friends and “would no longer part from each other”. In fact they abandon their families and go together to dedicate their lives to God. In the monastery they first join, they are tonsured by the abbot who blesses them together (Krueger 139-141, 142). This seems to refer to some early monastic version of the adelphopoiia ceremony.”
Twenty nine years later, they part and their stories diverge. Simeon wants to leave John, as he had earlier left his wife, and becomes know as a “fool for Christ”. But:
The extent of the relationship is revealed at this point. John is not keen for Symeon to leave. He says to Symeon “……Please, for the Lord’s sake, do not leave wretched me….Rather for the sake of Him who joined us, do not wish to be parted from your brother. You know that, after God, I have no one except you, my brother, but I renounced all and was bound to you, and now you wish to leave me in the desert, as in an open sea. Remember that day when we drew lost and went down to the Lord Nikon, that we agreed not to be separated from one another. Remember that fearful day when we were clothed in the holy habit, and we two were as one soul, so that all were astonished at our love. Don’t forget the words of the great monk…Please don’t lest I die and God demands an account of my soul from You.”
Halsall states clearly that this was not a sexual relationship, but it is clearly an emotionally intimate, same sex relationship. At a time when “marriage” did not carry the same meaning that it has today; when many religious married couples, even outside holy orders, were encouraged to remain celibate; and given that they had entered a monastery before living together as hermits, this is unremarkable.
But as an intimate relationship over nearly thirty years, consecrated by the abbot in a rite of adelphopoiia, their story, vague and indistinct as it is, must surely be taken as yet another dimly remembered tale of gay lovers, buried in the history of the Christian Church, that modern scholarship is beginning to uncover.
Their feast days are celebrated together on 21 st July (Orthodox calendar).
- Gay Lovers in Church History (queerhistory.blogspot.com)
- Sergius & Bacchus, 7th October: Patron Saints of Same Sex Lovers? (queering-the-church.com)