Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Martha and Mary of Bethany: Sisters or lesbian couple?

Mary and Martha by Bernardino Luini (Wikimedia Commons)

Mary and Martha of Bethany were two of Jesus’ closest friends. The Bible calls them “sisters” who lived together, but reading the Bible with queer eyes raises another possibility. Maybe Mary and Martha were a lesbian couple. Their feast day is today (July 29).

Mary and Martha formed a nontraditional family at a time when there was huge pressure for heterosexual marriage.

As Nancy Wilson, moderator of Metropolitan Community Churches, wrote in the brochure “Our Story Too: Reading the Bible with ‘New’ Eyes”:

“Jesus loved Lazarus, Mary and Martha. What drew Jesus to this very non-traditional family group of a bachelor brother living with two spinster sisters? Two barren women and a eunuch are Jesus’ adult family of choice. Are we to assume they were all celibate heterosexuals? What if Mary and Martha were not sisters but called each other ‘sister’ as did most lesbian couples throughout recorded history?”

Wilson expands on this theory in her book Outing the Bible: Queer Folks, God, Jesus, and the Christian Scriptures.

Mary and Martha are best known for the conflict they had when they hosted Jesus and his disciples. Mary sat at Jesus’ feet to listen, but Martha wanted her to help her serve. Jesus’ famous answer: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42).

In another major Bible story, Jesus talks with Mary and Martha in turn before raising their brother Lazarus from the dead. During the conversation, Martha speaks what is considered the first profession of faith in Jesus: “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world” (John 11:27).

Like with most Biblical figures, the truth about Mary and Martha is a mystery. The gospels references are brief and sometimes contradictory. As a result, Mary of Bethany is identified as Mary Magdalene in the Roman Catholic church, while in Protestant and Eastern Orthodox traditions they are considered separate persons.

The Orthodox Church also includes Mary and Martha among the “myrrh bearing women” who were faithfully present at his crucifixion and brought myrrh to his tomb, where they became the first to witness his resurrection. Christian feminists also honor the couple and say that they probably were leaders of a “house church.”

Artists provide some beautiful paintings of the “sisters,” including the one above by Italian Renaissance artist Bernardino Luini (1480 -1532). Magic realist painter Eileen Kennedy has done a new painting of them as contemporary women. Kennedy’s “In the House of Martha and Mary” is on view at the Episcopal Cafe Art Blog. Martha stands angrily with vacuum cleaner in hand as her sister listens to Jesus.
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This post is part of the GLBT Saints series at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints and holy people of special interest to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people and our allies are covered on appropriate dates throughout the year.

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Icons of Martha and Mary of Bethany and many others are available on cards, plaques, T-shirts, mugs, candles, mugs, and more at TrinityStores.com



Outing the Bible: Queer Folks, God, Jesus, and the Christian Scriptures by Nancy Wilson





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Friday, July 24, 2015

Boris and George: Russian saints united in love and death

Saints Boris and George the Hungarian
By Brother Robert Lentz, OFM. www.trinitystores.com

Boris, a popular medieval saint in Russia and Ukraine, loved his servant George the Hungarian so much that he gave him a magnificent gold necklace. The feast day of Saint Boris is July 24 -- the same day that same-sex marriage became legal in New York in 2011.

Saint Boris is honored in both Russia and Ukraine. As military conflict grows between the two nations, may remembering Boris and George help bring peace.

The love between Boris, one of the oldest and most popular saints in Russia, and George the Hungarian ended in tragedy in medieval Russia in 1015, when both saints were murdered.

Boris and his younger brother Gleb are well known saints in Russia. They are often pictured together and many churches are named after them. Meanwhile the beloved George the Hungarian was never canonized and has mostly been ignored -- until recently.

Boris was a prince and gifted military commander who was popular with the Russian people. He was married, but he had enormous love for his servant George the Hungarian.

Slavic professor Simon Karlinsky has highlighted their gay love story in his analysis of the medieval classic, “The Legend of Boris and Gleb” compiled from 1040 to 1118. Karlinsky writes:
Boris had a magnificent gold necklace made for George because he “was loved by Boris beyond reckoning.” When the four assailants stabbed Boris with their swords, George flung himself on the body of his prince, exclaiming: “I will not be left behind, my precious lord! Ere the beauty of thy body begins to wilt, let it be granted that my life may end.” The assailants tore Boris out of George’s embrace, stabbed George and flung him out of the tent, bleeding and dying. After Boris died, first having forgiven his assassins, his retinue was massacred… Not only was the author of this story clearly sympathetic to the mutual love of Boris and George but he also seemed to realize that “the gratuitous murder of George resulted from his open admission of the nature of this love.”

Karlinsky’s text above is quoted from “Passionate Holiness: Marginalized Christian Devotions for Distinctive People” and “Gay Roots: Twenty Years of Gay Sunshine.”

The man behind the murders was Boris’ half-brother Sviatopolk, who wanted to consolidate his power. He also had their brother Gleb killed at the same time.

In 1071 Boris and his brother Gleb became the first saints canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church. They were named “Passion Bearers” because, while they were not killed for their faith, they faced death in a Christlike manner, forgiving their murderers. Their father, St. Vladimir of Kiev, was the first Christian prince in Russia and their mother Anne was also Christian. Boris and Gleb are buried at the Church of St. Basil near Kiev in Ukraine.

The icon above was painted in 2000 by Brother Robert Lentz, a Franciscan friar and world-class iconographer known for his innovative icons. It is one of 10 Lentz icons that sparked a major controversy in 2005. Critics accused Lentz of glorifying sin and creating propaganda for a progressive sociopolitical agenda, and he temporarily gave away the copyright for the controversial images to his distributor, Trinity Stores.

Here George is restored to his rightful place beside Boris, properly honoring this extraordinary couple and the way they loved each other.

Surely Boris and George are smiling down now on all the newlyweds in New York, where same-sex marriage became legal on their feast day.

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Related links:
Spiritual art supports Russia’s LGBT rights struggle (Jesus in Love)

Russia’s Anti-Gay Crackdown (New York Times)

To read this post in Spanish / en español, go to Santos Queer:
Borís y Jorge: unidos en el amor y en la muerte
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This post is part of the GLBT Saints series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints, martyrs, mystics, prophets, witnesses, heroes, holy people, deities and religious figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) and queer people and our allies are covered on appropriate dates throughout the year.

Icons of Boris and George and many others are available on cards, plaques, T-shirts, mugs, candles, mugs, and more at TrinityStores.com




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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Symeon of Emesa and John: Holy fool and hermit who loved each other

“Symeon and John” by Jim Ru

Sixth-century Syrian monks Symeon and John were joined in a same-sex union and lived together as desert-dwelling hermits for 29 years. After a tearful split-up, Symeon went on to become known as the Holy Fool of Emesa, the patron saint of all holy fools (and puppeteers.) Their feast day is today (July 21).

These Byzantine saints are important for LGBT people because of their loving same-sex bond and Symeon’s role as holy fool. In the tradition of “fools for Christ,” believers deliberately challenge social norms for spiritual purposes. LGBT Christians, who face insults from both sides for being queer AND Christian, may be able to relate to the motivations and experiences of the holy fools.

Symeon the Holy Fool (or Simeon Salus) of Emesa (c. 522 - c.588) and John of Edessa were close friends starting in childhood, although Symeon was six years older. Both came from wealthy families. When Symeon was 30, they made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. On the journey home they were both filled with an irresistible desire to leave their families and join a monastery together.

They took vows in the monastery of Abba Gerasimus in Syria. The two men were tonsured by the abbot who blessed them together in an early monastic version of the adelphopoiia ceremony -- the “brother-making” ritual that historian John Boswell calls a “same-sex union.” They were referred to as the “pure bridegrooms (nymphoi) of Christ.”

Soon the two men went together to live as hermits in the desert near the Dead Sea, where they could practice spiritual exercises in solitude. There is no suggestion that their relationship was sexual, but they shared a life together in the wilderness with all the emotional intensity of a same-sex couple for 29 years.

At that point Symeon decided to leave his longtime companion and move to the city of Emesa in modern Lebanon.  He wanted to do charity work while mocking social norms as a “fool for Christ.” John begged him not to go. John’s passionate plea is recorded in “Symeon the Holy Fool” by Derek Krueger:

“Please, for the Lord’s sake, do not leave wretched me. For I have not yet reached this level, so that I can mock the world. 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 lots and went down to lord Nikon, that we agreed not to be separated from one another. Remember that 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. 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.”

Even this heartfelt appeal did not change Symeon’s mind. Instead he invited John into a long, intimate prayer session as described by Krueger:

“After they had prayed for many hours and had kissed each other on the breast and drenched them with their tears, John let go of Symeon and traveled together with him a long distance, for his 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, and again he asked if he could accompany him a little further. Therefore, when Abba Symeon forced him, he turned back to his cell drenching the earth with tears.”

Symeon went on to help the poor, heal the sick and do other good works in Emesa. In order to avoid public praise, he shocked people by deliberately acting crazy, making himself a “holy fool.”

Not long before his death, Symeon had a vision in which he saw his beloved John wearing a crown with the inscription, “For endurance in the desert.” 

Symeon and John were honored together as saints on July 21 in many ancient calendars. In the 16th century Caesar Baronius separated them and moved Symeon to July 1, but some traditions still celebrate them both on July 21.

Artist Jim Ru was inspired to paint the Symeon and John as a couple, with John’s fervent words to his beloved, “Please don’t leave lest I die and God demands an account of my soul from you.” The painting was displayed in his show “Transcendent Faith: Gay, Lesbian and Transgendered Saints” in Bisbee, Arizona in the 1990s.
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More resources:
Symeon the Holy Fool: Leontius’s Life and the Late Antique City” by Derek Krueger (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1996).

Simeon the Holy Fool (Wikipedia)

To read this post in Spanish / en español, go to Santos Queer:
Simeón de Emesa y Juan: un “santo loco” y un ermitaño que amaban el uno al otro
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This post is part of the GLBT Saints series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints, martyrs, mystics, prophets, witnesses, heroes, holy people, deities and religious figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) and queer people and our allies are covered on appropriate dates throughout the year.





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Monday, July 20, 2015

Seneca Falls to Selma to Stonewall: Four women reformers honored as saints

“Four Women for Freedom” by Tobias Haller

A vision of equality that inspired people “through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall” is celebrated as a holy feast day today (July 20). Four 19th-century American women reformers are honored today on the Episcopal calendar of saints: Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Amelia Bloomer. Sojourner Truth, and Harriet Tubman. All advocated abolition of slavery as well as women’s rights. The first Women’s Rights Convention ended on this date in 1848 in Seneca Falls, NY.

President Obama made connections between women’s liberation, LGBT equality and African American civil rights in a famous line from his 2013 inaugural speech: “We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths, that all of us are created equal, is the star that guides us still, just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall,” he said in his 2013 inaugural speech.

Stanton used similar language based on the Declaration of Independence when she wrote in the American Declaration of Rights and Sentiments signed by attendees at Seneca Falls: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal.”

Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815–1902) was a leader of the early women’s rights movement and one of the organizers of the Seneca Falls conference. Raised in the Calvinist tradition, she was outraged by the exclusion of women Bible scholars in the 1870 revision of the King James Bible by an all-male committee, so she founded a committee of women to write the landmark 1895 commentary “The Woman’s Bible.” The controversial work uses book-by-book Bible commentary to challenge prevailing religious beliefs with a liberating theology of equality between the sexes.

Amelia Jenks Bloomer (1818-1894) was an advocate for temperance and women’s rights. Her name became associated with the loose trousers known as “bloomers” because of her advocacy of women’s dress reform in an era of tight-waisted corsets.

Sojourner Truth (1797–8 to 1883) was an escaped slave who became a traveling preacher. She is best known for her speech “Ain’t I a Woman?” She delivered it at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention in 1851 after listening for hours while clergy use Biblical justifications to attack women’s rights and abolition.

Harriet Ross Tubman (1820–1913) escaped slavery to lead more than 300 others to freedom through the Underground Railroad and later served as a spy for the Union Army during the Civil War. She believed that God commanded her to oppose against slavery.

All four women for freedom are pictured together with rainbow colors in an icon by Tobias Haller, iconographer, author, composer, and vicar of Saint James Episcopal Church in the Bronx.

“It came to me in a flash that this would be an appropriate symbol for this early Rainbow Coalition for Freedom. I also like to think of it as a Feminist Rushmore!” he said.

He is the author of “Reasonable and Holy: Engaging Same-Sexuality.” Haller enjoys expanding the diversity of icons available by creating icons of LGBTQ people and other progressive holy figures as well as traditional saints. He and his spouse were united in a church wedding more than 30 years ago and a civil ceremony after sam
e-sex marriage became legal in New York.

Both Stanton and Bloomer attended Trinity Episcopal Church in Seneca Falls. Truth and Tubman were both involved in African Methodist Episcopal churches. Today the Episcopal Church honors these four female freedom fighters with the following prayer:

O God, whose Spirit guides us into all truth and makes us
free: Strengthen and sustain us as you did your servants
Elizabeth, Amelia, Sojourner, and Harriet. Give us vision
and courage to stand against oppression and injustice and
all that works against the glorious liberty to which you
call all your children;
through Jesus Christ our Savior, who
lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for
ever and ever. Amen.

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Related links:

July 20: Elizabeth Cady Stanton, 1902; Amelia Bloomer, 1894; Sojourner Truth, 1883; and Harriet Ross Tubman, 1913, Liberators and Prophets (Holy Women, Holy Men blog)

To Believe in Women: What Lesbians Have Done For America - A History by Lillian Faderman


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Sunday, July 19, 2015

Saint Wilgefortis: Holy bearded woman fascinates for centuries

Saint Wilgefortis statue in the Church of Saint Nicholas in Pas-de-Calais, near Wissant, France (Wikimedia Commons)

Santa Wilgefortis” from “Queer Santas” series by Alma Lopez

Saint Wilgefortis prayed to avoid marriage to a pagan king -- and her prayers were answered when she grew a beard! This gender-bending virgin martyr has natural appeal for LGBT people. Her feast day was July 20 (tomorrow) until she was removed from the Vatican calendar in 1969.

Wilgefortis remains in standard Catholic reference works, and images of her as a bearded woman on a cross are plentiful across Europe and in Latin American folk retablos.

She probably originates more in popular imagination than in history, but Wilgefortis continues to be an object of devotion in folk religion, a favorite character in pop culture and an inspiration in queer art.

Contemporary readers have come up with many theories about Wilgefortis. She has been interpreted as the patron saint of intersex people, an asexual person, a transgender person, a person with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome or a lesbian virgin.

Legend says that Wilgefortis was the teenage Christian daughter of a king in medieval Portugal. She had taken a vow of chastity, but her father ordered her to marry a pagan king. She resisted the unwelcome marriage by praying to be made repulsive to her fiancé. God answered her prayers when she grew a beard.

Unfortunately her father got so angry that he had her crucified and Wilgefortis joined the ranks of virgin martyrs. The church has promoted “virgin martyrs” as examples of chastity and faith, but lesbians and other queer people recognize them as kindred spirits who do not engage in heterosexual activity.

Saint Wilgefortis in the Museum of the Diocese Graz-Seckau in Graz, Austria, 18th century (Wikimedia Commons)

Her veneration began in 14th century Europe and grew until the 16th century, when her story was debunked as fiction. People continued to worship her despite frequent opposition by church officials. She was honored all across Europe, and in some places her popularity rivaled the Virgin Mary. Wilgefortis stayed on the official Vatican calendar until 1969. Scholars suggest that her legend arose to explain the Volto Santo of Lucca, a famous Italian sculpture of the crucified Christ in a long tunic that medieval viewers thought was a woman’s dress.

The history is explored in the book “The Female Crucifix: Images of St. Wilgefortis Since the Middle Ages” by Ilse E. Friesen., professor of art history at Wilfrid Laurier University in Canada. She traces the emergences of increasingly female crucifixes over the centuries, focusing on the he German-speaking regions of Bavaria and Tyrol, where the veneration of Wilgefortis reached its peak.

The name Wilgefortis may come from the Latin “virgo fortis” (strong virgin). In Spanish she is Librada -- meaning “liberated” -- from hardship and/or husbands. She also goes by a bewildering variety of other names. Her alternate English name Uncumber means escaper. In addition, she is known as Liberata, Livrade, Kummernis, Komina, Comera, Cumerana, Ulfe, Ontcommen, Dignefortis, Europia, and Reginfledis. In Barcelona (Spain), local people honor Múnia de Barcelona, a legendary saint who is similar to Wilgefortis. Her feast day day is Feb. 28.

The saint is presented in two incarnations -- as Wilgefortis and as Liberata -- in the “Queer Santas” series by Chicana artist Alma Lopez. The series grew out of the artist’s insight that female martyrs may have protected their virginity to the death not so much out of faith, but because they were lesbians. Lopez paints Wilgefortis/Liberata as masculine women in crucifixion poses. They look like butch lesbians, liberating themselves by rejecting feminine appearance and traditional gender roles.

Saint Liberata” from “Queer Santas” series by Alma Lopez

Wilgefortis also makes various appearances in modern literature. The critically acclaimed 1970 novel “Fifth Business” by Robertson Davies concerns a scholar researching Wilgefortis. Castle Waiting, a graphic novel by Linda Medley, features a nun from the order of St. Wilgefortis, an entire convent full of bearded women!

St. Wilgefortis in the Chapel of Our Lady of Sorrows at the Loreta Sanctuary in Prague, Czech Republic. Photo by Curious Expeditions.

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Related links:

Saint Wilgefortis (Qualia Encyclopedia of Queer Folklife)

Uncumber or Wilgefortis (Queering the Church)

Various images of Wilgefortis (brauchtum.de)

To read this post in Spanish / en español, go to Santos Queer:
Santa Librada (Wilgefortis): Una santa Barbuda
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This post is part of the GLBT Saints series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints, martyrs, mystics, prophets, witnesses, heroes, holy people, deities and religious figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) and queer people and our allies are covered on appropriate dates throughout the year.

Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved.
http://www.jesusinlove.blogspot.com/
Jesus in Love Blog on LGBT spirituality and the arts


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