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Fraternization from a Canonical Perspective

Fr. Evangelos K. Mantzouneas
Secretary of the Greek Synod Committee on Legal and Canonical Matters

In the Canonical sources one can often come upon fraternization, which however has now only historical importance. Fraternization is a very old custom which, with various variations which are imposed by evolution, continues to survive even today in many parts of the world. Fraternization attempts to give a more concrete form to the close friendship which binds together two persons which have no blood relation. Because there no bond closer than the bond of the blood, from very early in history it was established that fraternization should be performed with actual imparting of blood from the one fraternized part to the other. Through fraternization the ideal love between youths was made obvious. Its influence and its consequences were revealed in immortal deeds such as the heroic death of the "hieros lochos" ["Sacred Band", a famous all-gay male military unit] of Thebes during the battle of Chaeroneia in 338 B.C. (Xenoph. Polit. Laked. II, 12 Ploutarch Erot. 17 Pelop. 18).

In ancient Greece there are very many examples of close friendship which could result to the self-sacrifice of one of the friends for the sake of the other. First Herodotus informs us about real ceremonies of fraternization which were performed by the peoples of Asia, Lydes and Scyths. Lydes used to nick their arms with a sharp object and when they would start bleeding they would lick the blood of the one who was to become their blood-brother. Scyths also used to nick their arms but they would let the blood of the ones to be fraternized run down together into a glass where it was mixed with wine. They used to wet the tip of their arms with this mixture and they would afterwards drink it. Under analogous forms this custom of fraternization was found in Rome, Byzantium and in all the later peoples of the West. It is especially found though, more than anywhere else, in the Balkan Peninsula where - especially during the Ottoman era - the oppressed people used to be fraternized in order to fight the enemy with greater unity. In Western Europe as well as in the Balkans the Church started from very early to recognize and even bless fraternization with a special celebration. This kind of solemnization had as a result on the one hand the extension of the relation to all the other members of the family of the blood-brothers and on the other the creation of social and legal questions such as e.g. even hereditary demands. That is why provisions were issued which decreed that fraternization was not banned as a custom but it could not create any legal consequence. Despite these provisions the peoples continued and still continue in many parts of the world to attribute a lot of importance in fraternization, much more than the importanee which the Church and the State wanted to recognize. In Serbia, Albania, Bulgaria and not less in Greece the custom of fraternization was so well rooted that it was considered by the other members of the family as well as a bond equal to blood relation. Marriages between members of the families of the blood-brothers were blocked and, because the blood-brothers were called "crossbrothers", after some time it became a habit to address all the other relatives with the prefix "cross" e.g. "cross- mother", "crossfather", "crossbrother-in-law" etc. Among the many ritual customs with which fraternization was made official in Ottoman Greece is the following. When the blood-brothers were more than two, they would surround the Priest and they would bind a handkerchief from the belt of his cassock. They would hold the other end of the handkerchief. The Priest would then start to bless them while they would quietly utter the fraternization vow which was not stereotyped but was written by the Priest or even by the blood-brothers-to-be themselves. Blood-brothers had various names in various Greek areas influenced from the languages of the neighboring people. Thus, in Epeirus they were called "vlamides", in Macedonia "bratimi", in Peloponnesus "brazerides", in Crete "adelfokhti" and in other places "kardasides", "arkadasides" and "markadasides".

A weakened form of this custom of fraternization is till even today, not only in Greece but even in very many places in Europe, the usual custom of the blood-brothers to drink wine crossing their arms. But even in Roman Law "Fraterna Capitas" on the basis of which one could become somebody's heir was not unknown (DIG. XXVIII. 5. 58,1). However, it was forbidden to adopt one as one's brother and every fraternization which aimed at inheritance was without legal value. Diocletian banned fraternizations with a special decree with which he declared every likewise demand to be illegal (Constitutio 4 Dec. 285).

The legislation of the Isaurs does not mention this ban. However, it is found in the "Vasilika". "Mede paxenos tois exw Romes oikousi dia theseos adelfotes sunistastho, kan tis os adelfos prosleftheis kleronomos grafei, ekpiptestho tes kleronomias" (Vas. 35, 13, 17).

However, the legislation was not opposed to the custom of fraternization because it was deeply rooted in the people. Thus, Strategius was blood-brother of Emperor Justinian. Patricius Severus was blood-brother of Emperor Constans (641-668), grandson of Emperor Heraclius. Michael III became blood-brother with Basil with a Church ritual in the Church (L. Grammatikos Bekker edition p. 234).

It has been said that, whenever fraternizations were taking place with the blessing of the Church, there were created marriage blocks. This block a spiritual one, similar to baptism (Zhisman, ibid. p. 560).

The usual service is found in the Euchologion of J. Goar Venice edition and we include it for reference. The two services as they are found in Goar Venice edition pp. 706-8 are included. [Note: these pages are not reproduced on our site and may be found on "Axios" pages]

However, because a lot of strayings took place, fraternization was considered to be suspicious. Not rarely fraternizations took place with intentions of conspiracy, murder and other atrocities. That is why the Church and the State banned this artificial relation. Thus, the Church of Greece with its encyclical of 11 June 1859 banned fraternization. This ban was repeated with two more encyclicals of the Church on 26 September 1862 and 11 January 1863 (Tom. Egkykl. Giannopoulon 466-469).

Let it be said though that even today in some areas of the country such as Epeirus fraternizations are taking place. Various persons still become "vlamides" in front of the Priest in Epeirus as I have been informed by Priests in Epeirus. A special Service is read.

This service is as follows:

Blessed is God...

Show mercy on us...

Still let us pray for our Archbishop...

Still let us pray for your servants (names...)

Because you are merciful...

Let us pray to the Lord... Master, Lord, who made man according to your image and liking [likeness? NZ], who deigned your Holy Apostles Philip and Bartholomew to become brothers nowhere new in the law of nature (oudamou kainous fuseos nomou) but in Holy spirit and in the way of the faith, who deemed you martyrs Sergius and Bacchus worthy to be called brothers, this same Lord bless also your servants here (x and x) binding them with a Spiritual bond, not in the law of nature (ou nomou fuseos) but in the way of faith and love. Make them love each other, allow them to be blameless and unscandalized all their days of their life, protect them from every demonic influence, in order to be glorified the most holy name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

In other areas of Epeirus the Priest reads the Eirmos of the 5th Ode of the Canon of Holy Thursday "The Apostles bound with the bond of love, offering themselves to Christ, who saves everybody, weakened their nice legs, giving the good news of peace to everybody". [See another suggested translation below.] If we draw parallels on this service, we will notice that the prayer as well as the Ode can be found in the Service of Goar as it was presented above.

The following must be also stressed. In Epeirus and Crete fraternization like baptism creates a marriage block, because "vlamis" calls the relatives of his "vlamis", "crossfather", "crossmother", "crossbrother" and "crosssister".

Athens 1982
English translation by Efthimios Mavrogeorgiadis, May 1994
Minor editing by Nicholas Zymaris ("Axios")

Comments by Fr N.N. regarding the translation of the service

We must be very careful in translation, especially with sacred texts, and be as accurate as possible, lest we inadvertently admit blasphemous distortions.

Here is the text in Greek:

Heirmos, Ode V, Canon at Matins for Holy Thursday, Tone Pl. 2 (6th):

To^j syndesmo^j te-s agape-s syndeo'menoi hoi Apo'stoloi, to^j despo'zonti to^n ho'lo-n heautou's Christo^j anathe'menoi, horai'ous po'das exapeni'zonto, euangelizo'menoi pa^sin eire-'ne-n.

[Note on the transliteration: A following circumflex ^ indicates a circumflex accent on the preceding vowel (which is always long), the acute accent is ', and the grave accent is '. A following dash indicates a long vowel: o- is omega, e- is eta. The letter j indicates an iota subscript to the preceding vowel. Otherwise the usual rules of classical transliteration were applied. It should be very easy for one who knows the Greek alphabet to reconstruct the original spelling.]

The only difficult part in the above heirmos is the only finite verb in the sentence (the others are participles): exapenizonto. This is analyzed thus: The root is the verb nizo which means to wash (as hands), and is the older form of nipto. The middle voice indicates action done with or for the interest of the subject (e.g. to wash one's hands). The epsilon before the root is a sign of a past tense, here the imperfect, as further indicated by the ending, and it views the action as ongoing in the past. The two prefixes, ex and ap(o), together mean from off of, conveying the idea of thorough cleansing.

A literal translation might run thus:

By the bond/tie of love being bound the Apostles, to the one-having-rule of all (things) themselves to Christ having offered, beautiful feet (direct obj of vb) they thoroughly washed for themselves, announcing-good-tidings to all peace.

In Slavonic the text is (this is a close, almost literal translation of the Greek):

Soju'zom ljubve' svjazu'emi apo'stoli, vlady'chestvujuschemu vsje'mi sebe' Xristu' vozlo'zhshe, kra'sny no'gi ochischa'xu, blagovjestvu'jusche vsje^m mi'r.

[Note on transliteration: The Slavonic abbreviations have been expanded. The accent convention is the same as in Greek. The silent letter "er" (hard sign) has been omitted when they appear at the end of a word.]

Bp Kallistos (Ware) and Mother Mary in their Lenten Triodion give this as:

United by the bond of love and offering themselves to Christ the Lord, the apostles were washed clean; and with feet made beautiful, they preached to all the Gospel of peace.

Which seems to be a quite adequate translation.


Adelphopoiia - The Rite of Spiritual Brotherhood
by Nicholas Zymaris
Introduction to the rite of spiritual brotherhood practiced by the Eastern Orthodox Church to unite same-sex couples in a way similar to the marriage from as early as the ninth century AD.

Florensky on Brotherhood Rite
The Russian spiritual philosopher Father Pavel Florensky on the brotherhood rite.

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