Saturday, June 27, 2015


In “From Foreigner to Citizen: Greek Migrants and Social Change in White Australia 1897-2000” one of the most important critiques of Australian multiculturalism I have ever read, LaTrobe University Philosophy Lecturer George Vassilacopoulos and Toula Nikolakopoulou postulate that despite the veneer of formal equality characterizing race relations in this country, there lurks within the substratum, a fundamental concept of the ‘perpetual foreigner.’ Whereas Australian law is founded upon respect for proprietary rights and the individual, when it comes to ‘foreigners’ these tend to be lumped together as a ‘group’ by those who obtain legitimisation of their rule and presence in this country by conferring upon such foreigners, citizenship and residency rights. Nonetheless, these foreigners are not automatically subsumed into the liberal democratic individualist paradigm. They remain a distinct ‘group,’ which is expected to provide appropriate declarations and exhibitions of loyalty to the ruling culture, or face the fear of being labelled suspect. In short, while tolerated, they have not, at least up until now, really become accepted as part of the mainstream.
 Such an analysis is contrary to the way we as a community generally see ourselves. After a hundred years in this country and with Greek-Australians making valuable contributions to Australian society in a diverse range of fields, we would be justified in thinking that we would have by now, woven ourselves within the warp and the weft of the rich tapestry of cultures that comprises multicultural Australia.
 A recent article published online by a leading Melbourne newspaper on 19 June 2015 has recently raised concerns that we may still have some way to go before the desired interweaving is achieved. The piece, entitled innocuously enough: Hipsters join seniors on the dancefloor at Brunswick’s Greek blues night at Retreat Hotel,” seeks to describe how Rebetika are being enjoyed at the Retreat Hotel in Brunswick both by Greek Australians and other Australians as well, to their mutual surprise.  As such, the author begins her article thus: “BEMUSED Brunswick locals are jostling with elderly Greek Australians for space at their local pub, where a Rebetiko revival is striking a chord.”
 Immediately, a pause becomes necessary, for since the article’s publication, a large section of the internet-literate Greek-Australian community, especially its second generation has become deeply disturbed and offended by this seemingly inoffensive opening sentence. These readers pose the question: What exactly is being implied here? Are Brunswick locals, who in response to being exposed to a different culture, are described as being bemused, and elderly Greek-Australians mutually exclusive? Is the author telling us that Greek Australians are not to be considered locals? Furthermore, are we then to assume that elderly Greek-Australians, who mostly arrived here in the sixties, and large numbers of who settled in Brunswick are not considered or are not entitled to be considered as locals, despite living in the suburb for approximately half a century? What do these subtle indications of an Anglo-Australian journalist’s attitude suggest to us about our perceived place within the fabric of broader Australian society?
 The author’s next statement, provides us with clues as to her ultimate intention: “Since launching a traditional Greek blues night last month, the Retreat Hotel is seeing hundreds of unlikely punters, including some in their 70s and 80s, flock through its doors eager for sounds from their birthplace.”  From this, we can glean that the author is not referring to ‘locals’ as people living in the locality of Brunswick but rather as regular patrons of their ‘local’ pub. As such, any accusations against the author for non-acceptance of resident members of the Greek-Australian community within that suburb as legitimate ‘locals,’ cannot be reasonably sustained.  However, her statement gives rise to other questions. In particular, Greek-Australian readers ask: Why are elderly Greeks considered by the author to be ‘unlikely punters?’ This is especially so, given that it was that generation of Greek-Australians who arrived in this country when pubs were the primary form of public meeting place, that made the most use of these, and is probably most familiar with these, than other generations? Moreover, since the elderly Greeks in their 70s and 80s are only part of the group collectively described as ‘unlikely patrons,’ who else is she implying, belongs to this group? Greek-Australians not in their 70s and 80s? In making such an observation, is the author in fact inadvertently betraying her own assumption that cultural background acts as a bar to enjoyment of particularly ‘Aussie’ forms of entertainment? 
 Most likely not. For any such inferences could arguably have said to have be created by the following comment to the author by musician and rebetika night organizer Con Kalamaras: “We are playing and looking out at the audience of Greeks all having fun, and these hipsters with Ned Kelly beards wondering what is going on,”….. “But they all end up on the dancefloor ... it’s awesome.” This unfortunate utterance, despite its final attempt at a cultural resolution, could, if taken out of context, reinforce an artificial dichotomy between Greek and other Australians, making such cultural exchanges as the rebetika at the Retreat Hotel seem uncanny, exotic and out of place. 
 Nonetheless, rather than cry ‘racism,’ Greek-Australian readers would do well to focus on a glaring omission in the article, which compromises its focus. In particular, either through error, choice or innocence, the author has neglected to mention that rather than being a novel phenomenon that surprises ‘locals,’ rebetika have had a long and important history at the Retreat Hotel, and most importantly, that the Retreat Hotel has played an intrinsic role in the revival and widespread popularity of the rebetika genre not only among Greek-Australians of Melbourne but in the mainstream as well. For it was there that the unforgettable Apodimi Kompania and then the 'Anadromiki Kompania' found a home many years ago, and the phenomenon of Greek-Australians, the author’s ‘unlikely patrons’, flocking to the Retreat Hotel predates her article by several decades. While she was at it, she could have mentioned the fact that the Retreat Hotel was, in the past owned by Greeks and thus the connection of rebetika and Greeks to Brunswick and the Hotel itself is a venerable one.
 Had the author been properly informed about the phenomenon of ‘Greek Blues’ at the Retreat Hotel, she could have provided balance to her article by mentioning that some two decades ago, the rebetika played at the Retreat Hotel inspired Apodimi Kompamia to record a song in their ‘Melisma’ CD that cements the central importance of the Retreat Hotel and the suburb of Brunswick in their efforts to revive this musical genre: “Old Brunswick Town.” Her interlocutors could have also mentioned to her that since that time, rebetika have become a university-studied stalwart of the Melbournian music scene. Instead, again via comments by contemporary rebetika virtuosos, we are led to believe that the phenomenon of rebetika at the Retreat Hotel is largely occasioned by the influx of “tens of thousands” of Greek migrants fleeing that country’s financial crisis. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. The whole genre of Rebetika throughout the world has been profoundly influenced by what transpired at the Retreat those decades ago and this is something that multi-cultural Australia and our community should be proud of.
 On the night of the 5th of June, I was one of 300-strong crowd that attended the Retreat Hotel, as the article describes. Yet rather than being an ‘unlikely patron,’ I considered myself, and was considered by others who attended as a ‘more than likely’ patron, given my extreme devotion to this type of music. While I was there, I ran into Paddy Montgomery, a talented non-Greek-Australian musician who has been a constant and invaluable presence on the rebetika scene for many years. He greeted me in Greek. Returning to the place where I spent many hours admiring the virtuosity of the late lamented Hector Cosmas and the mysterious and subversive musical stylings of Argyris Argyropoulos, I, like all the other patrons most of whom were between 25-60 in age, were profoundly moved, not only by the brilliance of the musicians themselves, but also, at witnessing, not a novelty but rather, the return of Melburnian rebetika to their spiritual home. The fact that this eluded the author of the article possibly acts as a poetic metaphor of the way in which Greek-Australian musical and cultural memory has retreated from the Retreat Hotel in recent years. This is why, the resuscitation of this most venerable tradition by Con Kalamaras, Achilles Yiangoulli, Nick Koutsaliotis and Ilias Chatziemmanouil at the Retreat Hotel is so timely.
First published in NKEE on Saturday, 27 June 2015

Saturday, June 20, 2015

CALL ME........

In his Honour, Justice Emilios Kyrou's recently published autobiography: "Call me Emilios," his Honour describes how ongoing racism at school caused him to try to conceal his ethnic identity by means of adopting a more 'Anglo' sounding name, in his case, 'John.' The moment of supreme emancipation for him, came on the day he was confident enough to rise above the racism of his peers, and not only re-assume his original name, but further, insist that everyone call him by it, regardless of how unfamiliar it was to them. He was right to do so. Emilio is a distinctive cool name. I once had a Spanish hairdresser who was called Emilio. Sadly, he was dour, uncommunicative, constantly unwashed and plied his trade at the back of a Tattersalls outlet, though he is the exception that proves the rule. I also once had a friend whose name was Aristogeiton, a name given to him by his proud parents in order to make him equally proud of being Greek. Unfortunately, he never learnt Greek and being teased by his Aussie classmates for having an unpronounceable name and by his Greek acquaintances for having an unpronounceable name AND being unable to pronounce it, upon attaining the age of majority, he changed it to Trevor.
Generally speaking however, we here in the Antipodes, have been laboring under various soubriquets for years. These soubriquets were originally invented for the purposes described in "Call me Emilios," that is, to permit migrants with names unfamiliar to the host culture, to acquire an 'acceptable' form of address. Some of the names provided were quite arbitrary and the connection between the original name and the adopted name almost non-existent, thus: Jim or James for Dimitrios, even though the equivalent in Greek is Iakovos (and in fact this is a name that has become quite generic. I know of a multitude of Greek Tzimides but have only ever met one 'Aussie' Jim), Bill for Basil, even though Bill is in English, a contraction of William, Penny for Pinelopi or Kalliopi and Nola for Fotini. There is also Newy for Onofrouios, even though the correct English equivalent is Winifred. Perhaps that is for the best.
Over the years fashions change with regard to such soubriquets, with new ones being coined and others discarded. Thus, we have Mark Mitchell's Con the Fruiterer to thank for reducing the market share of the Roulas, Toulas, Voulas and Soulas of our community for a generation. While most of my synonomatoi are known as Con, I and many others like me were provided with the English name of Dean, on the basis that my progenitors felt that the name Con had negative connotations of dishonesty in English and at that time, to expect to be called Konstantinos by the English speaking populace was unthinkable. My Greek-American friends on the other hand, call me Gus because, via similar processes that has been is the American equivalent of Kostas, which makes sense when one tries to pronounce that name with an American accent. These days, here in Australia, a new form of Con is emerging, that of Connor.
In similar fashion, Haralambides who could have been born with the expectation that they would  be called Harry and now being called Harrison, the Nolas have been replaced by the Tiffanies, (both for Theofani and Fotini), the Arthurs by the Aathans, the Steves by the Trents and the Tristans (both for Stavros and Stamatis), the Kalliopis by the Kaylas and the Irenes by the Renees, even though this name is derived from the Latin Renatus, which means re-born. I am also in receipt of information that suggests that there exists here in Melbourne a Daenerys, this being adopted from the Game of Thrones franchise and used as a form of Dimitra. There also exists a Tonja, for Antonia, born in the nineties, who is probably as these lines are being read, making her Fresh Prince of Bel Air-watching parents regret their fortuitous decision.
On the one level, this is merely symptomatic of the ever evolving fashion of names. On the other, it raises important questions about the way in which we perceive our identity. One would have thought that since the time of Justice Kyrou until now, both our community and society in general would have felt comfortable enough with our emerging diversity, to accommodate our names in their original form. While this may in part be true of the broader Australia community, which is now able to adapt to names deriving from hundreds of cultures throughout the world with reasonable success, the same cannot be said of the emerging generations. For reasons that deserve to be studied at length, a large number of Greek-Australian parents are continuing to provide to their children, Australianised or stylized versions of their Geek names, even as the actual pressures that occasioned this phenomenon in the first place, have disappeared.
Furthermore, the way in which names are used has also changed. Given that a name defines one's identity, among previous Australian-born generations, there was a diglossia with regard to names. That is, while the Australianised names existed, they generally were for external use, with children calling themselves and their peers by their Greek names. It was the esoteric Greek name, for use in intimate family and social circles that was considered to be the child's 'real' name, this having the effect of embedding within the child's psyche, the understanding that they belonged to a particular cultural group over and above that of broader society. In this manner, it did not matter what you were called in English, for it was your Greek name that determined your identity, and in the case of Georges, their character, that is, if the song «Γιώργοςείναι πονηρός» is to be believed.
Contrariwise, in current times, we are witnessing, save on the day of the child's baptism, a phenomenon where the child's English name is used exclusively by its intimate familial ad social circle, its Greek name being relegated to the margins of linguistic history. The insistence of some parents upon the usage of the English name and pronunciation often reaches the level of hysteria and causes family rifts. For example, a non-English speaking friend recently complained to me that his daughter was constantly berating him for calling his grandson Gavriil. Apparently, the child's name was to be pronounced Gay-bri-oul, as it is in Australian English. The psychology behind such a seemingly farcical request would most likely lead to fascinating insights as to the manner in which the 'naming' generation sees itself within the context of an ever-evolving Greek-Australian identity.
While it would be generous to generalize, given the immense demographic and social complexity of the Greek-Australian communities, once could possibly point out a few reasons as to why this phenomenon exists. Firstly, in a number of cases, people still feel that their original names are an impediment to their successful integration and mobility within English-speaking Australian society and thus provide their children with names which they feel would facilitate this process. Again it would be interesting to learn just how much of this is based on assumptions gleaned from the past and how much is experiential. Secondly, there are those who are enamoured of or aspire to adopt the culture of English-speaking Australia, especially the freedom to provide their offspring with exotic sounding-names that are not those of their in-laws; thus the names they provide their children are symptomatic of this fact and thirdly, by corollary, there are those who are ambivalently attached to the Greek aspect of their identity or wish to divest themselves from it. Fourthly, there are people like me, who make use of English to make a point. I named my daughter Helene, though I call her Eleni, for two reasons: the first aesthetic, because I do not like the way Eleni is pronounced in English with the thick Anglo-Saxon 'L,' but most importantly, because Helene is one 'L' short of Hellene and is pronounced the same way, hopefully providing her with a not so subtle hint as to her identity in the future, in a manner similar to the phenomenon of Cypriot girls being named Ellada during the campaign for Cyprus' union with Greece, or of girls being named Laokratia, during the Greek Civil War.
Ultimately, the old question "what's in a name," can be answered succinctly: a good deal. The way in which our naming customs will continue to develop will say much not only about our place within society, but also how we see ourselves, as this extract from Neil Gaiman's "Coraline," so eloquently proves: " What's your name,' Coraline asked the cat. 'Look, I'm Coraline. Okay?' 'Cats don't have names,' it said. 'No?' said Coraline. 'No,' said the cat. 'Now you people have names. That's because you don't know who you are. We know who we are, so we don't need names."

First published in NKEE on Saturday 20 June 2015

Saturday, June 13, 2015


“If we allow non-Samians to join our committee, we open up the flood-gates. Next thing you know, you will be receiving letters from the Brotherhood signed “Yours Sincerely, Mehmed Mahmoud, President.”
This was the concluding speech of the President of the Pan-Samian Brotherhood “Pythagoras,” at a general meeting in the early nineties, to discuss whether non-Samians should be permitted to participate in the running of the club. It was met with rapturous applause, my father’s question: “Why on earth would Mehmed Mahmoud want to run our club?” being met with self-confident silence. After all, we were at the apex of our organized existence. Our club-house was well on the way to being paid off, we had just become affiliated with the Italian ‘Samo,’ club, whose members derived their origins from Samian colonists in southern Italy, and our functions, which took place every week for the purpose of raising the requisite funds to pay off the club premises were extremely well attended.
Unlike the case in many other clubs, Greek political ideologies seemed to be of little importance to the members. Nor was the attainment of the presidency an object of universal lust, despite the existence of several power-brokers to whom the executive positions seemed naturally to devolve. Instead, the pleasure of other Samians’ company and above all, the sampling decent food seemed to the key aims of its members, resulting in the creation of a convivial atmosphere, far removed from the skullduggery, and polarisation that blighted other Greek organisations during their 'Golden Age.'
It was through the Pan-Samian Brotherhood that I learned that my family was connected to other families, through bonds that pre-dated our arrival in Australia. Seated at a table during a function, old men would approach and kiss my head. Enquiring as to their identity as well as the source of their sentiment, my father would offer glimpses into an unknown past: “That one there was your grandfather’s shepherd.  When pappou left for Australia, he gave him his entire flock. This one was a good friend of your grandfather’s back in the village. He stayed in our home for a few years when he arrived in Australia.” According to my way of thinking, such knowledge of prior relationships and obligations served to create binding ties down the generations and I found it surprising that my contemporaries seemed to be totally uninterested in exploring these.
Devouring the books of the meagre Pan-Samian library, I was astounded to learn how rich and diverse the history of my island of origin actually was. A world naval power in the time of Polycrates, it was the home of a plethora of great ancient poets, architects and mathematicians. Eupalinos, in particular, was the engineer of a marvel described in the histories of Herodotus: the second known tunnel in history, which was excavated from both ends and the first with a methodical approach in doing so. One of Samos’ sons, Ioannis Heraclides, became the first Protestant King of Eastern Europe. Furthermore, it was a bastion of fierce resistance during the Greek revolution, and the scene of the miracle of the Battle of Geronta, where doughty Samian fighters prevented the landing of Ottoman troops on the island, and in the process, also prevented a genocide such as that which took place in Chios. This miracle was reinforced in the psyche of our members, by the positioning of a large, cartoon-like mural on our club-house wall, with the faces of the Ottomans being depicted with the twisted gruesomeness of a German mediaeval painting. I also found my family surname among the roll call of those who attended the Samian meeting that determined that the island would join the Greek Revolution. This conflicted with family lore, for my grandfather’s family had its roots in Aydin of Asia Minor and my grandfather was in Aydin during the Catastrophe, and this fascinating inconsistency has never been satisfactorily resolved, for all of my grandparents’ contemporaries are now long gone. As if all this was not enough, prior to uniting with Greece in 1913, Samos was an independent principality for almost a century, whose official language at one time was Esperanto and a leading world exporter of tobacco.
At Christmas time, I would take my violin and with my cousins, we would travel to the homes of members all around Melbourne in order to sing them the Greek Christmas carols and raise money for the club. This involved, a) acquiring a sufficient repertoire of carols so as to not render ourselves senseless through repetition  and b) getting to know a vast number of people who spoke with the same drawl and clipped constants as my grandparents did and who displayed the same open-hearted hospitality. All Greeks were our people, but these were especially so, and even today, I have run into not a few persons who I had hitherto forgotten, who still remember our Christmas carol visits.
The Samian drawl, which is still the primary means of communication in my house, is barely spoken in the Pan-Samian club-house nowadays. Along with the Ithacans, the Samians are among the most ancient of Greek communities in Melbourne and my parents’ generation, who arrived in Australia in the fifties and sixties have grown up and were educated here. They find it easier to express themselves in English, although in Cavafian style, they feel guilty for doing so. When they get together in ever dwindling numbers for the same type of dinner dances that the club has held of the past seventy years, or write letters in what amounts to pidgin-Greek, one gets the feeling that this is an ersatz form of Hellenism, a Poseidonian cultural calque full of ennui before an imminent fall. It was thus fitting that the most recent extra-ordinary general meeting of the club, where it was determined to sell the club-house, was convened in English.
The sale of the club-house, owing to increasing overheads and a lack of income as a result of a dwindling membership has been cited as proof of the irrelevancy of Greek organisations that have as their basis, a regional identity. This regional identity is widely held to be inimical to the construction of a viable Greek-Australian identity that will see us through the future and indeed, as a cause of disunity. I beg to differ. There is richness and uniqueness in our regional cultures and their diversity gives depth and lustre to the shared culture of all of us. There is significance in the shared and remembered experiences of our ancestors and how they related to each other in our homelands. There is also magic in being able to maintain and create relationships of mutual assistance and obligation based on those past experiences that root us firmly not only within our ancestral culture but our birth-culture as well. These are not things that should be dismissed lightly, if anything they are the foundations of our identity and the glue that holds us together. After all, the proposition that Greek culture is unified is fallacious and dangerous, leading as it does to an artificial and embarrassing construction, devoid of life.
Sadly, we have all squandered the opportunities given to us to make the most of our regional organisations, usually because of a particularly vicious form of infighting occasioned by certain power-brokers utilising such clubs as a vehicle for the promotion of their own egos, or as a form of wish fulfillment, given that many such clubs were run as mini-parliaments for would-be politicians. This is does not apply in the cases of the Samians however. Instead, it is age, complacency, insularity (in that the older generation could not see how they could interweave the activities of the club within the fabric of the broader Greek community), a lack of celebrating their diversity and an inability to foresee the way latter generations would adopt a superficial, disparaging view of their mother-culture before rejecting it almost wholesale, that has brought them to the brink. And yet it is not too late, for there are many such as I, who remember growing up within the love and security of the Samian community, with extreme fondness and nostalgia. It is time to resurrect that sense of community.
I drive past the premises of the Nisyrian Brotherhood on Sydney Road, Brunswick at least thrice a week. Never have I seen the premises open and yet the sign on the door proclaims forbiddingly: “Nisyrian Brotherhood: Panayia Thermiani: MEMBERS ONLY.” While a rationalization of community assets may be beneficial and indeed inevitable, we, just like our ancestors since times ancient, are a conglomeration of regional, some time conflicting but always fascinating, identities. We would disregard these and their legacy at our peril. Our challenge lies in sharing rather than isolating these identities and celebrating their eccentricities. Their discovery, in all their multifarious Samian forms, ultimately form the reason why I chose to be Greek.


First published in NKEE on 13 June 2015

Saturday, June 06, 2015


"For their joining together in union of love and life, we pray to the Lord. That the Lord our God unite them in perfect love and inseparable life, we pray to the Lord." Sinai Euchologion, twelfth century.
 Primate of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia, Archbishop Stylianos has recently made some important observations in relation to the debate about the extension of the marriage power in the Australian Consititution to include same-sex couples. Such observations display the nuanced and complex position of the Church upon an issue that has assumed world-wide importance of late.
 While not resiling from the Church's position that marriage, in the Christian context, is defined as an act between a man and a woman, Archbishop Stylianos has commented that a) the Orthodox Church seeks not to impose its views upon others, especially within a multi-cultural society and that b) it only seeks consideration of the unique Christian context within which the word 'marriage' has evolved. He thus leaves it to be understood that the recognition by the state of 'same sex civil unions,' would preserve the traditional understanding of the word marriage, while also catering for the needs of those who seek legal recognition of their partnership, thus separating the religious element from the legal component of the debate.
What is largely unknown, is that as late as the eighteenth century, the typikon of the Orthodox Church contained a service known as that of adelphopoiisis, whose purpose was to unite together two people of the same sex but usually men, in a church-sanctioned partnership. Surviving Byzantine, Georgian and Old Church Slavonic manuscripts from the ninth to the fifteenth centuries, show that the prayers of the ceremony established participants as "'spiritual brothers (πνευματικούς αδελφούς) and contained references to sainted pairs, including most notably Saints Sergius and Bacchus, who were famous for their friendship and are usually depicted with a torque, reminiscent of a wedding crown, around their necks. 
 In the late twentieth and early twenty-first century, the rite of αδελφοποίησις, has been cited as a practical, subtle Church-sanctioned recognition of a same-sex romantic union. Proponents of this argument point to the use of the word αδελφή in the vernacular to denote a male homosexual, linking this to the adelphopoiisis ceremony. Academics such as John Boswell in his book "Same Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe, has argued that the practice was used to unite two persons in a marriage-like union, in continuation of ancient custom.
 Boswell examines the evidence for same-sex "paired saints" in early Christianity, such as Saints Nearchos and Polyeuchtos, Ruth and Naomi, and Sergios and Bacchus, arguing that these couples were perhaps romantically involved. In his discussion of Barberini 336, a Greek liturgical manuscript of the eighth century containing four ceremonies for sacramental union, one of which is between two men, Boswell questions what they represent, if they reflect homosexuality, and ponders if these are "marriage" ceremonies, in doing so rejecting the idea that they represent ceremonies of adoption or "spiritual fraternity".  In particular, he looks at the text of the ceremony from the Paris Biblioteque which states: "Lord and lover of good, these thy servants who love each other with a love of the spirit and have come into thy holy church to be blessed and consecrated by Thee. Grant them unashamed faithfulness, true love .."
Departing from the text of the union ceremonies themselves, Boswell looks at further evidence for such ceremonies in the Byzantine Empire, including stories such as those of Nicholas and the homosexual Emperor Basil I, (he refers to the emperor as a 'hunk') and then examines the Christian prohibitions that were later introduced to put a stop to them. His seminal study, according to University of Indiana sociologist Lutz Kaelber shows how "social arrangements and processes can shape and sometimes bend normative perceptions of the boundaries between friendship, affection, and love."
 Despite Boswell's fascinating musings, nothing in the text of the liturgical ceremonies or the ancillary literature suggests that the adelphopoiisis ceremony was developed in order to sanction same-sex unions of a romantic or sexual nature, but rather, it is most probable that these referred to a platonic union through faith, though he correctly points out the way saints are paired in the ceremony, refers to a deep union: "That thy holy apostles Philip and Bartholomew should be united, not bound together by law of nature but in the manner of a holy spirit and faith, as Thou didst bless the joining of thy Holy Martys Sergios and Bacchus in union of spirit. Send down most kind Lord the grace of thy Holy Spirit upon these thy servants whom thou hast found worthy to be united not by nature but by faith and holy spirit."
 Commentators have argued that this rite was used in many ways, such as the formation of permanent pacts between leaders of nations or between religious brothers, as a replacement for "blood-brotherhood" which was forbidden by the Church at the time. Historians have traced the prevalence of such unions among Byzantine soldiers. Going in to battle and knowing that they had to rely on each other for their very lives, Byzantine soldiers underwent the ritual for the purposes of added security.
 Russian theologian Pavel Florensky, in his description of adelphopoiisis in his 1914 book The Pillar and the Ground of The Truth: An Essay in Orthodox Theodicy in Twelve Letters, described traditional Christian friendship, expressed in adelphopoiisis, as "a community molecule, a pair of friends, which is the principle of actions here, just as the family was this kind of molecule for the pagan community," reflecting Christ's words that "wherever two or more of you are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of thee." In his theological exegesis of the rite, he noted that its ceremonies consisted of prayer, scriptural reading, and ritual that involved partaking in presanctified eucharistic gifts. It was, according to him, merely a formalization of a deep and enduring friendship, something that would have been better understood during the time of Byzantium where the social context saw friendship to be much deeper, more formal and viewed in more theological terms than the present.
 Florovsky's analysis is supported by contemporary experience. Though the adelphopoiisis ceremony is defunct in Greek Orthodox modern usage, historian Robin Young describes how she underwent a sisterhood ceremony in 1985 within the Syriac Orthodox Church, a church that while monophysite, preserves many of the usages, liturgical texts and practices of the early Greek Orthodox Church, including the adelphopoiisis ceremony. According to Young, upon a visit to St Mark's monastery in Jerusalem with a friend, "our host, Archbishop Dionysius... remarked that since we had survived the rigours of Syria and Eastern Turkey in amicable good humor, we two women must be good friends indeed. Would we like to be joined as sisters the next morning after the bishop's Sunday liturgy in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre?...
After the liturgy, the bishop had us join our right hands together and he wrapped them in a portion of his garment. He pronounced a series of prayers over us, told us that we were united as sisters, and admonished us not to quarrel. Ours was a sisterhood stronger than blood, confirmed in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, he said, and since it was a spiritual union, it would last beyond the grave. Our friendship has indeed endured and flourished beyond the accidental association of two scholars sharing an interest in the Syriac-speaking Christianity of late antiquity. The blessing of the Church was a precious instance of our participation in the life of an ancient and noble Christian tradition. Although neither of us took the trouble to investigate the subject, each privately assumed that the ritual of that summer was some Christian descendant of an adoption ceremony used by the early church to solemnify a state -that of friendship- which comes highly recommended in the Christian tradition ("Henceforth I call you not servants .but I have called you friends." [John15:15])."
 The poetry and beauty of the blessings of the adelphopoiisis rite are strirring, especially in such invocations as: "That their love abide without offense and scandal all the days of their lives, we beseech thee O Lord. " Yet Miodrag Kovadinovic offers a unique insight into a further abridged version of the ceremony, known as pobratimstvo in the Slavonic tradition. Apparently, it was felt that brotherhood could be achieved through simple invocation: 'My-Brother-Through-God!' in case of peril, whereby a foe suddenly becomes an ally, underlying the military uses of the rite.
 There is something noble and profoundly moving in the seeking of a divine sanction for a platonic relationship and its gradual disuse says possibly says much for the way friendships have developed since that time. Nonetheless, while the adelphopoiisis ceremony contains many elements of the Orthodox marriage rite and Boswell's conclusions are tantalizing, ultimately, the argument that Orthodox ritual condoned same-sex romantic unions cannot be sustained and, as Archbishop Stylianos maintains, the issue of solemnising same-sex unions, as far as the Church is concerned, is a civil one.
First published in NKEE on Saturday 6 June 2015