Today finishing up our 3-part special based on this piece by Alexander Chausov. And speaking of Alexanders, this is where we get to the juicy part about Alexander Nevsky. Saint Alexander Nevsky, to you heathens out there. Most of us know of Nevsky mainly as the heroic figure of Russian films — with Eisenstein’s classic being my personal favorite.
The real Nevsky was the second son of Prince Yaroslav Vsevolodovich and his wife Rostislava Mstislava, daughter of the Prince of Kiev. All of whose names are very easily pronouncable, and all very nice people. In the year 1236, young Alexander, still a teenager of around 15 years, was invited to Novgorod, to be the Prince and military leader of the proto-Новгородствующие people, who were being pressed on all sides by pesky Swedes and Germans. In the year 1240, a still-young (19-year-old) Alexander defeated the Swedes on the Neva River, thus acquiring his sobriquet “Nevsky”. Two years later, on April 5, 1242, Nevsky was to win his greatest military victory, defeating the Teutonic Knights and Estonian infantry on the famous Battle of the Ice. This battle was immortalized in Eistenstein’s film. Nevsky used a clever tactic to entice the Germans onto the ice with their heavy horses and armor. There was a crack in the ice, as Ostap Bender might say, and the Teutons went SCHLUUUUPP into the freezing water and drowned. People and horses all in a heap. Thus saving Russia from German rule, and not for the first (or last) time.
But what does any of this have to do with Saint Valentine and gay marriage in medieval Russia? Well, according to Chausov, the medieval Byzantine church had a special ceremony called Adelphopoiesis, (ἀδελφοποίησις), or “brother-making”, which unites two un-related males into a relationship, as if they had been born brothers. It’s basically the same type of “blood brotherhood” rituals practiced in many cultures. Even though the medieval Christian tradition made it clear that this was to be a platonic and purely spiritual type of male-bonding, and that there was to be no diddling around (or “Eros”) involved in this relationship, that didn’t prevent Yale historian John Boswell from writing a book claiming that Adelphopoiesis was not dissimilar from same-sex marriage, yea even unto the sexual component. Other theologians hotly dispute this, however. Chausov points out that Boswell himself was a gay activist trying to find historical precedents for gay marriage, hence his findings are not completely objective. Boswell had a dog in the fight, so to speak.
Be that as it may, Chausov contends that Alexander Nevsky went through such a ceremony to “unite in Christ” with his blood-brother Sartaq Khan, son of Batu Khan, he of the Golden Horde. Sartaq, as far as I know, was not a Christian, however. I could be wrong.
Wiki: In 1252, Alexander Nevsky met with Sartaq at Sarai. Alexander received yarlyk (license) to become Grand Duke of Vladimir in vassalage to the Kipchak Khanate. According to Lev Gumilev he became Sartaq’s anda (sworn brother, probably akin to blood brother) and an adopted son of Batu Khan. (….) Sartaq’s daughter Theodora (or Theothiure) was the wife of Gleb Vasilkovich first Prince Belozersky of Beloozero and Rostov, a grandson of Konstantin of Rostov and first cousin once removed of Alexander Nevsky. Their descendants include Ivan IV of Russia and innumerable families of Russian nobility.
All of which shows the close relationships (and inter-marriages) between Russians and Mongols, and how they needed to be friends in order to defeat a more deadly foe: Germans and Swedes. (Not to mention Estonians.) All of this is legitimate, despite the claims of Ukrainian nationalists that Mongols are an inferior people. Nothing of the sort — Mongols are great! They are a cruel people, but a fair people.
Now, while it is highly dubious that Nevsky and Sartaq were sexual lovers or even just diddled around out there on the steppes of Central Asia, it is known that the Adelphopoiesis ceremony might possibly have been used for nefarious purposes in Church history. One can imagine this highly spiritual practice being abused and cheapened, in certain cases. The practice eventually died out, not so much due to sexual scandal, however, more likely because it confused issues of heredity and inheritance. Like, giving one’s “bestie” the same legal status as a sibling born from the same womb. One can only imagine the number of lawsuits. Also, in some cases, the children of “blood brothers” were not allowed to marry, because they were considered cousins — even if, technically, they were completely unrelated!
Jumping forward in time, all the way back to the mid-20th century, in 1969 the Catholic Church, as part of a series of liturgical reforms, disavowed Valentine’s Day as an official church holiday. Reason given, Church historians could not make sense of all the various Valentines. Or maybe just the Pope got cheesed off because nobody sent him a Valentine!
Chausov ends his piece by remarking that God has a rare sense of humor: Nowadays in the Catholic Church February 14 is celebrated as the patron day of Saints Cyrill and Methodius, those same guys who baptised the Slavic peoples!