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Florensky on Brotherhood Rite

Father Pavel Florensky mentions adopted brotherhood in his classic work The Pillar and Ground of the Truth (Moscow 1914), in the context of a lengthy discussion of friendship. Without even attempting to summarise a book of such great depth or to convey fully the context of the mention of adopted brotherhood, I shall translate what Father Florensky has to say on this particular subject. This excerpt begins two paragraphs before the discussion of adopted brotherhood, so that the reader may have some idea of its context.

"Friendship bestows the greatest joy, but it also demands the greatest effort. Every day, every hour, every minute, as the Ego with sorrow loses its life for the sake of the Friend, it joyfully finds that life restored. Just as agape towards a person brings forth philia for that person, so also in friendship mighty agape is embodied in philia as in a vital medium. Divine agapic love changes the substance of philic love, and there, at the height of human feeling, the higher floats over the lower, like the clouds which touch biune Ararat. 'Greater love - agape - hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.' (John 15:13) This greatest, agapic, love can be realised only in relation to friends, not towards all men, not 'in general.' It lies in 'laying down one's life for one's friends.' To understand this laying down one's life for one's friends as meaning to die for them would be an oversimplification. To die for one's friends is but the final (and not the hardest!) step on the ladder of friendship. Before dying for friends one has to be their friend; this is achieved by labour, long and hard. One of Ibsen's characters says, 'You can die for someone else's life's work, but you can't live for someone else's life's work.' Nevertheless, the essence of friendship really lies in laying down one's life for the sake of a friend. This means the sacrifice of one's whole organisational structure, one's freedom, one's calling. He who would save his life must lay it down wholly for his friends; he will not be brought to life unless he dies.

"Friendship is indispensable for a life of selfless [love], but it is unachievable by human effort; it requires help. But how can the natural striving towards union of friends be sealed psychologically and mystically? By what means may friendship receive the help of grace? How can a decision, once taken, be strengthened in one's consciousness?-What bond unites a friendship in such a way that it ceases to be a subjective desire and becomes an objective action of the will? In order to overcome selfishness at all times, in order to effect the repeated conjunction of the unitive nerves of friendship, which would otherwise be torn by the fault of friends and by external forces, some sort of memorial is needed, something concrete with which to associate the interior decision to endure all to the end; in addition, there is need of a mysterious flow of energy, constantly renewing the first, blinding, period of friendship.

"To serve as such a support of friendship there is first of all the 'natural sacrament' (may the reader excuse such an inappropriate combination of words!) of adopted brotherhood or fraternisation; secondly, there grew upon it, as upon a fertile natural soil, a special grace-filled rite, 'the service of making a brother', koloutia eis adelphopoiesin or eis adelphopoiia. I shall not discuss either here, because such a discussion would take us out of the realm of theosophy and personal religious experience into that of ethnology and liturgics. (@ 808) I shall simply note that adopted brotherhood is basically constituted by an actual union, accomplished by means of a mingling of blood, an exchange of names (sometimes also of shirts, clothing, weapons), partaking together of sacred food, an oath of fidelity and a kiss; not all of these elements are necessarily present in a given specific form of adopted brotherhood. Clearly, adopted brotherhood corresponds to a natural religious consciousness. In Christian adoption of a brother, the exchange of blood and joint eating are replaced by joint communion of the Holy Gifts, the Blood of Christ, and the exchange of names is replaced by the exchange of neck-crosses, which is equivalent to an exchange of baptismal names. In a form of adopted brotherhood which is partly Christian and partly popular, there is an exchange of crosses, an oath of brotherly love and faithfulness taken before an icon in church, and the holding in the hand, by turns, of a lighted candle during the Cherubic Hymn.

"The church service of adopting a brother has various recensions, but its chief elements are as follows:

(1) Those adopting each other as brothers stand in church before an analogion, on which lie the Cross and the Gospel. The elder of the brothers-to-be stands on the right, the younger, on the left.

(2) Litanies and prayers are said, asking for the brothers-to-be union in love and recalling examples of friendship from church history.

(3) The brothers-to-be are joined by a single belt, their hands are placed upon the Gospel and each is given a lighted candle.

(4) Lessons from the Epistles (1 Cor. 12:27-13:8) and Gospel (Jn. 17:18-26.)

(5) Further litanies and prayers are said, similar to those in (2) above.

(6) The Our Father is said.

(7) The brothers by adoption receive the communion of the presanctified Holy Gifts, [thus partaking of] a common cup.

(8) They walk around the analogion while holding hands, to the singing of the troparion, 'O Lord, look down from heaven and behold....'

(9) They exchange a kiss.

(10) A verse (Ps. 132:1) is sung: 'Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity.'

"Sometimes the exchange of neck-crosses is added to this rite. It is possible that it did not become a constituent part of the service simply because the adopted brothers would have already exchanged crosses before the actual service. Together with the common communion, this exchange of crosses is a most significant moment of the service; first, as a sign of mutual cross-bearing by the adopted brothers, and second, as a ritual which gives each of the 'brothers so called' a remembrance of his self-renunciation and faithfulness to the other.

"What, then, is this adoption of brothers? That profound thinker N.F. Fyodorov saw in it a type of Liturgy. 'The service of making a brother,' he says, 'is a perfect likeness of the Liturgy; it ends with the communion of the presanctified Gifts. If certain particulars of this service (girding those entering the union with one belt, walking around the analogion to the singing of "Look down from heaven and behold, and visit this vine, and perfect that which Thy right hand hath planted" [Ps. 79:15-16(LXX)] are not found in the Liturgy, is it not because the walls of the church serve to gird and join together all who are in it, and the church processions carry the meaning of union in life and in the common work?' (@ 809) These considerations are quite worthy of note. However, N.F. Fyodorov also thinks that the rite of adopting brothers is something that was isolated from the Liturgy, 'the essence of the liturgy of the catechumens,' at the very time when church life became worldly, when the union of all men was replaced by particular unions. (@ 810) Such a view, such a reduction of our rite, is very, very doubtful. The point of the matter is that church life is full of antinomies, and cannot be subsumed in a rational formula; in this case, it cannot be reduced either to particular unions or to a general union only. Rather, it is that both, the particular and the general, are equally necessary for the Church and are joined in the process of its life, without being equated with each other. Thus, for example, matrimony (also a type of Liturgy) is an analogue of the common Liturgy, not a decline from it, for it is unthinkable that there was first 'group marriage' and 'general' matrimony, and that later, when church life had become more worldly, monogamy began. It is the same with adopted brotherhood. But, following the reasoning of N.F. Fyodorov, marriage, together with all the other sacraments and rites, is to be considered an offshoot of the Liturgy, a product of the decline of the Church's common life. This is obviously wrong!

"Still, Fyodorov's idea, although incorrectly expressed, is correct in itself. Certainly, Fyodorov is right in thinking that in the Church there can be nothing which does not relate to its common life, just as there can be nothing which is not also personal. The Church knows no private business' [Privatsache], just as it knows no impersonal 'rights'. Every manifestation of the Church's life has meaning for the whole Church, but it also has a focus, a point of particular application, at which it is not only quantitatively but even qualitatively different from other places. Take marriage, for example.

"The marriage of any member of the Church is certainly a matter for the whole Church universal. This does not mean that all together marry the wife of each one. Rather, it means that the event has a special spiritual significance for all; it is not a matter of indifference to them. For all concerned the wife of one of their brothers becomes not merely someone, but the wife of a brother, specifically. At the same time, she becomes simply the wife of one, while to others she becomes their brother's wife. This is a difference not only of degree but of quality, although both relationships pertain to the Church. So it is that matrimony involves two people, a man and a woman ('we marry'), in the closest and most special way, but it involves the rest of the Church's members in a different way ('they marry'). The same can be said of the common Liturgy as well. It involves the members of a parish community in a very special way ('we pray', 'we receive communion'), and all other members of the Church in a different way ('they pray', 'they receive communion'.). In exactly the same way, a given manifestation can involve several communities-a diocese, or several dioceses-a local Church, etc. The life of the Church is always such that nothing is 'in general', yet nothing is 'of no concern to others;' it is never simply a matter of 'social' or 'private'. It is always catholic and common in its meaning, while remaining personal and concrete in its action and application.

"All that has been said applies also to the adoption of brothers. Just as philic love must exist alongside of agapic love, not identical with it yet inseparable from it, so there should likewise be liturgical services for agapic unions and for philic unions, services which are not identical with each other. Since the two types of love are analogous, it is quite understandable that the services which correspond to them-the liturgy of the community and the adoption of brothers-are analogous. Being analogues, i.e., being constructed along the same lines, does not mean that one was derived from the other. A comparison with the human body will show this. The hand is built according to the same model as the foot; they are analogues. The upper part of the body is an analogue of the lower. Nevertheless, the body needs hands as well as feet, the upper part as well as the lower, one cannot replace the other, and, what is more, they cannot live a normal life without each other. The general principle of the system is given form in its particulars, while these particulars are imbued with the principle of unity. Both concrete diversity and a unifying arrangement are necessary. So it is in the life of the Church. The general principle, love, lives not only in agape but in philia, and it expresses itself not only in the communal Liturgy, but also in the brotherly adoption of friends.

"At this point a question naturally arises: What force insures that diverse phenomena remain unconfused? What maintains the equilibrium between the particular and the common? What action of the soul will allow particular manifestations of philia to be part of the common life of the whole Church, yet at the same time will protect their particular character? Undoubtedly, such a force must exist; otherwise the Church would lose its spiritual balance. This can be clearly seen in some examples. The wife of a brother must be for each one the wife of a brother, but only that-only the wife of a brother, not the wife of each one; therefore, there must be an action of the soul which puts her into a completely special relationship with her husband and unfailingly insures its particular character.

"In the same way, since for every member of the Church the friend of a brother must be the friend of a brother, but only the friend of a brother and not simply the friend of everyone, there must also be a force which creates and maintains the individuality of the friendly union. Together with a unitive force which leads beyond the limits of a separate existence, there must also be a divisive force, setting limits to diffusion and impersonality. Together with a centrifugal force there must be a centripetal force. This force is jealousy, and its results are isolation, separation, limitation, and division. If it did not exist, the concrete life of the Church, with its definite order, would not exist; there would be instead something Protestant, anarchist, communist, Tolstoyan or the like, a mixture of everything all together, formless chaos. The force of jealousy is active in friendship and in marriage, in the parish community and in the cInobitic monastery, in the diocesan eparchy and in the local church-everywhere. (@ 811) In all cases it is necessary for relationships to have a definite and constant character, whether with a friend, a spouse, a spiritual father, a pastor, a bishop, a metropolitan or a patriarch: in all these cases what is needed is not only love but jealousy, whether toward a friend, a spouse, a parish, a brotherhood, a diocese or a local church. Now we must explore this idea in depth, for despite its importance it is usually not studied thoroughly." *

(In his notes Florensky gives a partial bibliography of sources relating to adopted brotherhood; among others, he refers to J. Goar, Euchologion graecum, Lutetiae Parisiorum 1647, 898-900, akoloutia eis adelphopoiesin.

Nowhere in this discussion of adopted brotherhood is there found the slightest hint of sexuality in such a relationship (which, in any case, would render sexual relations between the partners incestuous.) Rather, adopted brotherhood is viewed as part of the Church's sacramental life, giving expression to, and sanctifying, the various types of love.

In his chapter on "Friendship" in The Pillar and Ground of the Truth, Florensky considers four types of love, corresponding to the four Greek words expressing love. (This discussion is summarised in Pavel Florensky: A Metaphysics of Love, by Robert Slesinski, Crestwood, N.Y., 1984.* ) These are:

1) eros - the love of passion;
2) philia - the love of friendship;
3) storge - the love of attachment, familial love;
4) agape - charity, moral, free and rational.

Each of these types of love is expressed and sanctified by a moment in the life of the Church which is sacramental. Eros finds its true and only proper place in that relationship between a man and a woman which is blessed and crowned in matrimony. Storge is expressed at the baptism of a child, when he receives godparents who then stand in the same relation to him as his natural parents; in the church service of the adoption of a child; and, most touchingly, in the rite of churching an infant, wherein he is presented and offered in the temple of God, carried into the sanctuary, and given back to his family as an holy object of love. The agape with which God loves us is present in every action of His grace, but the Eucharist is the Church's supreme manifestation of agape. To render the system complete there should be a sacrament of philia, and this place is supplied by the rite of adopting a brother. This schema of love in the sacramental life of the Church is obviously an oversimplification, if only because the four types of love are not mutually exclusive. What it does show is that the adoption of a brother is in no way to be seen as the foundation of a sexual relationship, which is proper only to matrimony. One would no more expect adopted brothers to be sexual partners than adopted parents and children. Ideally, adopted brotherhood (or sisterhood) has as its proper role the sanctification and consecration of friendship within the context of the Church. If it has fallen into disuse, and has, indeed, been forbidden by law, it is perhaps because of misuse, because in reality philia was overpowered by eros, and the relationship was debased. Perhaps the place of adopted brotherhood in the Church's life has been taken by monasticism, whose communities are always referred to as brotherhoods. While monasticism is open to the same danger as adopted brotherhood, and has not always avoided it, the whole spirit of monastic life is oriented to the sublimation of eros, in order to give the fullest growth to divine agape.

Translated by Father German Ciuba ("Axios")


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.

"Chin Bratotvoreniyu"
Translation of the Old Church Slavonic text of the Rite of Brotherhood from the Russian prayer book of 1904.

Fraternization from a Canonical Perspective
by Fr. Evangelos K. Mantzouneas
The Greek Synod Committee on Legal and Canonical Matters explains its position on the rite of fraternization: "Through fraternization the ideal love between youths was made obvious".

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