The Unmercenary Physicians of Asia Minor

There are three sets of Saints named Cosmas and Damian. One pair is from Rome (celebrated July 1st), another Arabia (October 17th) and the one celebrated on November 1st is from Asia Minor. All three pairs are brothers and unmercenary physicians. They each lived at different periods as well. The pair from Rome and Arabia were martyrs. 

Many Orthodox Churches throughout the world are named after the Holy Unmercenaries (Οί Άγιοι Ανάργυροι, literally Those Without Silver), however, not specific to a particular pair. Rather, they commemorate all three sets of brothers on different dates. Even the hymnography for each of the Feasts for the three pairs is almost identical.

It is unclear when Cosmas and Damian of Asia Minor lived. Their father was a pagan and their mother, a Christian. Their father died when they were young and so their mother raised them in Christian piety. They became physicians by trade and blessed by God with the gift of healing the sick, both humans and animals.

The brothers made a pact between each other that they would not accept money for their services. It is for this reason that they had the title the Unmercenaries. In fact, there was one time when the Saints were summoned to a gravely ill woman. All the doctors she saw, refused to treat her condition, since they surmised it was hopeless. The brothers, on the other hand, prayed to the Lord our God and the woman was healed. 

For her gratitude, the woman offered Damian three eggs, symbolizing the Holy Trinity and so he humbly accepted them. However, when his brother, Cosmas, heard about it, he was disappointed with Damian and did not speak to him the rest of his life. He believed that Damian had broken their sacred pact. Cosmas even gave strict instructions that he did not want to be buried alongside Damian.

Damian died shortly after Cosmas’ death. The people did not know where to bury Damian. Yet, through the will of God, a miracle occurred. A camel which the Saints had treated while they were alive, spoke in a human voice and said that Damian should be buried alongside his brother. Furthermore, the camel confirmed that Damian did not violate the pact the brothers made with each other. Rather, he accepted the gift of the three eggs out of respect for the Holy Trinity. So, the brothers were buried alongside one another in Mesopotamia. 

The divinely wise Cosmas and Damian, the ever-memorable two, made themselves wholly the dwelling of the Trinity! They pour forth the waters of healing like torrents from the life-giving source, by their touch, their relics cure suffering ⁄ and their very names drive infirmities away from all those who turn to the saving harbor of Christ! They pray with boldness on behalf of our souls (Sticheron of Festal Vespers).

The account of the camel speaking in a human voice, is evocative to the biblical account of Numbers 22:27-30: And when the donkey saw the Angel of the LORD, she lay down under Balaam; so Balaam’s anger was aroused, and he struck the donkey with his staff. Then the LORD opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times? “And Balaam said to the donkey, “Because you have abused me. I wish there were a sword in my hand, for now I would kill you!” So the donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your donkey on which you have ridden, ever since I became yours, to this day? Was I ever disposed to do this to you?” And he said, “No.”

The Saints spent their entire lives adhering to the instructions that Christ gave to His Disciples: And as you go, preach, saying ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons. Freely you have received, freely give (Mt 10:7-8). 

Jesus taught His Disciples that His power is free and whatever they accomplish is a gift from God. He also taught them to depend on God for their sustenance. Likewise, Cosmas and Damian went about healing the afflicted. The brothers would say: It is not by our own power that we treat you, but by the power of Christ, the True God. Believe in Him and be healed. The Saints wholeheartedly believed that they were only the instruments that God used to heal others. 

You draw the unending supply of healings from on high, and pour out cures on all the faithful, O Unmercenaries. Ineffably you perform mystical surgery on your patients and heal them, prescribing for the sick the saving medicines from the Spirit's treasure. Since you have become a holy temple of the Trinity, the principle of life, which clearly made its dwelling in you, pray to the Holy Trinity to save our souls (from the Ainoi of Festal Matins).

The Holy Unmercenaries Cosmas and Damian of Asia Minor, are very much beloved Saints of the Orthodox Church. Their intercessions are very much sought for the health and well-being, especially for the gravely ill. There are hymns attributed to them in the Mystery of Holy Unction. The oil of this Sacrament is anointed on the faithful for both their spiritual and physical wellbeing and healing.

Since you have a fountain of healings, O holy Unmercenaries, you dispense cures to all in need, for you have been granted very great gifts from the ever-flowing wellspring of Christ our Savior. The Lord says to you who emulate the zeal of the Apostles, "Behold, I have given you authority over unclean spirits, so that you might drive them out and cure every disease and illness." Having truly lived according to His commandments, freely you received and therefore freely you give, healing the ailments of our souls and our bodies (Festal Doxastikon of Matins and Doxastikon of Service of Holy Unction).

Cosmas and Damian are the patron Saints of healthcare workers especially physicians. In addition, they are also patron Saints for hospital chaplains. Their supplications before the Lord were certainly sought during the COVID-19 Pandemic and currently in the recovery phase. The Unmercenaries were very much an example to imitate for the essential workers who endured endless hours caring for the inflicted during a tumultuous time. Their intercessions were sought not only to heal the sick but to guide those providing the care. 

Holy Unmercenaries and Wonder Workers, regard our infirmities; freely you have received, freely share with us (Festal Apolytikion).

-John Athanasatos 

A graduate of Long Island University, College of Pharmacy, and Saint Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, John works to share the richness and beauty of the Orthodox Faith with the wider community.


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