The Unmercenary Physicians of Rome

There are three sets of Saints named Cosmas and Damian. One pair is from Arabia (celebrated October 17), another Asia Minor (November 1) and the one celebrated on July 1 is from Rome. 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), however, not specific to a particular pair. Rather, they commemorate all three sets of brothers on different dates. 

Cosmas and Damian of Rome lived in the 3rd Century and were from a pious Christian family. They were physicians by trade and blessed by God with the gift of healing the sick. 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. 

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 and healed 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 by which God used to heal others. 

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).

The Unmercenaries were summoned before the Emperor Carinus for allegations that they were practicing sorcery and magic. During this era, Christianity was on the rise but remained illegal. Persecution against Christians was very fierce during that time.

At first, soldiers apprehended the local Christians who were trying to hide the Saints from being captured. Nevertheless, the Saints boldly came forth, requesting that the others be released and they be arrested instead.

Before the Emperor, the Unmercenaries confessed their faith in Christ. Carinus demanded that they offer sacrifice to the pagan gods, but they refused. Suddenly, the Emperor was blinded by divine intervention and he as well as the people around him beseeched the brothers to heal him. 

Indeed, the Holy Unmercenaries healed the Emperor and he was given back his vision. Being amazed by the mercy and love of the brothers and out of gratitude to God for being healed, he became a Christian. The Saints, for their good deed were let go, with the freedom to go on and heal others. The hymnography attributed to these great Saints speaks more to us about who they were and what they were about than any biographical texts available.

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 (Festal Sticheron of Vespers).

When the saints deposited their every hope in the heavens, then did they accumulate treasures that cannot be lost, dwelling yet on earth. They received free of charge; free of charge they offer cures to those afflicted with disease. And evangelically neither gold nor silver did they possess. To people and to animals likewise they imparted the benefits, so that by becoming obedient to Christ in every way they might with confidence intercede so that our souls be saved (Festal Sticheron of Vespers).

After many years of selfless service and sacrifice, the Unmercenaries faced their death. Ironically, it was an older physician and former medicinal instructor of the Unmercenaries and not the Emperor who murdered them. Apparently, the physician out of envy was bothered by the fame of the brothers. 

The Holy Unmercenaries Cosmas and Damian of Rome, 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).

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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