Monday, September 27, 2010

Feast of Cosmas and Damien, Martyrs

Today is the Feast of St. Vincent de Paul, but since 17th century saints aren’t my area of interest, we’re going to talk about Sts. Cosmas and Damien, physicians and martyrs of the third century, the good old days! Somewhere out there is a Acts and Passion of Saints Cosmas and Damien, but I couldn’t find a copy on line, and there is no Flora Lamson Hewlett Library in Panama. I really had to do some digging to learn much about these two. 

Cosmas and Damien were twins, born to a nameless pagan father and Christian mother, Theodata. They had three brothers, Anthimus, Londius, and Arabius. The five brothers were inseperable. Their father died when they were young and their mother raised them to fear God, be hospitable to strangers, and show compassion and mercy to all. The twins were born in Arabia and studied medicine in Syria. They practiced medicine in Aegea, which is now the town of Celicia in eastern Turkey. Cosmas and Damien did not charge for medical care, so they are known as either the Holy Unmercenaries or anargyroi, “the silverless.” They healed without charge because they were fulfilling the commandment of Christ from Matthew’s gospel: Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, drive out demons. You have received freely, so freely give.They were very good doctors, full of compassion and gentle with their patients. They also used their healing skills as a means of proclaiming the gospel. They were so serious about not charging fees for their services that one time Cosmas became very angry with Damien because he had accepted three eggs from a woman named Palladia. Cosmas was so mad that he ordered that he not be buried next to his brother, but Damien didn’t accept the eggs as payment for services, but because the woman asked him in the name of the Holy Trinity to accept them. There is another story in which one of the twins refused to talk to the other for a long period of time because the other had accepted an apple from a patient. The twins apparently performed the first limb transplant in medical history, grafting the leg a recently-deceased Ethiopian on to the body of a white Moor. 

When the Diocletian Persecution broke out, the brothers were preaching the gospel and turning people away from the worship of idols. The Prefect of Cilicia, Lysias, had them arrested and ordered them to recant. They refused to do so and a series of tortures began. They were beaten and burned. Lysias also had their three brothers arrested and, after they, too, refused to sacrifice to idols, he had them suffer the same tortures as the twins. Lysias had all five brothers squeezed between drums but they suffered no harm. Then he had their hands and feet tied and threw them off a cliff into the sea, but they did not drown. He had them tossed into a burning furnace for three days and three nights THEN they were placed on red-hot iron beds. They lived through the fire, too. So all five were nailed to crosses and hung there for a few days, yet they survived. The entire time they were being tortured their mother, Theodata, encouraged and comforted them. According to one account, after Lysias was tired of torturing them, he sent them to Diocletian to be tortured (I know this doesn’t make sense; I’m just telling the story from the sources I have available). Theodata followed her sons to the palace of the Emperor, where she continued her vigil and continued to encourage them. The Emperor rebuked her and she responded by admonishing him for idol worship and for his cruelty. Not being one who reacted well to criticism, he had her beheaded. This had everyone scared, so no one would take her body for burial and it remained on the ground for a few hours. Cosmas was so angry he screamed at those standing around, saying, “Men of this city, is there any merciful person among you who will cover the body of the poor old widow and bury her?” This moved Victor, son of Romanus, to place the body in a shroud and bury it. The Emperor didn’t like that and had Victor exiled to Egypt, where he won the crown of martyrdom. The next day, September 27 of the year 297, finally tiring of playing with his prey, the Emperor had the five brothers beheaded. Cosmas and Damien continued to perform healing miracles after their death; There is a story of a farm hand who was sleeping with his mouth open when a snake crawled in his mouth and worked its way into the man’s stomach. He was in great pain and near death when he prayed to Cosmas and Damien for help. The snake left his body and he lived to tell the tale. They healed the Emperor Justinian, too, who in gratitude, rebuilt their church in Constantinople. 

According to some accounts there were three pairs of twin saints who were physicians named Cosmas and Damien, but that’s a bit hard to believe, if you ask me. I think the idea that there are three different pairs of such twins is due to the fact that there are several places which claim to have their relics, especially the skulls of the brothers. One pair of skulls were in Rome in the tenth century and may be buried under the altar of some church there, one pair of skulls is at St. Michael’s Church in Munich and another pair are at the Convent of the Poor Claires in Madrid. So I think there was one pair of twins and several sets of questionable relics.

Oh glorious martyrs of Christ, Saints Cosmas and Damian, you gave your lives for the love of God, benefiting your fellow man, and crowning your martyrdom with an open and loyal profession of your faith. You taught us to love God above all things, and to love our fellow man as ourselves, professing always, and without fear, the religion of Jesus. Augmenting amongst the faithful populace many miracles, you are glorious indeed. Through your intercession, which brings about deliverance of these miracles, we pray to you for your aid in all things. May your patronage never be far from us in the illness of our body and soul. Oh great protectors, Saints Cosmas & Damian, assist us with your love and free us from all evils. Amen

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