On November 1, the West & Catholic Church celebrates “All Saints” while in the Eastern Orthodox Church we celebrate Kosmas & Damian, the Holy Unmercenaries.
“Unmercenary” is both a strange-sounding and heavy metal sounding name for a rank of our saints–one of the reasons why I named my novel’s crimefighters after this rank of saint.
In the original Greek, “Unmercenary” is “Anagyroi” which literally means those not of silver, implying those who could not be paid for their service. In English, we dressed up the title using the stem “mercenary” which carries a connotation of paid-soldiers.
However, the rank of Unmerceny saints really have no military implication. Instead, this rank is a medical one, referring to Christian physicians who used both their knowledge of medicine and the fervor of their faith to heal others. However, this rank of saint specifically relates to a Christian tradition of providing medical care without accepting any payment. Just as it is today, doctor appointments weren’t cheap back in the day.
On November 1, we celebrate just two of the many Unmercenaries in the Church: Kosmas & Damian. These two brothers were raised by a single mom who dedicated her life to seeing to the Christian upbringing of her children as well as equipping them to enter into a profession of public service. We owe their mother, St. Theodota, credit for giving the Church two brothers who were extreme in their faith and in their selflesness.
The story goes that these two brothers were so adamant about not receiving payment that it actually led the two to an unfortunate quarrel. Kosmas had gone off to heal a widow who’d been seen by multiple pagan doctors to no avail. Kosmas was able to heal this woman through his prayers, and the woman being so grateful insisted he take three eggs from her as a gift. Kosmas explained his commitment to keeping nothing of his profit for this work, but the woman insisted saying Kosmas couldn’t deny a gift that was made honoring the Trinity (three eggs, three persons of the Trinity).
When Damian found out, he was grievously upset with his brother, and this caused a huge rift because it seemed Kosmas didn’t uphold his end of their fraternal promise to “freely give” to others just as Christ “freely gave” to them the gifts of healing and the gift of salvation. Sad as their rift is, their story serves for us today a kind of testimony to the importance of open dialog and to not allow the letter of rules to get in the way of holy fellowship.
There are another set of Unmercenary saints who confusingly enough also share the names Kosmas and Damian. They too were Christian physicians who took no pay for their work. They were quite popular in Rome not merely because their service was free, but because it was overwhelmingly successful. This led to a manhunt for the two saints, wherein Roman officers began arresting any Christian they could in the hopes they’d find the two saints who had gone into hiding.
Both Kosmas & Damian eventually make themselves known to spare the local Christians from the collateral arrests, but when they show the power of the gift of healing they received from Christ they are set free–the two saints had healed a man with paralysis in the Roman court and were set free afterwards.
While they were temporarily spared by the state, their teacher who had instructed them in medicine had become jealous of their success and evasion from prosecution. After the trial, Kosmas and Damian’s teacher invites them to join him on an exhibition to collect medical herbs from a nearby mountain. The two oblige–perhaps to resupply for themselves or perhaps to convert their pagan teacher–but are thrown from the mountain by the teacher, killed in envy just as Cain had slain his brother Abel.
As mentioned before, I use the title of these saints in part because the English translation for this rank has a rather edgy and powerful sound to it. When we think of mercenaries, we think of antihero ronins and black sheep soldiers constrained by no obligation or uniform. “Unmercenary” had always struck me as a kind of soldier that might combat or stand against these lawless sellswords, a kind of anti-antihero, a paladin standing against the rogues.
The Unmercenaries in my fiction series “Masks” are a band of vigilantes who take no pay for their service to their city. But instead of infirmities they are curing, they are surgeons removing cancers of illicit business, antibodies fighting against infections of criminality. They freely give from their own time and well-being to heal their city.
Among Orthodox monasticism and writings of desert fathers, we also see an emphasis on attentiveness or “watchfulness.” It was these holy ascetics–such as the “sleepless ones” and stylites–who kept watch over their soul as though it were a city in need of defense, forcing their bodies to remain strong to stave away from sleep so as to be proactive in spiritual warfare through prayer. The masked crime fighters, the Unmercenaries, subtly fuse these elements of Orthodox “heroism” if we can call it that, of these superhuman qualities achieved by saints who dedicated their lives to Christ, to His Church, to their work for humanity.
That’s who the Unmercenaries of “Masks” attempt to convey. They are not a perfect analogy of any particular or group of saint, but a modern and hopefully palpable allegory of saints, ever vigilant, self-giving “healers”, and usually unseen (much like the intercessions of the saints interceding in our lives today, assisting us without much gratitude or acknowledgment).
With that, I hope we all can set sometime to give some gratitude to God for equipping these saints who pray for us. I also hope that my book–imperfect and sometimes crude–is a refreshing story that encourages each of us to examine our personal calling to become great, to become saints.
God bless you all, and Happy Harrowing!