Who Are the Unmercenaries?

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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.

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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.

Promo art for book, featuring Father, Sheepshead, Red, and Morgenstern

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!

Buy “Masks: The Unmercenaries” now!

“Masks” Available November 1!

On November 1, on the Feast of the Unmercenaries, the first novel of the Masks series will be available to the public!

Masks, the Unmercenaries, is an action-packed novel that explores the possibility of what might happen if Halloween carried on a little too long…

The story is set in Nymphis, a metropolis of sin and hermitage of All Hallow’s Eve. The story begins during “the Harrowing,” a once innocuous albeit shameful celebration of anonymous revelry that evolves into a night of violence, that changes this once festive city into a city of Masks.

Thieves & thugs hide their faces for their own gain, while vigilantes and watchdogs take up the mantle to combat the billowing threat of crime.

One such Mask, Father, takes to the streets with his band of Unmercenaries, in the pursuit to find his daughter and win back the city. But as they put away Nymphis’ tyrannical crime lords and nefarious traffickers, they encounter a threat never before seen by the likes of any vigilante: the Den.

Will the Unmercenaries’ non-lethal measures be enough to stop the murderous Masks of the Den? Will the Den succeed in their plot of undermining the entire city of its law and conventional crime syndicates? Will the Unmercenaries’ retain their own souls in the process as they battle this force of evil?

Find out, and order your copy of this crimefighting, suspense story that you won’t be able to put down!

You can order your copy through Liberty Hill Publishing, Amazon, or Barnes and Noble, and become part of the Mask phenomena!

So, Mask Up, and Happy Harrowing…

New Book Coming Soon: Masks, The Unmercenaries

I am overjoyed to finally share this exhilarating project I’ve been working on for just about 10 years!

The first novel in the “Masks” series is underway for publishment: Masks, The Unmercenaries

Illustration & Design by Lexie Takis Art

Welcome to Nymphis…

A city of sin under seige from a faceless threat. Rampant crime has given rise to a pantheon of gods and monsters, heroes and villains, all who don masks to shape the face of the city. Driven to find his missing daughter, one such hero, Charles Hail, assumes the mantle as a vigilante to crackdown on the city’s unpunished criminals.With his band of Unmercenaries, these vigilantes set out to save their city from being undermined by Nymphis’ festering cabal: the Den. Outgunned and outnumbered, the Unmercenaries lean on nothing more than their tenacity and principles in order to not only halt the looming threat of the Den, but to quell their own personal demons along the way.

What began as a “what if your average joe put on the mantle of vigilante’ has evolved into a dark and gritty story of saints and monsters fighting for the fate of a broken city. In Masks, we are thrown into a city that celebrates Halloween a little longer than most places. Its citizens don’t take off their masks after the feast of All Hallows Eve, but rather continue to don them for different reasons.

The masks in this book have little to do of the masks we see being worn around the world. Rather, the masks relate to the masks you and I have been wearing long before that. Some of the masks are the veils of anonymity to cover our shame or weaknesses, others the mouthpieces of persona to embolden our voice or identity. They are also the helmets and visors we have worn to mold our inner weaknesses into the person each of strives to become.

‘The Unmercenaries’ refer to a category of wonderworking saints that accepted no pay for their services of healing. Our heroes, the Unmercenaries, embody this title by giving freely of themselves to aide their ailing city, without thanks or profit. As the “saints” of their city, these heroes observe vigilance true to their role of vigilante, and hold to a narrow code while subjecting themselves to Harrowing and unseen warfare.

While I enjoy seeing the “superhero” genre continue to thrive in media, I’ve longed to see the Christian culture recapture this genre of storytelling. Superheroes belong to the Gospels with their self-sacrificial and miraculous qualities that mimic the supernatural and awesome feats of the early Church’s saints and martyrs. While this particular novel doesn’t necessarily feature the “supernatural” component of “superheroes”, the story does feature run-of-the-mill characters who are relatable enough that spurs the audience towards personal spiritual rigor, introspection, and responsibility.

This book is unapologetically “gritty” but perhaps no more gruesome than the harrowing stories we read in Scripture, let alone than what we read in the Lives of the Saints. That being said, the book is also not over the top without purpose. This book hopefully sparks the creative endeavor to infuse the deepest truths of faith that don’t come across as campy or naive. Modern media is successfully selling flash, gorey stories that captivate the masses attention…now I wonder if we can offer something that actually possesses meaning beyond superficial motifs such as “punch the bad guy”. 

This is a book about masks. So long as we are all fine putting on a mask in front of others, let’s just make sure it’s a good one, something that doesn’t merely protect and project, but compels us to act with distinction and nobility, not something that will blend us against a crowd, but will catch the eyes of others to convey a hard but noble walk that we commit ourselves to.

Stay tuned through subscribing to this blog for updates on the book. In the coming weeks, you can check out my weekly blog to get an inside scoop on the process of writing this book as well as some backstory content so as to begin dipping your toes into this harrowing city of Masks!

Lastly, I want to give a big thank you to Lexie Takis Art for the illustrations you see! I will be featuring more illustrations as we approach the publishment date.