8. november 2018

Saints Cosmas and Damien were twin brothers born in Arabia (modern day Syria) around 270 A.D. They had three younger brothers; their father died, so their mother, Theodota, was left to raise all five of them herself. Cosmas and Damien were educated in science and medicine, and became physicians that were quite skilled and enthusiastic about their work. They offered their services primarily in the seaport Aegea (between Tarsus and Antioch), on the Gulf of Iskenderun in the Roman Province of Cilicia (modern day Turkey, south central coast). The following story of their work provides a meditation for our own lives:

Cosmas and Damien saw in every patient a brother or sister in Christ. For this reason, they showed great charity to all and treated their patients to the best of their ability. Yet no matter how much care a patient required, neither Cosmas nor Damien ever accepted any money for their services. For this reason, they were called anargyroi in Greek, which means "the penniless ones."

Every chance they had, the two saints told their patients about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Because the people all loved these twin doctors, they listened to them willingly. Cosmas and Damien often brought health back to both the bodies and the souls of those who came to them for help.

When Diocletian's persecution of Christians began in their city, the saints were arrested at once. They had never tried to hide their great love for their Christian faith. They were tortured, but nothing could make them give up their belief in Christ. They had lived for him and had brought so many people to his love. So at last, they were put to death in the year 303.

Diocletian's edict in 303 demanded religious uniformity and the elimination of the Christian sacred literature. Christians who refused to cooperate could face death. It was said that Cosmas and Damien, after refusing to worship the Roman idols, had survived several devious means of torture and death, and were finally beheaded. These martyrs are named in the First Eucharistic Prayer of the Mass and in the Litany of the Saints.

Cosmas and Damien followed the instruction Jesus gave to his 12 apostles, which was relayed in the gospels of Luke and Matthew. "He sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal (Luke 9:2), and instructed them "Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those suffering from leprosy, drive out devils. You received without charge, give without charge." (Matthew 10:8). These two appear to have been especially revered for adhering to this latter teaching, which was rarely followed by others.

As a result, numerous churches, monasteries, and schools have been named for Cosmas and Damien. A basilica in Rome was erected in their honor two centuries after their deaths by Pope Felix IV (elected Pope 526); at the time there were already five churches dedicated to these medical martyrs in the city. The basilica was built in an area of Rome considered the zone of medicine, replacing a structure that was part of Vespasian's Forum of Peace, and dedicated in 530. At about the same time, Emperor Justinian I restored the city of Cyrus in their honor. Although the remains of Cosmas and Damien are at Cyrus, there are also relics preserved in the crypt at the Roman basilica. Over time, the basilica went through numerous changes, with deterioration followed by restoration, with additions and reconstructions. In 1503, the basilica was consigned to the Third Order Regular of St. Francis for maintenance (formally transferred in 1512) and this religious order manages the basilica to this day.