We celebrate the feast of Saints Cosmas and Damian September 26th. They were two brothers who practiced medicine in Syria in the fourth century and were martyred during the reign of Diocletian. Tradition says they gave their services freely to anyone needing medical help, and so followed Jesus’ teaching, “Freely you have been given, freely give. “ (Matthew 10:8) Besides caring for bodily needs they prayed for those they cared for and well as tending their bodily needs.
The brothers were honored widely from earliest times in the Christian churches of the east and west. In the great 7th century mosaic in the church of Saints Cosmas and Damian in Rome they’re shown being presented to Christ holding their medicine boxes in their hands, good and faithful physicians. They appear later as patrons of doctors, pharmacists, nurses, barbers.
We lack exact historical information about them, but let’s not miss the example of holiness Saints Cosmas and Damian offer. In his own ministry, Jesus had special care for the sick and suffering, and showed his concern in miraculous cures that restored them to health and enabled them to return to their families and communities. Those who heal and care for the sick and suffering– whether doctors, nurses, caregivers of every kind, people involved in medical research– follow him in what they do.
Cosmas and Damian remind us health care is more than a job you may– or may not – get paid for. It’s sharing in the divine power to heal. “I was sick and you visited me,” Jesus says at judgment time. Health care is vital to every society and culture.
The scant historical evidence about Saints Cosmas and Damian is more than compensated by their early popularity in the churches of the east and west. The basilica where they’re honored in Rome replaced a Roman basilica in the Roman forum, not too far from the Roman senate. It was built in the 6th century by Pope Felix II, a relative of Gregory the Great. Was it maybe a reminder to a government then of a burning issue our society needs to remember now? Health care is a basic human right to be honored and supported.
Saints Cosmas and Damian, pray for us.