On this Sunday we celebrate the Synaxis of the Holy Unmercenary Healers, or, as they are also called, the “physicians without silver.” They are those saints who, out of pure love of God and neighbor, healed the sick and mended the souls of others while asking nothing in return. It was a pure self-sacrifice born out of love. Today we remember the great saints Cyrus and John, Tryphon, Artemius, and the others, as well as Cosmas and Damian, who lived and were martyred in Roman times. And of course, we also remember and honor our great patron, the martyr and healer Panteleimon.
We are all icons of Christ in that we are made in the image and likeness of God. Yet it is in the saints, who’s souls have been scoured and scrubbed clean of the black taint and deformity of sin, that this image of Christ is made clear, and it shines through in the live of the saint – each in their own particular way. In the Unmercenary Healers, we see the image of Christ the True Physician; their whole lives and their very being pointed to Christ. The holy brothers, Sts. Cosmas and Damien, told the sick: “It is not by our own power that we treat you, but by the power of Christ, the true God. Believe in him and be healed.”
The Unmercenary Healers were not self-serving. They had no alterior motives. Rather, they showed a Christ-like love for all, and they gave themselves for all. Sts. Cosmas and Damien, on trial before the Roman emperor, said in their own defense: “We have done evil to no one, we are not involved with the magic or sorcery of which you accuse us. We treat the infirm by the power of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and we take no payment for rendering aid to the sick, because the Lord commanded His disciples. ‘Freely have you received, freely give.’ (Matt. 10:8)”
It is interesting to note that in the stories of the lives of both Sts. Cosmas and Damian and St. Panteleimon, the saints were martyred – yet they were given over to death by that ancient enemy:envy. In the life of Sts. Cosmas and Damian, we see that envy was able to accomplish what the hatred of the pagans and the ferocity of the Roman authorities failed to do. An older physician, who was an instructor of Sts. Cosmas and Damien and who taught them the art of medicine, became envious of their fame as great and godly healers. Driven to madness by his envy, and overcome with malice towards them, he summoned the two brothers, his once beloved students, and proposed that they go together to gather medicinal herbs. Going into the mountains alone, he cruelly murdered them and threw their bodies into a river.
St. Panteleimon, likewise, was delivered to the Emperors’ tribunal by envy. As St. Panteleimon began to be well known as a loving and unmercenary healer, healing both body and soul through his medical practice and his righteous prayer to Almighty God, his former teachers and peers – the pagan physicians – became envious at the young man. Out of spite, they turned Panteleimon over to the Emperor, denouncing him as a Christian, which was punishable by death. And so, St. Panteleimon met his martyric death in this way.
Envy. It is a silent and very hidden sin. Yet is is a sin set deep in the soul and very ancient. In envy, we can hear the ancient hiss of the serpent – the enemy of mankind – sliding slyly and almost imperceptivity – hidden as in tall grass. It was envy that lead Satan to first deceive Eve, bringing about the Fall, and it is envy to this day that bids all the fallen spirits to war against God and man. It was envy that led to the first murder – the first fratricide – when Cain slew his brother, Abel. Indeed, it was even envy that delivered Christ up to the Cross for Mark 15:10 says that Pilate knew that the chief priests had delivered [Christ] for envy.
In speaking of envy, Fr. Stephen Freeman once noted that in all his years as a priest, he strangely had never heard (or even preached) a sermon on the topic, and he did not find that the issue of envy generally arises in Confession. Yet this doesn’t mean that it isn’t there. Envy is often hidden by a related sin – that of pride.
Envy is often disguised in our lives. Envy in not simply a desire to have what someone else has, for this would be mere covetousness. Rather, envy wants the other to suffer loss and simply be deprived. This is certainly what we see in the lives of our Unmercinary Healers today, Sts. Cosmas and Damien and St. Panteleimon. They are brought to death by the very people who raised them, molded them, and helped to make them who they were – simply out of envy.
The Scriptures, as well as many traditional Orthodox cultures, describe envy as the “evil eye.” It has a destructive capacity almost beyond calculation. The passions of various modern revolutions – and certainly the Russian Revolution – have often been grounded in envy. Unable to achieve a reasonable and prosperous society, revolutions turn with envy towards destruction. The end is mere destruction – not fairness or equality, but just simply destruction.
Envy is the secret sin we don’t like to discuss, and which we don’t want to admit, mostly out of pride. Yet this sin is just as pernicious, just as destructive, as any other – and I would say, even more so. Certainly without love of God and love of neighbor, as St. Paul says, we are nothing, and our so-called good deeds profit us nothing. Yet when we have envy towards our brother, we may not physically kill him, but we murder him in our heart. It is nothing but mutual destruction. With the poison of such secrets sins still lying in our hearts, and with the sin of envy remaining unnamed and unhealed, we can expect to make little spiritual progress or growth.
So today, let us look to the Holy Unmercenary Physicians for our example, and let us implore them to intercede to God for us to heal us of our hidden sins. Christ is the True Physician, but we can only be healed if we allow the light of Christ into our darkest, most hidden places. As St. Macarius of Egypt said: “The heart is but a small vessel; and yet dragons and lions are there, and there likewise are poisonous creatures and all the treasures of wickedness… [Yet] there also is God, there are the angels, there life and the Kingdom, there light and the apostles, the heavenly cities and the treasures of grace: all things are there.” (Homilies 43:7)
Let not shame or fear keep you away from Christ. Our true path to salvation is towards the light of Christ, and away from the darkness of the shame of Adam and Eve and the envy of the devil. May the Lord grant us the courage to come out of our darkness and into the light and with fear of God, with faith and love, draw nearer to Him. Let us emulate the Holy Unmercenary Healers, who for themselves wanted nothing, but out of love of God and their brother, gave everything. May the Lord grant this to us. Amen.