Today is the Feast of Sts. Cosmas and Damian, twin brothers and martyrs for the early Church. Word on Fire blog contributor Father Damian Ference takes a closer look at the saints and teaches us that there is more to a name, and a saint, than meets the eye.
I was born in 1976, the same year the film “The Omen” was released. My parents decided to name me Damian, not knowing that Damien was the name of the boy-demon in the popular movie. It could have been worse — my dad actually wanted to name me Fabian, but thankfully my mom would have none of it. (Fabian Ference would have been too much. And Father Fabian Ference? Yikes!) Needless to say, you can imagine that I got my share of demon and devil jokes as a kid. And to this day many folks still find “Father Damian” to be a contradiction of sorts.
Over the weekend I called my dad and asked him which Damian he had in mind when he and my mom named me. Was it Cosmas and Damian, Peter Damian or Damien of Molokai? After a few moments of thoughtful silence he said, “The leper.” So then I asked, “Then why do I spell my name with two ‘As’ and not one ‘A’ and one ‘E’ like the leper?” He said, “I don’t know. That was a long time ago, son.” Fair enough.
The truth is that any saint named Damian or Damien is good enough for me. I like St. Peter Damian a lot, and I think the world of St. Damien of Molokai, but when people ask me about my name, I always talk about the saints who are mentioned in the Roman Canon, whose feast we celebrate today, Sts. Cosmas and Damian.
Cosmas and Damian were twin bothers born in Syria in the third century. They were also doctors, and they became known as “the holy moneyless ones” because they cared for the sick free of charge. The strange practice of accepting no money for medical care was their way of embodying God’s providential love and care for his people. And folks took notice.
The twin brothers were arrested on September 27, during the persecution of Christians by Diocletian in 303. Soon after, the faithful brothers defied death by water, fire and crucifixion before they were finally beheaded in Cilicia, along with their three brothers. They were buried in Cyrrhus, Syria.
Veneration to Cosmas and Damian began immediately. The faithful asked for their intercession, especially in matters of physical illness. St. Gregory of Tours spoke about the twin brothers in this way: “These two physicians cured as many people by their prayers as they did by their medical knowledge, and now in heaven they still care for the sick miraculously.”
In the sixth century, Pope Felix IV dedicated the basilica of Santi Cosma e Domiano at the Roman Forum, which was formerly a pagan temple. The basilica is a favorite of the faithful, especially for those seeking medical healing with the help of the intercession of the twin brothers. Sts. Cosmas and Damian are patrons of physicians, surgeons, pharmacists, barbers and twins. (The barber business confused me, too. It seems that the connection comes either because surgeons were often also barbers, or because of the fact that the brothers were beheaded, and the head is the part of the body on which a barber works.)
The feast day of Sts. Cosmas and Damian gives us an opportunity to thank God for the great Christian witness of such faithful twin brothers, and it also reminds us to pray for all those who give us medical care and for those who are in need of medical care, particularly those who cannot afford it.
Finally, I would be remiss if I failed to mention that here in the diocese of Cleveland there is a parish named Sts. Cosmas and Damian. It is located in the city of Twinsburg, which hosts the annual Twins Days Festival the first weekend of August. I’ve often thought that if I ever became the pastor of that parish, I would get a nice yellow lab and name him Cosmo.
Father Damian Ference is a priest in the diocese of Cleveland. He is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy and a member of the formation faculty at the Borromeo Seminary in Wickliffe, Ohio.
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