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1 July 2009

The Orthodox Church has a category of saints called in Greek anargyri (silverless ones), usually translated into English as “unmercenary physicians”. They were medical doctors who did not charge for their services, and as such they are a living reproach to the ever-expanding cult of healthcare for profit.

As Monte Asbury puts it in his blog The Least, First:

I thought I understood why insurance companies were the main threats to a “public option.” It’s easy. Their overhead—exec salaries, advertising, political lobbying, etc.—averages 31%. Medicare’s overhead is 1%. No duh they don’t want to compete.

Today, I found out there’s another reason: they mostly don’t even compete against each other. Consumers in 94% of America’s insurance markets buy their health insurance from near-monopolies that dominate their region. The Bigs don’t want to avoid public competition, they want to avoid any competition.

And what happens when profit-makers don’t have to compete? You know what.

Premiums have risen 87% over the last six years, while profits at the ten Bigs rose 428%.

Though some of the jargon may be obscure because the terms used are regionalisms, a shorthand used by people debating the issue in one country, a similar debate is taking place in many countries, including South Africa. I’m not sure what Medicaid and HMOs are, and some speak of “single payer”, but that doesn’t particularly matter. It’s not particular manifestations that are so important, and the national policies about health care, but rather the commercialisation of health care and the moral and ethical attitudes behind the principle of healthcare for profit that need to be debated.

Holy Unmercenary Doctors Cosmas & Damien

Holy Unmercenary Doctors Cosmas & Damien

One problem with discussing this in societies that have been influenced by Western culture and modernity (and that includes South Africa) is the notion, which for some people amounts to an ideology, of separation of church and state. Religion, according to the proponents of this ideology, is a “private” matter, and should not be allowed to influence public debate. If one follows that kind of reasoning, it might be permissible for religious bodies to apologise (as some did before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission) for aquiescing in apartheid, but they should apologise even more for opposing apartheid to the extent that some of them did, because that goes against the holy cow of separation of church and state.

The problem with this secularist attitude is that it tends to make Christians participate in debates on such issues as healthcare for profit in purely secular terms, which sometimes contradict Christian ethics. The views of many Christians on this topic seem to be shaped by Ayn Rand rather than by the Anargyri.

Last Sunday in the Orthodox Church we commemorated the translation of the relics of the Holy Unmercenaries Cyrus and John.

Saint Cyrus was a noted physician in the city of Alexandria, where he had been born and raised. He was a Christian and he treated the sick without charge, not only curing their bodily afflictions, but also healing their spiritual infirmities. He would say, “Whoever wishes to avoid being ill should refrain from sin, for sin is often the cause of bodily illness.” Preaching the Gospel, the holy physician converted many pagans to Christ. During the persecution by Diocletian (284-305), St Cyrus withdrew into Arabia, where he became a monk. He continued to heal people by his prayer, having received from God the gift to heal every sickness.

In the city of Edessa at this time lived the soldier John, a pious Christian. When the persecution started, he went to Jerusalem and there he heard about St Cyrus. He began to search for him, going first to Alexandria and then to Arabia. When St John finally found St Cyrus, he remained with him and became his faithful follower.

They learned of the arrest of the Christian woman Athanasia and her three young daughters. Theoctiste was fifteen; Theodota, was thirteen; and Eudoxia, was eleven. Sts Cyrus and John hastened to the prison to help them. They were concerned that faced with torture, the women might renounce Christ.

Sts Cyrus and John gave them courage to endure what lay before them. Learning of this, the ruler of the city arrested Sts Cyrus and John, and seeing their steadfast and fearless confession of faith in Christ, he brought Athanasia and her daughters to witness their torture. The tyrant did not refrain from any form of torture against the holy martyrs. The women were not frightened by the sufferings of Sts Cyrus and John, but courageously continued to confess Christ. They were flogged and then beheaded, receiving their crowns of martyrdom.

At the same place they executed the Holy Unmercenaries Cyrus and John. Christians buried their bodies in the church of the holy Evangelist Mark. In the fifth century the relics of Sts Cyrus and John were transferred from Canopis to Manuphin. Later on their relics were transferred to Rome, and from there to Munchen (Munich)

My main aim in this post is not to criticise or defend any particular method of organising health services, but rather to suggest that Christians should approach such issues with the mind of Christ, as manifested in the lives of the Holy Unmercenary doctors, and not with the mind of Mammon, as expounded by the followers of the false prophet Ayn Rand.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. byztex permalink
    1 July 2009 4:39 pm

    Great post. Reposted on my blog.

  2. 1 July 2009 8:06 pm

    A very well put post. The concept of profit from healthcare is one that doesn’t sit well with me.

    The side issue of keeping the spiritual from the public in matters of debate underscores a sometimes hidden bigotry that we must deal with through love and patience.

    Someone put it rather well for me once. Freedom of religion is indeed a freedom but freedom from religion is a suppression of freedom.

    Sometimes what is unsaid reveals the purpose.

  3. Dana Ames permalink
    1 July 2009 9:01 pm

    fyi, since you’ll be reading about this issue a lot…

    Medicaid is a generic term that refers to the publically subsidized programs of the individual states that reimburse doctors & hospitals for their care of the indigent. HMOs (health maintenance organizations) are insurance companies that contract with specific doctors & hospitals for specific charges, theoretically to keep costs down; if you are a member of an HMO, you must get care from one of the contracted entities, or the insurance company doesn’t pay the charges.

    Don’t comment much, but have read faithfully for a long time. I was received into Orthodoxy on Pentecost.
    in California

  4. rwp permalink
    1 July 2009 10:41 pm

    The saints gave their services of their own free will. That is entirely different from forcing doctors with the force of government to give their services free. The former is charity; the latter is theft.

    • 2 July 2009 5:50 am


      That begs the question, or perhaps evades it.

      • rwp permalink
        2 July 2009 3:55 pm

        No, it does not evade anything, since this is a disingenuous article (that’s a nice way of saying the author is lying) by first stating that the purpose is not to shill for communism, then set up Ayn Rand as a straw man. This is nothing more than an apology for communist policies dressed up as “Christianity.”

        Thou shalt not steal.
        Thou shalt not covet.

        This article strongly supports the former based upon the latter.

        • 2 July 2009 5:42 pm

          well, you think the post is disingenuous, and I think your comment was disingenuous, because nowhere in my post did I suggest that doctors should be forced by governments to give their services for free.

          • 2 July 2009 9:32 pm

            What a great job of propagandizing the American corporate culture has done! This idea – that someone is forcing rather well-off people to do something, and that that is the same as theft – commonly pops up from those beguiled by corporatism into its defense.

            Our Lord continually sought out those who were unable to provide for themselves. He insisted that “the nations” would be judged by their care for the poor and disenfranchised in the parable of the sheep and the goats.

            Yet somehow, to suggest that our nation should do what he commands becomes a communist threat. How very far we are from the values of the Kingdom of God!

            In Palestine then and around the world today, it is the poor who are forced to live desperately and die young. They have no bank account from which to buy medications, no store-bought voice on Capitol Hill to influence policy, no IRAs or HMOs or CDs or 401Ks or rich CEOs; no retirement, no braces for the kids, no maternal healthcare, no fresh-food grocery, no business-buying tax loopholes, little safety, terrible schools, high infant mortality, and no way to get to work.

            “Take that, poor folks!” the right seems to say. How dare you manipulate our culture, robbing the rich!

  5. 1 July 2022 2:44 pm

    @Monte, it’s always interesting to note that the Right is accused for trying to run a theocracy, but your post indicates that the Left want to do the same thing.

    Co-opting our Lord to support our political and economical opinions is, I think, disingenuous. I’m reminded of the angel that met Joshua and, in response to Joshua’s question about which side the angel was on, the angel replied “neither” (Joshua 5).


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