BOOK PRESENTATION ON 5 JULY 2018

at the CHURCH HALL OF  Ss COSMAS AND DAMIAN, LONDON

by

Dr Dimitrios Skrekas, Dr Marinos Kyriakopoulos,

Revd Dr Chrysostom Tympas

jointly organised by the Helenic Medical Society  UK

and the our Church

The presentation of the recently published book

CHURCH OF ST COSMAS AND DAMIAN (ANARGYRE):

FIFTY YEARS OF HISTORY AND CHARITY, LONDON 2017

took place at the Church Hall and was attended by many people, parishioners, priests, medical doctors. 

Dr Demetrios Skrekas (PhD in Byzantine literature, Oxford), was the first invited speaker and unfolded his presentation of the book as following:

 

We are gathered here in order to present and celebrate the recently published book on the 50th anniversary of this very Parish and Church of St Cosmas and Damian in London. The book is written by the Very Revd Archimandrite Dr Chrysostom Tympas unter the title:

Ἱερὸς Ναὸς Ἁγίων Ἀναργύρων Κοσμᾶ καὶ Δαμιανοῦ: 

Πενήντα χρόνια Ἱστορίας καὶ Προσφορᾶς 1967-2017, Λονδῖνο 2017

          

The book unfolds the history of the church from its first foundation back in 1883 by the Catholic Apostolic Church to the present days. The church was initially named as Gordon House Chapel, the Kentish Town Horn Church in Gospel Oak, and belonged to the Catholic Apostolic Church, a separatist Church Protestant background, with some peculiar of millennium nature teachings about the imminent second advent of Christ. As such, it was functioning as a place of worship up until 1945. Then the church was leased to the Anglican local parish of St John the Baptist (Kentish Town) and remained as such until 1956. This period ended up with the newly formed then Greek community in 1967, which was housed initially as a tenant and finally became the owner.

 

            The author undoubtedly lives the history as ‘work in progress’. He had to conduct research and make use of various sources, such as RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects at Study Room at Victoria and Albert Museum) material from London Metropolitan Archives, the Camden Archives, Islington Local History, the Greek Archdiocesan Archives, and a plethora of valuable information about those multifarious years (difficult yet thriving) of the local Greek Community evolved around St Anargyre Church. Not only that, but the book contains also the original drawings of the church which were discovered initially in the webpage of RIBA collections in V & A Museum, and then have been studied in situ.The result is but a visually appealing book which is a pleasure to read. 

 

                        The book is divided into four chapters: 

 

  1. The first one deals with the prehistory of the Church of St Anargyre (namely its pre-orthodox past). It then narrates how the church building was obtained by the Greek Orthodox community, its first difficult steps – the building was “in a disgusting state … in an unusable state … needs considerable repairs” (p. 76, fn. 65);the period of flourishing and prosperity and the time of Consecration of the Church by the then Archbishop Athenagoras Kokkinakis (pp. 37-144). An interesting presentation of the Service of Consecration of a Church is given on pp. 112-115; 

  2. The second chapter has to do with the 30 years’ old efforts of the parishioners to purchase a land adjacent to the church building and their considerable efforts to erect an additional building which houses both the church hall and some flats. (pp. 147-197); 

  3. The third chapter narrates the recent years and their achievements: from the further beautification of the church building and the various spiritual and other activities which are carried out. (pp. 199-296); 

  4. The fourth chapter deserves a separate analysis as it refers to the Vitae, namely the Lives of the Holy Unmercenaries and their various pairs: 3 namesake pairs, i.e., Cosmas and Damian, one from Asia, another from Arabia, another one from Rome. To these, we shall add all the other names, given on p. 299. This will be the topic of our author, Fr Chrysostomos, tonight. (pp. 297-353). 

 

As a University thesis, the book ends with some really important conclusions: The pivotal role of the Church of the Greek Orthodox Holy Saints in Camden; their cooperation and considerable help they offered to the then newly parish, as an example of Christian sorority; the vision of the Archbishop Athenagoras and the members of the Parish Council lead by the President up until his very recent death (30 May 2018) at the age of 93, Andreas Avgousti. The author is a priest, so he is allowed to interpret and discern all this turbulent history from the Catholic Apostolic Church to the Greek Orthodox Church as God’s plan so that the Christian tradition of this London neighborhood continues in its authentic form. 

            There are also lessons we shall learn from the past: This very prospect of ‘harnessing the experience gained related to the sustainability in the future is, in fact, the major challenge for the next generations of our communities’ (p. 356). The author refers to the failed attempt to build a Greek Orthodox Church in London in Soho, back in 1677. The main factors for this failure were due to ensued misunderstandings and confusions of the key terms such as: leasehold-freehold; ecclesiastical jurisdiction; public relations and sustainability. In the words of the Archbishop Gregorios in a message as archbishop in-charge, of his pre-predecessor, Athenagoras Kokkinakis:‘This very holy memorial for the reposed will be for us to work in concord and love for the Church, the School, the youth, to all those that our late Archbishop spent all his life’ (p. 358). This is part if not the very essence of the ‘Thyateira Spirit’, as it is presented in another recent book: Charis Mettis, ΤοπνεύματωνΘυατείρων, London 2018. Finally, in the Appendix there are photographic reproductions of valuable Archival material, as well as from the Church’s life. 

 

            To sum up, this is an important book, perhaps the first of its kind. Quite often we have disiecta membra (with various similar books appearing every now and then, especially to mark particular celebratory occasions), but as yet a comprehensive history of the Greek Archdiocese in Great Britain has not been written and remains an urgent desideratum. This publication will undoubtedly enhance such an enterprise, for it is a valuable source for further research on the topic as it sheds light on this unknown history behind the formation of one active and thriving community in London. We can also easily discern that this is a work of considerable scholarship, which came as a result of meticulous research carried out in various places, since it is primarily based on archival sources and on personal research alike. Finally, the publication deserves an English translation and at some points needs updating. For example, the Greek school which was opened in 1971-1972, closed between 1984-2017, but was resumed soon after the publication of the book (2017).

Dr Marinos Kyriakopoulos (Child Psychiatrist, PhD), our second invited speaker, in turn opened up into theological realms, by referring to the spirit of philanthropy behind of the paradigm of the Saints and the relationship between Medicine and the Church. 

 

 

Medicine and the Church: The example of St Anargyre

 

The disposition of the Eastern Orthodox Church towards medicine has always been very positive, as means to console, reduce pain, and express love to fellow human beings. Saints of the Church who practiced medicine did not restrict it to the alleviation of suffering but were also interested in the restoration of the man, in “σωτηρία”, which etymologically means rendering someone whole, “σώον”. According to this tradition, the man’s existential fragmentation was caused by the disruption of his relationship with God, the result of which was described using medical terminology as an “illness” of the human nature associated with decay and death. The Church, established through the incarnation of the divine Logos, was set to abolish death and offer eternal Life.

 

This goal was closely linked to philanthropy.  Philanthropy, "φιλανθρωπία", means love for the man (from the words φιλώ- love and άνθρωπος- man). Within early Christian communities, philanthropy, targeting both the material and the spiritual needs of people, was exercised. The work and legacy of saints who practiced medicine need be examined within this context. Several of them were accomplished scientists and clinicians of their time, who sacrificed their social status in order to serve others with humbleness. This service was without payment (without them accepting money, “αργύρια”) and as a result they were called St Anargyre (Holy Unmercenaries). In addition, they strived to restore the relationship between man and God, the only way to escape decay and death. 

 

St Anargyre were inspired by immeasurable compassion and love for the man in pain. They set the benefit and health of others above their own needs and fame and served them with self-sacrifice and dedication. This went beyond the understandable and acceptable practice of receiving material rewards for their service. In addition, they maintained their humility despite their achievements. They viewed medicine as the most important human assistance for those in pain but did not idolise it, always relating it to love, willingness to offer, and hope, in reference to God. This way, they kept away from arrogance and hybris. Finally, they viewed the man as a psychosomatic entity. In accordance with the Church’s theological tradition, other than attending to the man’s physical illness, related to decay as a consequence of separation from God, they wanted to address its cause.

At the end, father Chrysostom extended the talk into the lives of Ss Cosmas and Damian and some new developments that arise from recent evidences and research. 

 

He firstly referred to some meaningful coincidences that signify the importance of this Church as a site of both spiritual and medical care:

 

  1. On the 5th of November 1978 at this Church the  ELLINIKI IATRIKI ETAIREIA was founded by the late Archbishop Athinagoras Kokkinakis and some of eminent doctors of the then Greek community to establish a Medical Association to help Greek local people. This occurred few years before the foundation of the modern association of Greek doctors in the UK, the «Hellenic Medical Society». It is an evidence that the local Orthodox Church shows a great interest to the medical society and by extension the medical care of the community (and that is what exactly our Saints Cosmas and Damian did)

  2. The UCL Chapel in Gordon Square, was built by the Catholic Apostolic Church, at the heart of University College of London, as a symbolic place where Science and Church meet each other, is still ‘historically’ the mother Church of our smaller Church (the Catholic Apostolic Church currently does not exist, as they declined after claiming the unforeseen second advent of Christ in 1905). This daughter church was meant to be transformed into an Orthodox Church, under the name of St Cosmas and Damian, who were the iconic figures of the relationship of the Early Christian Church with the then scientific world. 

  3. Despite the fact that within the area of Camden Borough were already founded two bigger Greek communities, it was the vision of the Archbishop Athinagoras and of course the ‘mystical will’ of the Saints Cosmas and Damian to establish at the heart of the London Greek Community another smaller Church, but with a greater mission, to convey the message of spiritual and physical therapy to the people through the life in Christ and His grace. 

 

Coming now to the lives and miraculous works of the Saints, they confirm in a sound manner the transformation of ancient practices of treatment to an anew means of therapy, that of without money. Modern researchers conclude that Ss Cosmas and Damian took the place of the ancient Greek God of medicine Asklepios. The old habit of ill people to spend a night in prayer into the specific sites of Askepieon (experiencing a kind of incubation), gave place to the Churches as sanctuaries of the Saints Cosmas and Damian. At some places still, people spend the whole night at the yard of a Church dedicated to these Saints in order to find healing of their problems.  

 

As for the intriguing issue of having three pairs of Saints with the names of Cosmas and Damian in our orthodox tradition (1st July, Vita Romana, 17 October Vita Arabia, 1st November, Vita Asia), some of the recent developments could be summurised as following (details at the Chapter 4 of the book, and full bibliography):

 

  1. The earliest evidences we have today about Ss Cosmas and Damian are references by ecclesiastical writers or lives of other Saints down to middle 5thcentury as well as few Syriac manuscripts of 5th and 6th century. 

  2. All sources mention one pair from Middle Asia/Arabia, who lived in late 3rd and early 4th century and buried in Fereman, close to the today Hallepo in Syria.

  3. Other evidences based on historical documents indicate a strong dissimination of their biographies as well as the contruction of Churches dedicated to their names in Chyrrus (Κύρος, Syria), Constantinople, Rome and elsewhere. There are some discrepancies and controversies which cannot be logically explained, e.g. in Rome inscriptions refer to the Vita Arabic (why not to the Vita Romana) and in Constantinople to the Vita Romana and not that of Asia-Arabia…). Important to say that before any confirmation of the lives of the Saints, many Churches and legends spread throughout the then known world up until the 9th century.

  4. The confirmation of lives and services of the Saints took place very lately, only in the 9th century in Byzantium, by the then Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople Methodius, but he just confirmed the hitherto traditions, not being able to research himself what happened before five or six centuries at the real time in which the Saints lived. 

  5. The Catholic Church recognises only one pair of the Saints, that from Asia–Arabia (their feast on 26–7 of September, vs on 17 October in Orthodox Calendar).

 

The same confusion between different versions of the lives of the Saints occurred in other biographies e.g. the lives of the Saints Theodore of Tyro and Theodore the General (Stratilatis), or Saint George who helped people to find lost items and Saint Phanourios (these case have been looked at thoroughly by modern researchers and professors of Hagiology, that indicate the similarity, rather merging of their biographies). After all these, we might suggest that the possibility of just one existed pair of Saints with different versions of lives (within different places and time) is extremely possible. We thus need some further investigation and research to establish a more precise life of the Saints Cosmas and Damian. 

 

Whatever the facts, the most important validation of the existence and historical proof of the lives of the Saints is the global radiation of their wondrous, their recognition as the patrons of many early Medical Schools and Universities (not to mention the first globally reference of a human limb transplantation, occurred miraculously in Rome in the 6th century) as well as the constant intervention of their grace into the lives of many Christians in miraculous ways (see similar occurrences in our Church at the last Chapter of the book).

 

Our Church has the privilege of displaying a mosaic of the Saints Cosmas and Damian on the façade, which conveys the spirit of divine philanthropy at the heart of London on the name of these Saints and of course that of the original source of their therapeutic power, Christ our true God. It is the same Church at which in 2015 another significant meeting took place within the broader activities of the Network of Pastoral Health Care of the Ecumenical Patriarchate (www.pastoralhealth-ep.com), which provides spiritual and pastoral care to orthodox Churches worldwide.

 

 

At the end, the ladies of the committee as usual offered a rich buffet to all guests and the discussions on the occasion went on in small groups of people inside and outside the Hall.