Significance of the Anargyroi

The Eastern Orthodox Menaia still in use list over forty major and minor feasts associated with the Anargyroi group and at least four relating to the Theotokos as healer. Orthodox Christians in every country continue to dedicate churches and chapels in honour of the Anargyroi, commission their icons and name children after leading saints in this group. The Anargyroi remain central as a group to Orthodox ideas of sanctity and the teaching related to the Christian life in general. This is of great significance to the wider community as this is a model of sanctity entirely rooted in lay life and witness. Of course, medical practitioners in every society occupy a prestigious position but the Anargyroi are not all what we would term medical doctors. For instance, Tryphon of Lampsakos and Argyris the New Martyr are depicted as folk healers rather than medical doctors. Only a few of the Anargyroi are recorded as being bishops, priests or even monastics. They therefore form one of the major lay groups of saints and maintain a high profile in the church calendars, which are otherwise dominated by holy bishops, priests and monks or nuns.

It can be argued that the cult of the Anargyroi is a uniquely Eastern Christian phenomenon. Of course, relics of the Anargyroi are still enshrined in Catholic and Orthodox churches across Europe and the Near East. Many of the Anargyroi are individually commemorated in western calendars and as far back as 530 Pope Felix IV erected a church to honour a collection of relics, including those of Anargyroi, in Rome. John de Beaumont brought relics of the Anargyroi from Syrian Edessa (Sanli-Urfa) to Paris in the twelfth century. In the period of the crusades some of the Eastern Anargyroi became better known to western Christians - primarily through renewed contact with Eastern Christians and the removal of relics, icons etc. - but only as individual saints. The cult of a defined group of saints did not follow either the relics or returning crusaders to western Europe.

A closer examination of the various printed Menaia, Heortologia and calendars would undoubtedly reveal other related feasts. Manuscripts almost certainly contain further references to feasts no longer observed and, possibly, Lives of other Anargyroi figures that could compliment and enhance our view of this group of saints. However, it is unclear whether uncovering extra materials would increase the standing of the Anargyroi in the life of the Eastern Churches. Here the significance of the Anargyroi is underlined, above all, by their invocation during the Divine Liturgy. In the Byzantine rite it is customary to remember the Anargyroi during the Proskomide. In this context, at least the following are invoked by name: Kosmas and Damianos the Syrians, Kyros and John of Egypt, Panteleimon, Hermolaos and Diomedes of Nicaea and Sampson Xenodochos of Constantinople. Considering the centrality of the Divine Liturgy to Eastern Christian spirituality this can be taken as the ultimate proof of the recognized importance of the Anargyroi group in an Orthodox context. The lay status of the Anargyroi would further indicate that they illustrate an ideal of the Christian life that was viewed as more accessible to ordinary people.

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