We make many promises in our lives. Sometimes we give our word that we will do something; sometimes we sign our name agreeing to the terms of a contract; sometimes we shake hands to make a bargain.
We use our right hands in different ways as we make promises. In court we raise our right hands to promise to tell the truth. We pledge, or promise, allegiance to the flag by placing our right hands over our hearts. And we use our right hands to take the sacrament and renew our promises made at baptism. The right hand can be a reminder to do right things and to keep our promises.
Love Fails Not
Damon hurried along the cold stone passageway beneath the castle. He was looking for his friend Pythias, who had been arrested by the king’s soldiers. Damon searched among the prisoners until he found Pythias, who was chained in a dim corner of the dungeon.
“Why did they bring you here, my friend?” asked Damon.
Pythias reached his hand between the narrow bars to touch his childhood friend. “I am accused of being a rebel,” Pythias answered. “But I did nothing.”
The two young men did not hear the outer door open as the king entered the dungeon. He stood listening to the boys talk.
“How can I help you?” asked Damon. “Shall I go to your parents and comfort them?”
“If only I could see them again … , ” said Pythias. “If only I could say farewell to them … then I would return again to prison.”
The king laughed aloud. “So, you would come back to die if I would release you to say good-bye to your parents?” the monarch asked skeptically.
“I would come back,” Pythias said simply. “I promise that I would come back.”
“How do I know that you would keep your promise?” roared the king. His eyes glared.
Damon stood before the king. “Let me stay here in his place. Pythias has always kept his word. You may execute me if he does not keep his promise.”
The king could not believe his ears. This would be an interesting story to tell—a boy willing to risk his life for the promise of a friend. “I will grant your wish, Pythias,” said the king, “if Damon will take your place.” And so it was. Pythias was released, and Damon was chained in his friend’s place.
Many days passed. The king came to the prison to taunt Damon. “You will die for your friend—he has not kept his promise!” jeered the king. “Pythias always keeps his word,” replied Damon calmly.
Finally the day of the execution arrived. Many people came to mock the boy who had entrusted his life to his friend. “We told you that he would not return,” they jeered.
“He will come if he can,” Damon said. “It is a long way, and he will come if he—”
“Here he comes!” shouted a soldier. “Pythias has returned!”
Damon smiled as Pythias rushed to take his place. Storms and misfortune had delayed him, and Pythias could hardly breathe after his hard run. “I made it, Damon!” he panted.
“I knew that you would,” his friend replied.
The king was amazed. Never had he known that there could be such friendship and loyalty. His heart softened, and he said, “Go, Damon and Pythias. Go back to your homes. Keeping your promise has set you free.” Then the king turned to the crowd and said, “I would give all my wealth to have one such friend.” (Adapted from “Love Fails Not,” Sharing Time Resource Manual, page 57.)
The Greek theater at Syracuse in Sicily
According to the Greek story, Damon and Pythias grew up in Sicily, and they were always best friends. One day when the two of them were visiting the city of Syracuse Pythias said some things against the king of Syracuse, and the king got very angry. The king had Pythias arrested and he was going to kill Pythias (PIH-thee-ahs).
Pythias said, “Couldn’t I just go home and tell my family what happened and get ready before I am killed?” But the king said, “Oh sure, like you would ever come back again to be killed.” Damon said, “I will stay with you while Pythias goes home to say goodbye. If he doesn’t come back, you can kill me instead.” The king couldn’t believe anyone would trust their friend so much. He thought this was really dumb. But he agreed to let Pythias go. He was supposed to be back in one month. If he wasn’t back by the end of the month, the king would kill Damon instead.
Pythias went home, and said goodbye to his family, and left to come back to the city and be killed. He wouldn’t leave Damon to be killed! But on the way back, his ship was attacked by pirates. Pythias tried to explain to the pirates that it was really important for him to get to Sicily, but they just threw him overboard. Pythias swam to shore, but then he didn’t have any money or a horse or any way of getting back to Damon. He was so worried that Damon would be killed! He started to run as fast as he could towards the king’s palace.
Meanwhile the king was telling Damon, “See! Pythias has abandoned you. I told you he’d never come back.” But Damon knew his friend would never leave him to be killed. Damon knew Pythias would come back to be killed himself.
A Greek ship with a man standing on deck
On the last day, the king had Damon tied up and took him outside into the courtyard of the palace to be killed. But Damon was still not worried. He knew Pythias would come. And sure enough, just as Damon was about to be killed, Pythias came running in. He was filthy dirty and his clothes were all in rags from swimming in the ocean. And he had lost his shoes and had to run barefoot the whole way, and his feet were all bloody. But he was so happy to have come on time! He cried out, “See! I have come back. Let Damon go! I am ready to be killed now.” And he put his own head on the block.
But the king was so impressed by this great friendship that he did not kill Pythias after all. Instead, he kept both the friends at his court so they could give him good advice.
(We know this story from Cicero, and from a book by a Roman named Valerius Maximus, called De Amicitiae Vinculo (On the Chains of Friendship), from about 25 AD)