Saint Kosmas Aitolos (1714-1779) Feast Day on the 24th August

SAINT  KOSMAS AITOLOS


Seventeen centuries after St. Paul journeyed across Greece, a solitary man of God travelled the same country from border to border, sea to sea, and island to island in a magnificent religious spirit, which strengthened the fires of Christianity and the flickering hopes of a nation, that was straining under the yoke of Turkish occupation after nearly four centuries of brutality. This rare specimen of Hellenic Christianity was a man, named Kosmas, a man whose devotion to God and country brought about a resurgence of the Christian Spirit of Greece and anticipated the revolution which was to cleanse the proud country with which it had long been infested by the oppression of the adversaries. Hence, his supreme importance in the moral and religious awakening of his country played an important role during the second half of the eighteen century.

ST KOSMAS: THE MONK

In the year 1749, Kosmas had enrolled in the theological academy of Mount Athos to further enhance his theological studies.

However, not long after, he was influenced by the monastic habit and at the age of forty five he was tonsured a monk and from Konstas he was given the name Kosmas: ‘Kosmas left the academy and entered the monastery of Philotheou where he became a monk.’[1]

Over a seventeen year period monk Kosmas was committed to prayer and obedience and it was at this monastery where he was ordained as a priest. According to one of his teachings, Kosmas encourages and supports those that seek to take up the monastic calling: ‘and when your sons wish to become monks don’t prevent them from doing so, but rejoice because they are following the good road.’[2]

After a long period of monastic living, he was called to the spiritual needs of the world, however he did not forsake his monastic routine from the monastery, he was to transfer it in the world: ‘a monk does not deny his ministry and calling to the world when it demands the salvation of others.’[3] For this reason many ascetics and monastic’s ended up becoming bishops throughout Christianity as St. Kosmas once said: ‘let Christ lose one of his sheep in order to save many others.’[4] After a long period of monastic living, he was called to the spiritual needs of the world, however he did not forsake his monastic routine from the monastery, he was to transfer it in the world.

ST KOSMAS: THE TEACHER/PREACHER

Having felt the vocation to go out into the world to help his countrymen revitalise their spirituality, St. Kosmas would leave the monastery with the blessing of Patriarch Sophronios II (1757-1761): ‘he felt by God to undertake the mission of regenerating his fellow Christians…he was willing to sacrifice himself for the salvation of his brethren.’[5] With the blessing of the Patriarch, St. Kosmas was appointed as the preacher of the nation. For the next twenty years Kosmas would travel throughout mainland Greece and the Dodecanese islands, preaching the fundamental principles of the Orthodox faith: ‘he addressed large audiences, mostly outdoors, explaining to them the basic doctrines of Eastern Orthodoxy.’[6] For this reason, Kosmas’ phronema had been distinguished  by the Greek nation similar to that of the apostles: ‘St. Kosmas is called equal to the Apostles (ισαπόστολος)[7] for his contribution to the spiritual awakening of the Greek people in the late eighteenth century.’[8]

St. Kosmas took on a unique way of addressing his preaching to huge flocks of listeners, he would stand upon  a small  stool and position a wooden cross nearby and deliver his sermons: ‘the cross would be planted into the ground and a bench brought forward upon which he would stand to preach.’[9] His preaching consisted of eight volumes of teachings (διδαχαί)[10] involving various topics such as love, virginity, priesthood, education, creation and death, one such example comes from his fourth teaching involving the mourning of the dead:

O my brethren, don’t be sad for the dead, but if you love them, do everything you can for their souls: liturgies, memorial services, fasting, prayers and alms. All of you women who are wearing dirty clothes because of your dead, take them off because you harm yourselves and your dead. It is natural for a person to be born and die. We should cry when we are born and rejoice when we die.[11]

St. Kosmas’ preaching was exceedingly effective, it brought about an immediate and profound inner transformation to the hearts of his listeners: ‘among the factors  contributing to Kosmas’ enormous success as a preacher were his humility and his identification with the people among whom he moved and worked.’[12] As a preacher St. Kosmas spoke on a level that was simple and coherent for the people to comprehend, taking illustrations from the experiences and surroundings with which the people were familiar. The austerity of his character and the evangelical simplicity of his words brought about an inspiration and feeling of hope to many families. For this reason the Greek nation was to experience a spiritual revival led by the itinerant preaching of St. Kosmas.

ST KOSMAS: CONCERNING LOVE

St. Kosmas as a priest was dedicated in not only preaching the Gospel, but was committed in expressing it through his absolute love. Kosmas felt that since he fell in love with Christ he was willing to sacrifice his own life for the love of God: ‘I beseech my Christ to find me worthy to spill my blood for his love as he spilled his for my love.’[13]

For St. Kosmas everything would begin and end with God’s love. For this reason Kosmas on many times would demonstrate the notion of love when he counselled the people: ‘

If by chance you want to be saved, don’t ask for anything else in this world except for love. If there is anyone here among your nobility who has this love for his brethren, let them stand up and tell me.[14]

St. Kosmas believed that love was indispensable for the nurturing and communion of the people. He would urge the people to embrace and love one another like one of their own children: ‘if you wish to be saved you should love all the Christians as your children.’[15] Love by its nature is a resemblance of God, therefore in light of the above he who loves the Lord has first loved his brother, for the latter is the proof of the former.

ST KOSMAS: THE MISSIONARY

Not only had St. Kosmas been sprinkled with the grace of preaching, he was able to carry out missionary work across the Greek peninsula. His missionary endeavours would involve the establishment of Greek speaking schools, as education was one of his major contributions of his missionary work: ‘he encouraged the establishment of local schools for the study of the Orthodox Christian faith and the more archaic Greek of the scriptures and the Church.’[16] Furthermore, Kosmas was so dedicated to his task that he established numerous schools over two hundred towns: ‘Kosmas was persuasive enough that in over two hundred towns and villages he was instrumental in establishing schools where none existed before.’[17]

In one of his surviving letters, Kosmas addresses to the residents of Semitsa, the need of a school within their town:

I as an unworthy servant of God, my fellow Christians…I have come to your village and seeing that you have no school for your children to learn without paying, I urged the Christians and they gave according to their ability and will for the school…I beseech the Lord who blesses all things to bless your village, your school and your children and to find you worthy to live well. I appointed with consent…Mr Spyrou Athanasiou to govern the school as the Lord enlightens them.

Hieromonk Kosmas who prays for you.[18]

Moreover, St. Kosmas encouraged other ethnic communities to learn to speak the Greek language in order to understand the church services i.e. liturgy, baptisms and weddings: ‘he encouraged Albanian speaking communities to adopt Greek…they were prodded to learn Greek because of the church’s services were conducted in it and because the Gospel itself had been written in this language.’[19] Thus, it becomes clear the effort of his missionary work was in more ways than one a major impact to the nation. Another aspect of his missionary work involved giving to the poor alms and distributing many items that were of spiritual benefit for the soul of the people: ‘he gave away books by the church fathers, baptismal basins, prayer ropes and little crosses to the Christians.’[20] For this reason St. Kosmas’ invaluable and fundamental contribution to education through his missionary work had caused the Greek people to regard him as a national saint and a teacher of a nation.

ST KOSMAS: THE PROPHET

Throughout Kosmas’  ascetical and  ecclesial way of life, not only had  his teachings and missions play an important role that reflected his character, but also his prophecies became a wakeup call for both the Greek nation and its enemies. St. Kosmas had been given the gift of prophecy from above which are documented till the present day. These prophecies are documented within his teachings; many others have also been recorded by his listeners.’[21] Accordingly, the prophecies within his teachings have a relevance with biblical passages as to bring the Christians to a notion of repentance such as the following prophecy: ‘dear friends why are we delaying precious moments, either today or tomorrow the end of the world is at hand, for this reason be vigilant and correct oneself.’[22] Thus, it becomes clear that this prophecy is similar to that in the gospel of Matthew : ‘repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’ (Mt 3:2). Another portion of his prophecies have been handed down through tradition, there are over one hundred of these prophecies such as:

Out of schools will come things which your mind can’t imagine’, ‘you will see people flying in the sky like blackbirds and hurling fire on the earth. Those alive then will run to the graves and shout: come out you who are dead and let us who are living in.’[23]

From the above it is clear that Kosmas was referring to the fighter jets, employed during various wars throughout the centuries. Kosmas firmly preached on numerous accounts concerning the Antichrist and prophesised the independence of Greece from the hands of the Turks (τουρκοκρατεία): ‘he spoke often of Antichrist and the end of the world and predicted the freedom of Greece within three generations of the one then living.’[24] His prophecies in this regard stirred up the hopes of Greece and were one of the major factors that caused them to intensify their efforts at achieving Greece’s liberty and providing a glorious future.

In another of his striking prophecies, St Kosmas informs that the Christians should condemn the position  of the Pope since he will be the root of many ecclesiastical catastrophes: ‘You should curse the Pope, because he will be the cause.’[25] In light of this Archbishop Stylianos, in his book The Infallibility of the Church, would agree with such a prophecy for  he claims that the Pope has brought a lot of conflict and turmoil within the world: ‘ the Pope has become the worst person, a medieval Pope.’[26]

Moreover another of his prophecies concerns the reappearance of Elijah the prophet who had not encountered death during his lifetime, accordingly this  prophecy led many people to a state of repentance: ‘prophet Elijah had kept hidden, but alive by God for so many centuries, but was about to resurface to preside over the last phase of history.’[27] Kosmas brought a huge impact on the national and spiritual consciousness of the Greek people, they themselves saw in him a prophet and champion of their freedom. For this reason through Kosmas’ mystagogical lifestyle he became a dwelling place of God and through his pure intellect he was able to foresee the future as the present.

On 24 August 1779, Kosmas was to meet his death through the hands of the Turkish governor named Kurt Pasha. Kosmas had been imprisoned for his confession of faith for the one, Holy and apostolic church and was eventually hanged, his body was disposed by being thrown naked into a local river. Three days later his body was found by a certain priest named Fr. Markos and ever since his holy relics have been the result of many miracles.

Concluding remarks

As a man of many gifts, a monk, priest, preacher, missionary, prophet, isapostolos, elder, martyr, pioneer and saint, it is evident that the life and works of St. Kosmas were a beacon not only for his com-patriots, but for the entire world. His influence on tradition, faith and culture has been an inspiration to many to this present day. Having come to grips with the challenges of everyday life, he was convinced that he had to teach by example, carrying his own cross in the world in order to show us how to do the same. He adopted our concerns as his own and help reinforce the identity of the Greek people by in-scripting the tradition and faith into the spirit of a tormented nation. Hence, St. Kosmas has undeniably been recognized as one of the greatest Christian and national figures of post Byzantium.

E.K.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Cavarnos, Constantine. ‘Modern Orthodox Saints’ (series): St Kosmas Aitolos, Belmont 1971.

Cavarnos, Constantine. ‘St. Cosmas Aitolos’. St. Vladimir’s Seminary Quarterly 4 (1966): 189-194.

Lampe, G.W.H. A Patristic Greek Lexicon. Oxford: Oxford University Press & Clarendon Press, 1961.

Nicozisin, G. The Orthodox Church: A Well kept secret. A Journey through Church History, 1998.

Papadopoulos L.J. & Lizardos G. (transl.), New Martyrs of the Turkish Yoke, Seattle 1985.

Parry, K. et al. The Blackwell Dictionary of Eastern Christianity. Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers, 1999.

Σαρδέλη Κόστα, Ο Προφήτης του Γένους: Κοσμάς ο Αιτολός. Aθήναι: Αστήρ, 1980.

Scourtis, Constantina. ‘St Kosmas the Aetolian’. In Encyclopedia of Greece and the Hellinic Tradition. Edited by Graham Speake. London: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, 2000.

Stylianos, Archbishop. Unpublished Lecture Notes, 2009.

Vallianos, S. Pericles. ‘St. Kosmas Aitolos: faith as Practical Commitment’. The Greek Orthodox Theological Review 2 (1980): 172-185.

Vaporis, Michael. Father Kosmas: The Apostle of the Poor. Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1977.

Ware, T. Eustratios Argenti: A Study of the Greek Church under Turkish Rule. CA: Eastern Orthodox Books, 1974.


[1] Michael Vaporis, Father Kosmas: The Apostle of the Poor (Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1977), 4.

[2] Ibid.,  Third Didache, p. 54.

[3] Κόστα Σαρδέλη, Ο Προφήτης του Γένους: Κοσμάς ο Αιτολός (Aθήναι: Αστήρ, 1980), 120.

[4] Ibid., 120.

[5] Constantine Carvanos, ‘St. Cosmas Aitolos’, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Quarterly 4 (1966): 189.

[6] Ibid., 190.

[7] G.W.H. Lampe, ‘Ισαπόστολος’, in a Patristic Greek Lexicon (Oxford: Oxford University Press & Clarendon Press, 1961), 676.

[8] Constantina  Scourtis, ‘St Kosmas the Aetolian’, in Encyclopedia of Greece and the Hellinic Tradition, ed. Graham Speake (London: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, 2000), 910-911.

[9] Michael Vaporis, ‘Father Kosmas and the Gospel of Love’, The Greek Orthodox Theological Review 2 (1980): 166.

[10] Lampe, op. cit. (Note 5), 365.

[11] Vaporis., Fourth Didache, p. 69.

[12] Ibid., 5.

[13] Ibid., 165.

[14] Vaporis, op. cit. (Note 9), 166

[15] Ibid., 169.

[16] Scourtis., op.cit. (Note 8), 910.

[17] Vaporis., op. cit. (Note 1), 7.

[18] Vaporis., Eleventh Letter (Note 1), 156.

[19] Pericles, S. Vallianos, ‘St. Kosmas Aitolos: faith as Practical Commitment’, The Greek Orthodox Theological Review 2 (1980): 176.

[20] Carvanos, op. cit. (Note 3), 190.

[21] Κόστα Σαρδέλη, Ο Προφήτης του Γένους: Κοσμάς ο Αιτολός (Aθήναι: Αστήρ, 1980), 143.

[22] Ibid., 145.

[23] Vaporis, op. cit. (Note 1), 159-160.

[24] Scourtis, op. cit. (Note 8), 910-911.

[25] Vaporis., op. cit. (Note 1), 160.

[26] Archbishop Stylianos, Unpublished lecture Notes, Dogmatic Theology, 26-3-09.

[27] Pericles, S. Vallianos, ‘St. Kosmas Aitolos: faith as Practical Commitment’, The Greek Orthodox Theological Review 2 (1980): 172.

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