Saint of the Day: St. Cosmas of Aitolia

(Welcome to our Saint of the Day series! Each weekday, we present you with an excerpt from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints series, published by Holy Cross Orthodox Press. Today we commemorate the prophet Samuel, whose account is found in Volume 3 of the series.)

Saint Kosmas of Aitolia

Seventeen centuries after the eminent St. Paul traveled across Greece, a solitary man of God traversed the same country from border to border, sea to sea, and island to island in a magnificent religious tour de force which stoked the fires of Christianity and the flickering hopes of a people straining under the yoke of oppression and despairing of a return to their ancient culture after nearly four centuries of brutality. This rare specimen of Hellenic Christianity was 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 this proud country of the oppressors with which it had too long been infested.

At a time when the Christian Church had been splintered into innovating and renovating factions which eyed each other with suspicion, Kosmas was a welcome throwback to the days of the original apostles who conceived only one Church of Jesus Christ and were not so much concerned with the wording of a sentence as they were with kneeling in prayer. The likes of Kosmas may be another seventeen centuries in coming, because he was not only a priest but a prophet, scholar, patriot and miracle-worker as well, and each of these to a degree that merited sainthood.

The beginnings of Kosmas were inauspicious enough: he hailed from a village called Mega Dendron, Aitolia, where he was born in 1714, the son of a simple weaver whose wife was extremely devout and who undoubtedly influenced her son in his selection of a religious career. He was baptized Konstas and attended public schools, thereafter to be tutored by a family friend, Archdeacon Ananias. After spending some time as a teacher, Konstas decided to a end a school at the Monastery of Vatopedi on the Holy Mountain of Athos, after which he entered the Monastery of Philotheou, where he was tonsured a monk and given the name Kosmas. In rapid succession he became a deacon and then priest.

Kosmas had made up his mind to do missionary work, and he could think of no better place to do so than in his homeland, particularly in the remote corners of the rugged peninsula where the lack of churches and flight from persecution had dimmed the light of Christianity. He was determined to revitalize the Christian spirit of every isolated village of Greece and to bring back to the forlorn the age-old Hellenic pride which the Muslims had ground into the dust. He prevailed upon Patriarch Seraphim II to give him carte blanche to travel wherever he might be needed for whatever period of time necessary for his mission, and as a preacher at large was given a patriarchal blessing to carry out his noble purpose without interference and with complete independence of action.

In some of the more remote villages, where no priest had been seen for years, Kosmas found adults who had not been baptized, a situation which he remedied and which gave him added impetus in his crusade. When word of his valiant missionary zeal reached his old monastery, one of his fellow monks saw fit to make public Kosmas’ prophetic powers. Some of his prophecies the people of the time could not comprehend, for Kosmas is not only on record as having predicted that people would be able to converse with each other even though they were miles apart (the telephone), but he also foresaw in the eighteenth century that man would devise a means of flying, and while in flight unleash a powerfully destructive force.

Over a period of twenty-five years of undiminished zeal, Kosmas traveled not only throughout Greece and its beautiful islands, but even journeyed through neighboring Albania. His prodigious feats in the name of the Lord included the founding of over two hundred schools, charitable institutions and small churches in rural areas where itinerant priests could conduct the sacred liturgies as often as possible. Wherever he preached he had a habit of planting a cross, as a result of which his crosses dotted the countryside and served as reminders to passersby that somebody cared what happened to them and that God had not forsaken them.

Kosmas had trod on some Muslim toes, and in the area of Ioannina he was arrested on spurious charges of conspiracy, found guilty, and hanged on August 24, 1779. On April 21, 1961 he was made a saint – although he had been revered as one since his death – in ceremonies presided over by the late Patriarch Athenagoras, who had always admired the gallant Kosmas.

Text from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints. Image from Wikipedia. 

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