One of the most important individuals to appear among the Greek people during the period they were subject to the Ottoman Turks was a diminutive monk named Kosmas. Because he was a native of the province of Aitolia in western Greece, he is best known as Kosmas the Aitolian, although among the people of his time he was known simply as Father Kosmas. His love, concern and tireless labor among ordinary people, his honest and forthright preaching, his unassuming character, his uncompromising love for and dedication to Christ Jesus earned for him the titles: “equal to the apostles, teacher of the Greek nation” and “apostle to the poor.”
Father Kosmas was born in a mountain village named “Great Tree” in 1714 to parents who hailed from Epiros but had moved to the province of Aitolia seeking work as weavers. He lived and worked with his parents until the age of 20, when he left home to pursue an education. Father Kosmas studied Greek, theology and even medicine –- this later proving very useful to him during his ministry among the poor and often illiterate mountain people he was eventually to serve. He entered the monastery of Philotheou on Mount Athos where he remained for 17 years. There Father Kosmas was to be ordained deacon and then priest. Convinced that he had been called to leave the monastery to preach, he sought the blessing of the then Ecumenical Patriarch Sophronios II, who appointed him “Preacher to the Nation.” For the next 19 years, beginning in 1760, Father Kosmas became an itinerant preacher and teacher, spending most of his time among the poorest and most unfortunate of his fellow Orthodox Christians in the Ottoman Empire. Traveling on foot, by donkey and by ship, often followed by hundreds and even thousands of people, Father Kosmas – like the Apostle Paul – undertook three apostolic journeys throughout the Ottoman-controlled Mediterranean world.
Father Kosmas spoke out against social injustices, against the abuse of the poor and uneducated and against the inequities that existed between men and women. He was an ardent enemy of illiteracy and was instrumental in establishing and maintaining over 200 schools in villages where none had existed before. Village elders, landowners and merchants felt their interests threatened when Father Kosmas called for just taxation, fair prices and equitable rents.
Standing on a low pulpit – a gift from one of the local Turkish officials – in front of a large wooden cross in the center of each village he would enter, Father Kosmas challenged people to love and to translate this love into effective and meaningful assistance to those in need. Merely agreeing verbally that love was important was meaningless for Father Kosmas unless one was willing to prove it with deeds. In sermons which were sometimes written down by his followers, Father Kosmas would directly challenge his listeners to prove their faith with works. In one such sermon, he challenged one of his listeners: “How can I determine, my son, whether or not you love your brethren as the Gospel commands? Do you love that poor boy standing next to you? The reply was: “Yes, I do.” Father Kosmas then answered: “If you loved him you would buy him a shirt because he is naked. Will you do this?” The man’s response: “Yes!”
On August 24, 1779 Father Kosmas was arrested in the city of Berat, Albania by the local Ottoman governor, Kurt Pasha. After a mock trial in secret – for fear of his followers – Father Kosmas was taken to the nearby village of Kalinkotasi, where he was hung. His body was thrown into a nearby river from which it was retrieved by one Mark, the priest of the village. Father Kosmas was buried out of the church of the village in which he was hanged.
The people whom Father Kosmas loved and served did not wait for any official proclamation of his sanctity – this was proclaimed by the Ecumenical Patriarchate in April, 1961 – but built their first church in his honor in the city of Berat in 1814. Father Kosmas was to become over the next two centuries one of the most popular saints among the Greek and Albanian peoples.
The Preaching of Saint Kosmas
The Names of God
“The most gracious and merciful God , my brethren, has many and various names. He is called Light, Life and Resurrection. But God’s principal name is Love. If we wish to live well here and also to go to paradise and call God our loving Father, we should have two loves: love for God and love for our neighbor. It is natural for us to have these two loves and unnatural for us not to have them. And just as a swallow needs two wings to fly in the air, so we need these two loves, for without them it is impossible for us to be saved.”
God Created Women Equal to Men
“When God made man, He took a rib from Adam and made woman and he gave her to him as a companion. God created her equal with man and not inferior.”
“There are many women who are better than men. If perhaps you men wish to be better than women, you must do better works than they do. If women do better works they go to paradise and we men who do evil works go to hell. What does it profit us if we are men; it would be better if we were not born.”
“Perfect love is to sell all your possessions and to give alms, and even to sell yourself as a slave, and whatever you get to give in alms.”
“If we want to be saved, we must have love for God and love for our neighbor. If we wish to be saved, we must seek no other thing here in this world as much as love.”
“Have love for one another, rich and poor. Whatever you give to the poor for the love of God, you’ll received a hundred times over from Christ. God has not given us wealth in order that we might eat and drink to excess and buy costly clothes and build stately houses while the poor die of starvation. Alms, love and fasting sanctify a person, they enrich him physically and spiritually and he’ll have a good end. We shall all die—as we see happens every day–and whatever we possess, my brother’s and sisters, we leave behind. It is only what we give away, the alms we give, that will help our souls.”
“If you have one hundred sins and confess ninety-nine to the confessor and hide one, all of your sins are unforgiven. It is when you commit a sin that you should be ashamed, but when you confess you should feel no shame.”
The Holy Scriptures
“Blessed Christians, a large number of churches neither preserve nor strengthen our faith as much as they should if those who believe in God aren’t enlightened by both the Old and New Testaments. Our faith wasn’t established by ignorant saints, but by wise and educated saints who interpreted the holy Scriptures accurately and who enlightened us sufficiently by inspired teachings.”
– SAINT OF GOD, PRAY FOR US! —