Another Saint Cosmas

Our parish is dedicated to St. Cosmas of Aitolia, Equal-to-the Apostles and missionary in Greece and Albania, but there are several other saints bearing the name of Cosmas. One of these is celebrated on October 14th (October 12th in the Russian usage) and is well-known to most chanters. He is St. Cosmas the Melodist or Hymnographer.

St. Cosmas was born in the latter part of the seventh century in Jerusalem, but was orphaned when he was a young child. A pious and well-off couple of high rank from Damascus adopted him and brought him up together with their own son. These were the kind parents of St. John of Damascus, who was also an hymnographer and theologian. In another act of kindness, John’s father ransomed a well-educated monk who had been captured and enslaved by the Arabs, and this man became the boys’ tutor. (We will include the life of St. John of Damascus in the December bulletin, since his feast day is December 4th. One of the hymns by St. John that we all know well is the Paschal Canon beginning, “It is the day of Resurrection, let us be radiant, O ye peoples; Pascha, the Lord’s Pascha!”)

St. Cosmas, and later St. John, both left Damascus and became monks at the Monastery of St. Sabbas in the Kedron Valley (founded by St. Sabbas in 485). Here St. Cosmas helped St. John in his work composing the Octoechos, and they both wrote epistles against the iconoclast heresy, which had been begun by the Byzantine Emperor Leo III the Isaurian about 725-730 AD.

In his latter years, St. Cosmas was elected Bishop of Maiuma, a coastal city of Palestine, where he tended his flock in peace for the remainder of his long life.

St. Cosmas is known for the many troparia and poetic canons he wrote, especially to honor the Great Feasts of the Lord. The Holy Spirit gave him the gift of expressing the theological teachings of the Fathers in hymns that are accessible and understandable to all the faithful. Along with St. John and other hymnographers of the Church, in the hymns written for his own feast day, he is called the “harp of the Spirit.”

Altogether, fourteen canons are attributed to St. Cosmas. One that we are particularly familiar with is the first Canon for the Nativity of Christ that we chant frequently during the pre- and post-festal periods. It was based on a sermon by St. Gregory the Theologian and begins, “Christ is born, give ye glory.”  His best-known hymn is “More honorable than the Cherubim…” which is the longer and older part of “It is truly meet,” chanted regularly at Matins, the Divine Liturgy, and other sacred services. The first part of this hymn (“It is truly meet to call thee blest, the Theotokos and ever-blessed and all-immaculate and Mother of our God”), according to tradition, was revealed by the Archangel Gabriel to a monk on Mount Athos.

St. Cosmas the Hymnographer outlived St. John by many years and reposed in great old age when he was about 100 years old. He has left the Church a wonderful legacy of beautiful and artistic hymns. Glory be to God!