“With odes let us acclaim renowned Cosmas, who gloriously excelled among the choirs of martyrs, priests, and ascetics. And let us gather in praise of his memory, for he dispenseth healing to them that have recourse to him with faith; since, as an equal of the Apostles, he hath boldness before Christ.”
— Troparion to St. Cosmas of Aitolia
The great Orthodox missionary St. Cosmas of Aitolia is the patron saint of our church. Like a second St. Paul, he went about northern Greece and Albania preaching about the true Faith. With reason he was called “equal to the Apostles.”
St. Cosmas was born in Aitolia in 1714 and was martyred by the Turks in Albania in 1779 at the age of 65.
Even before he became a monk, St. Cosmas lived in a pure and ascetic manner. He began his adult life as a teacher, so we see that even from the beginning God was preparing him to teach and instruct souls. But very few monks become teachers, since after all, it is the vocation of a monk to remain in obedience in his monastery and to learn stillness and practice prayer.
But God chose St. Cosmas to do an unusual thing—to go out into the world again. He did an unusual thing because it was an unusual time. Greece had been under the Turkish yoke for over 300 years, and the Christians had fallen into great ignorance and malaise with regard to the Faith. In northern Greece, in particular, some of them had begun to adopt the Turkish customs and language and sometimes even the Muslim religion.
St. Cosmas felt a great desire to help them, but he knew he had to make sure that this was the will of God. We know from reading the Lives of the Saints that an elder only begins giving advice or goes back among people after a long period of prayer, training, and spiritual growth. So St. Cosmas spent several years on the Holy Mountain, first at the monastery of Vatopedi and then at Philotheou where he was tonsured a monk. After much prayer and doubt. God confirmed through the Holy Scriptures that the Saint’s great love for the people and his desire to bring them back to the Faith was blessed, so after further study in Constantinople and permission from the hierarchs there, St. Cosmas began his missionary travels.
For the next 19 years he went from village to village bringing people back to love for Christ through the grace of God and through his own great love. When he arrived in a place, he instructed the people to prepare first by confessing and then by keeping vigil with prayer and fasting. He would also ask them to boil wheat and bake bread so everyone would have sustenance. Then, the next day he would teach the crowds—always outside because there were sometimes as many as two or three thousand people, many of whom were following him from place to place.
We are familiar with how the Saint erected a large cross and stood on a platform to preach, and when he moved on to the next village, that cross would remain as a reminder of his words. And he spoke simply so that all could understand. Everyone could feel the love and grace emanating from him, and many miracles took place. He told them: “Not only am I not worthy to teach you, but not even worthy to kiss your feet, for each of you is worth more than the entire world… I am a servant of our Lord God Jesus Christ Who was crucified. Not that I am worthy to be a servant of Christ, but Christ condescended to have me because of His compassion.”
Because of his humility, St. Cosmas had a good relationship with the Turks, and many of them came to hear him and considered him a saint. Whenever he arrived in a village, he first went to the bishop to ask his permission to preach and then he went to the secular leader. The Turks never refused him. Regarding the Turkish yoke, St. Cosmas said, “God sent us St. Constantine and established a Christian kingdom; the Christians had this kingdom for 1150 years. Then God took it from the Christians and brought the Turks, and gave it to them for our good; and the Turks now have had it for 320 years. And why did God bring the Turks and not some other race? For our good, because the other nations would have caused detriment to our Faith.”
St. Cosmas foresaw his coming martyrdom, and it came about in the frustrating way the evil one often works—through slander about him from the Jews to a Turkish ruler who had been his friend. But this was allowed by God. Not wanting to provoke violence, the Saint gave himself up willingly to the Turkish soldiers. Those who were with him reported that he spent the whole night before his martyrdom glorifying the Lord with psalms, and he was filed with great joy as if he were going to a festival. Thus should we also greet death when God chooses the proper time.
The next day, before he was strangled at the base of a tree, and his body thrown into a river, he knelt down and gave thanks to God that he was permitted to give his life for Him. Then he blessed the world in all four directions and prayed for all Christian people. That night the people beheld an unearthly light over the cross the Saint had erected at the last place he had preached.
The holy body of St. Cosmas was retrieved from the river and buried, and a few years later, the Turkish ruler who had ordered his execution, repented and built a monastery dedicated to the Saint where his relics were placed. Under the Communists, when many monasteries were destroyed, the Saint’s relics were moved to the archeological museum in Fier. Now the Monastery of St. Cosmas in Kolkondas, Abania, has been restored.