Saint Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain was among the first to write the account of Hieromonk Kosmas’ martyrdom. The earliest extant narrative is an old record from Berat (Veratio), which reads: “It was on a Tuesday that a hermit called Kosmas came and taught in our village Veratio for three days. He stood on a stool and was teaching the people. The women threw their silk dresses and silver things into the fire. After the second year he came to Mouzakia and arrived at the Village of Kalikodassi. They choked him to death with a rope and threw him into the river. They took him out and buried him in the village mentioned above. I also recorded the day they killed him. It was Saturday, the 24‘h of August, 1779. ”
A decade later, the relics of Saint Kosmas were ceremonially enshrined in the altar of a newly—built monastery, under the orders of Ali Pasha, with Bishop Ioasaph of Velegrada (the ecclesiastical name of Berati) in attendance. The cross that had been illuminated from on high on the night of his martyr— dom was taken and placed in the altar, next to the tomb.
The Albanian monastery dedicated to Saint Kosmas was shut down during the Communist regime in Albania. Some ol'Saint Kosmas‘ relies were already enshrined in Greece. The largest portion, the hieromartyr‘s jaw, is treasured at the Saint Nicholas Monastery on the island of Andros ol' the Cyclades. It was carried there by one of the saint’s spiritual sons. There is also a small relic in the metropolitan cathedral at Ioannina. The greatest portion ot' his relics remained for many years in the local museum, but they are now kept again in the monastery at Kolikontasi.
Let us speak here how the construction of the church came about. While the saint was alive, one of his journeys took him into Albania, in the region of Tepeleni. The year was 1775. On that occasion, Father Kosmas met the vizier of Tepeleni, named Ali Pasha. However, at that meeting the vizier was still a bey or regional governor. Ali, however, was ambitious, for which he was harassed by Kurt Pasha, then ruler of Epiros. Father Kosmas, a clairvoyant, foretold what awaited Ali. The latter wished to know if he would rule Epiros and take possession of Ioannina. Father Kosmas said that lie Would rule many cities and all of Albania as well. He also foretold that Ali would conquer Kurt Pasha. Ali then asked if he would enter Constantinople as a conqueror. Father Kosmas remarked, “Indeed, thou wilt go to Constantinople with a red beard.” Twelve years after the prophecy and eight after Saint Kosmas’ martyrdom under Kurt Pasha, Ali was named pasha and vizier ol‘ Ioannina. Ali Pasha then proceeded to subdue Epiros and southern Albania. Upon entering Berat as the new ruler, he commanded Bishop Ioasaph to uncover the relics of Saint Kosmas and to build a monastery in his honor. Hence, the hieromartyr’s relics were translated. His precious skull was enshrined in a silver reliquary. The cost was underwritten by Ali Pasha."l
Among his wives, his favorite was Kyra Vasilike, that is Lady Vasilike, a Greek Orthodox lass who was taken into his harem at twelve years of age. She was allowed to practise her religion. Ali Pasha, though devoted to her, was still brutal and destructive to his subjects. Only Vasilike could keep him calm. Such was her inﬂuence over him that he built and maintained a small Orthodox monastery, dedicated to Saint Panteleimon, on the island in Lake Ioannina as gift for her. Under her inﬂuence, she had him donate large sums
6‘ Within four years, Ali Pasha succeeded in raising the money required to build the first church in honor of Saint Kosmas. Moreover, he personally not only contributed toward the building and the silver reliquary but also saw to the composition of the saint‘s service (akalouthia). It was later published in Venice by the Epirote printer Nicholas Glykys. The people whom Father Kosmas loved and served did not wait for any official proclamation of his sainthood (this took place almost two hundred years later on 20‘h of April, in the year 1961). Father Kosmas became one of the most popular saints among Greek and Albanian Christians, a popularity which has increased as time has gone by.
of money to revive the Athonite Monastery of Konstanwnitou. But in 1820. when he rebelled against the sultan, the latter dispatched fifty thousand armed troops to lay siege to Ioannina. Ali Pasha was forced to surrender. The sultan wanted Ali Pasha dead. Vasilike, seeing the hopelessness of the situation, agreed to help the people of Ioannina after receiving promises that if the town surrendered peacefully, everyone would be spared—both Muslims and Christians. If they were to resist, the fortress would be destroyed, and all would be despoiled and put to the sword. While Ali Pasha was staying at Saint Panteleimon’s Monastery, Vasilike arranged that Khourshit Pasha’s men rushed the monastery. Ali was shot as he came to the head of the stairs. He retreated to his room, where he was fatally wounded by soldiers firing up through the ﬂoor below. While he still had time to order Vasilike’s death, she was rescued by Khourshit Pasha’s men. She was taken to Constantinople. A baggage train accompanied them with soldiers carrying Ali Pasha’s head. Thus, there was the fulfillment of Father Kosmas’ prophecy that Ali Pasha would enter Constantinople with a red beard, that is, a beard red with the blood of his beheading. The inhabitants of Ioannina, thus, were spared being looted, enslaved, and massacred."2 Ali Pasha used to say that he regretted not asking Father Kosmas how, when, and where, he would end his days. The Life and Mission of Father Kosmas
Apart from personal letters, Father Kosmas left us no writings. His sermons were ever extemporaneous. What abides among his teaching was committed to writing by ardent Christians who followed him in his missionary journeys. The recorded sermons have been given the name Didachai, that is, Teachings. “The Didachai of Father Kosmas were read in the churches, both during his lifetime and after his death, for the edification of the congregations. A good number of his sermons were probably recorded, but only a small number has come down to us. The language he used to convey his message was the demotic, spoken Greek. He chose this language so that all who listened could understand him without any difficulty. His manner of expression was characterized by great simplicity, directness, warmth, charm, and serenity. His teaching is based explicitly on the sacred Scriptures and the writings of the Greek fathers. ”63 He proclaimed the superiority of Orthodoxy over all other
62 Mother Nectaria Lees, “The Prophet and the Pasha: Saint Cosmas of Aitolia and Ali Pasha, the Lion of Ioannina,” in the journal of Road to Emmaus. See also online at http://www.roadtoemmaus.net/back_issue_articles/RTE_O6/The_Prophet_and_ the_Pasha.pdf. 63 Constantine Cavarnos, “Introductory,” Saint Cosmas Aitolos, Great Missionary, llluminator, and Martyr of Greece, 2"‘1 ed. (Belmont, MA: Institute for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies, 1975), pp. 14, 15. “A painstaking recent researcher, (continued. . .)
religions in order to enlighten those llellenes llizit were under Muslim or Venetian or lireneh influence.
“ It is meet and proper for a teacher, ” remarked Father Kosmas, “when he wants to teach, to first know his audience; and, similarly, for those in the audience to examine what manner of teacher is before them. I, my brethren, who have been vouchsafed through the compassion of Christ to stand in this holy and apostolic place, have first inquired about you. I have learned with the grace of our Lord and God Jesus Christ that you are not Greek pagans. I have learned that you are neither impious, nor heretics, nor godless folk. I see that you are pious Orthodox Christians, who believe and have been baptized in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit; and I see that you are sons and daughters of our Christ. And I am not only unworthy to teach you but even unworthy to kiss your feet. For each of you is worth more than the whole world. Your nobility should know about me as well. Now I know that some people have told you other things about me, but if you wish to learn the truth, I shall tell it to you.
“My false, earthly, and fruitless homeland is the province of Arta, in the district of Apokouro.64 My father, my mother, and my family are pious Orthodox Christians. However, I am, my brethren, a sinful man, worse than anyone. But 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. Therefore, my brethren, I believe, glorify, and worship our Christ. It is our Christ that I entreat to cleanse me from every spiritual and bodily sin. It is our Christ that I beseech to strengthen me so that I may conquer the three enemies: the world, the ﬂesh, and the devil. I beseech my Christ to find me worthy to spill my blood for His love as He spilled His for my love.
63(. . .continued)
Archimandrite Sophronios Papakyriakou, has brought together nine Didachaz' in his book, entitled Teaching, Letters, and Martyrdom of Cosmas the Aitolian, Holy Martyr and Peer 0f the Apostles. This is the largest collection of Saint Cosmas’ Didachai thus far to appear in print,” and on the web. Ibid.,
(’4 The village ofThermo (38 “’34 ’23 . 69”N 21 °40’01 .54 ” E) lies in Aitoloakarnania, near Trichonida Lake. It is considered the birthplace of Saint Kosmas and the capital of all the Aitolians. It is situated at an altitude of 360 meters, and lies 30 kilometers from Agrinion (38°37’35.72”N 21 °24’45.95”E). Thermo is a natural access gate to mountainous Nafpaktia and Evrytania. The central square of the village has a statue of Saint Kosmas. The former community of Thermo houses a library in the region of Apokouro. In the village of Mega Dendro, the birthplace of Saint Kosmas, there is a church dedicated to him. Six kilometers away from Thermo lies the monastery of Myrtia, founded in 1491.
“If, my brethren, it were possible for me to climb up into the sky, to be able to shout with a great voice, to preach to the entire world that only our Christ is the Son and Logos of God, true God and the life of all, I would have done it. But because I cannot do such a big thing, I do this small thing: I walk from place to place and teach my brethren as I can, not as a teacher but as a brother. Only our Christ is a teacher. How I was moved to do this, my brethren, I shall tell you. Leaving my homeland fifty years ago, I trav— eled to many places, forts, towns, villages, and especially to Constantinople. I stayed the longest on the Holy Mountain, seventeen years, where I wept over my sins. ”65
On another occasion, when Father Kosmas was speaking ‘of mo— nasticism to a multitude of Christians, he acknowledged that a monk cannot be saved in any other way except to
Saint Kosmas teaC/ling escape far from the world. He then said, “Is anyone a monk here? Leave, O monk, go to the wilderness if thou llnsl wish to be saved, But thou mayest say, ‘Thou art a monk, too! Why art llmu involved in the world?’ I, too, my brethren, do wrong. But because our race has fallen into ignorance, Isaid inwardly, ‘Let Christ lose me, one sheep, and let Him win the others. Perhaps God’s compassion and your prayers will save me too. ’ ”66 l. Treasures of the Gospel:
“Among the countless gifts which my Lord has granted me,” Father Kosmas said, “He made me worthy to acquire a little Greek learning and I heealne a monk, Studying the holy and sacred Gospel, I found in it many and different teachings which are all pearls, diamonds, treasures, riches, joy, Madness—and yes, eternal life. Among the other things I also found this
"” Vaporis, “First Teaching: The Life and Mission of Father Kosmas, ” Father Kosmas, pp, 15, 16. See also onllne at http:// www.stmaryofegypt.org/kosmas/welcome.html. "" lhidq “Seventh Teaching: Virginity, Monks, and Women,” p. 111. Saint Paul was rcme to be accursed of Christ for the glory of Christ and the conversion of his brother Jews and the Gentiles [Cf Rom. 9:3]. This was also the case of the lawgiver, Moses, who did not refuse to perish With his brothers [Cf Ex. 32:31, 32].
teaching in which Christ says to us: no Christian, man or woman, should be concerned only with himself, how he can be saved, but must be concerned also with his brethren so that they may not fall into sin. Hearing this sweetest teaching spoken by our Christ, my brethren, to concern ourselves with our fellows, that teaching gnawed at me inside my heart for many years, just as a worm eats away at wood. Considering my ignorance, what could I do? I sought the advice of my spiritual fathers, bishops, and patriarchs. And I revealed to them my thinking. And I asked if such work were pleasing to God. Everyone urged me to go ahead, telling me that such work is good and sacred. In fact, I was urged onward by his holiness Patriarch Sophronios—may his blessing be upon usl—and receiving his sacred blessing, I abandoned my own advancement, my own good, and went out to walk from place to place to teach my brethren. ”67
2. Money and the Gospel:
Saint Kosmas shares his initial thoughts with us, when he embarked on his missionary work, saying, “Making a start to teach, a thought occurred to me to ask for money (aspers) as I traveled about because I was avaricious and I loved piasters (grossia). Yes, and gold coins (florins) even more, not like your nobility who scorn money, or do you not? But studying the holy and sacred Gospel, I found another teaching where our Christ says: “‘Freely ye received, freely give [Mt 10:7] ”; that is to say, “I give you My grace free of charge, you too must give it the same way to your brethren: teach without charge, counsel without charge, hear confessions without charge; and if you ask and receive any payment for teaching, great or small, or even a penny (asper), I shall put you to death and place you in everlasting torment.”’ Hearing, my brethren, this sweetest teaching which our Christ spoke, that we should labor among our brethren without charge, it seemed to me in the beginning to be very hard. Later, however, it seemed very sweet, like a honeycomb, and I glorified and do glorify my Christ a thousand times, because He guarded me from the passion for money. So with the grace of our Lord and God Jesus Christ, the crucified One, I have neither purse, nor house, nor strongbox, nor another cassock than the one I am wearing.68 And I still beseech my Lord to never allow me, until the end of my life, to acquire a purse; for if I ever begin to take money, I have immediately lost my brethren. I cannot serve both: it is either God or the devil. It is meet and proper, my fellow Christians, as we learn from the holy Gospel and the sacred Scriptures, to begin our teaching with God. And when we finish, it is proper to thank God, not because I am worthy to utter the name of my God, but because He has
67 Ibid. , “First Teaching: The Treasures of the Gospel,” Father Kosmas, loc. cit. 68 Mt. 10:9—11.
permitted it out of His compassion. So we leave aside, my brethren, the prattling of the impious, the heretics, the atheists, and we speak only of what the Holy Spirit has inspired the holy prophets, apostles, and fathers of our Church to write for us. On the other hand, we shall not speak of all the teachings because it is not possible—we would need years and years. Nonetheless, a few, however, do seem more necessary. And whoever is a lover of learning, let him seek to learn the rest. “39
3. The Importance of Schools:
Father Kosmas used to ask the people in place after place, “Have you a school, here in your village, to teach your children?” They answered, “We do not, 0 holy priest of God.” He exhorted them: “You must all get together and establish a good school. Appoint a committee to govern it, so that its members can appoint a teacher to teach all the children, rich and poor. Because it is in school that we learn about God and the Holy Trinity. We learn who are the angels and who are the demons. We learn what is Paradise and what is punishment hereafter.70 We learn about virtue and evil. And we learn of the soul, body, etc. Without a school we walk in darkness. The school leads to the monastery. If there were no school, how should I have learned to teach you? I studied about priests and about unbelievers, heretics, and atheists. I searched the depths of wisdom, but all the other religions are false. I learned this to be true: that only the Faith of the Orthodox Christians is good and is sacred, and that you must believe and be baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. In conclusion, I tell you this. Rejoice that you are Orthodox Christians, and weep for the impious and heretics who walk in darkness! ”7‘
Elsewhere he said, “If you parents have not received an education, your children should. Can you not see how savage our race has become from ignorance? We have become like animals. This is why I counsel you to build schools, so that you may understand the holy Gospel and the other books. ”72 He said to the brethren that had gathered, “It is better for you to have a Greek school in your village, rather than foundations and rivers. For when your child becomes educated, then he is a human being. The school opens churches. The school opens monasteries. ”73
In speaking of his own book learning, he first asks, “Why, 0 holy priests and honorable elders, do you not counsel our blessed brethren to establish and build a school in each village, so that the children will receive an
69 Vaporis, “First Teaching: Grace is Free,” Father Kosmas, pp. l6, 17.
70 Kolasis (xokactg), punishment or chastisement.
7‘ Vaporis, “First Teaching: The Importance of Schooling,” Father Kosmas, p. 33. 72 Ibid., “Third Teaching: Fasting and Education,” p. 47.
73 Ibid., “Fifth Teaching: The Importance of Education,” p. 77.
education to learn what is good and what is evil? Because I too learned, my brethren, the alphabet in school with the help of our Christ. I, with the grace of our Christ, also learned a little ancient Greek and a lot of other things: Hebrew, Turkish, French, and something from all the nations. I read a great deal and I found all secular knowledge to be false—all inventions and seeds of the devil. In truth, my brethren, I studied as diligently as a jeweler weighs silver and allows no impurities to remain; and then the silver is shiny and clean and bought by people willingly. Similarly, I found the words and commandments of Christ to be pure, holy, true, bright, and more brilliant than the sun. And whoever believes in Christ and calls Him God, and does everything as the holy Gospel tells him, he will be of good fortune and thrice—blessed. He will never be ashamed. This is why you must establish Greek schools, so that people will be enlightened; because by reading Greek, I found that it enlightens and illuminates the mind of the student as the sun illuminates the earth. Then it is clear and we can see far. In this same way the mind can see the future. The good and bad are depicted and comprehended by the mind, so that it might be guarded from what is evil and iniquitous. Schools open the way to the church. We learn what God is, what the Holy Trinity is, what an angel is, what perdition is, what virtues are, and what demons are. We learn everything in school. School enlightens people and they are able to open their minds and learn the mysteries of our Faith.”74
Hence, in letter after letter, Father Kosmas wrote to the inhabitants: “I, my brethren, as an unworthy servant of Christ our God, travel about and teach the Christians according to my ability—with the permission of the local bishops. I have come here to your village, and seeing that you do not have a school for your children to learn free of charge, I urged the Christians to take up this matter. They, indeed, gave according to their ability and will for the school. You all should also help the school from your own resources, or from those of the village, or from those of the religious endowments, so that you may receive wages from God and honor from men. ”75
In a letter to his elder brother, Chrysanthos, Father Kosmas writes: “My most sacred and beloved brother lord Chrysanthos: I greet you and beseech the holy God for thy spiritual and physical health. Thanks to divine grace, brother, I am somewhat well, but spiritually the Lord knows. What has
74 Ibid., “Eighth T eaching: Education and Faith,” pp. 125, 126. The only schools available at that time, apart from the Muslim institutions, were those conducted in Greek. This is another reason why he discouraged the use of other tongues (Albanian and Romanian). Ibid., “Introduction,” p. 8.
75 Saint Kosmas voices this plea, almost verbatim, in every letter (1779) to the inhabitants of Zalongo, Papadates, Variades, Preveza, Droviane, Chalion, Mouzina, Semitsa, and Chimaros.