August 24, 2023

Light in the Darkness - The Personality of Saint Kosmas the Aitolos (Metr. Hierotheos of Nafpaktos)

 By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

In the horrible and dark slavery of the Turkish occupation, there were some lights that gave hope to the subjugated race. Undoubtedly, the Church with her life, her teaching, her mysteries and her worship, with her schools, both the well-known and the so-called secret ones, with which she offered additional knowledge, was a bright and great light that scattered the darkness.

Surely such a great light, which emanated from the bowels of the Church, was also Saint Kosmas the Aitolos, who toured almost the entire Greek territory, consoling and strengthening the subservient Romans in various ways, with teachings, with miracles, with worship, with the establishment of schools, but mainly with his sanctified existence. And he did this amidst various difficulties and many obstacles. It was not only the Turks who hindered his work, but also the Jews and those with various interests, because their interests were affected. That's why they spread a lot of falsehoods about him.

It is characteristic that in his first preserved teaching he gives some signs of his biography, because he wanted a way to introduce himself.

He said:

"Your nobility should know about me also. And I know that some people have told you other things, but if you wish to learn the truth, I'll tell it to you. My false, earthly, and vain homeland is the province of Holy Arta, in the district of Apokouro. My father, my mother, my family are pious Orthodox Christians. However, I too am, my brethren, a sinful man, worse than anyone. But I'm a servant of our Lord God Jesus Christ who was crucified. Not that I'm worthy to be a servant of Christ, but Christ condescended to have me because of his compassion."

I consider these words of Saint Kosmas to be important and if you will allow me to briefly comment.

First, he emphasizes that he comes from Apokouro. As historians say, this term, which prevailed throughout the period of the Turkish rule, until today, may have an etymological affinity with the ancient "Curetes", as Strabo accurately says: "The Evenus River begins in the territory of those Bomians who live in the country of the Ophians, the Ophians being an Aetolian tribe, like the Eurytanians and Agraeans and Curetes and others." In fact, Strabo says that the Curetes occupied all of Aetolia, but when Aetolia was conquered by Aetolus the son of Endymion, the Curetes retreated to Acarnania. Therefore, Saint Kosmas the Aitolos was Greek by origin.

Second, he characterizes his birthplace, where he saw the light of life, as the province of "Holy Arta". That is, it is expressed in ecclesiastical language. In fact, the Sacred Metropolis and Archbishopric of Nafpaktos until the 13th century started from Nafpaktos, which was its seat, and reached as far as Himara in today's Albania. However, from the middle of the 14th century until almost the Revolution of 1821, it was called the Metropolis of Nafpaktos and Arta. For a certain period, temporarily, Arta was also the seat of the Metropolis, but the main seat was Nafpaktos (see Religious and Ethical Encyclopedia, vol. 9 f. 325-328). What is important is that Saint Kosmas considers the province in which he was born through the ecclesiastical dimension. After all, at that time the Church was mainly the source and existence of the Nation, it was not the content of the Nation, but what contained the Nation. As the Patriarch was for the entire Roman Empire, so the Metropolitan for each province was a national leader.

Third, he calls his homeland, in which he was born, "false, earthly, vain". He has a clear knowledge of his origin, his course and his destination. He does not singularly view his physical and biological existence, but sees it through the so-called spiritual existence. He does not feel that he comes from nothing and ends up in nothing, but he has a clear knowledge that his citizenship is in heaven, that is where he is heading and that is where he will end up. Thus, the false is contrasted with the true, the earthly with the heavenly and the vain with the eternal and infinite.

All the saints feel that they have a specific homeland, which they love, but they are enchanted by the eternal homeland, they see the place through the way of life, and time through the eternal. This passage of the Apostle Paul literally possesses them: "For our citizenship is in the heavens, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ" (Phil. 3:20). Precisely this passage shows two realities. One is found "in the heavens", which means that the source of justice of the Christian state is not found in people, but in God. And the other reality is connected with "we also eagerly wait for the Savior" which means that the realization of justice, the enjoyment of the rights of Christians is not a historical case, but an eschatological one (see John Zizioulas, History of the Hellenic Nation, vol. VI).

Of course, we love our country and sacrifice for it, but we do not idealize it. We respect the government of a country, but we are inspired by the "heavenly" government, as it is said in the Epistle to Diognetus: the Christians "dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers."

Fourth, Saint Kosmas feels that his family, his parents are not only Greeks, but also devout Orthodox Christians. Orthodoxy is not something that interfered with and drove out Hellenism, but that which continued the ancient Greek thought and gave even more meaning to Hellenism. The Fathers of the Church creatively continued the thinking of the ancient Greeks, after they answered, through the content of revelation, the ontological, cosmological and anthropological problems that they had raised. Precisely in this way, Hellenism cannot be understood today outside of Orthodoxy, because strengthened by the Orthodox spirit it will be paganism and completely regressive, obsolete.

Fifth, Saint Kosmas has a deep awareness that he is the greatest sinner, but at the same time that he is a servant of Jesus Christ, since He, with His mercy, accepts him to be His servant and to serve him. Here is seen his deep faith, humility and generally the Orthodox ethos, which is connected with self-knowledge, humility, but also the honor of having as master not a man, a ruler, but the merciful and sweetest Christ. This Orthodox ethos was a nuclear bomb that shook all existential slavery, that made the people feel free under the occupation, because it is possible to feel free, living in subjugated homelands, as well as to feel like a slave living in free cities. Freedom is primarily an existential issue.

What I mentioned briefly before was the energy of life that passed through the personality of Saint Kosmas the Aitolos and made him a great light, a searchlight of the Greek Orthodox spirit in the darkness of slavery. This was what made him a genuine rebel against every established order, existential, aesthetic, biological and social. Intellectual freedom is never bound or undermined. The Church offers this with her life. This is what we need today, since various tyrants and the powerful, who present themselves with smiles and feigned politeness, seek to subjugate us both as a nation and as people. We need this tradition which is personified in the persons of the saints, and specifically here in the form and personality of Saint Kosmas the Aitolos.

That is why we feel the need to plead: "Saint Kosmas, our patriot and our ancestor, both in the Greek origin and in the Orthodox faith, intercede for all of us, for this people who love you and expect deliverance from all slavery, spiritual, psychological, cultural, send your blessing to this people who are hungry and thirsty for peace, for love, for freedom, for humanity, for the meaning of life." "Holy Hieromartyr Kosmas, pray to the Lord to have mercy on our souls."

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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