Orthodox America

The Book Shelf - St. Cosmas of Aitolia

St. Cosmas Aitolas by Constantine Cavarnos; 71 pps.  Institute for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies, Inc. 1971 115 Gilbert Road Belmont, MA 02178

Father Kosmas, the Apostle of the Poor by Rev. N.M. Vaporis; 164 pps.,   Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1977 50 Goddard Ave. Brookline, MA 02146

One of God's truly remarkable missionary saints, Cosmas Aitolas (1714-1779), is the subject of two worthwhile books, St. Cosmas Aitolas, by Dr. Constantine Cavarnos, and Father Kosmas, the Apostle of the Poor, by rev. N.M. Vaporis.

This extraordinary saint spent 17 years in monastic life on Mount Athos before seeking permission to labor for the faith as an itinerant preacher. For 20 years he went from town to town, speaking-mostly extemporaneously-to large outdoor crowds. As the saint himself said:

"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 Word of God, true God and life of all, I would have done it. But because I can't 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."

Based soundly on the New Testament, St. Cosmas' sermons were delivered in a manner described by Dr. Cavarnos as simple, direct, warm, charming and serene. Furthermore, his sermons "were exceedingly effective. They brought an immediate and profound inner transformation in his listeners." Fr. Vaporis says that "the secret of his great success was due, above all, to the fact that he not only preached the Gospel but lived it in such a way that many who heard him were moved to follow in his footsteps."

In 1779 a local Moslem governor seized St. Cosmas, charged him with false crimes, and put him to death by strangling. Fr. Vaporis writes:

"It is interesting to note that the initiative for the first church to be built in memory of [the saint] was taken by the Moslem ruler of Albania, Ali Pasha, who held Father Kosmas in high esteemŠbecause he believed Kosmas to be a holy manŠ"

Dr. Cavarnos' book contains an introduction, a life of the saint by his own disciple, and selected passages from the saint's teachings. Fr. Vaporis' work consists of an introduction and eleven chapters of the saint's teachings, stories, letters, prophecies and sayings. Both books complement each other. The Cavarnos volume has the advantage of the original life of the saint, composed in sound Orthodox style, written with reverence, fear of God, and pious feeling; the Vaporis book, however, has a much more complete selection of the saint's teachings, arranged generally by theme or subject. This book also includes 12 illustrations, many based upon icons of the saint. However, many of these are in a somewhat theatrical or even crude style, not appropriate to the subject. This should not, however, deter the reader from obtaining this book.

St. Cosmas should be a model and inspiration for Orthodox Christians today; he was a true missionary, motivated by an overwhelming love for God and souls-as he himself taught: "Let us have love for God and for our fellow men. Then God comes and brings us joy and implants eternal life in our hearts."

Orthodoxy in the west is very much in need of missionaries like this one (and others-notably Sts. Herman and Innocent of Alaska). The righteous ones of God are the only ones that, by their Christ-like and self-sacrificing lives, can set the whole "tone" for our missionary labors, starting with absolute abandonment of self, personal ambition, comfort, and security to the care of an all-wise Christ.

May God soon send more laborers like St. Cosmas into His vineyard!

Fr. Alexey Young