History of Macedonia 1354-1833

A. Vacalopoulos


XI. The national and religious revival of the Greeks of Macedonia


2. The preaching of Kosmas of Aetolia



It can clearly be seen that the 18th century was a period of vigorous economic growth and cultural revival amongst the Greeks. One of the most imposing spiritual as well as political figures of that epoch was Kosmas of Aetolia. Himself a pupil of the Athonias Academy, this monk showed himself indefatigable in his efforts to revive religious feeling in his fellow Greeks and to awaken in them a greater measure of ethnic consciousness.


Born in 1714 at Mega Dendro in Aetolia (a part of Greece well-known for the ruggedness of its landscape not to say of its inhabitants), Kosmas was already past 20 years of age when he first began to receive the ru-





diments of education. He continued his elementary studies at the Athonias Academy, where he was taught by some eminent teachers including Evgenios Voulgaris. As we have shown, it was that great teacher's ambition to turn his pupils into ardent missionaries of a new spirit of culture and learning, who would spread to the furthest confines of the Greek world and raise the cultural level of its peoples. Such an outlook corresponded with Kosmas' own disposition and he soon discovered the path that he was destined to trace.


On Voulgaris' departure in 1759, Nikolaos Tzerzoulis took over the direction of the Academy and Kosmas withdrew to the monastery of Philotheou to lead the monastic life. Yet he appears to have been influenced by the teaching and the national outlook of the Academy's new director, and he came to have a closer acquaintance with Tzertzou-lis during his peregrinations in the region around Malakási, Zagorochória, Ágrapha, Thessaly, where Tzertzoulis was teaching between 1761 and 1766. Voulgaris and Tzertzoulis had a common sympathy for Russia and were alike ardent supporters of the 'Great Idea'. In fact the latter wrote a book about prophecies popular with the common people which bears the title 'A Brief Interpretation of the Oracles of Leo the Wise concerning the Resurrection of Constantinople' [1].


With the vision of his great mission ever before him Kosmas could find no peace in monastic seclusion. He was no purveyor of dreams nor a mystic like his teacher Tzertzoulis, but a man with a positive programme of action. He envisaged the creation of a sound foundation upon which the ethnical, spiritual and national regeneration of the Greek people could be based. Before the year of 1759 was out, he had left the Holy Mountain and repaired to Constantinople to stay with his brother, the archimandrite Chrysanthos. The latter introduced him to the patriarchal milieu and taught him the basic elements of rhetoric that would help him in his future preaching. The Patriarch Seraphim II, the Albanian, was enormously impressed by Kosmas when he made his acquaintance. He gladly conferred upon him the right to preach, deeming him a man capable of offering services of the highest value to the Christian flock which was continually exposed to hostile blasts [2].



1. See Phanes Michalopoulos, Κοσμᾶς ὁ Αἰτωλός, Athens 1940, pp. 7-21. See also Chr. Perraivos, Σύντομος βιογραϕία τοῦ ἀοιδίμου Ρήγα Φεραίου τοῦ θετταλοῦ, Athens 1860, p. 50. For bibliography on Kosmas of Aetolia see Κ. Sardelis, Κοσμᾶ Αἰτωλοῦ ἀναλυτικὴ βιβλιογραϕία, 1765-1965, Athens 1968.


2. Michalopoulos, ibid., pp. 21-23.





For some twenty years — from 1759 up to the day of his martyrdom on 24 August 1779—, Kosmas accomplished three or four lengthy journeys in which he covered most of the Greek lands. However, there are quite a number of details, such as the exact route he followed and the places where he stopped, which are not yet known with exactitude. He remained mostly in the western parts of Greece — Western Macedonia and Epirus —where the Christian populations were living under the most trying conditions. Wherever he was due to preach, he would set up a large wooden cross with a stool at its base, and from there would preach the Word. These crosses were afterwards left in place [1]. His teaching in the open air recalls scenes from the Bible: for his listeners in their thousands he was the Prophet Elijah or Enoch the Just. It was not long before Kosmas became the object of intense devotion and regarded as a saint. The Aetolian left behind him a shining memory of his passage. His legend has been handed down to prosperity and lives on in the mouths of both laity and clergy to this day.


To Kosmas is attributed the foundation of many chapels in the mountainous regions of the Pindus and Hasia [2]. There is a 'memorandum' of 1766 in a manuscript of the monastery of Závorda in Grevená from which we can draw the conclusion that Kosmas spent some time at this period in Western Macedonia. We learn also that uhe brought many to a knowledge of God. None knew whence he came", and that he was "rather short and swarthy with a dense black beard" [3]. From another 'memorandum' of 1778 we gather that uhis manner was so wonderful that everyone stood in awe" [4].


During one of his journeys, made about 1765, he reached the Olympus massif [5]. The klephtic environment was not wholly foreign to this inspired apostle, who had lived himself in similar surroundings amidst the mountains of Ágrapha. Α local tradition of Olympus, deserving further research, tells us that some well-known 'armatoli', such as Old Blahavas, Stathas and the Lazéï, learnt from Kosmas that Russia was planning to incite the Greeks to insurrection; and these klephts are said to have been initiated into these plans. However may be, it is



1. See Aug. Kantiotis, Κοσμᾶς ὁ Αἰτωλός, (Διδαχαὶ - Βίος - Ἀκολουθία), Volos 1950, p. 85.


2. Michalopoulos, Κοσμᾶς ὁ Αἰτωλός, p. 60-62.


3. S. Doukas, Οἱ βιβλιοθῆκες τοῦ Ἁγ. Ὄρους, Periodical «Νεολαία», 13 Jan. 1940, p. 470.


4. Ibid., p. 470.


5. Michalopoulos,. ibid., p. 57.





certain that his preaching was not confined exclusively to the teaching of the Orthodox faith. After each sermon he would draw round him those souls he considered the most energetic and reliable, and speak to them of the coming revival of the race and the means by which this could he achieved.



Fig. 114. Kosmas of Aetolia. Fresco of 1888 from the church of Prophet Elias at Kozani

Fig. 114. Kosmas of Aetolia. Fresco of 1888 from the church of Prophet Elias at Kozani.

(Sardelis, ibid., p. 108)



After preaching amongst the villages of Olympus, Kosmas passed over to Elassón and Sérvia, as witness the traditions still extant ın the first decades of this century.


Later on he proceeded to Kozáni (see fig. 114), Siátista and Grevená. His passage left such strong impressions that the recollection of Kosmas has persisted up till quite recently in those parts. Here too he never failed to come into contact with the local klephts, like those of Hásia [1]. Tradition has it that he met Demetrius Totskas [2], klepht and 'armatolos'



1. Michalopoulos, Κοσμᾶς ὁ Αἰτωλός, p. 60.


2. Ibid., p. 60.





of Kónitsa, Grevená and Hásia, and that he induced him to make a present of a font each to 40 villages [1]. There is in fact preserved a version of the well-known folksong in which Totskas calls upon the help of Saint Kosmas [2].


Like many other Greeks, Kosmas appears to have been enormously depressed by the disastrous results of the 1770 uprising. Disappointed in his hopes of Russian assistance, Kosmas passed many days in mental anguish, searching for a new political orientation and a new national plan. From that point onwards he was to devote himself to raising the Greek people to a superior ethnical and spiritual plain. Upon this goal he was insistent, for without it there could be little hope of the Greek people ever becoming fully conscious of its nationhood. Herein lies the deeper meaning of his avowed intention of 'working for the Race'.


In founding schools Kosmas enjoyed extraordinary success, for his eloquence gripped his hearers and in a relatively short time he had collected large sums in specie, objects of value and treasures [3]. Within two decades he had been instrumental in the building of 200 primary and 10 secondary schools — a unique accomplishment were it even in our own day, never mind under Turkish rule [4].


The end of the Russo-Turkish war (1768-1774) brought the revival of the Greek nation no nearer, and at the beginning of 1775 Kosmas set out from Constantinople for the islands of the Aegean. The Patriarch had charged him with the task of soothing anxieties amongst the inhabitants of those islands which had taken part in the rising. But his visit was not of long duration. He judged that mainland Greece had greater need of his senices. On Naxos, the former capital of the Frankish duchy of the Aegean, where Roman Catholicism was still deeply rooted, he met his brother, the archimandrite Chrysanthos, like himself a staunch fighter in the spiritual field. (Chrysanthos was director of the monastic school of St. George on Naxos until his death in 1785). Naxos was the last island Kosmas stayed at before making his way to Athos. But his stay on the holy Mountain was a brief one. He now found the atmosphere of monastic life stifling and felt no longer at home there [5].



1. Ioann. Lamprides, Ἠπειρωτικὰ Μελετήματα, τεῦχ. Γ', Κουρεντιακὰ καὶ Τσαρκοβιστιακά, Athens 1888, p. 69.


2. Michalopoulos, Κοσμάς δ Αἰτωλός, p. 60.


3. Κ. D. Mertzios, Το ἐν Βενετία κρατικον άρχέϊον, ΗΧ 15 (1940) 7.


4. Kantiotis, Κοσμᾶς ὁ Ατωλός, p. 78.


5. Michalopoulos, ibid., p. 73-75. Concerning Chrysanthos see P. G. Zerlentis, Περὶ τῆς ἐν τῇ Νάξῳ ἑλληνικῆς σχολῆς τοῦ Ἁγίου Γεωργίου, «Παρνασσὸς» 10 (1886) 18-31.





Leaving Athos, he passed through a few villages of Chalcidice and seems to have taken the road for Eastern Macedonia. Tradition records that Kosmas passed by Právi (Elevtheroúpolis) and Mesorópi, where he taught from a mounting block set close to the highway. This place is called to this day "τοῦ Κοσμᾶ" (Kosma's place), and whenever the inhabitants of Mesorópi are following any path nearby, they cross themselves in reverence [1].


Passing through Thessalonica, Kosmas continued his journey westwards to reach Véroia in the summer of 1775. From a 'memorandum' we learn that in July of this year he preached in the city and in the surrounding villages. Then he appears to have passed through Sélitsa (Erátyra), where, according to tradition, he encouraged the villagers with the following words: "Be not afraid; the Virgin holds the village safely in her bosom. The time will come when nine villages will draw together and find salvation in your mountains".


The following month he visited Siátista for the second time, where the impressions of his first visit were still vivid [2]. There, on the hill of the Prophet Elias, he uttered the following prophecies, which the older generation of Siátista folk believe to have been filfilled: "There will come a time when your enemies will seize you and the very ashes from you fires; but never abandon your faith as others will do". It is quite true, they say, that a few years later the inhabitants of a number of villages surrounding Siátista were unable to withstand the persecutions of the Turks and accepted Islam [3]. This is no doubt a reference to those Valahades villages in the area. He also said to the people of Siátista: "Fortunate are you to find yourselves in these lofty mountains; for they shall protect you from many misfortunes. You will hear of dangers but you will not see them. For three hours, maybe three days, you will suffer". And these things actually came to pass, say the inhabitants. In the first Balkan War, during the battle of Siátista (4 November 1912), the towns-men endured three whole days of terrible anguish [4].


The following tradition deriving from Thessalonica is also relevant here. Saint Kosmas appeared in a village of Macedonia and told a nun



1. A. K. Gisdavides, Ἡ Μεσορώπη τοῦ Παγγαίου, newspaper «Μακεδονία» 5 Dec. 1957.


2. Michalopoulos, Κοσμᾶς ὁ Αἰτωλός, p. 75. See Yioblakis, Σέλιτσα, «Μακεδονικὰ» 8 (1968) 76.


3. G. Ganoulis, Ὁ Ἅγιος Κοσμᾶς ὁ Αἰτωλός ὁ Ἐθναπόστολος, «Μακεδονικὸν Ἡμερολόγιον» 10 (1934) 277. See also Michalopoulos, ibid., pp. 58-59, 76.


4. Ganoulis, ibid., p. 227.





that one day was spent in the village and nine days at war. And he told her to make three golden candle-sticks, one for God, one for the war and one for Saint Kosmas. And he said "this place we now inhabit will one day become Greek" [1].


Kosmas' fame spread far and wide and masses of people who followed him were carried away by his words. Α remark on the fly-leaf of the Book of Monthly Feasts of the church of Kepourió proves that he passed by the village. "In the year of 1775", it says, "Saint Kosmas passed by and taught the people". He remained somewhat longer in the Vlach-speaking villages of Pindus and Grámmos. It is interesting to note that he passed through Grevená for a second time, as well as the Vlach villages of Malakási, Perivóli, Smíxi and Avdélla, where he founded Greek schools. His general policy was to ask the Vlach speakiag inhabitants of the Greek villages to speak only Greek amongst themselves. Conveyed to the people with the power of a religious conviction, this suggestion must have had a profound influence on those who were bilingual or who spoke exclusively a language other than Greek; and it is difficult today to estimate the impact it must have had. At all events, he must have greatly exalted the status of the Greek language as the only medium through which Orthodox Christians should communicate with each other.


Kosmas next visited Anaselítsa, where he founded a school before proceeding to Kastoriá. At this point, so speaks tradition, he assembled the Christians in the cemetery of St. Andrew in the neighbourhood of Karydi, where, using a mulberry tree for his pulpit (it still exists today), he delivered his national-religious sermon [2].


At Samarína (see fig. 115) they still talk about the passage of Saint Kosmas in 1778 and point out an inscription carved on a rock which refers to this event [3]. There are other traditions still in circulation throughout the country districts which bear withness to the striking personality of Saint Kosmas [4]. The radiance of his countenance is to be seen in numerous frescoes that were painted in the churches of Western Ma-



1. Nik. Politis, Παραδόσεις, reprinted edition, vol. 1, Athens 1965, p. 114.


2. Ganoulis, ibid., p. 276. See also Michalopoulos, Κοσμᾶς ὁ Αἰτωλός, pp. 46-47, 49, 63, 103, where the relevant bibliography may be found.


3. J. B. Wace - M. S. Thomson, The nomads of the Balkans, London 1914, p. 89.


4. See Mich. A. Kalinderis, Ἀπόσπασμα διδαχῆς Κοσμᾶ τοῦ Αἰτωλού, Thessalonica 1965, pp. 7-9.





cedonia after his death; [1] and many a church has been dedicated to him.


After Kastoriá his next stopping places were Korytsá and Moschópolis. Everywhere the masses were inspired by his sermons and believed in his miraculous powers [2]. Pursuing his way northwestwards he left Macedonia for Epirus and then Albania, where he found conditions



Fig. 115. Kosmas of Aetolia. Fresco of 1829 from the church of the Dormition of the Virgin at Samarina

Fig. 115. Kosmas of Aetolia. Fresco of 1829 from the church of the Dormition of the Virgin at Samarina.

(K. Sardelis, ibid., p. 100)



very disheartening, with so many conversions to Islam having taken place. Amongst these tormented communities he worked with a fiery zeal and his energies were rewarded with significant results [3].


At the beginning of 1778 we find him preaching once more in the Macedonian villages around Lake Ohrid and in the districts of Mon-



1. Kalinderis, Ἀπόσπασμα διδαχῆς, pp. 15-16.


2. Michalopoulos, Κοσμᾶς ὁ Αἰτωλός, pp. 76-77.


3. Michalopoulos, ibid., p. 78.





astir and Kastoriá, where he founded a number of elementary schools. His progress southwards to Grevená and Leipsísta is recorded in several 'memoranda' written in the liturgical books of local churches [1].


This was to be Kosmas' last journey before he underwent his martyrdom in the outskirts of Kolikóntasi at a place called Bouyalí near the River Apsos on 24 August 1779 [2]. Legendary traditions of Saint Kosmas are kept alive today by villagers from Aspropotamos to Albania and from Epirus to Thrace [3]. And such traditions are confirmed by the few items derived from archives which have recently been published and which throw considerable light upon his personality and on his ethnic, religious and social activities. Writing on 26 April 1779 to the Governor Extraordinary of Leucas, Count D. Mamonas of Corfu states: "He received me with extreme goodwill in the hut where he was staying (in the village of Mávro Mandíli near Préveza). His sermons have one overriding theme: the exhortation of the people to become benefactors of the church and to found schools for their children in every town and village. At Préveza itself Kosmas succeeded in collecting 10.000 kuruş for the construction of a school; and he has made other collections for the founding of schools elsewhere. His speeches are remarkable for their political acumen and are composed with exception skill" [4].


Kosmas, of course, said nothing that was new; but he clothed his ideas in simple language so that they entered deep into the hearts of his hearers wherever he went. The Greek world of that day stood in need of such uncomplicated phraseology. Kosmas confined himself to the principal teachings of the Old and New Testament, i.e. of the prophets, apostles and fathers of the church. He revived the knowledge of the Creed and explained the nature of the Holy Trinity. "God", he said, "is everywhere and within our hearts. He is the Light and the Life and the Resurrection. He watches us and follows our innermost thoughts". Kosmas preached also that the race had need of good priests, pure in spirit like the angels, and that they should be educated so as to be able



1. Michalopoulos, Κοσμᾶς ὁ Αἰτωλός, pp. 102-103, where the relevant bibliography may be found.


2. See details about his death in Michalopoulos, ibid., pp. 121 ff.


3. In addition to the details known to date, see also the published 'memorandum' of 23 Feb. 1777 that concerns Kosmas teaching in the Aspropotamos region : Pan. Grispos, Μαρτυρίες γιὰ τὴ δράση τοῦ πατρὸς Κοσμᾶ, 'Meteora' of Trikala 2 (1948) number 7, pp. 15-16.


4. Κ. D. Mertzios, Τὸ ἐν Βενετίᾳ κρατικὸν ἀρχεῖον. Στ'. Μικρὰ ἠπειρωτικὴ χρονογραϕία, ΗΧ 15 (1940) 8-9.





to interpret the Old and New Testaments. The ideal priest is on a higher level then kings and even angels. The race has need of good notables who should cultivate fatherly love towards all Christians and "distribute the duties according to each man's capacity".


In short, Kosmas' sermons were designed to prevail upon people to love their neighbours, to induce harmony, to encourage the founding of new schools and to strengthen fidelity to the Orthodox faith, which was in grave danger of being overwhelmed by the waves of apostasy. Besides having love for his fellowmen, it was essential that a Christian should also be humble; for humility is an angelic virtue, while pride is a Satanic defect. "My special work", he told other Christians, "is also yours. It belongs to our faith; it belongs to our race" [1]. It is notable that he equated services to religion and services to the race. Following the late Byzantine tradition (i.e. the tradition of the monk Joseph Bryennius [2]) he considered the words 'Orthodoxy' and 'Hellenism' synonymous and worked for the rekindling of the Orthodox faith and the reawakening of Hellenic consciousness.


Kosmas must take his place amongst the great reformers of the Greek nation side by side with Evgenios Voulgaris, Rhigas Velestinlis (Pheraios) and Adamantios Koraës. He stood as an ardent champion on the side of the people and helped them to be re-baptized into a new spiritual life. Through his preaching people's faith in Orthodoxy was consolidated and the seeds of Greek-Christian education multiplied.



1. Michalopoulos, Κοσμᾶς ὁ Αἰτωλός, pp. 67-69.


2. Vacalopoulos, Ἱστορία, Ι, p. 153.


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