January 27, 2016

Hieromonk Kosmas of Gregoriou, Missionary to Zaire (+ 1942-1989)

By Monk Moses the Athonite

Kosmas was born in 1942 in the village of Theodosia in Kilkis. At a young age he came with his parents to Thessaloniki, where they lived very poorly. The church was his second home and the priest of his parish was his second father. He enjoyed studying Holy Scripture and attending Catechetical School. From an early age he entered the struggle of life while studying at the same time. He became spiritually associated with the late Augoustinos Kantiotes (+ 2010) and began a correspondence with Fr. Chrysostomos Papasarantopoulos (+ 1972), who was in Africa. His desire for missionary work began to fester within him. He had contacts with Elder Philotheos Zervakos (+ 1980) of Longovardos Monastery in Paros. He knew technical work, mechanical work, electrical work, electronics, nursing, being a lifeguard and building things. He attended Apostoliki Diakonia for the Training Seminar for Catechists and took lessons in foreign missionary work, and he learned nursing at the Red Cross. He even received a degree in swimming. Later he would save a drowning child in a lake in Kolwezi. He wanted to study medicine, but was not able to do so. But he did go to the High School of Rizarios School.

In 1975 he went on his first missionary trip to Africa with Fr. Amphilochios Tsoukas to Kolwezi of Zaire (Congo). He began building churches with enthusiasm, knowledge, diligence and daring, without knowing the local language of Swahili. He would lie down with his shoes on, as he had no time to take them off. He almost suffered from overworking. Once he suffered a sunstroke and for years was tormented with headaches. In fifteen months he built nine churches.

In 1977 he built the Church of Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite in Karyes of Mount Athos with Fr. Nikodemos Bilalis. At that time he met Elder Paisios, who told him to become a monk at Gregoriou Monastery, get ordained there, then become a missionary. The following year he was tonsured a monk by the abbot George and was ordained by Bishop Chrysostomos of Rodostolos. With the blessings of the fathers and with sacred enthusiasm he began the great work of missions in Africa.

At first he went to Kananga to Fr. Chariton Pneumatikakis and Sister Olga. With the blessing of Metropolitan Timothy of Central Africa he then went to Kolwezi. He would say to his father: "God dedicated me to missionary work in this region. Wherever I go, I will help anyone I meet that has need of me." With many temptations, difficulties and serious problems he began his superhuman, important and significant missionary work. His selflessness and hard work inspired many to assist him in various ways. Besides being a liturgist, spiritual father and catechist, Fr. Kosmas was a father and brother to many of our unfortunate black brethren. He was a caring pastor, a philanthropic father, a just judge, a useful physician, a good builder, a perfect mechanic, a missionary of the gospel. He lived to love and pray, to offer and sacrifice.

His last days he had a certain premonition. He had extraordinary enthusiasm, he liturgized, he preached repentance, and bid his farewell. On the night of January 27th in 1989 a car fell on his own and he died. Three months prior he had told his elder Fr. George: "Missionary work is not done for a few months; whoever wants to be a missionary must leave their bones on African soil." And so it happened. His tomb became a popular site of pilgrimage. Indigenous people leave flowers there out of gratitude and thanksgiving. In a decade he baptized 15,000 Africans.

This blessed missionary, whom I had quickly met and was very jealous of, would say: "Our African brethren are people with inwardness. Europeans usually underestimate them, but they are wrong to do so. The soul of Africans is inclined towards mysticism and this is why Orthodoxy has something to say to them, of a monastic and Athonite type. Because among our African brethren magic has great power, it is a true demonocracy. Their magicians are very powerful and have great influence, but ultimately Satan exterminates even these. This is why they often resort to Christ, the victor over all magic, demonic bonds and spells. In Africa I saw how true the gospel of Christ is."

Source: From the book Μέγα Γεροντικό (Great Gerontikon), vol. 3, pp. 1233-1236. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.