August 24, 2022

Saint Kosmas the Aitolos and the New Martyrs

By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

(Homily Delivered in Thermo on August 24, 2018)
Your Excellency the President of the Hellenic Republic,

Reverend Hierarchs,

Beloved brethren,

Historic Thermo, and Aitoloakarnania in general, boasts that it is the place where Saint Kosmas the Aitolos was born, grew up and worked. This place was seen with his own eyes, here he saw the creation of God, he came to know traditional piety and from these places he began his missionary journeys. Since then, many places claim him, and people brag about where he passed, where there is evidence or information that he taught, where temples were rebuilt in his name, where he was martyred.

Thus, today he has become an ecumenical man, an apostle, who made a great revolution in his time, a man with the zeal of God, in difficult circumstances. Because the revolution cannot be interpreted and defined only with weapons and bombs, but with ideas, mainly, however, with the words that come from an inner rebirth and fullfillment of people.

According to the well-known saying of Saint Gregory Palamas, "There is a word to contradict every word, but what can contradict lived experience?" Every word, every idea has its counterpart, but no one can fight with a person who has a spiritual faith, especially the "faith enhypostaton" which is Christ. We know this from the Apostles and the Martyrs who, with their lives and pure and straightforward speech, transformed the iron-clad national Roman Empire into a Christian Roman Empire. We also see this in Saint Kosmas Aitolos, who positively and effectively undermined the Ottoman Empire, with the quality of an Equal to the Apostles and a New Martyr.

We will see this when we examine the great contribution of the New Martyrs, among whom is Saint Kosmas Aitolos, for the preservation of the Greek Orthodox tradition in the subjugated Greek Nation, but also their contribution to its liberation in 1821.

1. The Value of the New Martyrs

Indeed, the preservation of the national consciousness among the subjugated Romans and the unquenchable flame of freedom was due to many factors, namely the operation of the Orthodox Church, with the Divine Liturgy, the liturgical texts, the mysteries, the services and its entire structure, especially with the actions of the Ecumenical Patriarchs and their Synods. It is also due to the local contribution of Demogerontia, and the operation of Schools where they were possible for them to operate, or operate alongside, with the education they offered. Also, it was offered by the learned Romans who emigrated from the subjugated area, who together with the merchants, who always had their attention focused on the subjugated people, offered in their own way to preserve the indelible memory of the race of the Romans.

Among these great contributions to staying in the Orthodox faith, the search for freedom and finally the revolutionary movements, culminating in the revolution of 1821, comes from the New Martyrs, among whom St. Kosmas of Aetolos holds a significant position.

New Martyrs are those Christians, or even some Christianized Muslims, such as the New Martyrsr Ahmet, who confessed Christ as the true God and for this the Ottomans condemned them to death. What is important about the New Martyrs, which distinguishes them from the Ethnic Martyrs, is that they gave the confession that Christ is the true God and not the Allah of the Muslims, that is, they made a clear distinction between the God that the Church proclaims and the God of the Muslims. This means that they were not distinguished by a religious syncretism, relativism, nor were they distinguished by the principle of religious inclusiveness, but they were possessed by the principle of exclusivity, that is, Christ is the only God.

Moreover, the New Martyrs endured their martyrdom with holy spiritual patience, without resenting or cursing, but they did it with joy and prayed for their tormentors. Moreover, immediately after the martyrdom miraculous actions followed, healings of diseases, relief from tormenting problems, and many other things, which is why their honor immediately began with the establishment of feasts, the building of holy temples or chapels, the veneration of their holy relics.

These are the main differences between the Neomartyrs and the Ethnomartyrs. Thus, the honor of Saint Kosmas began immediately after his martyrdom, as can be seen in the capital of Epirus, Ioannina.

Thus, the martyrdom of the New Martyrs and the events in their honor were both ecclesiastical and national focal points. Around the tombs of the New Martyrs, a church life developed with all the consequences, that is, a distinction between Orthodox theology and religious ideology, and preservation of the flame of freedom, spiritual and ethnic.

There is no city in which such spiritual focal points did not develop that eventually contributed to the outbreak of the Revolution of 1821. Saint George in Ioannina, Saint Theodore in Mytilene, Saint Constantine of Hydra in Rhodes, Saints Demetrios and Paul in Tripoli, and finally Saint Kosmas and the entire subjugated race were the ones who shaped the climate of the Roman Revolt. One should not underestimate this spiritual infrastructure of the liberation struggle.

2. The "New Martyrology"

In addition to the above, I would like to mention that Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite, who lived during the period of the Turkish occupation, among other books, also wrote the book titled: "Neon Martyrologion" ("New Martyrology"), in which he gathered the lives, and especially the martyrdoms of the New Martyrs, who were martyred until his time.

This most important book finally turned out to be a revolutionary book during the Turkish occupation. Usually, importance is given by many to the "Thourios Of Rigas" or the "Hellenic Nomarchy" and the great contribution of his resistance book by Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite is ignored, which in fact came from within the bowels of Romiosini and not from outside it.

This book is a trumpet of spiritual freedom, and this is because by recording the martyrdoms of the New Martyrs, Saint Nikodemos finds the opportunity, without fear of the conquerors, to exhort the Romans to endure temptations, to remain steadfast in the Christian Church, for those who had denied Christ and changed their faith to repent, and he also exhorts them to testify for Christ as martyrs. Among others, he addresses with the following exhortations, which he puts into the mouths of the New Martyrs:

"Take as an example of patience the tribulations which we your brethren endured ... And you, if you endure after thanksgiving, for the name of Christ, scourges, prisons, chains, labors, losses, unbearable gifts, and other sufferings made by those who hold you prisoners, you will be considered martyrs by your resolution, and considered close to God."

Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite did not suffice to emphasize patience, but he exhorts them not to change their faith, even though they are in the midst of wolves. He says: "Beware... lest they rob you of the treasure of your holy faith... Remember how our despot Christ, who placed you as sheep among the beasts of today, gave you this order, to be wise as the serpent." He exhorted them not to prefer "darkness to light; falsehood to truth; copper and fake coins to pure and tested alloy." And he goes so far as to say the terrible words: "Do not be frightened, brethren, by the frightful faces of tyrants, nor by their great numbers, nor by their voices, nor by their terrible actions. Do not be frightened by wounds, by swords, by chains, by imprisonment. Do not be frightened of gallows, of hooks, of fire."

These resistance exhortations to the Roman people by Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite, during the Turkish occupation, on the occasion of the recounting of the martyrdoms of the New Martyrs, are indeed awesome.

The type of the revolted Greek was the type of the Orthodox Romans, as they were shaped by the life of the Church and the sacrifices of the New Martyrs. That is why the heading that the revolted Greeks put in the first liberating Constitution of Epidaurus in 1822 and Declaration of Independence was: "In the name of the Holy and Indivisible Trinity." And immediately after that there is the explanation: "The Greek nation, under the horrible Ottoman dynasty, unable to bear the heaviest and unprecedented yoke of tyranny, and having made great sacrifices, preaches today through its legal Representatives, in a National Assembly, before God and people, its political existence and independence." Let's note that this statement was made "before God and people", that is, the Triune God, who was invoked in the beginning, and the people who believe in Him.

So it is clear, the preamble of the Constitution to the Triune God, as has been intelligently emphasized, does not produce "legal consequences of a religious nature", nor does it simply have a "historical value", but "secretly proclaims that the Greek state is not an externally driven, conventional hybrid of the Great Powers, a product of the 3.2.1830 London Protocol, but it is the result of a radical process with a revolutionary base and a populist starting point" (Theodoros Papageorgiou). Possibly, the elimination of this preamble of the Constitution will manifest in fact a denial of the essential conditions of the freedom of our country.

Thus, this consciousness of the Romans was shaped by the teaching of Saint Kosmas the Aitolos, who began his speeches with what the Holy Trinity is, and how this teaching affects the whole life of man.

Your Excellency the President of the Hellenic Republic,

Most Reverend Hierarchs,

Beloved brethren,

The belief in the Triune God that the New Martyrs and Saint Kosmas the Aitolos had was what kept Hellenism alive. On the contrary, in Greater Greece, Lower Italy, Sicily, where Hellenism flourished, the Greek tradition was also completely lost, although the Greek philosophy of the Pre-Socratic philosophers and Plato was taught, and the Greek language prevailed, when the Orthodox faith was lost.

We owe a lot to Saint Kosmas the Aitolos, the Equal of the Apostles and Hieromartyr, as well as to the other New Martyrs, especially for the preservation of our Orthodox faith, the fighting spirit, and the freedom of our Homeland. Let us ask for their prayers for all of us, who live in a country where we accept many religious and foreign cultural influences, with so-called modernism, postmodernism, post-Christianity, post-orthodoxy, relativism. May the saints intercede for us to oppose everything that alters this priceless treasure of our Greek Orthodox tradition, that is, destroys the "core" of our race.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.