St. Cosmos of Aetolia and Persecution
The feast day of St. Cosmos is August 24th or September 6th on the Old Calendar. What follows is a sermon that was delivered on his commemoration earlier this month.
St. Cosmos whose memory we are celebrating was a monk of Philotheou Monastery on the Holy Mountain. He felt a calling to preach to his fellow Greeks who had been spiritually impoverished because of the suppression under the Turkish yoke. With this aim in mind he left his monastery and labored to revive and strengthen the faith of the Orthodox in regions of Greece, Albania and Turkey. For this he is called “Equal to the Aposltes” and the Gospel lesson appointed for his commemoration speaks of the apostles being sent out to preach. This is what St. Cosmas did. But he ended his life as a martyr being hanged on a tree by the Turkish authorities in the year 1779. So in our service books he is named “The holy New Hieromartyr Cosmos of Aetolia, Equal to the Apostles”.
This persecution of those who preach the word of God is nothing new. It has existed before the time of Christ, throughout the history of Israel, and is continually repeated. Our Lord spoke much about this in the Gospels. Let us take for instance the readings of the last two Sundays: the parables of the tenants of the vineyard, and those called to the wedding feast. In both of these our Lord was censuring the Jews of old who persecuted and killed the prophets. For in these parables, the servants of the Lord of the vineyard, and the king who made the wedding feast, were ill treated and some even killed. In the parable of the tenants of the vineyard our Lord went a step further. For He related in what a wicked way the tenants killed the son of the lord of the vineyard. Our Lord was calling to account the Jews of His day and confronted them with their sinfulness by foretelling how they would ill treat Him and put Him to death. And it was only four days after He spoke this parable that they did this.
A little later in the Gospel our Lord He continues to critique the Jewish leaders of His day and foretells the continued persecution which began with the Apostles:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets….Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar.” (Mat. 23:27-31, 34-5)
We have seen all this come to pass beginning with the Protomartyr and Archdeacon Stephen, and next the Apostle James the son of Zebedee. And the Apostle Matthias also ended his life as a martyr in Judea.
Our Lord continued to send His servants to the Rulers and citizens of the Roman Empire, calling them to repentance, and the same rejection prevailed, until the time of St. Constantine the Great. Our Lord speaks about this elsewhere when he says:
“But beware of men: for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues; And ye shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles. But when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak. For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you. And the brother shall deliver up the brother to death, and the father the child: and the children shall rise up against their parents, and cause them to be put to death. And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved.” (Mat. 10:17-21)
And the witness of those persecuted for the truth has continued throughout the whole history of the Church. First the Arian heretics had control in certain areas and persecuted true followers of our Lord. This continues with Julian the Apostate, also during the Christological controversies, and under the Iconoclasts the same is repeated. More recently this occurred during the Turkish yoke as we see with St. Kosmos whom we commemorate today. And finally, it is appalling to think of what happened to our Orthodox brethren behind the iron curtain. The highest single cause of death in the 20th century was the martyrdom of the Orthodox Christians behind that iron curtain.
But what about us today, are we ready for persecution? Will we see this is our lifetime. If we just look at how we see the world changing we would have to say, “Yes”. In the context of being asked about the last days before His return our Lord again repeats such warnings:
“Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake. And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another. And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.” (Mat. 24:9-13)
But what can we do? How can we be prepared? We need to carry out the commandments of our Lord and the ascetic teachings of the Church with an aim in mind. And what should our goal be? Well, the Apostle Paul gives us a good answer: “to have Christ dwell in our hearts through faith” (Eph. 3:17). Faith must not be in our head but living within our hearts. We need faith that is not only the intellectual confession of beliefs, but as I said, a faith in the heart. There was a recent Elder Gabriel in Georgia who said that in the last days those who have their faith only in their head and not in their heart will follow the antichrist. In order to acquire and nourish this faith in the heart, we need to pray with our whole heart. In 2010 in an interview entitled: “ The truth about the times—Spirituality of the end of times”, the Romanian Archimandrite Justin Parvu says the following about prayer:
It is very important to know how to pray. Many times even we, the monks in the monasteries pray, but we only think we pray. It is not enough to attend the church services and just be there like that would be enough. We have to work the prayer from the inside out. No matter how many prayers we say with our mouth, it is nothing if the prayer is not coming from the heart and if we don’t apply the teachings of Orthodoxy in our everyday life. Now more than ever, lay people have to pray from the heart, because this will be our only salvation. In the heart is the root of all passions and that is where we need to direct our struggles. If in the later years Christianity became luke warm and superficial, we have to end all that now, this is not going to be enough anymore. If we will not pray from the heart, we will not be able to sustain the psychological attacks, because the evil one has hidden brainwashing methods that are unknown to us.
May our Lord strengthen us for the days ahead of us and keep us in the “faith that was once and for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3). Amen.