KOSMAS AITOLOS (1714–1779), also known as Father Kosmas, was a Christian saint, priest, monk, popular preacher, and educator. Kosmas was born in Aitolia, Greece, and received his elementary education in his home province. After spending some time as a teacher, he entered the theological academy on Mount Athos then headed by Eugerios Voulgares, one of the eminent Greek educators of the eighteenth century. Shortly afterward, Kosmas became a member of the monastery of Philotheou (one of the twenty monasteries of Mount Athos), where he later was ordained a priest.
Within a year, Kosmas felt called to leave the monastery and become an itinerant preacher. With the permission of the patriarch of Constantinople, Serapheim II (r. 1761–1763), Kosmas began his preaching ministry, which lasted until his death by hanging in 1779 at the hands of the Ottoman authorities, who accused him of, among other things, being a Russian spy.
What alarmed the Ottoman authorities was the great popularity enjoyed by Kosmas. His honesty and direct manner of preaching in the language of the people, his reputation for sanctity, his frequent visits to remote villages and hamlets, and his total disregard for material possessions caused hundreds, sometimes thousands, of men and women to follow him while he traveled from village to village.
Kosmas preached a gospel of love and concern for the fair and just treatment of women and children. In addition, he laid great stress on education, founding ten secondary schools and over two hundred elementary schools. Often he secured both teachers and funds for these schools. He believed that an educated laity would be able to rise to a higher standard of moral and ethical living and thus be better prepared to resist the temptation, due to discrimination as well as social and economic pressures, to convert to Islam. Kosmas can truly be credited with effecting enormous changes in education and in the moral behavior of the people of western Greece and southern Albania.
Honored as a saint in his lifetime, Kosmas remains one of the most popular saints of the Greek Orthodox church. He has been given the sobriquet "teacher of the nation."
A complete bibliography on Kosmas would include more than two thousand items. The best work on him and his times is Markos A. Gkiokas's Ho Kosmas Aitolos kai hē epochē tou (Athens, 1972). The most complete account of his teachings in English is my own book Father Kosmas, the Apostle of the Poor (Brookline, Mass., 1977).
Nomikos Michael Vaporis (1987)