REVIEW OF APOSTLE TO ZAIRE: THE LIFE AND LEGACY OF BLESSED FATHER COSMAS OF GRIGORIOU by Demetrios Aslanidis and Monk Damascene Grigoriatis (Uncut Mountain Press, 2001)
When I was a child my father spent a good deal of time working in Africa, and many of our bedtime stories were adventures set in that continent.Â These sometimes had vivid scenes of witch doctors and black magic. Even now, some forty years later, I remember wondering if black magic was really as potent as the stories made it sound; and if so, how could one protect oneself from it?
Such questions are more than a childâ€™s fancyâ€¦as oneÂ quickly finds when reading this Â fascinating work on the life ands labors of Â Blessed Fr. Cosmas of Grigoriou.Â
Cosmas was born in Greece in 1942; from his youth he involved in work for the church, developing many practical skills.Â In 1975 he was sent to Zaire to construct churches, which he did with great success; the next year he returned to his homeland, where Elder Paisios advised him to become a monk at the monastery of Grigoriou on Mt. Athos.Â Fr. Cosmas followed the advice, spent a year there, and was ordained a priest; then he returned to Zaire, where he selflessly served the people till his death in 1989.
While the book is not particularly well written or translated, it breathes the breath of spiritual life. (I can’t think of anything but an Orthodox hagiography that can survive such treatment!) In reading it one feels mystical ties to Fr. Cosmas, and kindship to our Zairian Orthodox brothers in Christ, who are sorely beset by spiritual foes.
For those of us in the industrialized world who are accustomed to demonic powers veiling their work, the naked evil of Satan in Africa is almost shocking.Â
Two forms of witchcraft are practiced there:Â black magic and white magic.Â Black witchcraft is is overtly devoted to murder, mayhem and destruction. Â Sorcerers, aided by the demonic powers, slay babies in the womb, slaughter infants and children for body parts used in rituals, and curse and murder adults.
It is not surprising that black magicians are greatly feared by the people.Â The populace go out of their way not to offend those possessing such powers; government officials are fearful of punishing their crimes, and even many baptized Christians are afraid of them.Â Â
White witchcraft is ostensibly devoted to exposing black magicians; but in reality it is Â demonically inspired also.Â When a black witch is exposed, he is apt to meet a grisly end himself.Â (Satan doesnâ€™t treat his staff well.) Â Hence, both versions of magic lead to the destruction of human life and degradation of society.
This is illustrated in a memorable story in which Fr. Cosmas came across a great crowd of terrified people one day as he was driving to a city. He saw that some men were carrying the coffin of a child; upon enquiry he found that the child had been killed by a black witch”and, what’s more, the coffin was supernaturally leading the crowd toward the sorcerer.
Fr. Cosmas wanted to stop and pray for the departed child, so the mourners could go in peace; but he was told that if he did so the child’s loved ones would likely kill him, as they had already paid for the services of the white witch to expose the sorcerer. (Witches, fortune tellers and the like do fee-based work, whatever part of the world they may live in.)
Later Fr. Cosmas learned that the coffin did lead the crowd to the sorcererâ€¦and in fact, it had such demonic power that it struck the black magician a fatal blow to the head.Â Thanks to the white witch, then, there were two murders rather than one.
However Satan does not have power over the human will or the body of Christ, and some witches—including some particularly powerful ones—converted to Orthodoxy in the course of Fr. Cosmas’s work. In a short but fascinating interview he explains that when the sorcerers turn to Christ, renounce their magic, give up their implements, confess and are baptized they become quite invincible to demonic assaults.
Baptism must be followed, of course, by regular confession and communion. (Even so, one can’t fall into pride; openly challenging the demons is quite foolish.) Holy water is a great aid in the spiritual warfare; the implements and body parts used by sorcerers are powerless against it. Also, Fr. Cosmas would sometimes perform liturgies at night to counter the demonic rituals taking place.
This blessed priest was tireless in his missionary labors; he would do his traveling at night to save time, in spite of fatigue and treacherous driving conditions. He translated many liturgical texts into Swahili, and founded a monastery, which is necessary in establishing the church in a new land. During his labors there he baptized some 15,000 Zairians. After his falling asleep he has worked many miracles; perhaps he will become that nation’s first saint.
While there is a lurid element to the open spiritual warfare in Zaire, our â€œcivilizedâ€ version is quite similar to theirs. Demons kill the unborn (though in our case it is through “enlightened goverments” rather than sorcerers); demonic morality, apologetics and actions are a part of everday life, as seen on TV; we practice polygamy albeit in serial fashion and we have white and black witches, with white witches presenting themselves as benevolent.
One thing we can learn from this book is how important it is to make diligent use of the things God has given us for protection in our warfare against the demons. The importance of frequent confession and communion can hardly be overstated; indolence leaves us vulnerable. Holy water too, common as it is.” is more powerful than all the tools of Satan.Â
Finally, this book reminds us how important it is to participate in the church’s work around the world. In once sense Africa is mission field; but in another sense the Zairians spiritual vitality and openness their faith is stronger than ours. Those of us in the industrialized nations are in a mission field too and are in great need of their gifts as the world around us slouches toward servitude to darkness.