Presbyter Kozma
The royal way for the soul

He is thought to have been a priest and a preacher in the Bulgarian royal court in the second half of the 10th century. His work Oration Against the Bogomils and Lessons of the Canonical Books has been preserved in a Russian copy made between the 12th and the 19th century.

The presbyter by the name of Kozma was a contemporary of Saint Ivan of Rila and of the priest Bogomil. The only evidence we have of his life is his Oration Against the New Heresy of Bogomil. That work alone, however, was enough to make him a remarkably strong personality in Bulgarian history. Even if more evidence had been preserved of his life, hardly anything could have been more telling than his own writing. Even if the Oration was a work commissioned by the palace or the higher clergy to which presbyter Kozma is believed to have been related, it is so personal, so profound and well substantiated, and so vigorous that it creates a vivid, almost palpable image of its author.

It is possible that Presbyter Kozma wrote it shortly after entering into an ecclesiastical career, and he was probably well acquainted with the stormy sides of mundane life. The Oration is neither a canonical or missionary sermon, nor a theological or dogmatic treatise, but rather a description of the new morality that Christianity or, to be more precise, the Christian state, sought to establish.

Presbyter Kozma was witness to the polar opposites of spiritual and worldly life. On the one hand, there was the total devotion to God of hermits like Saint Ivan of Rila, which was of little social consequence. On the other hand, there was the Bogomilism heresy which went against the very grain of the official doctrine. Besides, he faced "ineradicated blasphemies, profane chants and dances and interpreting of dreams and visions" and the "idleness of priests" who were "uneducated, ignorant of the law and making their way as lawgivers by greasing palms." Bulgarians were still "blind in their mind's eye," he wrote. He wanted to show them a way, not only to understanding the state and the church as part of its identity, but also to the salvation of their own souls, to a both spiritual and physical survival.

"Take the royal middle way," he preached, helping the "blind" see the fundemental harmony of man with the surrounding world. He cited three mainstays in each sphere of earthly life. His basic principle was: "have love for your brother, fear of God and reverence to your tsar." His moral principles demanded "no envy, no jealousy, no wile," and his emotional principles "quietness, kindness and love." In the most intimate sphere of private life the options were "celibacy, marriage or lechery."

Presbyter Kozma was not just the preacher of the great doctrine, translating its postulates into a language understandable to the common people. He also transformed it into a new ethic, mixing together the rational and the emotional, the spiritual and the physical, the earthly and the divine. Many contemporaries might like this piece of advice from him: "it is good to drink wine in moderation for the benefit of the body." There was a formula justifying social stratification: "wealth is not evil if managed properly," as well as "rejoice in poverty, for from those who have been given much, much will be requested." Along with these, he formulated fundamental principles without which it is unthinkable that a society or a state could exist: "He who fails to look after his own kin has renounced his faith and is more contemptible than an infidel."

Presbyter Kozma's attacks against the Bogomils were severe where everyday problems were concerned: a heretic was a man who "fasts and works on Sundays, eats no meat, drinks no wine, despises marriage and abhors little children as if they were an offensive stench." Heretics "would not work with their hands but would go from house to house and devour the wealth of people deceived by them." Presbyter Kozma knew how to fight for the mind and soul of Bulgarians, who he considered "infants who drift along with every wind." His "royal middle way" was to provide the foundation of political and social thought for a people only just united by a single religion and, for that reason, lacking spiritual unity. Through personalities like Presbyter Kozma, the new religion was attempting to establish a new order and a hierarchy of spiritual, moral, and even emotional values. It is hard to judge the extent of its success. The fact that we know of his work in this field only is probably due to the scarcity of sources. Throughout history, though, the Bulgarian people have always found it hard to identify the "royal" middle way.

{Spiritual Leaders of Bulgaria}