(Welcome to our Saint of the Day series! Each weekday, we present you with an excerpt from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints series, published by Holy Cross Orthodox Press. Today we commemorate St. Zosimos, whose account is found in Volume 2 of the series.)
The Jordan River is the father of the waters in Christian belief, a stream made sacred by the baptism of Jesus Christ by St. John the Baptist, and it is associated with many figures of Christianity, one of whom was a man called Zosimos. He was of such extreme piety and dedication that he has come down to us as “the Ascetic,” out of a vast army of saints, any one of whom might have been called ascetic, but few of whom were as austere as this most holy man in his pursuit of the truth of the Messiah.
Zosimos commenced his monastic life in a monastery on the banks of the Jordan, a cloister which endured for nearly fifteen hundred years until it was laid in ruins in a crossfire of heavy weapons in the Six Day War between Israel and Egypt. Since rebuilt, this monastery wherein Zosimos dwelled was one of the foremost of the fifth century, a true bastion of Christianity that housed men who withdrew from the turmoil of the outside world in order to dedicate themselves completely to God.
Born in Palestine and raised within sight of the sacred Jordan River, Zosimos watched with admiration as holy men came and strove in their ceaseless efforts in the name of the Savior. There were those who stopped to talk to the boy who was so eager to become one of them, and after due preparation in study and meditation, he was admitted to the monastery to find the fulfillment of his highest expectations. Such was the sincerity of his desire to serve God and man that he was soon recognized as one of the true servants of God in their midst, as a result of which he served as spiritual leader in all the religious observances inside and outside of the monastery.
It was common in those days for the monks and fellow travelers to go into the desert during the Lenten season for a forty-day observance of the strict regimen of fasting and meditation. Chosen to lead them in prayer during this holy season was Zosimos. After prayer each took to a remote corner of the bleak desert to meditate in his own way in a search for a nearness to God.
It was a divine will that led Zosimos to a tiny cave of the Egyptian desert occupied by a woman known as Mary of Egypt, whose extreme piety was even then legendary. She is the same Mary of Egypt who abandoned a life of debauchery to dedicate herself to Jesus Christ and thereby become a saint whose feast day is observed on April 1. When Zosimos chanced to meet her, he little realized that he would address himself to a woman who would one day become a saint, although he readily saw in her all the qualities that make for such an honor. After this first encounter, Zosimos made it a habit to call on Mary whenever the Lenten season called him to the desert.
It was the hand of God that led Zosimos after some years to the cave of Mary just as this pious woman was breathing her last. Zosimos stayed with his friend in Christ in her final hours and officiated at the services when she was laid to rest. Despite the fact that this funeral was held in a forbidding corner of the earth, far away from any beaten path, mourners came in great numbers to hear the words of Zosimos in his eulogy of a departed servant of God.
Zosimos left the burial site to go to Jerusalem to report directly to the Patriarch Sophronios, who was anxious to hear an account of the work of Mary of Egypt, about
whom he had heard so much. After hearing of her life, Sophronios joined in a prayer for the repose of her soul. The conversations of Zosimos with the patriarch in the several days they spent together are recorded in the archives of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem.
Zosimos returned to the monastery on the Jordan, where he found a warm welcome by a throng of monks and laymen who thereafter sought him out for spiritual counsel. Zosimos died peacefully near his beloved Jordan River on April 4 at the age of 100.