(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's saint, St. Gerasimos, is found in Volume 1 of the series.)
Saint Gerasimos of Jordan
The credibility of the story of a pious monk named Gerasimos and his attachment to no less an animal than a lion, the acknowledged king of beasts, suffers somewhat through fictional accounts such as that of Androcles, which was expanded upon by George Bernard Shaw in his entertaining play about the Greek slave. When the true story about Gerasimos and his encounter with a lion unfolds, the reader’s brow is liable to furrow in disbelief unless he calls to mind that the power of the Lord Jesus Christ is extended to all of his creatures. More recent evidence of the tractability of lions outside of the circus arena is clearly demonstrated in the highly successful account of the friendship of a lioness in the book and documentary entitled “Born Free.”
Much more implausible occurrences than that of Gerasimos are sprinkled throughout history and are accepted without question. He was born in the seventh century in the province of Lycia in Asia Minor, a time when lions roamed that particular region much as they did when Sampson slew one with his bare hands, as told in the Old Testament. What seemed implausible was that Gerasimos, who came from a family of leisure class wealth, would one day walk away from the abundant life for the austere self-denial of monasticism. Yet this is precisely what happened when Gerasimos felt the call to the service of Jesus Christ and turned his back on comfort to stride willingly into the bleak confines of a cloister of the desert in order to come nearer to God and dedicate himself totally to the Savior.
He was tonsured a monk by an abbot who saw in him the true piety many sought but few acquired, and went to live in complete asceticism in the valley of the Jordan not too far from the fabled Jordan River. Eventually, he set up his own monastery and through an active service to the community as well as to God he attracted several dedicated monks who developed a highly respected cloister that was a spiritual oasis in the desert. A student of the eminent St. Euthymios, he evinced a remarkable knowledge of dogmatic theology, which he imparted to his fellow monks, as well as a wisdom for which he won wide acclaim.
He often went to the banks of the Jordan River to meditate and pray by the stream, which is celebrated in Scripture and in which he found an aura of tranquility which was conducive to the inner peace that nourishes the soul. While in this state of meditation, he heard the roar of a lion and turned to see an animal licking its paw furiously in obvious pain. The calmness he had achieved while seated at the river bank remained with Gerasimos as he approached the lion and discovered that its huge paw was swollen from a large sliver which had become imbedded in its flesh. Quite possibly, instinct told the beast the man meant him no harm and it remained still while the monk withdrew the fragment.
This done, Gerasimos simply turned and started walking back to his monastery and was quite pleasantly surprised to see the lion following him like a pet dog. He stopped to stroke the beast and then and there was formed a friendship with the animal, which was as tame as a cat by this time, as they strode together to the cloister.
The monks were frozen in terror when Gerasimos walked into their midst in the company of his newfound pet, and it was quite some time before they could find themselves at ease with a lion lolling about. But the nameless beast soon became a household pet which never posed a threat to the monks and which preferred to remain at the side of his benefactor.
The rare sight of a lion sprawled at the side of a busily engaged monk was as much an attraction, if not more so, than the renowned wisdom of its master. But pilgrims, monks and students alike came to realize that they were beholding a manifestation of the mysterious and unexplainable workings of the Lord.
Archbishop Sophronios of Jerusalem, admirer and biographer of Gerasimos, relates that the presence of the lion seemed to enhance the image projected by Gerasimos as a man of rare power, as a result of which the venerable monk is depicted in icons with a lion at his side. It is further related that when Gerasimos died, the faithful lion seemed to lament his passing and he was found dead at the foot of the grave of St. Gerasimos.
Text from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints. Image from this website.