August 16, 2017

The Cave of St. Gerasimos the New Ascetic in Zakynthos

St. Gerasimos the New Ascetic was born in Trikala of Corinth to the renowned aristrocratic Notaras family. Before St. Gerasimos went on to live an ascetic life on the island of Kefallonia, he lived in his forties for five years as an ascetic in a secluded cave on the island of Zakynthos. There he ate only greens with neither bread or salt, and legumes soaked in water. His main form of sustenance however was prayer, vigils, the constant remembrance of God, and the study of Holy Scripture.

During his time on Zakynthos, the future St. Dionysios was born to the Sigouris family in 1547, and as local tradition claims, it was St. Gerasimos who baptized the child - some add that he was also the godfather. The young priest was already known for his ascetic life, and it is not unlikely that the devout Sigouris family would have chosen him as their spiritual father.

There is a story told in Zakynthos that when St. Gerasimos decided to leave the island to live as an ascetic in the caves of the neighboring island of Kefallonia, he went down to the beach and asked some fishermen setting off to take him with them. Unwilling, they refused, claiming that they were not going all the way to Kefallonia, but only fishing. Their lie caught up with them, however; when they landed on the beach at Kefallonia, St. Gerasimos was already there. Astonished, because there had been no other boats nearby as they sailed from Zakynthos, the fishermen asked him how he had arrived before them. His only reply was to ask them why they had refused to bring him along.

Access to the cave is difficult because you have to cross two mountain slopes full of bushes to find it. From afar it looks like a relatively small opening on the rocks with a white cross on its top. When you arrive you have to bend to get in due to the narrow opening. When you enter you think how hard to believe it is that in here lived a man. In the cave you will find the icon of St. Gerasimos and hanging icons of Christ and Saints. On the ceiling, you will see three holes that St. Gerasimos had opened for the fumes to escape when cooking. At one time at the entrance of the cave there was also his little garden.

St. Gerasimos reposed on August 15, 1579 and in 1622 was declared a Saint by the Ecumenical Patriarchate. He is commemorated by the Orthodox Church on October 20th and August 16th. If you happen to find yourself on the island of Zakynthos on his feast day and go to his cave, you will find it cleaned and cared for by the locals of the area.