May 1, 2020

Saint Gerasim of Boldino (+ 1554)

St. Gerasim of Boldino (Feast Days - May 1 and July 20)

Venerable Gerasim of Boldino, whose secular name was Gregory, was born in 1490 at Pereslav-Zalessk. In his early childhood, he often went to church to attend the divine services. When he heard about the holy life of Saint Daniel of Pereyaslavl (Apr. 7), the thirteen-year-old Gregory tearfully begged the Elder to permit him to join him. The Elder accepted the boy as a novice in 1502 and, in 1508, gave him monastic tonsure with the name Gerasim at the Trinity Danilov Monastery. This monastery had a hospice for the maimed, mutilated, blind, lame, and those incapable of work, and it was Gerasim's obedience to take care of these unfortunates. He was known as the "shoemaker" because he would make shoes for them.

The new monk zealously fulfilled the labors of fasting and prayer and vigilant watchfulness, and soon he was known in Moscow as a strict ascetic. He even traveled to the capital with his teacher, and met the Tsar. Worldly fame was a burden for the ascetic and, after twenty-six years under Saint Daniel’s guidance, Saint Gerasim obtained the blessing of his Elder to live the solitary life in the region of Smolensk. He settled near the city of Dorogobuzha in a wild forest inhabited by snakes and wild animals. The holy ascetic restrained his body (“the wild beast”) by subjecting it to heat and cold. The Saint often had to endure the intrusion of robbers, but he bore all their outrages meekly and patiently, and he prayed for the malefactors.

In a vision, he was instructed to go to Boldino Hill, where an immense oak stood by a spring, divided at the top into three powerful branches, such that raindrops could not soak a person who would like to hide under its canopy. The local inhabitants beat him with sticks and wanted to drown him, but they became frightened and handed him over to the administrator of Dorogobuzha, who threw him into jail for vagrancy. Saint Gerasim patiently endured the ridicule, keeping silence and devoting himself to prayer.

During this time an imperial emissary from Moscow came to visit the administrator. Seeing Saint Gerasim, he bowed down before him and asked his blessing. He recognized him because he had seen the Saint before, with Saint Daniel, in the presence of the Tsar. The administrator became terrified, and immediately begged the Saint’s forgiveness and promised to build an enclosure to protect him from robbers.

From that time Saint Gerasim received those who wished to embrace the monastic life, and sought permission at Moscow to build a monastery. In 1530 he built a church dedicated to the Most Holy Trinity, and he also built cells for the brethren.

Besides the Boldino Monastery, Saint Gerasim founded another monastery in honor of Saint John the Forerunner in the city of Vyazma, and later on, in the Bryansk forest at the River Zhizdra, a monastery in honor of the Entry of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Temple. Peter Korostelev, a disciple of Saint Gerasim, was made abbot of this monastery. Several ascetics were under the spiritual guidance of Saint Gerasim: the abbot Anthony, who later became the Bishop of Vologda (Oct. 26), and Arcadius, a disciple of Saint Gerasim, struggled as a hermit and was buried at the Boldino Monastery.

Before his death, Saint Gerasim summoned the abbots and monks of the monasteries he had founded, told them of his life, and gave them his final instructions. This oral narrative of the Saint was included in his Life, which was composed by Saint Anthony at the request of the Elders. The Rule, or Testament, of Saint Gerasim is similar to the “Spiritual Deed” of Saint Joseph of Volokolamsk. From Saint Joseph he also borrowed the practice of having twelve Elders govern the monastery.

There is an oral tradition that he may have converted Opta, the founder of Optina Monastery. It seems that he would convert the criminals in a given area, and then establish a monastery there.

Saint Gerasim reposed on May 1, 1554. On February 3, 2016 he was officially canonized by the Russian Church.

The monk was buried in the Trinity Cathedral of the Boldino Monastery, in the aisle in the name of Saint John the Theologian. From the written sources that have reached us, it is known that the holy relics of the Saint rested in hiding, so that even during the construction of a new cathedral on the site of the former, they did not disturb the burial place, organically incorporating it into the space of the southern aisle.

In May 1921 (according to the testimony recorded in 1971 in the words of the participant in the events, Tit Petrovich Novikov), the commission for the liquidation of the relics opened the burial site. From a depth of about one meter, a white stone sarcophagus was removed, in which, according to the commission, there were the remains of the Monk Gerasim and his disciple Yakov Andreyevich Saltykov, who, according to the text of the monk’s life, was buried near the Saint.

The sarcophagus was taken to Smolensk, and the remains were transferred to two new coffins and buried in a cemetery outside the walls of the monastery. However, there were doubts that when opening the coffin, which was only one meter from the floor level in the early twentieth century, the true resting place of the Monk Gerasim was disturbed. Perhaps that is why the place of the new burial of the remains recovered by the commission in 1921 was not revered by believers.

When dismantling the ruins of the Trinity Cathedral, blown up by the Nazi invaders in 1943, it became clear that the southern side chapel of the cathedral was laid at the end of the 16th century on a gentle hillside descending from the place where the older cathedral stood, to the Boldinka River. In order for the floor in the southern aisle to be on par with the floor of the entire cathedral, the builders had to add soil. This proved that even in the 16th century the burial of the Monk Gerasim was at a depth much greater than one meter. In addition, during excavations that began in May 2001, it was found that during the repair work the cathedral was raised 85 cm from the original level. Initially, excavations were carried out by the inhabitants of the monastery. In the southern aisle, a one and a half meter layer of land had to be removed before the level of the end of the 16th century (the time when the construction of the Trinity Cathedral began) was revealed.

Excavations in more ancient layers were organized by Tatyana Panova, head of the archeology department of the Moscow Kremlin museums, and Natalia Petrovna Sinitsyna, tissue and leather restorer. When removing bulk soil in the place where the coffin of the Monk Gerasim used to be, the contours of the grave pit were discovered.

The autopsy of the grave pit began on July 17, 2001. Analysis of the recoverable soil showed that the burial remained intact. At a depth of more than 3 meters from the floor of the early twentieth century, the venerable remains of the Monk Gerasim of Boldino were discovered.

Their authenticity is beyond doubt: the burial was carried out in the monastery tradition, 16th century ceramics were found in the grave filling, and the remains of the coffin in the form of ashes were also found. The coffin was a wooden deck hollowed out of a solid tree trunk. The configuration of the coffin, with a narrowing at the foot, is also characteristic of that time. In addition, leather shoes were found in the burial site. Venerable Gerasim, as is known, probably stitched the shoes with his hands.

The relics were removed and placed in the refectory of the Vvedensky church in a specially made coffin. The miraculous attainment of the relics of the Saint of God was accomplished and was reported to the ruling bishop of the diocese, Metropolitan of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, Kirill.

“We believe that in this wonderful event a sign of God's favor is given to all of us, so that faith and piety will be revived in our people, and through these virtues life itself will be changed, filled with the light of God's truth, peace and prosperity,” the response letter says.

Metropolitan Kirill blessed the day of July 20, when official conclusions were given regarding the belonging of the found remains to the Monk Gerasim, to be considered the date of the finding of his venerable relics.