Thursday, March 4, 2021

Saint Gerasimos of Jordan (+ 475)

 

By John Sanidopoulos
 
Born in Lycia, in the southern part of Asia Minor, into a wealthy family, he bore the name Gregory in the world. He left family, wealth and worldly affairs and became a monk with the name Gerasimos in the desert of the Thebaid in Egypt and later, around 450, came to the banks of the Jordan River in Palestine, where he founded a lavra and became its abbot.

The lavra of Saint Gerasimos was divided into two parts, the cenobium and the cells. The cenobium was for younger monks who trained to be anchorites, while the more advanced anchorites were allowed to live in their cells under very strict conditions. Saint Gerasimos had around seventy anchorites living in their cells.

Those who were anchorites living in their cells had to abide by the following regulations:

- They were to remain in their cells for five days during the week weaving baskets and mats.

- From Monday to Friday, only bread, water, and dates were permitted.

- On Saturdays and Sundays, when all attended church and participated in the divine services, afterward in the cenobium they would eat together cooked food and drink a little wine. Then each anchorite would bring and place at the abbot's feet what he had made in the past five days.

- They were to have no possessions in their cells, except a single garment, straw for bedding, a simple bed covering, and a clay vessel for water and soaking palms needed in weaving baskets.

- They were to never light a fire in their cells, so as to not eat cooked food, boil their water, nor read at night.

- They were to keep their cells open when they went out so that everyone could, if they wanted, take from their cells.

Thus they were to have all things in common in order to acquire humility and non-possessiveness, and those who were unable to abide by these regulations were told to return to the cenobium.

Saint Gerasimos was an example to everyone in this strict Christian way of life, and even exceeded all those who were under him. By eating little and sleeping little, he subdued his passions and became a model of virtue to all and a vessel of the Grace of the Holy Spirit. During Great Lent he would even go and live with a disciple alone in the inner desert, eating nothing but Holy Communion on Sunday. For nine years one of his disciples was Saint Kyriakos the Anchorite, who would accompany Saint Gerasimos into the desert during Great Lent.

In the time of Emperor Marcian and Empress Pulcheria, Saint Gerasimos, due to his simplicity and ignorance, was deceived by the Monophysite Theodosios, who also led many of the great anchorites into error, and became inclined to accept the Monophysite heresy of Eutychius and Dioscorus. However, not long after, Gerasimos went to Saint Euthymios who helped turn him away from heresy, causing him to bitterly lament his error.

When Saint Euthymios reposed in 473, Saint Gerasimos had a vision in which he saw his soul being carried up into heaven by angels.
 
John Moschos mentions that Gerasimos once saw a lion roaring in pain, because there was a thorn in its paw. Gerasimos approached the lion, crossed himself, and pulled the thorn from its paw. The lion became so tame after that it followed Gerasimos to the lavra and stayed there until its death. The lion stayed with the elder for five years in a state of obedience and fasting, eating only bread and soaked vegetables, and Gerasimos gave him the name Jordanes. Once Gerasimos falsely accused Jordanes of eating the only donkey of the lavra, when in reality it had been stolen by certain Arabs, but when Jordanes found the donkey and brought him back, Gerasimos was quick to acknowledge his error. When Gerasimos died in 475, Jordanes the lion also died due to the loss soon after, and was buried next to the Saint.

According to the Jerusalem typikon, Saint Gerasimos was commemorated on March 4th, while some manuscripts list him under March 5th which was the actual day on which the Saint reposed, but those who followed the Studite typikon celebrated him on March 20th. When the Jerusalem typikon was favored over the Studite typikon, the feast of Saint Gerasimos was established on March 4th.

Biographical details come to us from Cyril of Scythopolis and John Moschos, however his complete life was probably not compiled until the seventh century, likely by Saint Sophronios of Jerusalem, who was a companion of John Moschos. He also wrote the life of Saint Mary of Egypt, which also speaks of the Monastery of Saint Gerasimos in her time as well as contains a  miraculous story with a lion at the end of her life.

Images of Saint Gerasimos of Jordan are unknown until the 12th century. The earliest known image is a fresco in the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Theotokos in Novgorod at Saint Anthony's Monastery which dates to around 1125. From the beginning of the 14th century, the life cycle of Saint Gerasimos began to be depicted. The earliest is in the Church of Saint Nicholas Orphanos in Thessaloniki and dates to 1309-1319.

In the West, Saint Gerasimos of Jordan is sometimes confused with Saint Jerome, whose name in Latin is Geronimus, and thus Saint Jerome is often depicted in Western art with a lion. Roman Catholics commemorate Saint Gerasimos of Jordan on March 5th.

The Greek Orthodox Monastery of Saint Gerasimos in Deir Hajla near Jericho commemorates Saint Gerasimos, whose lavra was nearby. Initially, the original Lavra of Saint Gerasimos of Jordan was located 1.5 km from the Jordan River, but became abandoned. The present Monastery of Saint Gerasimos is located 3.5 km from the Jordan, and until the 13th century it was called the Monastery of Kalamon, but then renamed to that of Saint Gerasimos. The history of the monastery is also linked to another Christian tradition: Joseph, Mary and the infant Christ were said to have found refuge in a cave here during their flight from Herod the Great. An underground chapel was built on the spot where it is believed they spent the night. The Mother of God called it a "good abode", and thus it received the name Kalamon.
 
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