Today, 5 Mar 2012, is the feast day of St Gerasimus, a hermit and abbot who lived in 5th century Palestine near the River Jordan and died around 475. It was an era rife with theological controversies, and St Gerasimus got caught up in it. A holy friend, St Euthymius, helped him to see where he had gone wrong and set him once more upon the true path of penance.
St Gerasimus grew up in Lycia in Asia Minor. Attracted by God’s call he began to live a life of great spiritual discipline. Perhaps at some point the desire to visit the holy places of Jerusalem took hold of him, or perhaps he wished to learn first hand from the desert fathers in Palestine, or both. Whatever the catalyst was, and it could also have been the desire to sort out the theological controversies with a learned and holy person, Gerasimus made the journey to Palestine around 453.
Ever since St Mark made the question, ‘Who do you say I am?’, the fulcrum of his gospel, scholars and holy men have been pondering the true nature of Jesus. The Council of Chalcedon in 451 declared that Jesus is one person, with new natures – one human and one divine – held in hypostatic union. Believing this has all kinds of consequences for understanding the nature of salvation, relationships within the Most Holy Trinity, and the veneration of Our Lady. Gerasimus prior to his visit to St Euthymius had held at least part of the monophysite heresy to be true, that Jesus is one person with one nature – a divine-human one. Thankfully St Euthymius was able to help Gerasimus understand and accept the Church’s doctrine and to turn away from all heresy. From then on Gerasimus sought by prayer and penance to undo all the bad things that had flowed to souls from his bad example of embracing heresy. As a respected hermit and holy man, many must have followed Gerasimus’ lead and have given room to this heresy in their hearts.
As soon as Gerasimus was back on the right path, the good Lord sent many men seeking to live a penitential life to him. To accommodate them all, Gerasimus had to build a monastery surrounded by 70 cells for hermits. Have we not seen the same phenomenon in our own times? Those diocesan seminaries and religious orders that seek to form their members according to the teachings of the Magisterium of the Church with great fidelity have plenty of vocations and those seminaries and orders who stray from the teachings of the Magisterium have very, very few vocations, if any.
Desperate times called for desperate measures, and those who wished to atone for past sins or to undo the wrong they had done when under heresy’s sway, or who just wished to join this band of radical spiritual warriors, sought out Gerasimus’ leadership. To live as a hermit with him near the Jordan River was not for the faint of heart. During the week the hermits lived in silence in their cells and subsisted on water, bread and dates. They prayed and made baskets and rope in their cells. Only a reed mat for a bed and a single set of clothes decked out the cells. Without candle light or fires they lived totally according to the rhythm of day and night. On weekends they would gather together to share common prayer, Holy Mass, and the only cooked hot food of the week, sometimes with a little wine. no one even laid claim to their own cell, since whenever they were unoccupied anyone at all could make use of them. What a powerhouse of prayer and reparation Gerasimus and his fellow hermits must have offered to God each week!
So attuned to God and to God’s creation did Gerasimus become that even the animals responded to his requests, especially donkeys and the lion from whom Gerasimus removed a sharp thorn from a paw. If even the animals gave such example of obedience to Gerasimus, how perfectly must his fellow hermits have sought to live in holy obedience!
May the prayers of St Gerasimus greatly aid all the leaders of God’s people to turn away from everything in their lives which is not in accordance with the teaching of the Apostles as handed down by them through the Magisterium of the Catholic Church.
St Gerasimus, pray for us.