St. Gerasimos was born in Lycia, in southwestern modern day Turkey. His parents were wealthy, and he grew up living the life of a merchant. He traveled to Egypt, and began to spend time with Egyptian hermits whom he met along the way. When he was still very young, St. Gerasimos came to love God so much that he did not care much at all for the worldly things that his peers seemed to find important. When he was grown, he moved to Egypt and began a monastery near the Jordan river.
The monastery quickly grew to be about 70 monks who all loved God and wanted to live a life devoted to Him. The monks lived and worked alone in cave-like cells most of the week, only coming together on the weekends for Divine Liturgy and a hot meal. When they would gather, they’d give St. Gerasimos the items they had made with their hands during the week, and those items were later sold to sustain the monastery.
The monastery is located in a very dry part of Egypt, so the monks had to fetch water from the Jordan River to bring to the monastery. The water was heavy, so they loaded jugs on the back of a donkey, and the donkey carried the water for them. One day, St. Gerasimos took the donkey to the Jordan to fetch the water. When they got to the river, there was a lion there, roaring in pain!
St. Gerasimos bravely walked up to the lion to see what was wrong. It had a thorn stuck in its paw, and the injury was getting infected! St. Gerasimos pulled the thorn out of the lion’s paw, then cleaned and bandaged it. When he and the donkey had filled the water jugs and were on their way back to the monastery, the lion followed them. It began to follow St. Gerasimos everywhere, just like a puppy. It was happy to eat only bread and vegetables. It even helped with the water-fetching chore! Once it knew the routine, the saint would send the lion and the donkey to fetch the water by themselves. St. Gerasimos did not even have to go along! The lion would take the donkey’s harness in his mouth and lead the donkey to the water. The donkey would step into the river and allow the water jugs on its back to fill with water, then he would climb out of the river, the lion would take the harness in his mouth again, and they would go back to the monastery.
One day when St. Gerasimos sent the lion and the donkey to fetch the water for the monastery, the lion fell asleep while the donkey was in the river filling the water jugs on its back. The lion never even saw the merchants passing by who thought the donkey had been abandoned, so they took him to add to their caravan! When the lion woke up, he looked everywhere for the donkey, but, of course, he couldn’t find him. He returned to the monastery with his head hung low in shame.
St. Gerasimos and the monks thought that the lion had eaten the donkey. They punished him by making him do the donkey’s work: he had to carry the water jugs and fetch the water himself. The lion loved St. Gerasimos, so he obeyed. One day, when the lion was fetching the water, that same group of merchants passed by the lion again while he was at the Jordan river! The lion recognized the donkey, who was still with the caravan. He roared loudly and frightened the merchants away. The lion once again took the donkey’s harness in his mouth and led the donkey (and the camels in the caravan followed) back to the monastery.
St. Gerasimos and the monks were very surprised to see their donkey again! They were also very sorry for accusing the lion of eating the donkey when they did not know the whole story. (Don’t worry: the merchants followed their caravan all the way to the monastery, where the monks very kindly gave everything back to the merchants – well, everything except for the donkey, who belonged to the monks in the first place!)
After the donkey’s return to the monastery, St. Gerasimos told the lion that he did not have to stay and keep working. He was free to leave. The lion did leave the monastery, but came back to the monastery every few days to visit his friend St. Gerasimos.
St. Gerasimos departed this life on March 4th, 475 AD. At the time of his passing, the lion was out on one of his adventures, so he was not at the monastery. He returned soon after the saint had departed this life, and searched all over the monastery for his friend. Of course, St. Gerasimos was nowhere to be found. One of the monks finally took the lion to see the saint’s grave. When he saw the grave, the lion finally understood where St. Gerasimos was. The lion was very sad, and died right there at his friend’s grave.
The life of St. Gerasimos is a great example to all of us for many reasons. Here are a few of them: He exemplified loving God above all earthly things, even from a young age. His life teaches us the value of living simply. He modeled how the very creation (in his case, a lion) is at peace with us when we are living and loving all as God intended – just as it was in the Garden of Eden, before sin entered the world. And when St. Gerasimos made a mistake (as when he and the other monks misjudged the lion regarding the disappearance of the donkey), he made it right (by giving the lion a choice to go back to its freedom). These are a few of the ways in which St. Gerasimos exemplified the Christian life for us. May we learn from his example, and live our lives in such a way that we, too, glorify God!
You proved to be a citizen of the desert, an angel in the flesh, and a wonderworker,
O Gerasimos, our God-bearing Father.
By fasting, vigil, and prayer you obtained heavenly gifts,
and you heal the sick and the souls of them that have recourse to you with faith.
Glory to Him that has given you strength.
Glory to him that has crowned you.
Glory to Him that works healings for all through you.
This picture book is an excellent way to introduce children to the life of St. Gerasimos of the Jordan: http://www.stnectariospress.com/st-gerasimos-and-the-lion/. Children will be fascinated by the saint’s friend, who was a lion! Here is another picture book that illustrates the saint’s life: http://orthodoxchildrensbooks.com/eng/index.php/Books-in-English/Paterikon-for-Kids-St.-Gerasim-and-the-Lion/flypage-ask.tpl.html.
St. Gerasimos of the Jordan, please intercede for our salvation!
Here are some ways that we can help our Sunday Church School students learn about St. Gerasimos of the Jordan’s life:
Before teaching your Sunday Church School students about St. Gerasimos, read more about his life. Two places to start are here: http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2011/03/life-of-saint-gerasimos-of-jordan.html and here: http://holycrossbookstore.com/blogs/blog/18980631-saint-of-the-day-st-gerasimos-of-jordan.
A section of the brand new activity book, “Saints and the Animals That Served Them” is dedicated to St. Gerasimos. Pages 35 – 41 contain a printable (and colorable!) icon of the saint, a retelling of his life, the Troparion and Kontakion to him, journaling prompts, a map activity page related to his life, and several other activity pages to further our learning about the saint. Print your own copy of this activity book from the OCA’s Department of Christian Education website: http://dce.oca.org/page/activity-books/
Show your Sunday Church School students these pictures of the St. Gerasimos monastery, which is still in existence: http://www.biblewalks.com/Sites/StGerassimos.html. http://www.seetheholyland.net/monastery-of-st-gerasimus/ also has pictures from the monastery. After you look at the pictures, think together about how the monastery has changed since the time of St. Gerasimos. Try to figure out if anything has remained the same.You can find out more about the monastery, including who is the current abbot and how many monks and novices are there, at the patriarchate’s page: http://www.jerusalem-patriarchate.info/eng (Click on “Administrative Structure,” then “Holy Monasteries and Churches outside Jerusalem” to find the monastery’s current information.)
After studying the life of St. Gerasimos of the Jordan, invite your students to act out the part of his life which included the lion. One person can play the part of St. Gerasimos, someone else can be the donkey, another person the lion, and the rest can be members of the caravan (people, camels, etc.) If you decide to costume your characters, you’ll need to create a lion, a donkey, and a camel (or more) costume. Find a gathering of lion craft ideas here: https://www.pinterest.com/torthodoxcpress/lions/; donkey craft ideas here: https://www.pinterest.com/vickie72003/donkey-crafts/; and camel craft ideas here: https://www.pinterest.com/pmvanginkel/thema-kamelen-kleuters-camel-theme-preschool-camel/
St. Gerasimos of the Jordan and the other monks in his monastery concluded that the lion had eaten the donkey when he returned to the monastery alone. Was that really what had happened? After a lesson on St. Gerasimos’ life, talk with your students about this situation. Discuss ways to apply what the monks learned to your own life. Have you ever come to a logical conclusion and judged someone’s actions, only to discover later that you were wrong? Is there anyone that you need to make things right with because of a situation like this? This episode of “Be the Bee” helps us to think about judging others (or why not to!) and introduces additional lessons from Christ Himself, and from another monk (not St. Gerasimos) who also was from the Egyptian desert. This vlog can be a great addition to your discussion on judging other people: http://bethebee.goarch.org/-/-77-first-among-sinners
St. Gerasimos of the Jordan is still interceding for all of us, and God continues to work miracles through his prayers. Read the July 2013 interview with Archimandrite Chrysostom, the abbot of the St. Gerasimos Monastery, which includes accounts of modern-day miracles performed by St. Gerasimos: http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/63156.htm. This blog includes accounts of the same miracles, and more: http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2010/03/recent-miracles-of-st-gerasimos-of.html. Talk about these miracles with your students, and think together as a class of examples of times when you need help that you could ask St. Gerasimos to intercede for you! Invite the students to write or draw what they are asking him to pray about.