Lives of the Saints – St. Gerasimos (October 20)

On flights to Greece, the jet pilots usually announce the approach to the Greek mainland by pointing out below the sparkling Ionian waters and the jewel-like island of Kephalonia. It is much more than a landmark. It is something more than its beautiful sister islands that surround the mainland. The very special reason is that its ground is the final resting place of St. Gerasimos, a saint whose body has miraculously remained in a state of preservation for nearly 400 years.

Gerasimos was more than an unusual man. Despite his intense desire to serve Jesus Christ in as many places and in as many ways as possible, he turned out to be quite a private person. He had mingled with hierarchs in the leading cities, in the course of which he made it clearly evident that although his peripatetic tendencies seemed to lack direction; he was always on the path of the Lord. In other words, he was a wandering minstrel whose voice was raised in song to Jesus Christ. All the while, it would appear that the mission was to go it alone, which is precisely what he chose to do when he at last isolated himself to be alone with God on one of Greece’s beautiful islands.

St. GerasimosBorn in the rugged mainland of the Peloponnesos in the city of Trikkala in 1509, he set out on a peripatetic search for God that was a lifelong tour de force. His appetite for wisdom and piety was insatiable and he was never content to remain in one place for long, lest he grow complacent in his religious practice. He had to crowd into his life all the holy places and all the holy men that he could possibly see. The result was that he made himself known to men of God in all the great centers of Christendom, including the island of Zakynthos, Constantinople, the Holy Mountain, Chalcedon, Thessalonike, Damascus and finally, in the sacred city of Jerusalem. After spending some years in that city, Gerasimos was ordained a priest and thereafter tonsured a monk of the holy church. During his 12-year stay in the Holy Land, he established himself as a man of complete piety and rare proximity to God. His restless quest for total service to the Lord led him to visit the renowned Monastery of St. Catherine in the Sinai Desert. He also visited a mountain retreat near the Jordan River called Sarantarion, the holy mountain where Jesus has remained for 40 days and nights warding off the forces of evil. Likewise abiding there for 40 days and nights, he returned to serve the Patriarchate of Jerusalem.

While in charge of the holy Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem, the saintliness and wisdom of Gerasimos became apparent in all his efforts. However, he still felt the need for even more spiritual refinement and led pilgrimages throughout the Holy Land, Egypt, Crete and Zakynthos. Satisfied at long last that he had fulfilled all his spiritual obligations, he decided to settle in a place of his choice to make his stand for Christianity. He chose Kephalonia, to the dismay of so many other cultural and religious centers and to the great delight of the islanders.

A cave served as his headquarters, where people came for their spiritual needs. There he found a pleasant nunnery which was named New Jerusalem and whose nuns were to render a great service in the name of the Lord. Gerasimos continued to teach and to inspire up to the time of his death on August 15, 1579. He was buried in accordance with the Orthodox tradition and as was the custom of that day; he was exhumed after three years.

When the body of this venerated saint was exhumed, the world witnessed a miracle. His body was in a state of perfect preservation, as were his priestly robes. In addition to that, there exuded from his casket an aroma like that of perfume. From all over Europe and the Middle East, people made their way to look upon this holy man who lay there as though asleep. Encased in a glass casket at the nunnery on his beloved island, he lies in state to this day and is looked upon with sublime reverence by thousands of visitors each year.

Reference: Orthodox Saints, Vol. 3 by Fr. George Poulos.
Icons courtesy of used with permission.