ST GERASIMOS THE NEW OF KEFALONIA (10/20/19)
Luke 16:19-31; 2 Corinthians 9:6-11
Today, dear ones, we heard in the Gospel about a rich man who gave nothing to the sick and dying beggar Lazarus who was lying at the front gate of his house. We also heard from St. Paul today about the importance of giving, and that if we hoard all of our wealth for ourselves and our family, or if we give a little, but grudgingly, God’s grace, that is, God’s “giving,” will be very far from us. Vital lessons!
Now, I’d also like to share a little something about a man who was, and is today, a total giver, St. Gerasimos the New ascetic of Kefalonia. This wonderful holy person was born in 1509 in the tiny village of Trikala-Corinthias, in the Peloponnese. He was a decendant of the Notaras family, a well known Byzantine family during the reign of the last emperor Constantine XI Palaiologos. He was reared in piety by his parents, Demetrios and Kali, and was passionately devoted to the study of the Holy Scriptures. At a young age he visited Constantinople. It was during this visit that he was moved with compunction for the number of Christians who witnessed to their faith by committing their lives to the monastic life. With this in mind, he went straight to Mount Athos and remained for five years there. He then moved to the Holy Land and remained in Jerusalem for twelve years. He also visited Mount Sinai, Egypt and Crete; where he remained in a cave for two years. From there he went to the island of Zakynthos, where he also remained in a cave for around five years, and at the age of 50 ended up in a cave in the nearby island of Kefalonia. In Kefalonia he restored an old church and built a convent around it, where it stands to this day. He was forewarned by God of the day of his death and finished the course of his life on August 15, 1579. His sacred relics, remain complete and incorrupt in the convent that he founded. They emit a heavenly fragrance and work many miracles for the sanctification and healing of the faithful. His selfless and giving character explain why he continues to this day to be the Patron Saint of the island of Kefalonia and the protector of all its inhabitants and all those who celebrate his memory in faith. I’d like to share with you now three miracles from among hundreds, maybe thousands, that are preserved for our edification and blessing.
1. A Young Atheist Woman From Australia.
She writes: “I came to Greece in 1988, hoping to get work as an English teacher. I wasn't of Greek parentage, nor did I have any particular interest in classical culture or the arts, but came because Greece sounded interesting. I had not been raised with any religion nor was I looking for one, but soon after I arrived I met some people who were planning to go to Kefalonia, to St. Gerasimos, and invited me along. It seemed a good way to begin seeing the country, and I agreed. When I entered the church and stood before the saint's coffin, I was stunned by what I saw - the incorrupt relics were so obviously a miracle that I knew in myself that there must be a God, and that Orthodoxy was how you worshipped Him. I was baptized and a year later I came to the monastery.” (She is today a nun, Sister Anna, at St. Stephen’s Monastery in Meteora, Greece).
2. The Cave of Saint Gerasimos and Unbelievers
The older church containing the relics of St. Gerasimos is built directly over his cave and pilgrims are welcome to descend and squeeze through the tiny floor-level entrance that leads into the cave. Local Christians say that only believers can wriggle through the narrow passageway. The wife of an Argostoli priest has informed that, wanting a blessing for her unborn child, she had squeezed through with no trouble when she was fully nine months pregnant, but the thin, lithe young woman whom she brought with her - an unbeliever - couldn't do so.
3. Healing of a Mentally Ill Woman
In 1785, a mentally ill woman named Susanna came to the monastery and lived there for many months. She never spoke to anyone and ate only if she was given food; otherwise, she went hungry. One day, after she had been there almost a year she began shrieking loudly during Vespers. The priest came out of the altar and tried to calm her but she screamed all the more until the unnerved cleric finally slapped her, trying to stun her and shake her out of the grips of her hysteria. Finally she had to be forcibly carried out of church. That night the priest had a dream that the saint's larnaca (the reliquary-coffin where the saint’s body lies) opened by itself and St. Gerasimos climbed out. He was holding a book in his hands and motioned the priest over. When the priest came up to him, he hit him hard over the head with the book and asked him, "Did that hurt?" The priest said, "Yes," and the saint responded, "And that hurt me tonight when you slapped that poor woman. Get up now, it's time to go to Matins, and don't ever do it again." The priest awoke terrified, and ran to the church where he begged the saint's forgiveness. That morning, Susanna was again in church, but this time, she spoke out coherently, "Let the priest who hit me yesterday, come and give me something to eat." To the amazement of everyone who knew her, she had been completely healed.
4. A priest and his wife from America
In 1982, a priest and his wife from America came to venerate the relics of St. Gerasimos. There were a number of pilgrims there when the monastery gates opened, when suddenly a small local boy approached the priest and his presvytera and told them to descend with him into the cave of the saint and crawl through the tiny opening before going to the place where the saint’s reliquary was. The cave was tiny, the opening, tinier. The cave floor was dusty, even muddy in spots. The boy, as if reading their minds, said to them: “Go ahead, don’t be afraid, you won’t get dirty!” The presvytera crawled through. The other pilgrims crawled through. The skeptical priest, who could not tell if his wife got through the opening unscathed, delayed, worried about his cassock being covered with dirt and mud. In the meantime, the other pilgrims and the presvytera were standing before the saint’s reliquary waiting for the abbess to open the lid for them to venerate the feet of the saint. When the abbess tried to open the lid it was stuck, unmovable, as if glued or nailed shut. The more she tried to budge it, the tighter the lid became. Finally she declared to those assembled, “the saint will not allow me to open the larnaca until the priest has joined us.” At that moment, the tardy and skeptical priest emerged...no mud or dirt on his cassock, and, as he noticed, none on the dress of his wife either. As the priest approached the reliquary, the lid now popped open as if it were doing so by itself. The sweet and powerful fragrance of heaven filled the temple, and the monastery priestmonk, from memory, conducted a prayer service (doxologia) honoring the saint. At the conclusion of the service, the priestmonk motioned to his overwhelmed American brother to come close to the relics. “Be not faithless but believing!” he said. “See how God has favored his holy one. See the flesh how supple it is. See the veins in his neck, how alive they appear. Lose your skepticism and embrace all of God’s miracles, great and small, with faith and joy!” The American priest was never the same after that, and for the rest of his life rejoiced at how wonderful God is in His saints! Amen.