Deir Ḥajla - GERASIMUS


The following story is told also by Ps. Cyril, “Life of Gerasimus”, chs. 7-9: Ps. Cyril’s most relevant additions are registered within square brackets.


At a distance of about one mile from the holy river Jordan there is a laura called (laura) of the holy Abba Gerasimus. When we visited this laura, the fathers who reside there told us (this story) about the holy man.

One day, while (the holy man) was taking a walk along the banks of the holy Jordan, he met a lion, piteously whining from a pain in its paw, for the beast had a splinter of cane into it, which had caused its paw to become swollen and festering. As soon as the lion saw the old man, it came up to him and showed him its paw, wounded by the splinter stuck in it, as though crying and begging for (the old man’s) assistance. The Elder, seeing the beast in such a need of help, sat down, and seizing its paw and cutting the place open, he extracted the splinter together with much purulent liquid; then he carefully cleaned the wound, dressed it with a strip of cloth and let the beast go. The lion, after having been healed, never left the old man alone any more, but followed him wherever he went, as a true disciple, so that the old man marvelled at such gratitude in a wild beast. From that time on, the old man began to feed the lion, giving it bread and soaked pulse.

The laura [that is, the caves] had a donkey to carry the water for the use of the fathers - for they drink the water of the holy Jordan, that is one mile away from the laura. The fathers used to entrust the donkey to the lion, which would take it to graze along the bank of the Jordan. One day, while the donkey grazed under the lion’s guard, the lion wandered off some distance from the donkey; and there came some camel-drivers from Arabia, who, finding the beast (alone), took it and went home. The lion, having lost the donkey, came back to the laura much mortified and (presented itself) to Abba Gerasimus with a downcast manner. The Elder thought that the lion had devoured the donkey, and said to it: “Where is the donkey?”. And the lion stood in silence, lowering its eyes like a human being; and the old man said to it: “Have you eaten it? blessed be the Lord: from now on you will do the work of the donkey”. So from that day the lion, obeying the old man’s order, began to carry the pack-saddle holding four jars, and brought the water for the fathers. One day a soldier came to ask the old man’s blessing; and when he saw the lion carrying the water, and learnt the reason, he pitied the beast; so he produced three gold coins and gave them to the fathers, in order that they might purchase a donkey for the purpose of carrying the water, and free the lion from this service. Some time after the lion had been set free, the camel-driver who had taken the donkey came again to sell grain in the holy city, bringing, with him the donkey. As soon as he passed the holy Jordan, he happened to meet the lion. Seeing the beast, the camel-driver let go (the bridle) of his camels and fled. But the lion recognised the donkey, ran up to it and, seizing the leading strap with its mouth, drew the donkey along together with the three camels, and came to the old man, roaring with joy for having found the lost donkey: for the old man was convinced that it had been devoured by the lion. Then the Elder understood that the lion had been unjustly accused; and he gave the lion the name ‘Jordan’. And so the lion spent five years in the laura with the old man as his inseparable companion.

When Abba Gerasimus migrated to the Lord and was buried by the fathers, by God’s disposition the lion was not in the laura; but after a short time it came back and began looking for the old man. The disciple of the Elder and Abba Sabbatius, [the Cilician, who was a friend of our holy father Gerasimus ], seeing the lion said to it: “Jordan, our old man has left us orphans and has migrated to the Lord; but come on, eat something”. However the lion refused to eat: instead, it unceasingly turned its eyes here and there, trying to discover the old man, whining aloud, unable to endure his departure. At this sight, Abba Sabbatius and the other patting the beast’s back, said to it over and over again: “Our father had gone to the Lord, he has left us”. But in spite of all their words, they could not stop the lion’s roars and wails: on the contrary, the more they thought to appease the beast with words and to divert it from its grief, the more the lion wailed and roared and increased its lamentations, showing with its voice, its countenance and its eyes the grief it felt, not finding the old man. Finally Abba Sabbatius said to it: “Come with me, if you do not believe us, and I shall show you where our Elder lies”. And he took the lion and lead it to the place where they had buried (the Saint): it was at a distance of about half a mile from the church. And Abba Sabbatius, standing upon the grave of Abba Gerasimus, said to the lion: “Here is our old man”, and bent his knees. When the lion saw him kneel [upon the grave of the holy Elder and weeping, it prostrated itself too], violently knocking its head against the ground and roaring with grief, and died at once on the grave of the old man …

(transl. Leah Di Segni)

Story of Gerasimus and the lion.