In the fourteenth century, Europe underwent two very different Renaissances. Whereas Roman Catholic Europe went through a pagan renaissance, Orthodox Europe underwent a spiritual renaissance. The Orthodox Renaissance, already presaged in the eleventh century by St Simeon the New Theologian (+ 1022) and in the late thirteenth century by St Nicephorus the Hesychast (+ 1280) and the Council of Blachernae in 1285 under Patriarch Gregory II of New Rome, was led by St Gregory of Sinai (+ 1346).
The Orthodox Renaissance was a providential event, which allowed the Orthodox world to respond to the Godless humanism which was about to develop in the West and would cause a Greek like Barlaam of Calabria to lapse from Orthodoxy. The Orthodox Renaissance was multinational. Thus, St Gregory of Sinai came from Asia Minor, but lived in Cyprus, Syria and Crete, on Mt Athos, in Greece and Bulgaria. His disciples were also multinational. Indeed, living in a foreign land was considered to be a virtue among the hesychasts of Sinai - only the heavenly homeland is the true one.
For example, there was his most distinguished and articulate disciple St Gregory Palamas (+ 1359), who came from Constantinople, and many other Greeks like the anti-Latin St Joseph the Hesychast (+ c. 1360), St Mark of Klazomen (+ c. 1360) and St Athanasius of Meteora (+ 1383); there were Bulgarians like St Theodosius (+ 1363) and St Roman of Trnovo (+ 1370) and Metropolitan Cyprian, who took the Orthodox Renaissance to Russia and St Sergius of Radonezh; there were Serbs like St Romil of Ravannitsa (+ 1376), St Gregory of Gorniak (+ 1406) and St Sisoes of Sinai (+ c. 1410). From the Balkans St Nicodemus of Tismana (+ 1406) spread the spiritual renaissance north to Romania, where through St Paisius (Velichkovsky) in the eighteenth century, it later spread again into Russia, to Valaam, Glinsk, Sarov and Optina and on into Siberia, Alaska and Japan. However, the spiritual renaissance of Orthodoxy spread not only north and east, but also westwards, in the person of St Gerasimus - a Catalan.
St Gerasimus was perhaps the closest of the twelve disciples of St Gregory of Sinai. He was ‘the most worthy and deserving of praise, following in his footsteps and as it were the reflection of his virtues’, according to the holy Patriarch Kallistos, who reposed in Serbia in 1364. St Gerasimus was born in Karystos on the island of Euboea. Himself a Catalan, he was related to Boniface of Verona (+ 1317), the ruler of the island, which was under Venetian control. Gerasimus became a monk on Mt Sinai under the future St Gregory. He left the monastery with his spiritual master at the end of the thirteenth century and, as his favourite disciple, he stayed with him until his repose, achieving a high level of ascetic life. He lived the hesychastic life and was ‘filled with the grace of God’, becoming a model for many.
After the repose of St Gregory, St Gerasimus became close to the hesychast Isidore, Patriarch of Constantinople between 1347 and 1349, and also to St Gerasimus of Jerusalem. Like the latter he founded new monasteries in Greece, where he taught many the hesychastic life on the Athonite model. Since St Gerasimus spoke French fluently, he also used to preach among the many Franks who then lived in Greece. The Saint was deemed worthy of many visions and miracles and was canonised by the Church of Constantinople, but unfortunately, there is no record of his feast-day.
Holy Father Gerasimus, pray to God for us!
(We are indebted for much of the above to the book, ‘St Gregory of Sinai and his Spiritual Successors’ by Igumen Peter Pigol, Moscow 1999).