March 4 — Gerasimus of the Jordan; Casimir of Poland

Gerasimus of the Jordan (d. 475) was originally from Lycia (southern Asia Minor). After a spell in Egypt, he founded a monastery by the banks of the Jordan. At some point he fell into the heresy of believing Christ had only a divine, and not a human, nature, but a visit from (St.) Euthymius the Great (Jan 20) straightened him out on that score right quick. He and his monks lived a strict monastic rule, eating only bread and dates (or roots—pick your source, pick your variant) on weekdays, possessing only a mat to sleep on, and having unlocked (or undoored) cells.

But it’s for his lion that Gerasimus is justly famous. Legend has it that he was passing along the Jordan one day when he found a lion crying in pain. Coming nearer, he saw that the beast had a large splinter stuck in his paw. Gerasimus removed the splinter, and the lion meekly followed him back to the monastery. Since nobody eats for free, even bread and dates, they gave the lion the job of protecting the monastery’s donkey.

One day while the lion was catching a quick siesta, the donkey wandered off and was stolen by a passing trader. The lion searched all day, and when night came he headed back to the monastery with his head hung low. The brothers thought he must have eaten the donkey (the lack of blood on his muzzle didn’t puzzle them), so they assigned him the donkey’s task of carrying the water jars to and from the river every day. Finally one day the trader wandered by, with the donkey and a troika of camels. The lion recognized the donkey, and roared so loudly and so incessantly that the trader took fright and took flight. The lion grabbed the halter and proudly led the donkey back to the monastery, with the camels in tow. The brothers then realized they had misjudged the lion. For that reason (we’re told) Gerasimus gave the lion the name Jordanes, although I’ll be darned if I can see the connection. Five years later, Gerasimus fell asleep in the Lord, and Jordanes lay down on the grave, roaring and beating his head against the ground in his grief. Soon he too died, and he was buried near his beloved elder. (This story always makes me cry.)

Casimir of Poland (1458–1484) was the third son of King Casimir IV, and thus not surprisingly was raised and educated for the purple. When his uncle, King Ladislaus the Posthumous (is that a great title or what?) died, leaving Hungary king-free, (some of) the nobles of that land asked for Casimir, then 13 years old, to be king. In obedience he led an army from Poland as far as Hatvan (some 35 miles northeast of Buda), but when a rival’s army took to the field, and promised reinforcements failed to appear, they retreated. Finally, due in no small part to desertions (strangely the soldiers objected to not getting paid) and the onset of winter, they gave it up. Casimir was ashamed of his failure, and devoted himself to a vow of chastity and works of piety, such as praying on his knees all night outside locked churches.

When his elder brother Vladislaus II became King of Bohemia, Casimir became crown prince of Poland. His father tried to arrange a political marriage for him with the daughter of the Holy Roman Emperor, but he refused due to his personal vow of chastity. Not long after that his health rapidly declined, but he kept his vow even when his doctors suggested he would regain his health if he would only have sex (I’ve heard of doctors like that) (I think one has a show on Fox). Shortly after his death he appeared in a vision before the Lithuanian army, and hearing of this miracle, his younger brother Sigismund the Old petitioned the pope to canonize him, which happened a mere four years later. He is the patron saint of Poland, Lithuania, and bachelors.