Gerasimos was born into the Notaras aristocratic family of Trikala
Korinthias in 1506. His parents were Dimitrios and Kallie Notara.
His grandfather Lucas, the last prime minister of Byzantium, was
a relative of Constantine Paleologos, the Emperor of Byzantium.
On completion of his excellent education, he toured all the sacred
places in Greece. He went to Constantinople on a pilgrimage to the
land of his anscestors. He then moved on to Mount Athos where he
was ordained monk. His ascetic cave is preserved to date in Kapsala
(cell of Vasilios the Great).
He was ordained priest in the Holy Land where he served
for 12 years at the Sacred Tomb Brotherhood and the Patriarchate
of Jerusalem. Seeking a higher peace, he moved on to Crete and later
on ended up in Zakynthos where he stayed for 12 months.
He came to Cephalonia in 1555 where he spent five
ascetic years in a cave in Lassi, an area on the outskirts of Argostoli.
In 1560 he went to Omala where he renovated the small church of
Theotokos. Here he founded a convent which he named "New Jerusalem".
His most characteristic motto, which he preached until
he died, was "Children, live in peace and do not be arrogant".
He passed away to the Lord on August 15th 1579. For
ecclesiastic reasons - the celebration of the Dormition - his death
is commemorated on the next day, August 16th. On papal intervention,
the Venetians ordered a second burial. The second restitution took
place on October 20th of the following year.
Since then, the Sacred Relic remains intact and fragrant
for the blessing of the devout, displayed in a glass case which
is incorporated in a larger silver larnax placed over the Saint's
ST. GERASIMOS LITANY
(by Father Ioannis Mesoloras)
It is true that our villages owe a great deal to the presence of
the Saint and His Convent at Omala Valley. The entire area celebrates
and rejoices when St. Gerasimos is litanized to the plane tree and
the thrushing fields. The Saint is seen as the sun by the folk poet
as He comes out of His Church and lightens the mountain-enclosed
area of the valley.
"As the sun you emerge from Your church Gerasimos, and with
heaven's angels you ascend the heights".
This valley will exclusively receive His Blessing. According to
tradition, many times it was attempted to remove Him from here,
without success. A little further down on the road to Troianata,
the location is called "podoria" and it is the place from
where He could be moved no further. He would become heavy. He feels
content here because it is the place He chose among so many others
he visited. He thus reigns over Omala and several times during the
year He promenades like a rarely-seen nobleman for His subjects
to admire and rejoice. And they come in thousands. Among the procession,
He in the middle, raised high, humble, untouched by time, in His
clerical robes which like His body did not perish in the grave.
Heading the procession are children holding cherubs and the choir
chanting "Oh, Saint of God, intervene on our behalf...."
Clergy and nuns all around Him, and a humbly saintly monk - Gerasimos
Psihalas from Xiromero, holding the rug on which He will be placed
on the Well. Coming up behind are Metropolitans - Cephalonians do
take an interest, they ask: "how many Metropolitans will come?"
- officials and the congregation of God. His procession to the plane
tree is a blessing, the exodus of a king to his kingdom. He will
rest at the Well that He dug, under the shade of the plane tree
- His eternal signs according to the poet " - a five-branch plane
tree and a deep well you left for us Gerasimos as an eternal sign".
The water in the Well will overflow and the leaves of the plane
tree will thrush to greet The Master.
Ah, this Litany! The church bells are ringing in joy, music is playing,
soldiers are marching with arms. Who knows what the Omala Ascetic
is thinking? Can He see it all, can He hear it all?
These poor folks are trying to exalt Him. Officials in presence,
the bands, the chanters with their melodies, the clergy and the
metropolitans with their gold-weaved robes. Speeches, thank yous,
Accept all this, Holy Ascetic. This is what the people are able
and know to offer. If need be, don't pay attention. If it's not
to Your liking, look elsewhere. Look at the valleys, the trees,
" -The valleys and mountains shine in Your presence- the trees
bow their branches to worship You, listen to the birds - through
the leaves of the trees the birds sing angels' hymns - sing for
You Gerasimos of Virtue". And if You pass on to the unwordly,
listen " the Angels in Heaven officiate at Your Liturgy".
What a festivity, what a joy is the Saint's Litany! Everything takes
on a new look- Has the Saint come out, what time is the Saint coming
out? Asks the Cephalonian. Asks loudly, theatrically, theologically.
They are not taking Him out - He is coming out, He is alive, He
moves, He acts and above all He comes out to distribute gifts like
a nobleman and administrator of heavenly wealth to His subjects:
"Everywhere You spread comfort, joy, bliss and invisibly You give
Everyone rejoices, is touched, cries, cross themselves and pray:
but some are moved to convulsions
"- the demons are torn in the presence of Your Sacred Relic-
- They beg You to stop being angry-
- To not throw them to the wild flames-
- Asking complete freedom from You- "
So much freedom as to torture the children of God. " to run free
and at will to torture the sinful, to run and gather them from everywhere
The insane are the Saint's expertise according to the nuns, which
is why there were special quarters for them to do their "forties"
(40 days of Lent) in order to be absolved of the demons that had
conquered them. Observe what happens at the Litany. Black dressed
souls, men, women, children, all running to secure a position to
lay down anywhere along the procession's way so that the Saint may
pass over them. The relations of the insane try to place them -
some cooperate, others resist. Some of them will find a spot somewhere.
The clergymen give instructions - some of them in an inappropriate
way that gives the impression of unloading a boat - policemen put
people in order. Everyone is looking for a position, some must line
up, others must bow. As the Saint is approaching, everyone calms
down. He passes over them. A miracle can now take place. If not
this time, maybe another, faith is not spent. The Litany however
is the peak of hope. At the plane tree, prayers are said, hymns
are chanted, speeches are given, thanks are directed to those who
attended and honored the Saint with their presence, and the procession
starts to retrace its way back. Passing the thrushing fields, "The
Farmer of Omala" - according to the late socialist Antonis
Tritsis - is at His element. Here, at the place where the crops
were processed, the prayer " for the fertility of the earth
and peaceful times " will be heard, and chanting the departure
hymns the " association of ascetics, clergy, choir, and numerous
celebration participants..." will return to the "small"
church ....(there is a big, Byzantine style church as well).
The Saint has been placed in His Dormition place. The crowd awaits
to pay respects. The officials have paid their respects while the
Saint was held up at the western gate where a memorial prayer was
said for His parents Dimitrios and Kallie and all the deceased.
The clergy hurriedly disrobe and wish "may the Saint look over
us". The pilgrims begin to leave and soon Omala Valley will be
deserted and the Saint will be peaceful in His Dormition. The congregation
however will not have gone away empty-handed, they will have taken
something: conscecrated bread, blessed charms from the nuns, icons,
crosses, soil from His grave, leaves from the plane tree, blessed
bread, and those who got the chance, coffee and sweets at the Abbey.
Some will go to the Convent Dining Room for the meal. The locals
will go home where they'll most likely have boiled goat. In the
past, all homes had extra food for the relatives and friends who
came on the pilgrimage. They surely had to have something after
hours without eating, tired from the night vigil.
In our days, they leave, most go home, we invite them but they are
not very receptive, they have cars and leave...
What finally remains in the mind and soul after participating in
the Litany? Every Cephalonian can express it, the locals at Omala
live through it so often..
Despite this, something obscene remains on the tongue of many Cephalonians,
which the poet of the verses that provoked this article, begs to
" My beloved Christians, stop blasphemizing St. Gerasimos
and among others, respect the child of Trikala".
(published in the local newspaper "Frangata" - 1995)