On October 20th we celebrate the feast of Saint Gerasimos of Cephalonia. I had the opportunity in the Summer of 2016 to visit the church of this saint while traveling with the campers from Ionian Village. I remember going down to the cave where the saint spent much of his time. As we came down the stairs we saw others from our group that were waiting to come up. They were breathing heavily because there is not much air in the cave and it quickly becomes uncomfortable to breathe.

There is a second and even smaller cave that you get into by crawling through a small hole. At first the hole almost looks too small to get through. We made it through and had a brief moment inside because it was still hard to breathe and there were others waiting to enter.

It was quite an experience and the whole time I kept thinking, how did Saint Gerasimos spend so much time down here? It would take great inner strength not to feel anxious from the lack of oxygen and not to feel claustrophobic. Reflecting on this experience and relating it to our lives leads me to the following question. Don’t we all have feelings of anxiety and often times feel like the pressures of our lives are closing in on us, so that we can hardly breathe?

This is true and the way that we can overcome these fears is by resting in the presence of God. I suppose that Saint Gerasimos, being in the presence God, was not anxious living in that space. Now, I don’t know that we should all find such a cave, but I do know that we all need to find a quiet place where we can quiet ourselves and feel the presence of God and allow Him to take up our burdens.

When I was a seminarian I remember a particular moment that changed me. I was walking from my room toward the chapel and I crossed paths with Bishop Gerasimos of Abydos who lived with the students at that time. I was a young man and he was an old man. As I passed him I heard him say faintly, “You walk like an old man”. I quickly realized that I was carrying the weight of all my burdens and they were crushing me. I knew immediately that I had to give my worries over to God and allow Him to be my strength.

All these years later I remember Bishop Gerasimos of Abydos whenever I begin to feel overwhelmed and I remember the need to rest in the presence of God. It is important to keep in mind the words of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew 11: 28-30, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly of heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.

In the Gospel of Mark (1:32-39) after an evening of healing the sick and casting out demons, Jesus gets up early in the morning before dawn and finds a solitary place to pray. Our Lord gives us a beautiful example of taking time to pray that He might gather his strength to carry forward to the next towns to preach.

Reflecting on this passage in Mark, Henri Nouwen offers the following that I think is a helpful in closing, “Somewhere we know that without a lonely place our lives are in danger. Somewhere  we know that without silence words lose their meaning, that without listening speaking no longer heals, that without distance closeness cannot cure. Somewhere we know that without a lonely place our actions quickly become empty gestures. The careful balance between silence and words, withdrawal and involvement, distance and closeness, solitude and community forms the basis of the Christian life and should therefore be the subject of our most personal attention.