Gerasimus of Boldino was born Gregory in the little Russiantown of Pereslav-Zalessky near the turn of the fifteenth century into the sixteenth. He didn’t have any particular reason to attend the worship services and ecclesial celebrations of the local Orthodox congregation and, yet, upon occasion you could count on Gregory to be there. Gregory likely understood himself to be Christian in some nominal sense on the virtue of his citizenship but it was not something personal or comprehensible to him. One day–when Gregory was only thirteen years old–the priest told a story when Gregory was sitting in the audience and listening attentively. This story was of a man named Daniel who was from the little town where they gathered and who had committed his own life to a type of Christian ministry that was shocking in its sincerity and powerful in its impact. Daniel had begun taking care of the sick and hungry not because of some promise of power or influence but simply because it needed to be done and he was able to meet the need. He made it his goal to provide decent and reverent burials for those whose bodies were abandoned to be eaten by scavengers.
As Gregory listened he was overcome by the importance of Daniel’s work and soon found himself aware that his heart beat faster when he thought of following in Daniel’s footsteps. To do that, however, Gregory knew that he must follow after the commands and teachings of Daniel’s Lord: Jesus. So, Gregory went forward to the priest and tearfully begged to be allowed to be a part of any group of which Daniel wanted to be a part. So, he was converted to the Faith and endeavored to live a life worth telling stories about. Gregory became a novice in the monastic order of which the priest was a part. He gave his focus and attention to his studies so that he might be well prepared for the task that awaited him as a Christian and a monk. Eventually, he was given the monastic tonsure and took the name Gerasimus–his name had changed to reflect the change that was taking deeper root within him. He became noted for his asceticism and his renunciation of the comforts of this world in favor of environments and situations that would further induce him to focus upon the God who had called and was saving him. This notoriety became a burden to him and he left it behind and took up a life of solitude even as he continued to emulate the loving and sincere actions of Daniel–the one who had inspired him to live his faith and not simply pretend to possess it as if it were some “thing” that could be “had.”
When he embraced his solitude it did not mean abandoning the people of the world. Instead, it meant finding solitude even amid frequent visitation. Some of his most frequent visitors, though, were bandits and criminals who would target him because of his relative isolation. They would beat him and take what meager possessions he held but they never once were able to break his will or desire to love them. As they approached, he greeted them as guests and expected the best of them even when he had been given many reasons not to believe them capable of it. As they beat and abused him he thanked them for being a part of God’s plan to tame and correct his own arrogant and proud soul. He prayed for them and offered them forgiveness even when they didn’t ask for it and even when it convinced them further to abuse him. Slowly–very slowly at first–his prayers and love had an effect and soon he had founded a monastery consisting primarily of reformed and converted criminals. He founded more than one monastery and was influential in the conversion of many notable Christians in the area. The boy who had been converted by hearing a story of a man called by God had been called by God himself to live a life worth telling stories about and lead those God loved into the salvation God had prepared for each of them.