Saint Gerasimus of Boldino, whose secular name was Gregory, was born in 1490 at Pereslav-Zalessk. In his early childhood, he often went to church to attend the divine services. When he heard about the holy life of Saint Daniel of Pereyaslavl (April 7), the thirteen-year-old Gregory tearfully begged the Elder to permit him to join him. The Elder accepted the boy as a novice and, after a short time, gave him monastic tonsure with the name Gerasimus. The new monk zealously fulfilled the labors of fasting and prayer, and soon he was known in Moscow as a strict ascetic. He even traveled to the capital with his teacher, and met the Tsar.
Worldly fame was a burden for the ascetic and, after twenty-six years under Saint Daniel’s guidance, Saint Gerasimus obtained the blessing of his Elder to live the solitary life in the region of Smolensk. He settled near the city of Dorogobuzha in a wild forest inhabited by snakes and wild animals.The holy ascetic restrained his body (“the wild beast”) by subjecting it to heat and cold. The saint often had to endure the intrusion of brigands, but he bore all their outrages meekly and patiently, and he prayed for the malefactors.
In a vision, he was instructed to go to Boldino Hill, where an immense oak stood by a spring. The local inhabitants beat him with sticks and wanted to drown him, but they became frightened and handed him over to the administrator of Dorogobuzha, who threw him into jail for vagrancy. Saint Gerasimus patiently endured the ridicule, keeping silence and devoting himself to prayer.
During this time an imperial emissary from Moscow came to visit the administrator. Seeing Saint Gerasimus, he bowed down before him and asked his blessing. He recognized him because he had seen the saint before, with Saint Daniel, in the presence of the Tsar. The administrator became terrified, and immediately begged the saint’s forgiveness and promised to build an enclosure to protect him from robbers.
From that time Saint Gerasimus received those who wished to embrace the monastic life, and sought permission at Moscow to build a monastery. In 1530 he built a church dedicated to the Most Holy Trinity, and he also built cells for the brethren.
Besides the Boldino monastery, Saint Gerasimus founded another monastery in honor of Saint John the Forerunner at the city of Vyazma, and later on, in the Bryansk forest at the River Zhizdra, a monastery in honor of the Entry of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Temple. Peter Korostelev, a disciple of Saint Gerasimus, was made igumen of this monastery. Several ascetics were under the spiritual guidance of Saint Gerasimus: the igumen Anthony, who later became the Bishop of Vologda (Oct. 26), and Arcadius, a disciple of Saint Gerasimus, struggled as a hermit and was buried at the Boldino monastery.
Before his death, Saint Gerasimus summoned the igumens and monks of the monasteries he had founded, told them of his life, and gave them his final instructions. This oral narrative of the saint was included in his Life, which was composed by Saint Anthony at the request of the Elders. The Rule, or Testament, of Saint Gerasimus is similar to the “Spiritual Deed” of Saint Joseph of Volokolamsk (September 9, October 18, February 13). From Saint Joseph he also borrowed the practice of having twelve Elders govern the monastery.
There is an oral tradition that he may have converted Opta, the founder of Optina Monastery. It seems that he would convert the criminals in a given area, and then establish a monastery there.
Saint Gerasimus reposed on May 1, 1554. He is also commemorated on July 20.