THE LION AND THE LAMB - LIVES OF THE DESERT FATHERS
About a mile away from the Jordan river there is a monastery known as abba Gerasimus' monastery. When we visited it, the old men living there told us about abba Gerasimus. One day as he was walking by the banks of the Jordan he met a lion in the way, roaring loudly. He was holding in the air one swollen paw covered in bloody matter, caused by a sharp sliver of reed embedded in it. When the lion saw the old man he stood still and held out the wounded paw with the reed in it, as if weeping and asking to be cured. When the old man realised the plight the lion was in he took the lion's paw, probed the wound and drew out the reed along with a quantity of pus, carefully cleaned the wound and bandaged it and sent the lion on his way. But when the lion realised he had been cured, he refused to desert the old man but followed him everywhere like a disciple following a master. The old man was amazed at the gratitude which a wild beast was capable of, and looked after it from then on, feeding it on bread and soaked vegetables.
Now this monastery had a donkey, which they used for carrying water from the Jordan to supply the brothers' needs. And it became the old man's custom to let the lion guard the donkey while it was grazing. The lion would go with the donkey down to the banks of the Jordan and watch it while it grazed. One day, however, the lion wandered off for quite a distance, just when a camel driver from Arabia came along, saw the donkey, caught it and took it away with him. Finding the donkey missing, the lion returned to the monastery and hung his head, obviously grief-stricken, before abba Gerasimus, who thought that the lion must have eaten the donkey.
"Where is the donkey?" he said. But the lion, just as human beings might do, looked away and said nothing.
"Well, the Lord be blessed if you haven't eaten it!" said the abba. "So everything that the donkey used to do, you will have to do from now on."
So the lion henceforth had to carry a harness containing four amphorae in which he carried water for the monastery.
One day a soldier came to the old man to ask his blessing. When he saw the lion carrying water and learned the reason for it, he took pity on the lion, and offered the old men three numismas to buy another donkey for this task, so that there would be no need for the lion to do it. Soon after this transaction was completed and the lion relieved of his burden, the camel driver who had stolen the donkey came back carrying wheat for sale in the holy city and he still had the donkey with him. As he was crossing the Jordan he met the lion, and as soon as he had seen it he let the camels go and fled. But the lion recognised the donkey, ran up to it and took the donkey's halter in his mouth just as he used to do. He joyfully led the donkey and three camels back to the old man, roaring loudly, because he had found the donkey which was lost. So the old man who had thought that the lion had swallowed the donkey now learned that the lion had suffered a great injustice. He called the lion "Jordan", and he never left the old man but continued to live in the monastery with the brothers for more than five years.
In the providence of God the lion was not in the monastery when the old man passed to the Lord and was buried. But a little while after the lion came into the monastery and abba Sabbatius, Gerasimus' disciple, noticed the lion looking for the old man. "Jordan," said Sabbatius, "Gerasimus has left us both orphans and he has passed to the Lord. Try and get used to it, and come and take some food." But the lion would not eat, and kept on looking about this way and that way, searching for the old man, roaring loudly, unable to bear the old man's absence.
Abba Sabbatius and the other old men stroked his neck and told him over and over again that the old man had passed to the Lord and had left us, but whatever they said they were unable to lessen his grief or his roaring. The more they tried to cherish and console him by their words, the greater his grief, the louder he roared and lamented, showing in his voice, his face and his eyes his distress at not seeing the old man.
"Come with me, seeing that you don't believe us," said abba Sabbatius to him at last, "and I will show you where our old man has been laid." So he led the lion to where the old man was buried, about five paces outside the church.
"This is where our old man is buried," said abba Sabbatius to the lion, as he stood above abba Gerasimus' grave. And Abba Sabbatius prostrated himself over the old man's grave. The lion understood what was said to him, and when he saw abba Sabbatius prostrate on the grave, weeping, he too lay down, striking his head forcefully on the ground and roaring. And suddenly, there he died, on the old man's grave.
Now all this happened, not that a lion should be thought to have a rational soul, but because God wishes those who glorify him to do so, not only in this life but also after death, and to show us what kind of dependence the beasts had upon the first man, before he was disobedient to the command and was expelled from the paradise of delights. -- [Lives of the Desert Fathers, p. 1006.]
The Lion and the Lambs
The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea. -- Isaiah 11: 6-9