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With The Lions

The lion has always been a symbol of wildness. Of untamed beauty, of ferocious strength that can't be tamed. We humans have always had a fascination with these large felines; grudging awe mixed with fear. What is it about them that captivates us? Their unpredictability? How can you ever trust a lion? I suppose, we haven't given them much reason to trust us either. Hunted, killed, broken, and used, we have tried to subdue and conquer them for eons. Sometimes it works, and sometimes we are the ones who get broken. Regardless, the lion continues to be a symbol for us, and one of the most popular animals at the Zoo. It doesn't always have to be that way though, there are stories, legends of man and beast dwelling together in harmony. And surprisingly, or not, a lot of these folks ended up being saints. Maybe C.S. Lewis didn't pick the lion to be Aslan on a whim. And to be perfectly honest, when we picked the name Leo for our boy, we had no idea how well it would fit and define him.
We all know the story of Daniel and the Lions from the bible, but apparently there is a multitude of saints recognized in the Orthodox church who had run ins with lions. Here are a couple of our favorite lion stories, ones that aren't so well known.

Saint Gabra Manfas Qeddus (c. BC 5 - AD 100) was an Ethiopian Christian saint, and the founder of the monastery of Zuqualla. The day of Gabra’s conception and the date of his birth are said to coincide with those of Jesus Christ.
He developed traits common to all prodigious children. By the age of two, tradition reports that he was already wise. When three years old, God sent his archangel Gabriel to the child, to take him into the desert and put him into the custody of the monk Zamada Berhan, leaving his parents and nurse in despair. There, later in life, he was ordained priest and became an abbot.
For a time Gabra remained in the desert performing miracles, while people from remote countries visited him. Then a second time God sent Gabriel to take Gabra deeper into the desert, and to have him live amongst sixty lions and sixty leopards. While there, Gabra Manfas Qeddus developed thick white hair covering all his body like a coat.

Saint Mammas (c. 259 - 275) Born in prison to parents who had been jailed because they were Christian, Mammas became an orphan when his parents were executed. After his parents' death, Mammas was raised by a rich widow.
Mammas was tortured for his faith by the governor of Caesarea and was then sent before the Roman Emperor Aurelian. The Mammas legend states that an angel then liberated him and ordered him to hide himself on a mountain near Caesarea.
Mammas was later thrown to the lions, but managed to make the beasts docile. He preached to animals in the fields, and a lion remained with him as companion. Accompanied by the lion, he visited Duke Alexander, who condemned him to death.

In Cyprus, according to local legend, Mammas was a hermit living in very poor circumstances, and when the authorities tried to tax him, he evaded them. Soldiers were sent out and captured him, but on the way back to town, Mammas saw a lion attacking a lamb, he escaped the soldiers, saved the lamb, jumped on the lion's back, and rode it into town. His bravery earned him exemption from taxation.

St. Gerasimos (c. 451) was the abbot of a community of 70 monks who all lived in the desert east of Jericho, near the Jordan River. Their life was strict, they slept on reed mats, had cells without doors and observed silence. Their diet consisted mainly of water, dates and bread.
One day while he was walking along the Jordan, Gerasimos came upon a lion roaring in agony because of a large splinter imbedded in one paw. Overcome by compassion for the beast, Gerasimos removed the splinter and cleaned the wound, bounding it up, expecting the lion to return to its cave. Instead the creature meekly followed him back to his monastery and became his devoted pet. The whole community was amazed at the animal's conversion to a peaceful nature, life and devotion to the abbot; living on bread and vegetables.
The lion was given the special task of guarding the communities donkey, which grazed along the Jordan. One day, it happened that, while the lion was napping, the donkey strayed and was stolen by a passing trader. After searching, without success, the lion returned to the monastery, it head hanging low. The brothers concluded that the lion had been overcome and had eaten the donkey and as punishment, gave the lion the job of the donkey; to carry water each day from the river to the monastery in a saddle pack with four earthen jars.
Months later, it happened that the trader was passing through the Jordan with the stolen donkey and three camels. The lion recognized the donkey and roared so loudly that the trader ran away. Taking its rope in his jaws, the lion led the donkey back to the monastery with the camels following behind. The monks realized that they had misjudged the lion; this is how the lion earned his name "Jordanes" from the Elder Gerasimos.
For a further five years, the lion "Jordanes" was part of the monastic community. When the elder fell asleep in the Lord and was buried, Jordanes lay down on the grave, roaring in his grief. Finally Jordanes rolled over and died on the last resting place of Gerasimos.

I love, just love this last story about St. Gerasimos and his lion. What wonderful patience and love this lion possessed! He presents a completly different image from the typical one of the flesh eating king of the jungle thing. 
It seems that in life there are no accidents. It was no accident that Justin and I settled on the name Leo, way before we even knew about the trials in store for our baby. No accident that Leo was born under the sign of the Lion, and it was definitely no accident that he was born with a lion-share of strength and vitality. Today I was struck again by his strength and determination for life, and for development. He is holding his head very consistently, and now, begging, commanding to be held in such a way that he can jump up and down from the floor. He is amazing. He makes me cry and laugh and believe in all and every kind of miracle.

Little Lion at 3 months

Lion man at 12 months (check out the round head!)

 And a couple more head shots now that the swelling is less...Wow you really start to see what that surgery really was for! (The bumps and lumps that you can see are actually the screws that they used to piece his bones back together again. They are dissolvable supposedly, and their main component is sugar. As if this guy needs to be any sweeter!)


  1. How can anyone look at Leo and doubt the existence of a merciful and loving God?!!

  2. Thank you! This post, and Little Leo-man inspire me on a daily basis. I feel refreshed upon visiting these brief snippets of life! Thank you, from the bottom of my heart! Prayers and love continue, in untold measure for the entire family!

    ~Nicki L.

  3. He looks fabulous! He's just darn cute either way, but his head looks great! Rejoicing with you that he is doing so well.

  4. I have followed your postings quietly since Tina K. told me about Leo's blog. I must say little Leo and your incredible postings are filled with such a deep and gentle love! Thank you so much for sharing.


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