31 January 2009

'Vain is this world'—St Leobardus the Recluse of Marmoutier

Today we commemorate St Leobardus the Recluse of Marmoutier, who struggled in Gaul in the 6th century. Born in Auvergne, the parents of the venerable one sent him to school and, against his wishes, forced him to become betrothed. They soon passed away, however, and St Leobardus said to himself, ‘Vain is this world, vain are its lusts, vain is the glory of the earth, and all that is in it is only vanity. It would be better to abandon it and follow the Lord than to give any approval to worldly deeds’ (St Gregory of Tours, Vita Patrum: The Life of the Fathers, trans. Hieromonk Seraphim [Rose] [Platina, CA: St Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1988], p. 288). After a pilgrimage to the Basilica of St Martin, he withdrew to a cell near Marmoutier. There, he started making and preparing parchment and digging stone to enlarge the hermitage. According to St Gregory, ‘In all this he gave himself over with delight to fasting, prayer, psalmody, and reading, and never ceased to celebrate the Divine worship and prayer; from time to time he would write in order to divert himself from bad thoughts’ (p. 289). Chief among the latter, it seems, was a temptation to leave his cell and find another one, but it was important that he conquer this. As we have seen:

Christianity in practice, and monasticism above all, is a matter of staying in one place and struggling with all one’s heart for the Kingdom of Heaven. One may be called to do the work of God elsewhere, or may be moved about by unavoidable circumstances; but without the basic and profound desire to endure everything for God in one place without running away, one will scarcely be able to put down the roots required to bring forth spiritual fruits. (Fr Seraphim, ‘Introduction to Orthodox Gaul’, St Gregory, p. 123-4)

Thanks be to God, however, St Gregory himself was able through his exhortations to help St Leobardus conquer this temptation. After leaving him again, St Gregory writes that he sent books—a tremendous morale booster!—to the hermit ‘in order that he learn what recluses ought to be and with what prudence monks ought to behave’ (p. 289). These were the ‘Life of the Fathers’ by Rufinus (translated as The Lives of the Desert Fathers: The Historia Monachorum in Aegypto, trans. Norman Russell [Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian, 1981]) and the ‘Institutions of the Monks’ by St Cassian (translated as John Cassian, The Institutes, trans. Boniface Ramsey [NY: Newman, 2000]). According to St Gregory:

When he had re-read them, not only did he drive out of his mind the bad thought which he had had, but even more it so developed his knowledge that he astonished us with his facility in speaking of these matters. He expressed himself in a very gentle manner, his exhortations were full of charm, he was full of love for people, he had his eyes open for kings, and he prayed continually for all ecclesiastics who feared God. (p. 289)

Thus, thanks to the Saint’s help and the reading of a couple of really good books, St Leobardus endured in that cell for twenty years and was granted the grace of working sundry miracles. At last, worn out by his ascetic struggles, he called St Gregory to give him the Holy Mysteries, and then he told him that he would soon repose. Two months later, the venerable one fell asleep in the Lord, and was buried in a tomb that he ‘cut out himself in his cell.’ St Gregory concludes, ‘That he had been admitted into the company of the righteous is something not to be doubted, I think, by any of the faithful’ (p. 290).

(The illustration above shows the ruins of St Martin's monastery at Marmoutier, a casualty of the madness of the French Revolution. St Leobardus was one of many anchorites who laboured near there in imitation of the great Father of Gaul.)

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