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Δευτέρα, 31 Μαΐου 2021

“I WOULD OFTEN WALK TO RUSSIA TO RECEIVE COMMUNION”

 




“I WOULD OFTEN WALK TO RUSSIA TO RECEIVE COMMUNION”

 

Little known reminiscences about St. Gabriel (Urgebadze)

 

Constantine Tsertsvadze

 

Love for St. Gabriel, the miracles that are worked not only at his holy relics but also before his numerous icons… We wouldn’t be lying if we say that with every passing day this love grows and gains power, like a snowball. The power of prayer and love! It is a miracle, a true miracle that is occurring before our very eyes. Otherwise how could we explain the fact that Elder Gabriel has become a solid uniting link for our Orthodox nations [Georgia and Russia.—Trans.] in this era of division?

 

We offer our readers a selection of little known reminiscences and testimonies about St. Gabriel, which will help everybody discover the essence of the elder’s podvigs that are pouring out from his love-filled heart.

 

​Elder Gabriel and Otar Nikolaishvili​

 

Elder Gabriel and Otar Nikolaishvili

 

 

 

Otar Nikolaishvili, Elder Gabriel’s spiritual son, recalls:

 

Obsessed with worldly passions, I was searching for my sweetheart who was hiding at Samtavro Convent. I was so enraged that I was ready to take any rash action or even commit a crime (may God forgive me!). How could I have heeded anybody’s advice?! And it was in that state that I met Fr. Gabriel. He introduced himself as “a sinful monk” who was “hungry, humiliated and abandoned by everybody.” His words were confirmed by his untidy, sloppy appearance. On hearing the reason for my arrival at the convent, he said:

 

“It appears God loves you so much that He has deigned to bring you to me: I will help you solve your problems, don’t worry! I, Monk Gabriel, am good at sorting out such things. Trust me, I guarantee your sweetheart’s return. There are already more than enough nuns with the gift of prayer at the convent. It will all come right soon. And now let’s go to my cell and have a frugal meal, if you don’t mind sharing bread with such a sinner as me!”

 

Giving thanks to God in my mind, I thought: “Truly God loves me very much because He has acquainted me with this sinful and slightly crazy monk, who will soon solve all my problems without further ado.” I couldn’t have imagined that soon I was destined to fall under the influence of that “crazy monk”, and to such a degree that I would resolve to say goodbye to both my former sweetheart and my numerous sins!

 

Some time passed, and I understood that Fr. Gabriel was a very rare embodiment of a true spiritual father! But you needed to live side-by-side with him for months in order to understand how far his outward actions were from his inner spiritual world: they were as far apart as heaven from earth, and step by step they made you change your opinion of the elder. It was the case with me; after a time I changed my opinion of him. First I pitied him as a poor and feeble-minded monk, then I rejoiced, seeing his sympathy and understanding. Some time later I marveled at how that sinful old man could know almost the entire Old and New Testaments by heart. Being convinced that someone would go mad from too much knowledge, I showed more sympathy for the elder. Soon I noticed with surprise that he answered the questions that worried and interested me, though I didn’t ask them. He was able to read my thoughts! That puzzled and scared me to some degree—what sort of power was standing in front of me? And it was not until later that I realized that it was the power everybody bows down before, the power that can tame not only a sinner but even the wildest lion—the power of prayer and love.

 

The Lord bestowed the greatest wisdom and power on Elder Gabriel, but he skillfully concealed his gift, though I couldn’t understand why. The elder hid his extraordinary gift under the veil of feigned insanity in such a masterly fashion that it would be useless for me to prove his wisdom and gift of prophecy: no one would have believed me! As for me, I was many times convinced that I was dealing with a great priest who contained an ocean of love, wisdom and humility. I was ready to do whatever he would bless me to, obediently. For me, being with him was the most important thing. Once at a market he told me to bend my knees and put my head to a trashcan filled with watermelon rind and not to rise until he blessed me to. I saw the feet of the passers-by who had stopped beside me: perhaps they were curious to know what a madman was standing on his knees beside garbage.

 

One day in Tbilisi, Fr. Gabriel came out onto the street. Sitting down on a chair in the middle of the street, he started preaching love and speaking to passers-by. The traffic was usually continuous on that road, but as long as Elder Gabriel was there no car passed by; once he stood up, the traffic resumed.

 

It is a well-known fact that in 1965 Fr. Gabriel set fire to Lenin’s portrait during an International Workers’ Day demonstration before the eyes of thousands of spectators. Though he was thirty-six, he looked like an old man. After that unprecedented act he suffered a lot of privation, hardships, and tortures, and even some Church hierarchs dissociated themselves from him. But the ascetic never judged anybody. At night he would climb up St. David Hill, where at the church he would sometimes secretly receive Communion towards the morning.

 

Otar Nikolaishvili, Elder Gabriel’s spiritual son, recalls:

 

St. Gabriel would often relate that for several years he was persecuted in every possible way, “for the truth and love for the Lord”, and denied Communion. “I would often walk to Russia to receive Communion,” Elder Gabriel recalled. It is hard to imagine how many miles he had to walk and what a difficult path he had to cross before reaching Russia! And how many trials and temptations he had to endure is known to God alone!

 

By the grace and intercessions of the Holy Theotokos, the elder was allowed to receive Communion. According to the reminiscences of Archpriest Archil Mindiashvili, St. Gabriel’s spiritual son, before the beginning of the service at the Svetitskhovloba1 festival, the Mother of God appeared to Patriarch Ephraim II of Georgia (1960—1972) and said: “I will not accept your sacrifice and will accept it only from Gabriel.”

 

The elder himself later related:

 

“On that day I was staying at the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral. At dawn I felt that an invisible force was leading me into the altar. Patriarch Ephraim with the clergy were about to begin the festal service there. Suddenly the Lord and the Holy Theotokos appeared, stopped the Patriarch and said to him, ‘We will not accept your sacrifice without Gabriel!’ When I opened my eyes, I felt that Christ and the Queen of Heaven had consoled me! I felt certain that I would be admitted to Holy Communion.

 

“After a while the Patriarch sent the priests to invite me into the altar. He asked if I was ready to take Communion and I replied that I was. Then the Patriarch blessed the clergy to vest me so that I could concelebrate with him.”

 

This is how it was. On that day Patriarch Ephraim and Monk Gabriel served together. At the sight of Elder Gabriel the whole congregation wept with joy. All the worshippers rejoiced.

 

It can be said that Elder Gabriel gave practical lessons of humility, obedience and love. He would often say that love is not only an inborn talent—we can learn love and must long for it. The saint had an original approach to those wishing to become nuns, being deliberately stern with some and heaping praise on others. The way he treated people was individual and changeable. You could easily approach him, ask for his blessing and support, and there were no instances when someone was left without his attention and consolation.

 

Abbess Maria (Mikeladze) recalls:

 

Due to my sinfulness I had mixed feelings about Fr. Gabriel: Sometimes I was indifferent, sometimes I judged him, listening to others’ opinions. And though I didn’t show due reverence towards him, I did feel his strong affection for me all the time. It was always easy to turn to him and ask his forgiveness, and he would forgive everybody even when no one asked him to. Fr. Gabriel alone could understand and comfort me in the toughest moments: filled with sacrificial love, he was never indifferent. The most remarkable thing the elder did to me was to destroy my book knowledge and clichés and stereotypes about monastic life, based on ossified theories that created “spiritual comfort” for me—something that flattered me. And the elder gradually destroyed all of this. Sometimes the elder’s actions made me extremely indignant and furious. He would interfere in my plans. For example, when I was going to pray in seclusion, he could burst into my cell and demand loudly: “Mother, go and make soup quickly because some intellectuals have arrived at the convent!”

 

Once he snatched a prayer-book out of my hands. Then I resisted and even condemned him for that. It was not until later that it came home to me why he would keep saying, “Why are you bothering the Lord?” At that time my prayers and deeds were cold and formal, they lacked the sincerity that leads to salvation. And Fr. Gabriel struggled for the salvation of every soul.

 

My parents were against my life at the convent. My father would come to the convent most days, trying to persuade me to change my mind, but I with the help of God stuck to my guns. So my relationship with dad was very strained. One day I was told, as usual, that my father was waiting for me in the church. I entered the church and, to my amazement, saw Fr. Gabriel standing in an artistic and expressive manner and my father kneeling before him. Then Fr. Gabriel asked my father to invite him to a restaurant. The latter gladly agreed, and both walked past me without paying attention to me. At the restaurant, Fr. Gabriel sang the song, “Kakhetian Wine”, to my father and won his heart forever. They made friends with each other, and I didn’t have to worry anymore. And I and my father had no further conflicts.

 

Every minute of Fr. Gabriel’s life was filled with self-sacrifice and God. He still helps us today by his invisible presence among us.

 

The elder’s presence in the lives of those in need spreads even far beyond Georgia. There are no space and time limits in Orthodoxy, and I, an ordinary Georgian, am overcome with joy when I see St. Gabriel’s universal veneration in Russia. “I’ll come to you when you aren’t waiting for me…” This is Fr. Gabriel’s testament.

 

Another confirmation of his words is the memories of our spiritual brother Sergei from Belarus who has shared his story with great joy:

 

Clouded by sins, I abandoned God more than once! But the Lord never abandoned me! There was a period in my life when I focused only on earthly things. Lost and worn out by spiritual confusion, by a miracle I came to church where I was welcomed by an image of a smiling saint who seemed to be standing in front of me and staring into my soul. As you may have guessed, it was Elder Gabriel. From that day on we have been friends; I acquired his icon and often prayed to him at home. At that period I was on my own, almost everyone had turned away from me. Thus, I had to spend my birthday all alone and nobody remembered me. I felt absolutely forsaken and depressed.

 

In that state I fell into a doze and saw Fr. Gabriel in a dream. He entered my room, repeating: “Well, Sergei, did you think I’d abandon you and wouldn’t come to you?!” Dumbfounded, I bent over before Elder Gabriel and asked for his blessing. While he was blessing me, he repeated: “You thought I wouldn’t come to you? I’ll come to you, Sergei, very soon! I’ll come to you!”

 

And he left. Opening my eyes, I felt love, sorrow, great joy and consolation… I was happy that Elder Gabriel had visited me, and his words, “I’ll come to you very soon”, were with me all the time.

 

The next day my relatives, a couple, came to my place to greet me on my birthday. When they presented me with a gift in a black bag, I involuntarily said (as if some force prompted me to): “I know what’s in the bag! I know what a gift it is!” And they asked, as if teasing me: “Well, what’s there?!” I exclaimed: “I know, there’s something related to Fr. Gabriel (Urgebadze) there!”

 

Stunned and frightened, they exchanged glances and offered me the bag. What I found inside was a copy of the book, “The Elder’s Diadem”, dedicated to St. Gabriel!

 

Thus Fr. Gabriel visited me! His prayers, grace and spontaneity saved me and set me on the path of truth. I believe that Fr. Gabriel’s love, by the grace of God, will pull many out of the whirlpool of sin onto the shore of salvation.

 

 

 

 

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