February 22, 2019, will mark the fifth anniversary since the uncovering of the relics of St. Gabriel of Samtavro, the Holy Confessor and “Fool-for-Christ”, an archimandrite of the Georgian Orthodox Church.
“Rejoice, Holy Confessor Gabriel, Fool-for-Christ and Wonderworker!” These are words from the Akathist hymn to the holy elder, which Maria Pukhova composed in three days.
—Maria, can you tell us about your work on the publication of the book by Malkhaz Dzhinoria, Elder Gabriel, a Heart Full of Love?
—For over twenty-five years my professional activity has been connected with publication of printed works. I worked as a proofreader and editor in book houses, newspapers, and magazines. For the past fifteen years I have been engaged in the publication of spiritual literature. When the “Apostol Very” publishing house invited me to edit and prepare the publication of the book by Malkhaz Dzhinoria on St. Confessor Gabriel (Urgebadze) the Fool-for-Christ, I agreed gladly. It was not without reason that Elder Gabriel once said to the book’s author: “You will tell my story to everybody!” The elder would often walk barefoot in ragged clothes, wearing a copper diadem on his head. Through the neck of a broken pitcher he would look out for people who needed spiritual help and shared his abundant sacrificial love and faith with them. Georgians call their beloved holy fellow-countryman “Mama1 Gabrieli”.
When I was beginning my work on this book, Elder Gabriel appeared to me in a dream. I found myself in an enormous church, with catholicos-patriarchs in golden garments standing on my right. I understood that these were catholicos-patriarchs because that is how they were called. Some warm light was spreading all over the church and the service was probably about to begin. Suddenly Fr. Gabriel came up to me. He was smiling, wearing golden robes, and with a shining cross on his chest. He put his arm around my shoulder and repeated several times: “I’ve been looking for you! I’ve found you!”
When I embarked on my work of editing the manuscript, I recalled the elder’s blessing more than once as the text was complicated due to an inaccurate translation. I felt Fr. Gabriel’s help in everything, from editing and formatting to preparing the cover and layout of the book. It is the most complete edition dedicated to Elder Gabriel to date: It contains a detailed biography, instructions, prophecies, and numerous examples of the holy man’s miracles. The chief editor of the book, Yuri Semenets, according to his son Ivan, was healed through Elder Gabriel’s intercessions.
—Were there any miracles associated with Elder Gabriel in your life?
—As soon as I discovered this wonderful saint, he came into my heart and into my life—through his prayers I found my spiritual father, received healing, and found our relatives in Tbilisi whom we had lost as early as the 1990s—though we had never thought we would meet them again. This is the first miracle. I am a parishioner of the temporary wooden Church of the Meeting of the Lord in West Birulevo [Birulevo is a district in the very south of Moscow.—Trans.], where I read in the choir. Once I had started editing the book, a benefactor brought an icon blessed on Fr. Gabriel’s holy relics, along with pieces of the vestments of his relics and the plank on which the elder lay, to our church. The icon began to produce a pleasant odor immediately, and soon there was a miraculous progress in the construction of the new stone church. The parishioner who helped me bring the candlestick for the icon was healed after praying to Fr. Gabriel. I included this and other stories of miracles in the book.
Another miracle: Soon after the book had been brought to the Representation Church of the Georgian Patriarchate [St. George’s Church in Gruziny, Moscow.—Trans.], they called us and said that its cover with an image of the elder had been streaming myrrh! Myrrh exuded from the cover of my copy as well as those of some other parishioners. We even managed to film this phenomenon.
—It’s the first time I’ve heard that not only icons but also books can stream myrrh.
—On August 24, 2018, two days before my trip to Georgia, the book cover in my home began to give out myrrh—small “glowing” spots of myrrh appeared. On August 26, Fr. Gabriel’s birthday, several parishioners from the church came to my place. We started reading the Akathist hymn to the elder. My Akathist hadn’t been published yet, but it was printed out on sheets of paper. The book was lying on the table in front of us. After singing the Akathist we noticed (to our great amazement) that myrrh had intensified: Larger drops and oil stains had appeared, so we could even anoint ourselves with it. Later I gave this book to Abbess Ketevan of Samtavro Convent.
—How did you come up with this title of the book?
—In the process of work I thought of fifteen titles. But as soon as I finished, the title appeared by itself, as though somebody had suggested it to me: Elder Gabriel: a Heart Full of Love.
—We read these words in ikos 5 of the Akathist hymn: “Rejoice, O heart full of love”. How did you become its author?
—I believe it is the greatest miracle in my life that the Lord has vouchsafed me to compose this Akathist hymn. It took me just a few days to create it, and I attribute this to inspiration from above. I received the official blessing of the Georgian Orthodox Church for the publication of the akathist hymn to St. Gabriel of Samtavro in Russian on the occasion of the fifth anniversary since the uncovering of his holy relics.
Over recent years we have seen a considerable growth of Elder Gabriel’s veneration in Russia, bearing in mind his words: “My cross is the whole of Georgia and half of Russia!” Novice Nun Maria (Lushchenko) from the dependency of the Holy Dormition Convent in Kemerovo, speaks about this in her interview. With the blessing of the mother-superior she has been touring through Russia, bringing his fragrant icon with fragments of his mantia and burial plank to many cities.
St. Gabriel’s icon, which is a printed image of him, fixed to a board, has already visited Kursk, Kaluga, Zheleznogorsk, Moscow and other major cities. And everywhere people are sharing their testimonies of miracles wrought by this icon. There is a notebook full of eyewitnesses’ testimonies. “He (Elder Gabriel) is the apostle of love of our days, and we love him very much. He is bringing joy and warmth to everyone, and people are growing stronger in their faith,” Novice Nun Maria says.