They’re inviting passengers onboard this cold and early December morning in the Tbilisi airport for a flight to Moscow. The gaze of those in the airport turns to the large icon of two elders standing next to one another who warm everyone with their eyes, regardless of religion or nationality. These elders bringing joy and comfort are Seraphim of Sarov and Gabriel (Urgebadze). The icon is called “Friendship of the Russia and Georgian Orthodox Peoples.” We are flying with the blessing of His Holiness and Beatitude Catholicos-Patriarch Ilia II of All Georgia, and the icon itself was painted with his blessing.
As always, nothing went according to plan. When we left Tbilisi, we knew we were going for a month, but we ended up staying for three. It’s what Elder Gabriel commanded. And that our plans didn’t go as we had imagined them was also the will of Elder Gabriel. The entire trip was filled with great happiness, great love, and grace, which will remain in our hearts for a long time and will warm in our souls in difficult times.
We immediately took the icon of the saints to the St. Nicholas-Kuznetsky Church, in the same enclosure as the St. Tikhon’s Orthodox University in Moscow. The parishioners and the rector of the church Archpriest Vladimir Vorobiev met us with great love, served a moleben, read akathists, and we rejoiced together that before us stood an icon of these two saints, reminding us that we, Orthodox Russians and Georgians, are one in Christ.
People started asking when the icon was painted, by whom, and other questions about the images of the saints. I remember, in the evening I told the parishioners the history of the making of the icon and recalled one moment when we had taken the icon to Samtavro Monastery to be blessed, and the nuns, having looked at the images of the saints, began to smile, and some even shed tears. It was Elder Gabriel’s birthday, and after the service the mothers told us: “We remember, Elder Gabriel told us several times while he was alive as if joking: ‘There is coming a time, and you will all see it, that somewhere I will be somehow a bit higher than St. Seraphim of Sarov…’ And he would smile. Everyone thought he was joking or meant something else, but now, seeing this icon, we immediately recalled his words. This is what he meant!”
On the icon, Batiushka Gabriel is a little higher than St. Seraphim.
The icon and relics of the Elder visited the Georgian representation church in Moscow, then we headed for Samara.
The journey from Moscow to Samara began in a miraculous way. We bought our train tickets, went to the station, and got on the train. At the train the attendant checked my passport and I headed for our compartment. My friends were coming behind me with the icon and they soon entered the compartment too. We had only just put the icon down and read the troparion and kontakion to the Elder when the attendant came to our compartment and, seeing the icon, sternly asked with surprise: “Who brought this icon into the compartment? It’s oversized! When did you bring the icon here? I was standing just outside the car. And who is depicted on the icon? I recognize St. Seraphim, but who’s the second one?” With this question, I started doing my favorite thing to do—I started telling her about Elder Gabriel, and the attendant, Anna, started crying and crossing herself. At some point she stopped me and said: “You know, probably these saints helped you bring the icon onto the car, otherwise I wouldn’t have allowed you to bring such an oversized item onto the train, if I had seen it. How it happened without me seeing, I have no idea! I tell you, your Gabriel and our Seraphim either distracted me and I didn’t notice, or I went blind while you were carrying such a large icon onto the train. Now I’m so glad it happened; you have no idea! Such kind images! And how good your Elder is! He looks right into your soul!” We gave the attendant a small icon and made friends with her! This is the miraculous way we left for Samara, and Anna learned about Elder Gabriel!
After Samara we went to Diveevo. Despite the fact that we arrived there in the evening, there were many people waiting with great reverence to greet the “Friendship of the Peoples” icon. Words cannot describe the feelings that seized us then upon seeing the joyous faces of the faithful who whispered among themselves: “Look, Elder Gabriel has come with our Seraphim…”
Then a woman came up to us and told us that Elder Gabriel had appeared to her in a dream, earnestly entreating her, even ordering her to go to Diveyevo: “’Go there quickly; go!’ Elder Gabriel said to me. I revere him very much and have long dreamed of going to his relics. I fulfilled his will, came here, went into the church, and … the Elder is smiling at me from the icon together with our Seraphim!”
There were also many miracles by the prayers of Elder Gabriel there! Soon we went to St. Petersburg and participated in an Orthodox public forum there. Having learned that the icon was in Russia, the organizers invited us, and the forum was dedicated to Elder Gabriel.
There we met a young man named Alexander who told us the following: “I was fired two days ago. In the evening I went out for a walk and thought: ‘What should I do? How should I support my family? How should I live?’ I was in such a depressed state that I don’t even remember how I walked three miles. I barely made it home, turned on the computer, and found out that the icon of Elder Gabriel and Seraphim of Sarov is in St. Petersburg. I came here the next morning to venerate the icon. I stayed for the moleben, knelt before the icon and asked the saints for help. I especially prayed to the saints that day. And yesterday I got a call that I was hired for a well-paying job!”
After visiting the forum in St. Petersburg, we went to Belarus with the blessing of Metropolitan Pavel of Minsk and Zaslavl. We arrived in Minsk early in the morning on February 6. A man on crutches was hurrying towards the car that was taking the icon and Batiushka’s relics to St. Elizabeth’s Monastery—he managed to venerate the icon and saw us off with a happy look. The first day the icon was in the monastery’s guest house. Someone said: “There’s a sick child here…” And the parents with their daughter were already praying for her health…
Many people who were in need of the prayers of the saints before God received such consolation through Elder Gabriel.
In Minsk, our friend told us this story: “The day before you arrived my wife and I fought and didn’t speak with one another. In the morning, I saw Elder Gabriel in a dream standing in the yard of some church and showing me the walls of the church that had a crack. He looked at me sternly. By this, Batiushka let me know that the family is a church! We made up, and, most likely it was Batiushka Gabriel that reconciled us.”
We stayed across from the monastery in the guest house. An elderly priest was staying next to us—Fr. Vasily—whom we visited, to whom we gave icons of the saints with relics as a gift. We talk with him. He blessed us, and we saw him at the services every day then, at the showings of the film, and at the evenings in memory of Elder Gabriel. We later found out, and Batiushka himself confirmed, that he began to walk after he venerated the icon and relics in his room. Before that, he couldn’t walk due to his health.
Many people came to Minsk to venerate the icon and relics. One believer named Ksenia who venerated the Elder’s sacred objects, testifies: “I had knee surgery a few months ago. After the operation, my leg literally stiffened up. I couldn’t bend my leg and the situation was complicated by the heaviness and contractions of the knee joints. Since the situation was difficult for me, and the doctors told me that progress should probably be expected only after a year, I had already reconciled with this prognosis in some sense. Then I learned completely by accident that you had brought the icon and relics of Elder Gabriel to Minsk. Because of my weakness I couldn’t come myself. That night I had a dream—Elder Gabriel appeared to me and threateningly but lovingly said: ‘Get up now and come to me! Take some oil and a scarf.’ I resolutely decided to go to the icon and relics. I got up on my crutches, I had to go, but how—I didn’t know. I went by taxi. I laid my headscarf on the elder’s relics, bought a liter bottle of oil, where they added a drop of oil from the holy relics of Batiushka Gabriel, and I began to apply it crosswise on the affected spots. A few weeks later I felt relief, and now I’m not using the crutches anymore. Many are surprised, and some say it’s gymnastics that helped me, but I smile and state the fact that out of the many patients who started gymnastics with me (and they were in a better state than me), only I threw away my crutches and started walking. So it’s not the gymnastics but our beloved holy Grandpa Gabriel!”
After Minsk we headed to Tolochin. Abbess Anfinsa (Lyubchak) met us with great love. We served a moleben to the Elder, sang songs and rejoiced together that such sacred objects visited this holy place.
The Lord later showed us another miracle through the prayers of Elder Gabriel. Nikolai Kozlov told us: “My mother, Elena, suffered for a long time from food allergies (to milk products, rice, legumes, citruses, nuts, etc.). She periodically had various exacerbations, and without pills, and sometimes injections, it wouldn’t pass. After the arrival of the icons of the holy fathers Seraphim and Gabriel to Tolochin (Belarus), mama mentally turned to the saints and asked for help in the fight with her ailment. She venerated the icon and felt relief, but didn’t tell anyone about it. Later when she ate food containing milk she realized her allergic reaction was gone, and she hasn’t taken pills at all since then. And it’s all thanks to the Lord and the holy God-pleasers Sts. Seraphim of Sarov and Gabriel of Samtavro.
We headed for Vitebsk. It’s impossible to convey the love of the residents of this city for Elder Gabriel in words. The clergy of the city, headed by Archbishop Dimitry, awaited the relics and icon in the Holy Dormition Cathedral in Vitebsk. There were molebens to Elder Gabriel every day. Georgian and Russian singing flowed seamlessly into one another, and the words were heard equally in both languages: MAMA GABRIELI (Fr. Gabriel in Georgian)…
For the few days before leaving for Moscow, in the evening we would open the icon of the saints and the reliquary with the relics of the elder. The people prostrated to the icon, and then we would place the piece of the elder’s mantia and cap on everyone’s head. At one point, one woman who had venerated the icon and came up to the relics started behaving strangely, and when she drew near to the relics, she started making some unnatural sounds. She turned to the icon, looked at the image of Elder Gabriel and cried out: “Why did you come here? Go away! Go away! You’re always in my way! Go away!” Threatening Elder Gabriel and showering him with profanity, she didn’t stop screaming. We were dumbfounded and realized it wasn’t the woman herself, but the impure demon who was fighting with the power of our Elder Gabriel. Then the priest arrived just in time with some holy water; we also came to ourselves by the grace of God, instantly took out a piece of the Elder’s gravestone and a piece of his mantia and placed them on this woman’s head. She literally passed out for a few minutes, and then with a gentle voice began thanking the Lord and Elder Gabriel, thanking God and the saints. Our eyes beheld a healing! The rector of the church, who was standing near us at that point, later said: “Great Elder Gabriel! You see how the impure spirit battled with his holiness? The enemy of mankind could not withstand the glory of Christ!”
After visiting several cities in Belarus, we returned to Moscow, and with the blessing of Archbishop Dimitry (Drozdov) we took the icon and relics of Elder Gabriel to the Church of the Great Martyr Irina. Our stay lasted two weeks. They served molebens to the saints every day, and we also arranged showings of the film about the saint and with God’s help we held lectures and talks about the life of the Elder. When we counted the total number of meetings, talks, and lectures about Batiushka that we held, it was more than eighty! One beautiful day after a showing of the film, a girl came up to us who (it was immediately obvious) was very excited. She told us how she had had acute sinusitis for three years already. Then she found out the icon and relics of Elder Gabriel were in Moscow and she came to venerate, as she greatly reveres Elder Gabriel. Upon seeing the icon, she forgot about her problems and venerated the icon of the Elder and the relics. And she immediately felt her respiratory tract open up. She barely managed to get a handkerchief from her friend, walked away from the icon, and was able to smell fragrances for the first time in three years—the smell of wax and incense. She breathed deeply from joy and looked at the image of Batiushkas Gabriel and Seraphim of Sarov, by whose prayers she was just healed and began to breathe fully.
A day later, a young man who had an inflammation of the clavicle and shoulder joints came to us with tears in his eyes. He couldn’t lift his right arm, the pain wouldn’t let him sleep, and he couldn’t remember a peaceful sleep without heavy painkillers for the past two months. Then he suddenly found out that Elder Gabriel and Batiushka Seraphim were traveling around Holy Rus’, and he came to venerate the icon and the relics and involuntarily crossed himself with such ease as if nothing was injured. Although—why “as if?” Indeed! His pain was healed and the inflammation was gone. He freely raised his arm and came to the icon and relics every day with a smile and joy, showing us how freely he bent and straightened his arm.
We soon returned to Georgia. On the way home we were overcome by a certain sadness! We recalled every day, every moment, and we were amazed. We were amazed that we only then realized how everything happened and how the Lord directed us. And everyone felt that Elder Gabriel had been with us, helping us, but in his own way: through humility, rebuking us and showing that we are nothing, and it wasn’t him arranging everything, but the Lord Himself, Whom we must love more and more every day.
Upon arrival at the airport, my phone rang from a Georgian number. I answered—the director of a certain Georgian printing house was calling me, wanting to know where I’d gotten to. Of course, I said I had just arrived. Kakha told me: “You know, Constantine, I wanted to tell you all this a while ago, but I couldn’t reach you! You brought the icon and relics of Elder Gabriel to our family, right?! And you know that my wife and I haven’t had children for ten years! And the Lord gave me a gift! I am now the father of twins—Gabriel and Nicholas! We named one in honor of Batiushka Gabriel and the other in honor of St. Nicholas. And it’s all thanks to the icon and relics!”
I was stunned! I loudly said to the entire airport: “You see, these are the kinds of miracles the Lord works by the prayers of our beloved Elder Gabriel.” And, as always, I had tears of joys in my eyes! We immediately took the icon and relics to Samtavro Monastery where the image of our beloved Batiushkas Seraphim and Gabriel remained until Radonitsa, and now the icon is with St. Gabriel’s sister Julietta.
I try to remember every moment of the trip with the icon around Holy Rus’, but words cannot describe the love we felt throughout these three months.
“My cross is Georgia and half of Orthodox Rus’,” Batiushka Gabriel would say! How he took this cross upon himself, and what miracles our beloved Mama Gabriel will still work in Holy Rus’, we don’t know—only the Lord God knows. We saw with our own eyes how the Elder loves the Lord and teaches us all this love with every step! No matter where we took the icon and the relics of Elder Gabriel, people everywhere loudly exclaimed: “GLORY TO GOD!” Then I knew for sure that Elder Gabriel was rejoicing in those moments. And I constantly recalled how during his life he would smile and, raising his hands to Heaven, would say: “Great art Thou, O Lord, and wondrous are Thy works. The mind of man cannot comprehend Thy miracles!”
Author’s appeal to the readers of OrthoChristian.com
With God’s help, our creative group has begun editing the film about St. Gabriel, “I’m Waiting for You in Samtavro.” At the moment, there is little work ahead, but it is very important and significant—editing, voice work, recording the narrators, producing several dramatizations. We appeal to you all with a humble request to offer even the smallest mite to the completion of the film. Anyone who would like to support our project in any way can contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org. A moleben for all the donors will be served at the relics of St. Gabriel at Samtavro Monastery, and all the names will be commemorated at the wonderworking icon of Sts. Gabriel and Seraphim of Sarov.