Venerable Gabriel (Urgebadze) In 2011, I entered Tbilisi State University. I come from western Georgia. In those years our family suffered from dire poverty. It turned out that my father fell ill in September that year. I have put “it turned out” because I learned about this by accident two months later. Since I am a highly sensitive person and at that time I was undergoing a medical treatment, my family hid this sad news from me. My father’s illness and demise taught me how to live, they showed me that death is a transformation and that we are not alone—the Lord never abandons us.
March 6 was the last day of my father Gela’s life on earth. He was lying in a very poor condition, while my mother and I were sitting in silence, taking turns watching over him at the bedside. In the last hours of his life, father spoke little, suffering from excruciating pain. He bid us farewell with his eyes, in which we saw remorse and grief. After three in the morning he called me in a faint voice: “Kostya [a diminutive form of the name Constantine.—Trans.]… Turn on the light…” He wanted to half-rise, but he had no energy for that. After three unsuccessful attempts he asked me to switch off the light and go to bed. Though I did put out the light, I didn’t go to sleep because I couldn’t leave him when he was face-to-face with death. I wanted him to feel that he was not alone and that I was with him walking the path, which each one of us will have to walk sooner or later. Thus my mother and I were sitting in the dark and “guarding” the deathbed of our beloved father and husband who was dying. At some point my dad breathed out for the last time and then stopped breathing. When I turned on the light, I found that my father was unconscious—on the point of passing into eternity.
“Oh my Lord, he is dying… dying,” I thought, intending to yell at the top of my voice: “Help!” But at the same moment I suddenly saw Elder Gabriel through the window running towards us from the gate of our yard. He was running, with his mantle waving like a banner.
Confused, I thought that Elder Gabriel lived next door and that he was going to close my father’s eyes and serve a funeral service over him. Suddenly some force made me turn to my mother and say to her in a calm and strict voice, somewhat automatically and unexpectedly:
“Let us not cry or call the neighbors to help us. You see, dad is passing into eternity. Repeat aloud: ‘Lord, have mercy!’”
I remember her puzzled look. But, strangely enough, my mother, who hadn’t expected to hear such words from me, obeyed me. I made the sign of the cross over my father and began to read the prayers for the departed in Georgian along with the troparion for the departure of the soul automatically. I read the prayers, made the sign of the cross over my father, closed his eyes, and quietly went to another room where we had icons. There I made a bow and said in front of an icon of the Theotokos:
Gela Tsertsvadze “Glory be to God… I thank Thee, o Sovereign Lady, and thank Thy Son and our God for giving me several months of full-fledged, affectionate and informative communication with my father through his illness and for escorting his soul in such a peaceful and quiet way now! I beg You to accept him and forgive him all his voluntary and involuntary sins! I love You!”
This state—from my father’s repose to my expression of gratitude by the icons—lasted about ten minutes. After that I hastened to the room where my newly-reposed father lay. And then I lost control—calling the neighbors for help, I ran out onto the balcony and set up a wail: “Daddy… Daddy… Don’t go away…” A few minutes later all the neighbors were already here, though it was soon after four. After a time, following a conversation with my father-confessor, I came to understand what exactly had happened at that night! I recalled how Elder Gabriel was running towards us and how I thought he was our neighbor! The holy elder was the first one to visit us when my father’s soul was passing into eternity, poured grace upon his soul at the moment he needed it most, and then “set me at liberty”. In the minutes when through the saint’s intercessions the Lord gave me grace and strength in front of my dying father’s bed, a feeling of perfect calm and peace came over me, and I did what every Orthodox Christian is supposed to do in this situation, namely guided my loved one to the other world (which is unfathomable for the human mind) by prayers. And next… Next I was shown what we humans are like without God’s help: faint-hearted and weak… I started doing the things (and even worse) that I had discouraged my mother from doing a few minutes earlier: screaming at the top of my voice, running around and calling people for help.
As time goes by, we begin to analyze all events more deeply, and the Lord reveals secret things to us. Reading Blessed Theodora’s account of her journey through the aerial toll-houses and the separation of the soul from the body, I learned that the dark, evil and cursed enemies of humankind hasten to the deathbeds of dying people, making noise, scaring and confusing every human soul at the moment of its separation from the body. And then I realized why I had seen Elder Gabriel running towards us exactly when my father’s soul was departing into eternal life. He was helping me guide my father’s soul as it was leaving his body; and, most importantly, the elder was chasing away the wretched spirits that were trying to frighten my dad.
On the basis of a number of occurrences in my life along with the lives of those close to me I can assert that Elder Gabriel comes first as one’s soul passes into eternity. Moreover, it should be said that through his bold prayers to God and his unquenchable love, Elder Gabriel reveals himself in such wonderful ways, when you clearly feel and see the glory of God, His power and mercy. I cannot help but recall the story that occurred with Galina Petrovna Robakidze, the editor of the book and film, “The Elder’s Diadem”.
We formed a bond like that between a grandmother and a grandson or of the most intimate friends. In 2016, her oldest daughter Marina, who lived in Russia, fell seriously ill. In that final period of Galina Petrovna’s life she couldn’t walk. One day she said:
Galina Petrovna Robakidze and her daughter Marina “I don’t want anyone to outlive their own offspring. That is the most terrible thing, Kostya. Do you remember the Lamentations of the Theotokos? She experienced indescribable pain! If She suffered so much, then surely I won’t survive. It would be better for me to die first. I often ask Elder Gabriel to pray that the Lord can take my soul one day before Marina’s death.”
Of course, I tried to console her:
“Galina Petrovna, all will be well! Marina will get better!”
She looked at me, smiled, and said with sadness in her eyes:
“Please, support Nato and don’t leave her all alone after I am gone [Natalia is her second daughter, the editor of the film, “I Am Waiting for You at Samtavro”.—Auth]. I know she will have a hard time after my death. Though we live far from each other, I am her hope. I have never worried about myself, I am not afraid of death, I only worry about my children. I know that the elder will hear my petition and bring it to the Lord.”
On January 20, 2017, I came to Moscow to launch a new book on Venerable Gabriel. At that time Galina Petrovna was in the ICU. She only drank some water and didn’t say a word for a week.
On my arrival I called her other daughter, Natalia Dzhumberovna (she was my homeroom teacher at school), and asked her to come to my place. She agreed and came.
On that day a priest was invited to see Galina Petrovna. He gave her Communion and anointed her with holy oil. At that moment we were reading the Akathist hymn to Elder Gabriel in Moscow, imploring him to help Galina Petrovna. Once the priest had anointed her, the woman opened her eyes and began to smile and laugh. Everybody was surprised. We were told about it as well, and I recalled the account of one religious woman—Nana Gegia. She recounted that her brother had laughed just before his death. When asked why he was laughing her brother replied: “Father Gabriel is sitting here at my bedside and making me laugh.”
In the evening Natalia and I were in the apartment, waiting in silence, when we received a phone call from Georgia and were informed about Galina Petrovna’s repose.
She passed away with a smile on her face. And at the very moment we received this news, we could hear the bells of the St. Martha and Mary’s Convent ring. It seemed as if Galina Petrovna were trying to say to us: “Keep praying, and don’t despair! I am with God!” Later Natalia told me that once she had asked her mother to show her a sign when she died. It was Elder Gabriel who made Galina Petrovna laugh in the last minutes of her life on earth, and escorted her soul peacefully, thus answering her prayer by “bringing her petition unto the Lord”—to take her soul if only one day prior to Marina’s repose.
Galina Petrovna departed this life on January 28, and a day later Marina, her daughter, fell asleep in the Lord as well.
Thus through the elder’s intercessions the Lord granted Galina Petrovna’s request. To pass away while smiling is a blessing from God. Though grief-stricken, we all then saw that death is a transformation, and a glimmer of joy appeared in our hearts.
I would have never imagined that the repose of my loved ones would be associated with some kind of joy for me and that I would survive the loss so easily. Sometimes, when I display weakness and fall into a reverie: “If only my father were alive… If only Galina Petrovna were near me…” I ask myself the question: “Are they really gone?” And in those minutes I sense as if Elder Gabriel were reproaching me, saying: “Are you at it again? Everything happened according to the will of God…” And then I get my joy back because the elder reminds me that everything was arranged by God! And where there is God and His holy will, all is well!
But one thought keeps pestering me. I have had and will have many sorrows, and I thank God for everything; but I don’t know if I will be able to face all the various sorrows humbly without the elder’s help or not. And the desire that at least someone may be comforted by these memories shines brightly in my heart, crying with love, “Glory to God!”