Manana Khorbaladze was a spiritual daughter of Elder Gabriel (Urgebadze). We offer our readers her memories of the ever-memorable saint and his miracles.
I first met Fr. Gabriel in 1990. At that period I was integrating into church life. When I came up to receive his blessing for the first time, he was standing by his tower1. His eyes were shining with great love and he welcomed me as his long-awaited guest.
“Bless me, father,” I said and heard the following words in response:
“Christ our God will bless you!”
The elder embraced me and said:
“The Lord loves you so much!”
After that I came to love the elder dearly and could not imagine my life without him. I would often visit Samtavro Convent and stay there. Sometimes the elder would tell me:
“The Lord will send you a great trial.”
Of course, I didn’t know what the elder meant, but after some time had passed and many hardships befallen me I understood what was behind these words.
Soon I started feeling very bad and lost twenty-two pounds in a week. I was taken to a doctor who after examining me and conducting a series of tests on me referred me to the oncology department. At that time doctors tended not to disclose serious conditions to their patients, but for some reason I was informed that I had sarcoma of the spine. There were no CAT scanners back then, so I did a thermography test. A council of physicians was convened, and after the consultation the doctor wished to speak to my husband in private.
Seeing that they would be talking about my diagnosis, the stage of my disease and prognosis, I told the doctor as if automatically:
“Tell me everything as well. I am not afraid… I am not afraid of dying. The main thing is how we will stand before Christ.”
My reaction surprised the doctor, and he invited my husband and me to his consulting room. When we came in, he told us that the cancer had metastasized into all the bones and there were practically no prospects of survival. Since cancer cells had already gotten into the blood and the white blood cell count was so low, I could undergo neither radiotherapy nor chemotherapy.
“How long do I have to live?” I asked.
“Up to three months,” I heard the answer.
Some time passed, and I was put on morphine. I suffered from excruciating pain; with every passing day I grew weaker, as if losing the remainder of my strength.
One evening I opened my eyes and saw Elder Gabriel standing at the head of my bed.
It was at the period when he too had health issues and seldom left his cell. I couldn’t believe that he had come to me. The elder looked at me, bent over my bed, embraced me, and burst into tears. And my tears started falling involuntarily too.
The elder proceeded:
“The Lord has heard the prayers and heeded the petition. Don’t be afraid! You will live! I cannot reveal the rest to you: it is a mystery of God. But keep in mind that the Lord will send you numerous trials: you will have to go through fire; God will melt you down like gold; you will walk over glowing iron.”
I didn’t comprehend the meaning of his words back then. But now that twenty-eight years have passed I am beginning to grasp it little by little. I had to undergo twenty-nine operations: some of my foot bones were removed and replaced by implants. Post-operative pain and my general condition resembled “walking over glowing iron”. This is what the elder’s words implied.
Later, when the elder revealed all this to me, he told me to get up and share a meal with him. Scarcely had we sat down at table when my mother and my nephew came in.
Suddenly the elder started crying aloud, exclaiming:
“How sweet you are, my mom, mommy! How far from me you are, mom! When will I see you next, mommy?”
I was surprised and didn’t understand why the elder had begun lamenting in such words, since his mother was with him in Samtavro every Saturday and Sunday! It was not until later that I came to understand that in those words he had predicted that I wouldn’t be able to attend my beloved mother’s funeral. She passed away when I was undergoing treatment in Belgium. At such a great distance, I mourned for my mom on the day of her funeral exactly with the words the elder had uttered that evening.
I recall that when the elder came to me he looked at my nephew and said to him:
“Son, a tragedy awaits you. Come to me: I will bless you and ward off the misfortune.”
Although my nephew didn’t go to church, he came up to the elder to receive his blessing.
After a time they tried to steal his car. Being a young guy, he attempted to resist the thieves. The thugs made him kneel down and shot at him with a gun. By the mercy of God and through St. Gabriel’s intercessions the bullet just grazed him and he survived. Afterwards he recalled that it had been the blessing of that seemingly strange monk in action.
As for my operations, I endured and survived all of them through the elder’s intercessions! Despite the fact that he passed into eternity and he is no longer with us physically, he has not abandoned us and walks over the earth to this day! During every operation he comes to me and blesses me. On one occasion I had a vision, in which he was sitting in his cell amid a host of other saints and he said to me: “Come to me, Manana! I will bless you! I will sprinkle you with the water from the Jordan! I will bless you with the cross of the Life-Giving Pillar [at Svetitskhoveli Cathedral.—Trans.].”
He blessed me and, pushing me slowly with his hand, said:
“And now go away! It is early for you to be here! Go back—I bless you!”
I opened my eyes and found myself in a hospital bed. “I’m alive! Through his prayers!”
I recall how my husband and I brought a friend of ours, Otar, to Elder Gabriel. He was not religious and didn’t go to church. During our journey to Samtavro I told him that we were travelling to a clairvoyant holy elder. Once we had entered his cell, Elder Gabriel looked at us and addressed my husband and Otar:
“Bend your knees, sinners!”
They both involuntarily knelt down. Since Otar was plump, he was short of breath; but both my husband and Otar bowed down to the ground! Gazing at them, I burst out laughing, but the elder said:
“Manana, pray! He is here now!”
Soon the elder told them to rise. Then he embraced them, gave them his blessing, and said, looking at Otar:
“You will… go far away before long! But don’t be afraid—I will pray for you, and you will be saved!”
He suddenly proceeded to pretend to be a fool again: inviting us to join him at table, the elder began to sing opera arias and repeated that he felt like having a drink! He drank a glass of wine, raised his arms to heavens, and continued singing and repeating again and again how beautiful I was! Of course, when we left, Otar kept asking us throughout the journey why the elder had behaved in such a manner, wondering why he was considered a saint if he had the habit of drinking, paying women compliments and singing opera arias. I admitted that the elder had done all that because he felt that I had earlier described him to Otar as a clairvoyant and holy man.
To my amazement, though Otar still couldn’t understand why the elder had behaved in this manner, he confessed that he had sensed the presence of some invisible power in his cell.
And a month later Otar passed away!
I am confident that the elder’s prayers saved his soul because the saint had personally promised him to pray for his salvation.
There is one photograph that is very important to me. It depicts Elder Gabriel and me. I wanted to have a picture of us both taken, but I didn’t take the liberty of asking him, thinking how the elder would be photographed with such a sinner like me. If he gave me his blessing, I would sit on the floor at Fr. Gabriel’s feet, and so we would be caught on film. I entered his cell, we talked a little, and I had the courage to say:
“Father, forgive me! I want to have a picture taken of us together so much. Bless me!”
The elder half-rose immediately and agreed. I put the shoes that in our days are displayed at Samtavro Convent’s Museum on him with my own hands. The elder told me to sit down at his bedside and a photo was taken. I give thanks to God for allowing this: to be photographed together with my beloved spiritual father St. Gabriel. How many times I survived through his fervent prayers! And it is known to God alone how many people he saves and gives hope to until this day.
One day, when he said that his end was near, I began to weep, saying that I wouldn’t be able to live without him and that we needed him so much! He shed a few tears and said:
“Don’t be upset, my Monaniko! I will always be with you all and will never leave you spiritually. Just call me, and I will be near you at once! I will carry your love to the throne of God!”
He devoted his whole life to this love! And he sprinkles all of us with this love today! It was only two years ago that I learned what he had done when he had been informed that I had been on the point of dying.
“Who has said that Manana Khorbaladze is dying and no one can save her?! And what am I here for?! What is Monk Gabriel here for?! Bring me my mantle and staff quickly and let us go to Tbilisi!”
And he did come to me on that day, though it was then extremely difficult for him to walk and he felt bad too. This is what he was like! This is how he brought people back to life, both spiritually and physically! I, Manana Khorbaladze, who survived twenty-nine operations and to whom in 1990 doctors predicted that I had maximum of three months to live, is one of them!