In 2019, our creative team went to Russia and then to Belarus with the icon of Sts. Gabriel of Samtavro and Seraphim of Sarov. In honor of the feast of the uncovering of the relics of St. Gabriel (Urgebadze), we recall our pilgrimage with the venerable fathers.
Between two borders: Elder Gabriel’s test
After the Vyatka Diocese, we headed for Moscow, where we took the icon and relics to the Blokhin Children’s Cancer Center, where many people venerated the sacred treasures. Then we took the icon to the Church of Great Martyr Irina (the Belarusian representation church) for three days.
Next, our team left for the Vitebsk Diocese in Belarus, with the blessing of Archbishop Dimitry (Drozdov) of Vitebsk and Orsha.
The most interesting thing happened on the way from Moscow to Belarus. We didn’t realize there were three checkpoints between Russia and Belarus and we were just following our GPS. It took us through Smolensk, where the border guards don’t check passports. But we are citizens of Georgia and our Russian visas were running out, and, according to the law, we had to get a stamp in our passport to leave the territory of Russia. This was on January 26, and our visas were only good for three more days. We had to leave the territory of Russia precisely on the 26th to have two days leftover for the return trip from Belarus to Georgia. So we wound up already on the territory of Belarus, though we didn’t have a stamp in our passport and we didn’t go through any control.
We ourselves stopped the Belarusian police and explained the situation. They told us the passport checkpoint that we needed was 250 miles away. Naturally, we headed there.
It was already evening as we pulled up to the checkpoint, where the border guard told us:
“Guys, I have some bad news for you… This is the wrong place. You need the Three Sisters checkpoint, 185 miles away. But since you came to our checkpoint, where only cars with Russian or Belarusian license plates can go through, we have to search your car and question you…”
We turned around, got out of the car, and I started explaining everything to the border guard when he sternly demanded to open the trunk. We opened it, and there was the icon of Elders Gabriel and Seraphim. The guard smiled and said:
“It’s Mama Gabrieli and Seraphim of Sarov!”
“Yes,” I said, and explained everything that happened to us.
Having checked all our documents, our invitation, our blessing, the border guard said:
“Mama Gabrieli is our favorite saint. We’ll let you go now so you can make it to the correct checkpoint. Just don’t get lost…”
We heartily thanked everyone and hurried off to the necessary checkpoint, which we reached just a little before midnight.
We had less than an hour to drive into Russia and then immediately leave, leave our migration cards with the border guards, and get a stamp in our passport showing we left the territory of the Russian Federation. We stopped the car not far from the checkpoint and headed for the border guards on foot to find out if it was the correct checkpoint, or if we had gone the wrong way again. The border police told us it was the right place.
When we returned to the checkpoint in the van, the guards started checking our documents and demanded that the van be searched. At that point, the head of the checkpoint came out, wondering why we first left the van behind and walked up to the border on foot, and then drove up. Of course, we explained everything, saying we were carrying the icon with the blessing of Archbishop Dimitry, that we made a mistake because we didn’t know the roads, and that we had been searching for the correct checkpoint all day. He smiled and came closer to the van to see the icon. Seeing the icon of the saints, the head of the checkpoint said:
“I know your Mama Gabrieli. He’s a great saint, whom we love. My family and I watched the new film about him two days ago.”
When he found out that I was the author of the film, he told us:
“Guys, I see that you’re very tired and nervous. All your documents are in order, you just need to get everything done in half an hour. Here’s my advice. Leave your van in the parking lot, I’ll allow it, and quickly walk on foot into Russia, then then come back to us slowly. If you drive in the van now, you’ll never get through the checkpoint and get the Belarusian customs declaration in half an hour. If you drive into Russia from the territory of Belarus, you’ll have to re-register everything, which is impossible in half an hour.”
We thanked the head of the checkpoint and did exactly as he advised. We took a small icon of Elder Gabriel and the relics with us from the van. We walked into Russia on foot. It was very cold and dark and unfamiliar territory for us at night.
At one point, we came close to the Three Sisters memorial, and only then did we understand why the checkpoint and memorial had this name. We were standing across from the memorial. To our left was Russia, to the right—Ukraine, and behind us—Belarus… Lights were flickering on the three borders of the three sisters. We were stunned, and all four of us said at the same time:
“My cross is Georgia and half of Orthodox Rus’…”
This was said by Elder Gabriel about Holy Rus’. Here it was, Holy Rus’—Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and us with an icon of Elder Gabriel and some of his relics. My eyes welled up with tears. Overwhelmed with emotion, we quickly approached the Russian border, where they also wondered why we were walking on foot in the cold winter night. And then the border control employee who was checking our documents recognized the icon of Elder Gabriel and said she really loves Batiushka. Having heard our story, she called the shift supervisor and quickly explained the situation. The supervisor allowed us to immediately turn around to head back and give our passports for inspection. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have made it.
They stamped our passports at 11:59 PM.
We made it, with God’s help! We later understood that it was Elder Gabriel arranging a test for us. Would we condemn anyone? Would we whine and grumble against God or the Elder himself? How would we endure all these adventures? We endured them, by God’s grace.
In Belarus. The icon is streaming myrrh!
In the Vitebsk Diocese, we served molebens to the saints seven times every day, with the blessing of Archbishop Dimitry (Drozdov). In the evenings, we prayed akathists together with the faithful. We would read in Georgian and they in Church Slavonic.
On the feast of the Meeting of the Lord, the icon of Sts. Seraphim of Sarov and Gabriel (Urgebadze) began to stream myrrh in the Holy Dormition Cathedral in Vitebsk. Archbishop Dimitry and the priests confirmed the streaming, and we took a small bit of myrrh from the icon and placed it in the reliquary with the sacred items from Elder Gabriel. That day, all the clergy served a moleben at the myrrh-streaming icon and glorified our beloved saints who are great intercessors for the entire Orthodox world.
In the evening, a woman came into the church who wanted to venerate the icon and the relics, but as soon as she got near the icon of the saints, a spiritual battle began within her. Several times, it was as if some force pushed her away from the icon, not letting her near the relics. She would gather her strength, draw near to the icon, and suddenly it began again!... It wasn’t her, but an impure spirit: “I hate him! I hate this Georgian… One wasn’t enough, now there’s another… He knows everything, he knows everything… No, I won’t leave… You leave, you leave…” By the mercy of God, the woman was sprinkled with holy water, she venerated the relics from Elder Gabriel, and she loudly exclaimed: “God is with us! He is ever and ever shall be…” And with God’s help, she was healed!
Alexander with the icon given him by Elder Gabriel From Vitebsk, we left for Orsha, then to Tolochin, where everyone heard a strange sound coming from the icon during the service, resembling the cracking of glass. Everyone came up and saw how it had begun profusely streaming myrrh again. In Tolochin, a forty-year-old man from Minsk named Alexander came and testified:
“I’ve had diabetes since 2015. I got into an accident several months ago, but with God’s help, no one was injured. The windshield shattered and cut me near my shoulder. The wound didn’t heal for a long time because of my diabetes, and I was tormented by constant pain. You gave me oil from the holy relics of Elder Gabriel last year. I suddenly remembered about it and applied it to the wound at night. Half-dozing, in the morning I could feel the spot starting to warm up. I was startled, and I jumped up and ran to the kitchen to put something cold on the wound. I looked at it and was literally dumbfounded. The wound had completely healed overnight! What can I say?… Wondrous is God in His saints!”
After the Vitebsk Diocese, with the blessing of the now-Metropolitan Benjamin of Minsk and Zaslavl, we headed for Lyady Monastery, and then to Minsk. The people met us there with great love and stories of new miracles by the prayers of the Elder. There were many such cases, but one is particularly etched in my memory.
A little boy, Nikolai, came up to the icon several times and kissed it with great love. He was six. Little Nikola’s Godmother told us he had certain problems with his development. At some point, his body stopped growing. Everyone in the family was worried about it. The last time we came with the icon this woman took Nikolai to the icon and said: “Ask Batiushka Gabriel to help and bless you to grow again.” Nikolai listened, and he venerated the icon and asked Batiushka for help. He grew an inch and a half in a month, while over the previous several months he hadn’t grown a single millimeter. That’s how much Batiushka loves everyone and is quick to hear.
Throughout our journey, the Lord revealed very many miracles to everyone by the prayers of Elders Gabriel of Samtavro and Seraphim of Sarov. How many people received what they had entreated before the wonderworking icon of the two great elders, God alone knows. I can’t even count all those who have been comforted, strengthened in faith, who have received hope, received holy Baptism, were healed both spiritually and physically, and found yet another intercessor and friend in such difficult times. One thing’s for sure: The saints of God never leave us. We are certain of this from our own experience.
It was not easy to drive through five borders, to endure many trials, to walk on foot between borders at the Three Sisters checkpoint at night… But we felt that Batiushka Gabriel was with us. He helped us and humbled us just as he did while he was yet alive.
We should turn with out whole heart to the prayerful intercession of Batiushka, who never tire of doing good and giving love, as in the most difficult moments we sense his unseen presence, his love, his immediacy, and perhaps Elder Gabriel will personally “come” to you, just as he came to Alexander in Izhevsk, to Batiushka Nikolai in Kirov, and to many believers throughout the whole world, with whom we are all one family.
Appeal to the readers of OrthoChristian.com
Dear brothers and sisters!
The authors and creative team of the films The Elder’s Diadem and I’m Waiting for You in Samtavro are now working on a third documentary about St. Gabriel entitled Mama Gabrieli. With God’s help, and thanks to your support, shooting has already been carried out in different parts of Georgia, and in Moscow, Izhevsk, Kirov, Vitebsk, and Kiev. The soundtrack has also been recorded, although there is still a lot of work ahead of us.
We appeal to you to offer your mite towards the making of the film—even the smallest amount is often decisive in such great works.
Donations can be sent via PayPal to email@example.com.
When donating funds, please indicate your names in Holy Baptism, and also the names of your departed relatives. All names will be commemorated on the day of the Elder, at the moleben at the relics of St. Gabriel (Urgebadze) at Samtavro Monastery, and also at the relics and wonderworking icon of Sts. Gabriel and Seraphim of Sarov.
Names can be sent in an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.