In Iberia, the first portion of the Mother of God, during the persecution by the godless authorities, the Lord revealed a saint known as the Apostle of Love of our times. Fr. Gabriel (Urgebadze) of Samtavro was a great sufferer for the faith and the Georgian people. His entire life he unmurmuringly bore the heavy cross of persecution and acquired great honor before the Lord.
His testimony of Christ was so strong that it swept across all of Georgia and far beyond its borders. When Fr. Gabriel, undaunted by the authorities’ fury, set fire to a huge portrait of Lenin at a demonstration of thousands, he was seeking to glorify the name of God.
Foolishness for Christ’s sake is a special podvig. Fr. Gabriel was mocked for his appearance, for going about barefoot, in ragged clothes, and humbling himself by putting a copper diadem on his head. But, he is great in the eyes of God, and this was revealed both during his life and after his righteous repose.
And how he loved children! One monk recalled:
“I’ve known Fr. Gabriel since childhood. This beggar appeared in Batumi, where I grew up. He was very strange. The children would walk after him and call him an angel.”
Once he bought an armful of wild flowers from a little boy and gave them to believers who were going to Svetitskhoveli. These flowers didn’t wilt for a long time, and they pleased the heart…
One day a disconsolate father led a strange monk from Samtavro to Rustavi to his sick little daughter. Little Angelina had bronchial asthma. She had suffered since birth, and most likely, her days were numbered. This amazing monk tossed up his hands, laughed, and said something incoherent about her future. Then he went over to the child, put his arm around her, and held her close. Her face was buried in the wide sleeves of his riassa. Angelina felt a sweet fragrance and was afraid: “I’m going to start gasping again, and they’ll give me an oxygen pillow!” But the strange monk made the Sign of the Cross over her, smiled, and said something about imminent joy. Then he spoke with her mother and gave some instructions to her father.
No matter how afraid little Angelina was, that day’s asthma attack never happened again, and the sickness abruptly subsided. She got better every day. Soon, she forgot all about the asthma, as though she’d never had it. But before that, her parents had repeatedly turned to the brightest in the medical world and taken their daughter to expensive resorts. But all the doctors’ efforts were in vain…
Some time later, Angelina’s family left Georgia. The day before they were leaving, her mother had a dream of Angelina walking into an ancient Georgian church and going up to the Royal Doors to meet some priest dressed in monastic clothing. When she drew near to him, he blessed her. Her mother decided it was a blessing for her life in another country.
The years passed. Angelina grew up and got married. Only distant childhood memories remained of this strange monk-elder from Samtavro. Even his name faded from her memory. Then suddenly a classmate from school in Georgia, who was also living in Moscow, called her and said:
“Some nun has come with an icon of a Georgian saint. Let’s go together!”
When Angelina approached the icon, something pricked her heart. She venerated the icon and felt a subtle fragrance. Then her childhood memories suddenly came flooding back: their apartment on Paliashvili Street in Rustavi, the strange monk from Samtavro. But she wasn’t sure it was definitely him depicted on the icon. But when she went over to the table with books and photographs of Fr. Gabriel, she recognized him immediately! She had no more doubts: It was the same monk who had healed her hopeless illness. He was the one her father had brought from Samtavro!
And the memory of that day when Fr. Gabriel had wrapped her head in the sleeve of his riassa suddenly came back to her. She remembered the subtle scent of his arm, his clothes—the fragrance enveloped the Elder like a cloud. And the exact same fragrance was coming from his wonderworking icon. When she got home, she showed a photo of Fr. Gabriel to her mother: “Do you remember him?” She recognized him: “Yes, he’s the one your father brought to our house when you were young.”
I met Angelina Shengelia at a church in Moscow, where Mother Maria from the representation church of the Holy Dormition Monastery in Kemerovo again brought the same icon of Fr. Gabriel from which Angelina smelled the fragrance. She told me about her encounter with the Elder:
“Since that day, Gabriel has been with me again, although really, he probably never left me. He’s the one who prayed for me, and I survived. He’s the one that blessed me to move. He found me in this great big world.”
The ways of the Lord are inscrutable. By His good providence, I, a sinner, was also granted to offer my mite towards the glorification of this great saint of the twentieth century: I became the author of the Akathist and service to Fr. Gabriel that received the official blessing of the Georgian Orthodox Church.
We read the Akathist to the saint every Sunday in our Church of the Meeting of the Lord in Biryulevo (Moscow), and Batiushka serves a moleben to him. And the Elder’s help is felt in everything. Just as during his lifetime Fr. Gabriel built a church and cleared away sacred items that were desecrated, so after his repose he doesn’t abandon those who erect the house of God. Our church is now almost completely built, just within three years. It’s all filled with scaffolding inside now, the interior is being finished, and Fr. Dimitry, our rector, hopes he'll be honored to serve there on the feast of Pentecost. We never dreamed that it would happen so quickly, especially in those cold winters when we would warm ourselves by the stove, and outside the window we could see only a rickety fence delineating the territory of the future church, with dogs running past and drunk youngsters shouting.
But then when our church acquired an icon of Fr. Gabriel with a piece of his mantia and a board from his coffin, that’s when everything began! There suddenly appeared at the church some excavator, like something out of hell: Black smoke was billowing from its chimney, and it made a terrifying roar as it hammered away at the frozen ground for the foundation of the future church. The floor and walls of our temporary wooden church shook every time, and it felt like it would bounce from its powerful blows, but this roar reverberated in our hearts as Heavenly music: “At last!”
The parishioners, who knew nothing about Fr. Gabriel, started praying to him, and then people from all over Mother Russia started coming to our backwater church. They came little by little, prayed to the saint, poured themselves some oil from the lampada at his icon, told us their stories, and there began to be miracles: By the prayers of Fr. Gabriel, the sick were healed or their pain was alleviated, the needy found work, families were united, and most importantly—a repentant feeling for the Creator and love for God and others was awakened in their hearts. Apparently, Fr. Gabriel, who acquired this great gift from the Lord, generously shares it with others and invisibly embraces us who come to him for help.
One day, on the feast of Theophany, a drunken man knocked at the church. He immediately confessed that he had been drinking a little and asked to be let in for a minute. He was let in since the service had ended a while earlier and there were no people left. He was interested in who was depicted on the icons; he crossed himself, venerated, and started asking questions about the faith. And when he approached the wonderworking icon, suddenly there was a harrowing cry: “Don’t go near him! It’s Gabriel! Don’t go near him!” This shout made my blood curdle.
The man turned around and in a calm voice asked:
“Who is that?”
“St. Gabriel of Samtavro…”
He asked to hear about the Elder; he felt moved and kissed the icon, and started silently whispering something to the saint. Apparently, his soul felt the grace coming from the icon. And Fr. Gabriel was simply shining on the icon: His eyes were radiating Divine joy at that moment.
As the poor and wretched sought solace from the Elder during his lifetime, so after his repose he continues to comfort and help those near to him. But for him, no one was a stranger: Every person he met was someone dear to him. He had enough love for everyone.
When I was blessed to glorify Fr. Gabriel, I got to know people living in different parts of Russia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Holland, Belgium, the Philippines, and England. I think this list will only expand.
Two years ago, the Church of St. John of Shanghai in Colchester, England, acquired an icon of St. Gabriel of Samtavro. Its rector Archpriest Andrew Phillips is a missionary and the founder of four parishes in east England. He’s the author of a great many articles, essays, books, and lives of saints, and the compiler of services and akathists to the saints. In 2021, together with Dmitry Lapa, the author-compiler and translator of Lives of the Saints Who Shone Forth in the British and Irish Lands, and the author of many publications, he translated the Akathist to Fr. Gabriel into English. It’s in late-17th-century Shakespearean English, the main liturgical language of the English-speaking Orthodox throughout the world.
And in Moscow, it was decided to found the Center for the Glorification of St. Gabriel of Samtavro in Russia on the basis of the Charitable Fund of St. John the Theologian. The Fund’s publishing department reissued the Akathist to Fr. Gabriel with a new design and the service and canon added.
When the first copies were brought from the printing house, a certain servant of God Anton came to visit us from Krasnogorsk. He began to venerate Fr. Gabriel after the saint appeared to him. Before that, he had heard nothing about the Elder. And it happened on August 26, 2019, on Fr. Gabriel’s birthday. That morning, Anton woke up at dawn and saw a noble elder in monastic garb had appeared in his room. He blessed him and disappeared. And from that moment, his life changed: Fr. Gabriel had supported him in a very difficult moment. He started praying to him and sharing with people the joy of meeting this saint, this miracle of God. He senses his help and support in everything.
We gave Anton part of the print run, and the next day, April 11, 2021, he took several books to the Archangel Michael Church in the village of Arkhangelskoe, where he is a parishioner, to distribute them to the faithful. And something incredible happened during the service: When they brought out the chalice and started Communion, the cover of the book began to stream myrrh in his hands. Anton was looking at the altar, at the priest who was communing people, and suddenly felt an oily liquid flowing down onto his hands. He looked down and saw that the cover of the book was streaming myrrh.
“When you hear about it, that’s one thing; when you see it with your own eyes, that’s another; but when it all happens in your own hands—it’s simply astonishing!” Anton said. “I didn’t see the moment when the myrrh appeared. It happened in the five or so seconds when I was looking at the iconostasis.”
At first, Anton was confused: He didn’t know what to do. He couldn’t go show the priest because he was serving Communion. And the myrrh kept flowing and flowing from the book cover onto his hands! And he began to wash his face with it, anointing his neck, collarbone, and the area around his heart. All the pages of the book were soaked through, but most of the myrrh was flowing from the right side of the cover. First he went to show his mother, and she also anointed herself with the divine oil. This was seen by the parishioners. The myrrh didn’t dry up as people started going over to Anton, and people gathered it from the cover with their fingers and anointed themselves and their children, rejoicing, thanking, and glorifying God. After a while, the flow began to decrease, and then Anton finally thought to film it. He managed to do so, and his video was published online, where it spread rapidly:
Parishioners came up to him after the service, asking about the “Akathist that was streaming myrrh.” They asked: “Show us, we just want to venerate it!” The book was brought out of the altar. The parishioner Elena, to whom Anton had already given a copy of the Akathist, laid her copy on the one that had been streaming myrrh. After a while, Anton realized that the people who had been able to anoint themselves with the myrrh were familiar with the life of Fr. Gabriel. Some he gave a copy of the Akathist, some an icon of St. Gabriel.
When parishioners of our Meeting of the Lord Church found out about the miracle, one of them thoughtfully said: “It was the blessing of Fr. Gabriel!” Maybe he’s right, who knows—but we hope so…