I first learned about Igumen Gabriel (Kvasnikov) from some biologists I knew from the “Research Triangle” in the small town of Mebane, North Carolina. He was a mathematician, a chess player, and a connoisseur of Russian romance and poetry. He united the parishioners, made parish life interesting and eventful, opened a Sunday school with Russian language, literature, music, and chess classes and so on.
Both ordinary and eminent people were drawn to him. For example, among his friends were the famous poet Nahum Korzhavin (1925—2018) and Alexei Kampov-Polevoi, a Ph.D in Medicine and the son of the author of the book, The Story of a Real Man1.
Fr. Gabriel (secular name: Alexander Kvasnikov) was born in Leningrad in 1968. In 1994, he graduated from Leningrad State Pedagogical Institute (later renamed Herzen State Pedagogical University) with a degree in Mathematics.
In 1996, Alexander was tonsured as a ryassophore monk by Bishop Justinian (Ovchinnikov) of Dubossari. Soon by the same hierarch he was ordained hierodeacon and then hieromonk. Between 1996 and 2002 the young hieromonk served in parishes of the dioceses of Chisinau, Tiraspol and Dubossari. And from 2002 till 2011 he served at the St. John of Rila Stavropegic Convent in St. Petersburg.
In 2011, Fr. Gabriel moved to the United States, joined the clergy of the Eastern American Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, (ROCOR), and for some time served at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Sign at the Synod of Bishops in New York City. In November, 2011, he moved to North Carolina and became the rector of the Holy Trinity Church.
Fr. Gabriel also celebrated monthly services at the missionary community of St. Innocent of Moscow in Nashville, Tennessee. On August 21, 2016, he was elevated to the rank of igumen by Metropolitan Hilarion (Kapral) of Eastern America and New York.
Igumen Gabriel died suddenly in 2018. He fell asleep in the Lord at night. The pastor was found by a young family who came to him in the morning for spiritual talks. The door of the house was open, the light was on, and the priest was lying in bed with his arms crossed over his chest. The police and medics determined the cause of death as natural. No autopsy was performed.
He was buried behind the Cemetery Church of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos of the Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville (New York State).
This is a short biography of Igumen Gabriel (Kvasnikov). Short recollections of relatives and parishioners of the Holy Trinity Church of the small American town of Mebane will tell you more about him, his love for his neighbor and his ardent faith in the Lord.
God knows us more than we do
Archpriest Sergei Orzhakhovsky, rector of the Church of the Resurrection of Christ in the village of Voskresenskoye (the Gatchina district of the Leningrad region):
I first met Fr. Gabriel, a dear fellow-priest and true Christian, in 2002, and signs of our friendship and similarity of views appeared two or three years later. Firm and sincere in his faith and before God, he was very open, and close to me.
We served together at the dependency of St. John’s Convent near St. Petersburg when we decided to go to nearby Finland. Fr. Gabriel was the initiator of the trip, and I was the driver and his fellow traveler. This was our first experience of traveling abroad by car. Our pilgrimage to New Valaam Monastery (Heinävesi, Finland) and the border areas of Finland was successful and interesting. As we joked, we breathed the air of freedom. There was one discovery, and perhaps a revelation. Not far from the border we stopped by a lake and went to stretch our legs. During the walk we found a large boulder. Climbing on it, we gazed at the sky, the lake, a forest, meditated and breathed. At that time we decided to change something in our lives and ministries: We agreed to stop our service at the convent and continue it in parishes. Two years later, Fr. Gabriel ended up in North America, and I, his colleague with many children, moved to a parish in the Gatchina district of the St. Petersburg Metropolia.
These are just small sketches, but bright and memorable. And it is not easy to tell you about what happened in private conversations, and maybe it is not useful. The Lord knows us more than we do.
Eternal memory to a true friend and brother, Fr. Gabriel.
He came to church himself when he was in the eight grade
Tatyana Georgievna Kvasnikova, Fr. Gabriel’s mother:
Sasha [a diminutive form of the name Alexander.—Trans.] always did well at school. From the fourth grade he was fond of astronomy, and later he became interested in history. My son read many books on these subjects. He went to church for the first time himself as an eighth grader, and was amazed by and delighted with the beauty of the church.
After school, my son entered the Baltic State Technical University and chose to specialize in flight dynamics. When he was in his second year, the military exemption of students was revoked and Sasha with his fellow students were drafted into the army. He served two years at Baikonur [a launching site for spacecraft in what is now central Kazakhstan.—Trans.] and returned to the institute.
Six months later, Sasha transferred to the Herzen State Pedagogical University. After receiving his degree he taught mathematics in the Vologda region. There he met and became friends with Fr. Yaroslav Shipov, a writer and public figure. At the age of forty-four, Fr. Yaroslav became a priest. He restored parishes in the Vologda region. My son became the prototype of a young mathematics teacher looking for the purpose in life in Fr. Yaroslav’s short story, On the Porch. When Fr. Yaroslav left the Vologda region, Sasha returned to St. Petersburg and continued teaching mathematics.
After some time, Sasha quit school, left for the Moscow region and became a novice at the Holy Trinity—St. Sergius Lavra. After that he was sent to the city of Bender (Tighina) in Prednestrovia/Transnistria where he took the monastic vows in June 1996. There he served in the city of Rybnitsa (Ribnita) at a military unit, and then at the convent founded by St. John of Kronstadt in St. Petersburg.
When Sasha went to the United States to visit his brother Mikhail and his family, he met an Orthodox priest from New York there. Thanks to him, my son met with Metropolitan Hilarion (Kapral), at whose invitation he moved to serve in the USA.
A few months later, he was sent to serve in North Carolina. It was not easy: Sasha found it hard to learn English, but he was always grateful to the parishioners for their help. Whenever Sasha came to visit St. Petersburg from America, he met with his school friends, told them about his life, ministry and Orthodoxy in America. My son always visited Fr. Yaroslav in Moscow.
Sasha was very fond of nature and loved to travel. He visited all the suburbs of St. Petersburg and went to many European countries.
Kostya (Konstantin) Hartman, Fr. Gabriel’s nephew:
My first memories of my uncle are connected with his return from the army. I was then five years old. I learned from my grandmother that he had served at Baikonur, and my childhood consciousness firmly connected Uncle Sasha with spacemen. When I was in the first grade, he taught chess at our school, and I well remember how my uncle asked me not to tell my friends that he was an astronaut.
Then my grandmother said that Uncle Sasha had been ordained, that his service was not easy, and he was constantly on the move. My uncle served in Prednestrovia/Transnistria and Ukraine and traveled to Abkhazia.
When our family ended up in America, Uncle Sasha would come to visit us. He wanted to serve in the USA, and serve the Lord away from the hustle and bustle. Of course, we felt that we would be happy if Fr. Gabriel lived not far from us. Perhaps the Lord answered our prayers. In the end, my uncle remained to serve in New York. Our dream came true: We often saw each other and talked. Fr. Gabriel would take the bus and come to stay with us for several days. I also traveled to New York, and my uncle always found time to meet and talk. On learning that he would be transferred to serve in North Carolina, I was sincerely glad for him because I knew that he wanted to live and serve closer to nature, for peace and quiet. He took great pleasure in telling me about his trips to the mountains and the days he spent on the ocean shore at the Outer Banks. We would get in touch on the phone regularly or talk via Skype: I told him about my family and work, and he told me about his parish and home. He shared his plans to build a new large and united parish, organize an interesting Sunday school for children and adults, and perform Baptisms in the river.
Every New Year we tried to prepare fun gifts for each other—for example, once he gave me a microscope and a telescope, and we presented him with a guitar and a chess set. In the final year of his life, I asked him: “What do you want as a gift?” He replied: “Just to see you!” I came to him and we spent a weekend together, hiking in the mountains and rambling around small towns. For me, Uncle Sasha will remain a wise companion with whom it was interesting to talk about everything in the world. I’m sure his immortal soul is watching over us...
Fr. Gabriel shared the beauty of Orthodoxy with others
Mikhail Kvasnikov, Fr. Gabriel’s brother:
I keep many memories connected with my brother in my heart... I will share a funny story, which also shows that Fr. Gabriel was a true soldier of Christ, whose faith was never shaken. He strove to share the beauty of Orthodoxy with others. When my brother was visiting me in New York, I persuaded him to come with me to a restaurant. While there, I went out for a few minutes and left my brother alone at the table.
I came back and beheld the following sight: Fr. Gabriel was sitting there, surrounded by policemen who were having a party, telling them about Orthodoxy—that it is the true faith. He told them about the beauty of church services and chants. The policemen had forgotten their entertainment, their jokes, drinks and dancing and were listening carefully to their new companion. You might say, “So what?” Perhaps it was nothing special. But I will just add one detail: My brother hardly knew any English, and the police officers hardly knew any Russian—yet in some incomprehensible way everyone understood each other and the Americans were listening to my brother with enthusiasm. Such interest and attention couldn’t have been feigned, and no one was forcing the police officers to listen...
On help through Fr. Gabriel’s Prayers
Olga Izotova, a parishioner:
Fr. Gabriel helped our family greatly through his prayers. In March 2013, my husband Pavel was diagnosed with brain cancer; our youngest daughter was then only two months old. I immediately called Fr. Gabriel, and he advised me to read the Gospel of the day daily and observe Lent with concentration (the bad news about my husband’s disease coincided with Lent). I asked him to pray for my husband, so that he would live for at least another five years—then our youngest daughter would have some memory of her father.
With God’s help, Pavel overcame his illness, and despite the difficulties and suffering after the operation he is still alive after eight years. Another daughter has even been born to our family.
After my husband’s illness we were rarely able to travel to the Holy Trinity Church, so we attended other parishes but continued to keep in touch with Fr. Gabriel. Whenever we called him to give us Unction or Communion at home, he would immediately agree. He also came to the hospital to give Unction to my husband after his operation, and baptized my daughter at our home so her father could also be present at the Sacrament. Such a compassionate person!
We had to miss our favorite Christmas holidays, but Fr. Gabriel always brought gifts to all our children. My husband was able to go on a pilgrimage to St. John of San Francisco in 2014. Our dear Igumen Gabriel helped again: My husband needed an escort, and the priest kindly agreed to accompany him. Although the trip was short, they were able to visit the cathedral with the saint’s reliquary, and the old church where the saint’s mantle is kept. They also visited the coast. According to my husband, Fr. Gabriel jumped from boulder to boulder and enjoyed the ocean like a child.
When Fr. Gabriel eyesight deteriorated and it was uncertain whether the operation would be effective (there was a risk that he would go blind), he spoke about it with a sense of humor, did not despair, and audio recorded the Philokalia and other spiritual books in case of complete blindness. On his last visit to us in January 2018, he happily reported that the parish was growing and new children had been born. It was easy and interesting to talk with him. Once our oldest daughters asked him what they should pay attention to when studying the faith and reading Orthodox literature. He advised them above all to know the Lives of their patron saints well. Eternal memory to dear Father Gabriel!
He was a genuine priest
Oleg and Tamara Krivulin, parishioners:
Each of us met Fr. Gabriel at different times, but our impressions of him coincided in many respects. In him we saw a modest, open, unmercinary, and sincere person.
Everyone who met Fr. Gabriel sensed that he radiated true love for people. We heard from many that he was a genuine priest, so the number of parishioners in our church kept growing all the time. Almost every time we were in contact with him there was a feeling that Fr. Gabriel could foresee the future. His advice and guidance would later became a reality. Even now he is still invisibly with us, and we continue to receive help from him.
To be continued…