“Away from politics, fame and noise”
Andrei Semyanko, the choir director of the Holy Trinity Church:
Fr. Gabriel was extremely kind and treated all people with great love. Many considered him a member of their family and loved him like a brother. What struck me most was the story of how he got to North Carolina, to our parish.
After moving to America, Fr. Gabriel was assigned to the clergy of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Sign at the Synod of Bishops in the very center of New York—in Manhattan. There he served and contacted closely with Metropolitan Hilarion (Kapral). When Vladyka asked him where he wanted to go to serve next, Fr. Gabriel replied: “Away from politics, fame and noise. Somewhere where I can run the parish quietly.” He was sent to us—to a calm, almost rustic place.
He could have chosen another parish—with large incomes and in a big city. But Fr. Gabriel was just that: he didn’t seek fame and never exalted himself. If he, like any human being, sometimes made mistakes, he honestly admitted them. His sermons were very sincere, filled with genuine love for people. He never told the parishioners that he would “save” them or somehow “improve” them. With his pastoral love, he taught us how to love our neighbor.
He was our friend and older brother
Oscar Nurtayev, a parishioner:
When I first met Fr. Gabriel, he seemed to be strict and businesslike. Later when my wife and I came to the church to help tidy up, I saw a completely different Fr. Gabriel—cheerful and open. I asked him if we could meet outside service times, and he agreed at once. We talked on different topics for several hours. After that meeting we became friends and began to visit each other. We would make a fire, bake potatoes and have long conversations about eternal things. It was enthralling to listen to stories from his life, his reflections and memories. Fr. Gabriel became a friend and older brother to us.
It was he who managed to create the “family spirit”, which our parish still has. Numerous hikes, trips, pilgrimages, picnics and parish cleaning days helped us unite the permanent parishioners and create a kind of “center of gravity” that attracted new members of the parish. From a scattered group of people became a real family, and in the center was Fr. Gabriel with his inexhaustible energy, ideas and optimism.
I also remember his sermons delivered in simple language, his jokes and funny stories during meals. He created an atmosphere of love and friendship in the parish, which is why we wholeheartedly wanted to go to services, and not because “we had to.” I would like Fr. Gabriel’s legacy to not be lost over time, but to strengthen and increase. I think that with the groundwork that Fr. Gabriel laid, this is quite possible.
The parish has become my home
Marina Sazanovich, a parishioner:
We moved here from Philadelphia a few years ago, and I was very worried about how I would be received in the church. But my fears were groundless: I didn’t want to leave the church after services because everything became so dear to me! Of course this atmosphere was created by the parishioners, but Fr. Gabriel united everyone. I immediately realized that this was exactly the place where I wanted to have my son baptized and where I wanted to stay and make it my parish, my home.
Children, even toddlers, sensed the pastor’s kind heart and were drawn to him. He took babies into his arms and made the boys laugh. But during the Gospel reading and sermons he demanded silence. If very young parishioners were noisy, he would “sparkle” with his piercing eyes, and we parents would be ashamed. Mothers instantly ran out of the church with their little ones to calm them. And after services the priest would always approach a naughty child, and as if nothing had happened, say jokingly, “Well, never mind! We’ll drive it out of you!”
Fr. Gabriel had a special talent for attracting and uniting people. He organized parish cleaning days, and Sunday services in the open air: in parks, on the lake, in the forest... In our parish we have many young parents with small children and school-age children. Fr. Gabriel always took this into account. He took the boys as altar-servers, taught them and was not afraid that they would make mistakes. When my son was born, I was impatient for him to grow up and start serving at the altar.
I met Fr. Gabriel five years ago, and it seems as if I have known him all my life. It’s a pity that my children were very young when Fr. Gabriel was alive and did not really get to know him. But I will always cherish fond memories of him. I will tell my children about this inspiring man.
“I am betrothed to the Church and all of you”
Lyubov Vanyashina, a parishioner:
The Cross on Fr. Gabriel’s grave I remember my first impression of our church: a modest and cozy atmosphere, friendly and kind people, and an excellent choir. This home full of love (the parish) was created by Igumen Gabriel—a kind, tactful and attentive father to all. He once said that he was “betrothed to the Church and all of us,” that is why in his sermons he so sincerely shared his thoughts and knowledge, advising us about what to read.
Fr. Gabriel always cared for the church and the parishioners. I fondly remember parish cleaning days on the eve of the great feasts: People would come to church all day long—everyone had a task to do, and Fr. Gabriel worked together with everyone very positively. Feasts were always spent sincerely and merrily; Fr. Gabriel came up with amusing contests. Igumen Gabriel will remain in our memory as a modest, sincere and bright person.
After stepping into the church, I felt like family
Tatiana Kaplenko, a parishioner:
When I left for North Carolina, I was sad to think about being separated from my dear church in Moscow. The priest who had year after year heard my confessions, given me Communion and useful instructions would no longer be able to take an active part in my spiritual life. It was not very easy to accept that reality. But then, in 2014, I couldn’t have even imagined that the Lord was preparing a meeting for me with such a bright and faithful person, a real soldier of Christ!
I got to the Holy Trinity Church for the first time on the feast of the Nativity of Christ. Seeing the church from outside, I was surprised, wondering whether a church could be so small. But after stepping into the church, I felt like family. Looking back, I understand that a priceless gift on that radiant feast was my first meeting with the church rector at confession—dear and beloved Fr. Gabriel.
We all know that whatever comes into our lives calmly, peacefully, without fuss, quietly and with love is from the Lord. Such was the meeting with my spiritual guide in America.
I always received heartfelt and wise instruction from Fr. Gabriel after confession. I asked myself how he could know and say exactly what I needed! I was repeatedly convinced of God’s guidance through Fr. Gabriel. This fact always surprised me. For me Fr. Gabriel was a model monk, a good pastor, a man of prayer, a precious spiritual guide, a courageous and noble man devoted to the Church.
He chose the monastic path from his student days
Rodion Kornienko, a parishioner:
Fr. Gabriel came to us from New York in November 2011 after the departure of Fr. Alexander Davydov, the first permanent priest of our church. At that time I was the churchwarden. Despite his rather young age (he was forty-three), Fr. Gabriel had considerable experience of ministry, including at a monastery in Moldova—my homeland. As he used to say, he chose the monastic path from his student days.
The new priest charmed the parishioners from the very first—on the one hand with his modesty and humility, and on the other with his ardent faith and spiritual dedication to serving Christ and us, his flock. Humble, cultured and sensitive, he was a true soldier of Christ, strengthening our faith, hope and love. Perhaps this was the main reason why our parish began to actively grow and became strong. His instructions and care for each of us personally went deep from his heart; and in his eyes one could see heaven to which we hardly raise our gaze in the bustle of the world!
Fr. Gabriel was sincerely glad to become our rector. He liked it that our church was located in the hinterland—away from the crazy bustle of megalopolises. He also really liked the way the church and diocesan life was arranged in America. Vladyka Hilarion also treated Fr. Gabriel very warmly.
Batiushka lovingly helped our large and complex family with instructions. We, in turn, tried to help him in his everyday chores. Any contact with him was a great joy. He was very strong and athletic, but, to everyone’s great sorrow, his eyesight was weak, and despite several operations, deteriorated steadily and irreversibly. His thorough knowledge of most services made it unnoticeable. Perhaps by taking Fr. Gabriel at such an early age the Lord freed him from the burdens of a life of blindness. As his closest friend Fr. Sergei (who came to support our parish) said, Fr. Gabriel was truly Christ’s, and he had “passed the exam ahead of schedule.”
Fr. Gabriel loved poetry
Elena Rubinstein, daughter of the poet Nahum Korzhavin:
My father enjoyed going to services at the Holy Trinity Church where Fr. Gabriel served. Already seriously ill, accompanied by our friends Tamara and Oleg Krivulin, sitting in a wheelchair, he prayed throughout the long services. They were happy to meet with each other outside church and had conversations. Fr. Gabriel loved poetry and was a cultured person. He was an incredibly brilliant man. What a pity that he passed away so early...
Fr. Gabriel and I attended concerts. It was so interesting to be in touch with him. He was a wonderful and charming man; he looked young, just like a teenager.
The forty-five-year-old batiushka and the eighty-eight-year-old poet became friends
Alexander Kabanov, a friend of the poet Nahum Korzhavin:
One day Fr. Gabriel came to meet the poet Nahum Korzhavin. The priest was forty-five years old, but despite the difference in age, he and the eighty-eight-year-old Korzhavin immediately made friends.
Fr. Gabriel became a frequent guest in the poet’s home. In his presence, Nahum Moiseevich (already totally blind and losing touch with the world around him) was transformed. The priest read poetry to the poet; they talked for a long time and were happy together.
He made the parish the center of not only spiritual but also cultural life
Vladimir Burchakov, churchwarden of the Holy Trinity Church:
On becoming the rector, Fr. Gabriel spoke of his desire to make our parish the center of not only spiritual, but also cultural life. He supported the initiative to create a music class at the Sunday school for children. He was happy to visit the poet Nahum Korzhavin and welcomed him with honor whenever he came to church, accompanied by our parishioners Oleg and Tamara Krivulin.
On feasts in the refectory our parishioners read poems by Russian poets and sang songs by Russian composers. Once the organizers of a tour of the Konevets Orthodox Quartet approached us with a request to help hold a concert. Fr. Gabriel didn’t hesitate to find them a venue. We also helped the soloists of the ensemble to put up at a hotel and provided transportation.
Fr. Gabriel was very fond of songs and romances. Once he suggested that we spend an evening of Russian romance. And at outdoor services in parks in North Carolina (he was also the initiator of those events) he liked to sit at the table closer to the guitarist, singing along and joking. And he took these impromptu concerts seriously—he printed out the lyrics and handed out leaflets to involve as many people as possible in the singing. But there was one song for which no printed material was needed. At its opening chords, Fr. Gabriel’s expression changed, and his smile changed into thoughtfulness and slight sadness. It was the romance, “Shine, Shine, My Star.” At first I made fun of such a change in mood, saying that we had enough reminders of graves and sorrows in sermons to think about the same during rest. But seeing Fr. Gabriel singing this song, I began to feel at ease. I daresay that some personal memories were behind the words of this romance. They were perceived in a special way: “You will never fade in my longing soul.”
Looking at the igumen, I thought about people like him—those who resolved to abandon earthly joys, worldly passions and empty worries; who chose to give their energies and talents to the service of Christ. What spiritual strength a monastic podvig requires is known only to them and the Lord. We can only thank Him for allowing us to meet true soldiers of Christ.
Eternal memory to Igumen Gabriel!