St. Gabriel’s Love and Defense of the Holy Gospel

St. Gabriel (Urgebadze) is one of the most beloved saints in Georgia and Eastern Europe today. He is known as a great ascetic and a great wonderworker, both during his lifetime and after his repose.

And like any holy man of God, St. Gabriel’s life was wholly centered on the Holy Gospel, and the Person of Christ revealed therein.

Below we offer two extracts from the forthcoming publication, St. Gabriel the Fool for Christ and Confessor by Archimandrite Kirion (Oniani), that show the miraculous manner in which St. Gabriel first became acquainted with the Holy Gospel and his zeal for the truth of the Gospel teachings.

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Fr. Gabriel’s life was amazing. Even in his childhood, it was obvious that he had been chosen, called, and destined by God for a special ministry.

The period from his childhood up until his monasticism were full of spiritual depth, zeal, and self-denial—or, to use an expression of Fr. Gabriel himself, of passionate desire “to find Christ.” Even a passing acquaintance with him would be sufficient to say that such a high spiritual life was a rare occurrence, even amongst those laymen and monastics who spend their whole lives in Christian service.

Elder Gabriel, known “in the world” as Goderdzi Vasilievich Urgebadze, was born on August 26, 1929 in the Navtluga District of Tbilisi. Soon after birth he was baptized in the Cathedral of the Holy Great Martyr Barbara, with all the precautions typical of the Soviet era. His godmother, Tamar Begiashvili, was a former Sister of Mercy. When the boy was around two years old, his father Vasily was killed under suspicious circumstances. From then on, his family and close relatives called him Vasiko as a sign of respect for his father.

Even in childhood, the young Vasiko was marked by Divine grace. At just four or five years old, he would sit by himself and make buildings out of beautiful stones, stand up matches, light them, and joyfully say, “These buildings are churches, and the matches are candles.”

His family lived in Navtluga in a two-story brick house with a beautiful courtyard. Young Vasiko’s churches in the yard worried his mother—someone could see them and report that the child was being raised in a religious home, against the ideology of the time.

Fr. Gabriel’s older sister recalled this period: “To the surprise of us older ones, he showed great intelligence and ingenuity as a child. We later understood that Gabriel was truly holy—a man of God from his very childhood.

“Vasiko started school when he was six. He easily mastered reading, writing, and arithmetic, and earned the love of all by his kind disposition. His life was quite typical, that is, until one event occurred that completely changed young Vasiko’s life forever.

“He was seven years old when he saw some neighbors arguing. One disgruntled neighbor said to another, ‘You’re torturing me, like Christ on the Cross.’

“These words struck young Vasiko’s heart with curiosity, and when the neighbors stopped fighting, he immediately approached the one who had uttered them and asked, ‘Who was Christ, and why did they crucify Him on a cross?’

“Either out of fear or out of ignorance, which is hard to believe, his neighbor answered, ‘I don’t know, but if you’re really interested, go to the Church of St. Barbara and ask there.’

“It was already too late to go that day, but the next day, Vasiko went straightaway to the Church of the Great Martyr Barbara, just some 500 yards away in the same neighborhood. The church was closed at that time and the authorities had put a guard there. Vasiko approached the guard in the church yard and said: ‘I want to know Who Christ was and why He was crucified on a cross. I was sent here to ask you about it. They said you would probably know.’

“The guard must have been a good, God-fearing man, because he opened the church, led him to the Crucifix of the Savior and said, ‘This is Christ Whom they crucified. If you want to understand why, you can read about it in a book on the story of Christ. You can learn about Him there, because I don’t know much.’

“Seeing the crucified Christ, Vasiko was all the more eager to find an answer to his question: Who was Christ and why did they crucify Him?

“After that, Vasiko began saving money. His stepfather would give him a bit of change when he sent him off to the store. He had already saved up some money, then he added some more, and soon he had collected seventy rubles, and decided to buy the book The Story of Christ.”

St. Gabriel continues:

“Having gathered seventy rubles, I figured it was enough to buy The Story of Christ, so I went to the market near my house. It was a mixed market and they sold books there. I walked around the entire market, approaching everyone who sold books, asking about The Story of Christ, but nobody had it. Finally, when I started to head home in disappointment, I saw in the alley, standing apart from the rows of stands, a gray-haired, white-bearded, kindly-looking old man who was holding a book, as if for sale.

“I approached him, said hello, and looked at the book. I saw the title—The New Testament—but I wanted The Story of Christ. Nevertheless, I asked, ‘I’m looking for The Story of Christ. Would you happen to have it?’

“In a sweet voice the elder answered, ‘That which you seek is written here; this book is the story of Christ.’

“I asked how much. ‘Seventy rubles,’ answered the old man, and I rejoiced that I had exactly the right amount. I paid him, bid farewell, and left content. Having gone a bit, I began to doubt. This book said The New Testament but I wanted The Story of Christ. ‘I’ll go back and ask, perhaps he didn’t understand me.’ I returned, but the elder was already gone, so I asked some people nearby: ‘There was an old man standing here selling books. You didn’t happen to see where he went, did you?’

“They all answered: ‘No one was standing here and we didn’t see any old man.’”

A new stage in the life of Elder Gabriel had begun, marked by this mysterious acquisition of the Gospel. From that day forward, he was filled with a single thought and desire: to live for Christ alone.


Fr. Gabriel is a defender of the truth

Zachariah Chugoshivli recalls:

The miracle that happened in my life was enchanting and unforgettable.

I became religious at the age of twenty-one. I hadn’t even read the Gospels all the way though yet when the enemy of man’s salvation began desiring my separation from the Church and my spiritual destruction.

Once when I was traveling to Sioni on public transportation, I wound up next to a young woman who opened the Gospel and quietly started reading to herself. I figured she was a believer and I started talking with her (I didn’t know anything about sects back then). Throughout the entire trip, she tried to convince me that Christ isn’t God and that going to church isn’t really necessary. She quoted individual verses from the Bible, which she hadn’t read to the end, and she used these incomplete quotes to lead me into confusion. I realized this later when I read the Holy Scriptures.

This interaction had a very negative influence on me, as if it had broken my soul in two just as I was taking my first steps in the Christian life. I felt some kind of heavy dichotomy, similar to a feeling of depression. I reluctantly went to Sioni Cathedral to pray, merely out of inertia. If previously I had stood joyfully at prayer and desired to hear every word, now I was no longer able to concentrate, and didn’t hear a single word. That woman’s terrible words rang out within me: “Jesus Christ isn’t God.”

Disturbed and downtrodden, I dropped to my knees and laid my head on the ground, as if I no longer had any strength to remain on my feet. Soon I felt someone place their hand on my head, and in such a painful condition, I looked up and saw an unfamiliar, but venerable-looking priest standing before me. He picked me up, looked at me with a piercing look, and said in a firm voice, “Know this! The Jews didn’t confess Jesus Christ as God, and therefore they perished. Christ truly is God! Remember this and believe me! Now you have understood it, and let your faithfulness be unbroken!”

I can’t describe my happiness—at that moment I was truly spiritually born. All evil thoughts and suspicions vanished, and my previous desire to stand in prayer returned. I later found out that this unknown monk who granted me spiritual rebirth was Fr. Gabriel.

Archimandrite Kirion (Oniani)
Translation by Jesse Dominick


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