Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Mother Gabriela, the Ascetic of Love, is canonized (Gerontissa Gavrielia Papagiane +1992)

St. Gabriela, the Ascetic of Love - Commemorated on March 28th (the day of her repose), and July 18th (the day of the translation of her relics) (source)

Gerontissa Gabrielia (Gavrielia) was born in Constantinople more than a hundred years ago on October 15, 1897 to Helias and Victoria Papayanni and was the fourth and last child of the family.

Gerontissa means further than an older nun, supervising the youngers, a spiritual person, who guides others with wise advice and knowledge given from God, in prayers. Her life is a trail of wonders.

She grew up in Constantinople until her family moved to Thessaloniki in 1923. She went to England in 1938 and stayed there throughout the Second World War. She trained as a chiropodist and physiotherapist. In England they honored her for her services during the war and after.

In 1945, she returned to Greece. In 1954, March, her mother died and it changed her life. Sister Gabrielia left Greece and traveled overland to India, where she worked with the poorest of the poor, even the lepers, for five years. She worked with Baba Amte and his family, who built and organised village-communities for the lepers of India. She kept no penny in her pocket. Just trusted herself in His hands.

In 1959, she went to the Monastery of Mary and Martha in Bethany, Palestine, to become a nun. When she arrived, she asked Fr. Theodosius the chaplain for a rule of prayer. Fr. Theodosius was somewhat surprised to find that she could read even ancient Byzantine Greek. Therefore, for her first year in the monastery he set her to reading only the Gospels and St. John Climacus.

She was three years in Bethany. In April 1962, Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople sought to send an Orthodox monastic to Taize in France. Sister Gabrielia went from Taize to America.

In 1963, she was back in Greece. The Gerontissa was tonsured to the Small Schema by Abbot Amphilochios (Makris) on Patmos in the Cave of St. Anthony under the Monastery of Evangelismos just before she and the nun Tomasina left again for India. Elder Amphilochios was enthusiastic at the idea of a nun, who would be open to the active outreach in the world. In India, she was for three years in Nani Tal in Uttar Pradesh, where Fr. Lazarus (Moore) was the priest and where he consulted the Gerontissa in his translations of the Psalter and the Fathers. Between 1967 and 1977, Gerontissa traveled in the Mission field of East Africa, in Europe, including visiting old friends and spiritual fathers Lev Gillet and Sophrony of Essex, again to America, and briefly in Sinai, where Archbishop Damianos was attempting to reintroduce women's monasticism.

She traveled extensively, with much concern and broad love for the people of God. Some of her spiritual children found her in Jerusalem beside the Tomb of Christ; others found her on the mission field of East Africa. In the 50s and 60s, she used to have a few thousands of spiritual friends from all over the world! She used to pray for everybody day and night!

In the year 1977, she lived hidden in a little apartment, the "House of the Angels" in Patissia, Athens, in the midst of the noise and smog and confusion of central Athens. In 1989, she moved to Holy Protection hermitage on the island of Aegina, close by the shrine of St. Nectarios. There she called the last two of her spiritual children to become monastics near her, and there she continued to receive many visitors. At the start of Great Lent in 1990, she was hospitalized for lymphatic cancer. She was forty days in the hospital, leaving during Holy Week and receiving communion on Pascha. And to the puzzlement of the doctors, the cancer disappeared. It was not yet her time.

Gerontissa finally withdrew to quiet. With only one last nun, she moved for the last time in this life, to the island of Leros. There they established the hesychastarion of the Holy Archangels. Only in this last year of her life did she accept the Great Schema at the hands of Fr. Dionysious from Little St. Anne's Skete on Mount Athos. He came to give her the Schema in the Chapel of the Panaghia in the Kastro on the top of Leros.

Gerontissa Gabrielia reposed on March 28, 1992, having never built a monastery. Her biography and collected writings were published in Greek in 1996, through the work of her last monastic daughter and the contribution of many, many others, who held the Gerontissa dear.

Anyone, who knew the Gerontissa realized that God has not left us without His saints, even down to the present day. The few words recorded here scarcely suggest the clarity and love of her soul. Words are only the tools of this world; the wonder of Gerontissa was wrapped in the mystery of the silence of the world to come. She was humility and love incarnate.


See here for a recent feast on the 22nd anniversary of the translation of her holy relics.

St. Gabriela, the Ascetic of Love (source)

On October 3rd, 2023, she was canonized by the Ecumenical Patriarchate (source)

Selected Quotes

Two things are very important… “Love one another,” and “Fear not, only believe.”

We become a reflection of Heaven by saying: ‘Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven’.

 If you have love for all the world, the whole world is beautiful.

If you do not get rid of “No” and “Tomorrow” from your life, you will never get to where the Lord wants you, Who grants you everything. He will give you the bodily strength when you answer “Yes” and “Now”. The prophets, the angels and the saints all said, “Behold here I am… Let it be according to Your word.”

Truth and light are synonymous.When you follow the truth you are in the light, you are with Christ.

True prayer always reaches heaven. The angels carry it to the right place and the answer comes. Its basis is Truth, and “Not My will, but that of the Father Who sent me.”

Say prayer-ropes also just with “Thank you”. 
 The angels always come. You should have continual conversation with your guardian angel. About everything. Especially in difficulties and when you cannot get across to someone. He always helps.

 When it is in God’s programme for you to go somewhere, you will go. That is why I am generally quiet in life. I have observed that even if a person does not want to, God moves him.

Never expect anybody to understand you. Only God.

When one is alone with God, the time passes unimaginably quickly. More quickly than when you have companionship… And yet even within the world one can remain united with God. How? When whatever he is doing he directs his thoughts to Him… when whatever good comes his way he gives Him glory… and whatever testing he meets, he gives Him thanks.

Love means to respect the freedom of the other.

You must not talk about persons who are absent.

 Love is always on the cross. Because Christ is on the cross.

If coal is not “beaten”, can it become diamond?

The Lord allows those who love Him to be tested, first, so that their faith in Him may grow stronger, and second, to set an example for those around.

Some people want to go to the Resurrection without passing by way of Gologatha.

The sermon on the mount and the epistle of Saint James. Every day! What a pity that we do not hear them more often…

My wishes: may the grace of our Christ, the love of the omnipotent Father and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit be with you! May your example be the life of the Mother of God, who will lead you at every step with her archangels and angels as your heavenly mother; that you love your mother who brought you into life and brought you up, and may you give love and joy first to her, and then to all who come near you.

Nun Gavrilia (1999). Mother Gavrilia: The Ascetic of Love. Athens: Ekdoseis K. Papagiannoulis Tertios & Sia. (source)
Another interview on the Saint here, and writing here.
St. Gabriela, the Ascetic of Love (source)

Apolytikion (Plagal of the Fourth Tone)

In thee the image was preserved with exactness, O Mother; for taking up thy cross, thou didst follow Christ,and by thy deeds thou didst teach us to overlookthe flesh,for it passeth away, but to attend to the soul since it is immortal.Wherefore, O righteous Gavrilia, thy spirit rejoiceth with the Angels.


"My heart will burst from Love" - About Mother Gavrilia - Orthodox Christian Talk (Nov 30 2019), Speaker: Heiromonk Michael of St. Gregory Palamas Monastery in Perrysville, Ohio - Recorded Nov 30 2019, In this presentation Fr Michael will offer reminiscences of Mother Gavrilia of Leros, "The Ascetic of Love," and her five languages of Christian living. Given at the St John the Baptist  Ukrainian Orthodox Church Oshawa Spiritual Retreat (Evangelismos Greek Orthodox Church Oshawa) (source)

The first liturgy celebrated in her honor at the Metropolis Chapel of St. Sophrony on Leros, before her Holy Skull, celebrated October 4th, 2023 (source)

The Metropolitan of Leros chanting her Megalynarion for the first time during liturgy on October 4th, 2023 (source)
Icon depicting Sts. Maria of Paris, Matrona of Moscow and Gavrilia (source)

Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!