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Gerontissa (Elder) Gabrielia

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October 2/15

In 1996, a book entitled I Askitiki tis Agapis – The Asceticism of Love was published in Greece. Its subject was Gerontissa (Elder) Gabriela, a famous Orthodox monastic and spiritual instructor. In 2000, the monastic community of the Holy Protection in Ivanov Province published a Russian translation of the book.

Here we present a short biography of Elder Gabriela, as well as several of her spiritual instructions.

The Gerontissa Gabrielia was born in Constantinople on October 2/15, 1897. She grew up in that City, living there until her family moved to Thessalonika in 1923. In 1938 she went to England, where she stayed throughout the Second World War. She trained as a chiropodist and physiotherapist. In 1945 she returned to Greece, where she worked with the Friends Refugee Mission and the American Farm School in Thessalonika in the early post-war years. Later she operated her own therapy office in Athens until 1954. In March of that year, her mother died and the office was closed. Sister Lila left Greece and traveled overland to India, where for five years, she worked among the poorest of the poor, even among the lepers.

In 1959 she went to the Monastery of Mary and Martha in Bethany, Palestine, to become a nun. Upon her arrival, she asked the chaplain, Fr. Theodosius for a rule of prayer. Fr. Theodosius said, "The great elders that we hear of no longer exist. I certainly am not one. You came here to save your soul. If I start giving you rules, you will lose you soul, and I will as well. But here is Fr. John; he will be your elder." For her first year in the monastery he set her to reading only the Gospels and St. John Climacus.

She spent three years in Bethany. In April, 1962, word came that the Patriarch of Constantinople wanted to send an Orthodox monastic to Taize, in France. Sister Gabrielia, who since childhood had been fluent in French, went to Taize, and then to America. In 1963 she returned to Greece. In the Cave of St. Anthony (belonging to the Monastery of Evangelismos) on Patmos, Abbot Amphilochios (Makris) tonsured the Gerontissa into the Small Schema, just before she and Nun Tomasina left again for India. Elder Amphilochios was enthusiastic about the idea of a nun being open to an active outreach to the world. In India she spent three years in Nani Tal, Uttar Pradesh. There the priest Fr. Lazarus Moore consulted the Gerontissa in rendering his translations of the Psalter and of the Fathers.

Between 1967 and 1977 the Gerontissa worked in the Mission field of East Africa, traveled to Europe where she visited her old friends and spiritual fathers Lev Gillet and Sophrony of Essex, returned to America, and spent a brief time in Sinai, where Archbishop Damianos was attempting to reintroduce women's monasticism. She traveled extensively, and showed great concern and love for the people of God. Some of her spiritual children encountered her in Jerusalem next to the Tomb of Christ; others found her on the mission field of East Africa. From about 1977, she spent a number of years hidden in a little apartment in the midst of the noise and smog and confusion of central Athens. The apartment, the "House of the Angels" in Patissia, was a little place, a hidden place, a precious place to those who knew her there.

In 1989 she moved to Holy Protection Hermitage on the island of Aegina, near 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 beginning of Great Lent in 1990 she was hospitalized with lymphatic cancer. Forty days later, she left the hospital during Holy Week and received Communion on Pascha. And to the amazement of the doctors, her cancer disappeared; her time had not yet come.

The Gerontissa finally withdrew into quiet. For the last time in this life, and accompanied by one last nun she moved to the island of Leros. There they established the hesychastirion of the Holy Archangels. Only in this last year of her life did she accept the Great Schema.

Gerontissa Gabrielia departed from this world on March 28, 1992. Only the angels can count the number of lives that God touched and changed through her. Through the efforts of her last monastic daughter and the contribution of many, many others who held the Gerontissa dear, her biography and collected writings were published in 1996. An English translation of the Greek text is in process.

Anyone who knew the Gerontissa realizes that even down to the present day, God has not left us without His saints. 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 the Gerontissa was wrapped in the mystery of the silence of the world to come.

She never sought after fame. She never allowed anything about her to be published during her long life, and only allowed her children to take photographs of her in her very last years. Those whom God touched through her called her Gerontissa; she never made herself anything but the nun Gabrielia.

She was humility and love incarnate.

From the sayings of Gerontissa Gabrielia:

  • Not knowledge that you learn, but knowledge that you suffer: that is Orthodox spirituality.
  • One thing is education: that we learn how to love God.
  • We become a replication of heaven with “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
  • One does not notice that he loves, just as one does not notice that he breathes.
  • When the mind (nous) is not scattered among worldly things but is united to God, then our greeting “Good day” becomes a blessing.
  • God often desires not the act but the intention. It is enough that He sees you are willing to do what He commands.
  • When God created us, He gave us life and breathed His Spirit into us. That Spirit is Love. When we lack love, we become corpses, entirely dead.
  • The language of God is silence.
  • Whoever lives in the past is as if dead. Whoever lives in the future in his fantasy (or imagination) is naive, for the future belongs only to God. The Joy of Christ is found only in the present, in the Eternal Present of God.
  • Love is a bomb that destroys all evil.
  • Some want to go to the Resurrection without going by way of Golgotha.
  • Our soul is a Divine Breath. Our body is His Creation. In our whole being we are the icon of God.

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