Repose of Blessed Mother Gavrilia
Commemorated on March 28
Mother Gavrilia, who was known to many who are still alive, has not been officially glorified by the Church, but is considered by many to be a Saint of our time. Her biography, “Ascetic of Love,” has been translated into English and several other languages.
Mother Gavrilia was born in Constantinople on October 15, 1897. She grew up in the city until her family moved to Thessalonika in 1923. She traveled to England in 1938 and stayed there throughout World War II. She trained as a physiotherapist and, in 1945, returned to Greece where she worked with the Friends Refugee Mission and the American Farm School in Thessalonika. Later, she opened her own therapy office in Athens. In March 1954, her mother died, and the therapy office was closed. Gavrilia left Greece and traveled to India where she worked with the poorest of the poor, even the lepers, for five years.
In 1959, she traveled 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 ancient Byzantine Greek and said, “The great elders that we hear about 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.” During her first year at the monastery, Fr. John set her to reading only the Gospels and the works of St. John Climacus. (It should be noted that at that time “The Ladder of Divine Ascent” had not been published in modern Greek.)
She lived for three years in Bethany. In April, 1962, word came that Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople wished to send an Orthodox monastic to Taize in France. Sister Gavrilia went by way of Taize (she spoke fluent French from childhood) to America.
In 1963, she traveled back to Greece. She was tonsured at the Small Schema by Abbot Amphilochios (Makris) on Patmos in the Cave of St. Anthony under the Monastery of Evangelismos just before she and Nun Tomasina left again for India. Elder Amphilochios was enthusiastic that a nun would be open to an active outreach in the world. In India, she lived for three years in Uttar Pradesh where Fr. Lazarus Moore was the priest and where he consulted her in his translations of the Psalter and the Church Fathers. Between 1967 and 1977, Sister Gavrilia traveled as a missionary in East Africa, in Europe visiting old friends and her spiritual fathers Lev Gillet and Sophrony of Essex, again to America, and briefly in Sinai. 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 while others found her in the mission field of East Africa.
Beginning around 1977, she lived hidden in a small apartment, the “House of the Angels,” in Patissia in the midst of the noise and smog of central Athens. A little place, a hidden place, a precious place to those who knew her.
In 1989, she moved to the Holy Protection Hermitage on the island of Aegina, close to the shrine of St. Nectarios. There she called the last two of her spiritual children to become monastics, and she continued to receive many visitors. At the beginning of Great Lent in 1990, she was hospitalized for lymphatic cancer. She spent forty days in the hospital, leaving during Holy Week and receiving communion on Pascha. To the astonishment of her doctors, the cancer suddenly disappeared.
Mother Gavrilia finally withdrew to a quiet place. With only one nun, she moved for the last time to the island of Leros. There they established the hesychastirion of the Holy Archangels. Only in the 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.
Mother Gavrilia passed from this world on March 28, 1992, having never built a monastery. Over the years, six of her spiritual children became monastics, but never more that one or two were with her at a time. Only the angels could count the number of lives that God touched and changed through her. Her biography and collected writings were published in Greek in 1996, through the work of her last monastic daughter and the contribution of many others who held her dear. An English translation of her work was also published.
By permission of www.abbamoses.com (excerpted from the website of St. Gregory Palamas Monastery).