Our creative team went to Russia and then to Belarus with the icon of Sts. Gabriel of Samtavro and Seraphim of Sarov. Now on the feast of the uncovering of the relics of St. Gabriel (Urgebadze), we recall our pilgrimage with the venerable fathers.
“Monk Gabriel’s boys”
In the early morning, a dark blue minivan with a cross on the front panel and a large icon of the great saints Seraphim of Sarov and Gabriel of Samtavro took off for Upper Lars, where the Russian-Georgian land border is located. In the van were me—Constantine, George, Alexander, Tornik, and David—just part of our large creative team for the films The Elder’s Diadem and I’m Waiting for You in Samtavro. Before going anywhere, we have the tradition of first reading a prayer and then singing the magnification to the saints, and this day was no exception. We were on our way to St. Petersburg, where the organizers of an Orthodox public forum were expecting us.
Having had some experience with such trips, we were to some extent expecting great adventures and a clear sense of the support and presence of Elder Gabriel. From the very beginning of our journey, we saw with our own eyes how Elder Gabriel was helping us. He helped and was helping—of course through humility and in such a peculiar, extraordinary way, as he was able to do during his earthly life.
A little while after we passed over the border, the cops stopped us to check our documents and inspect the van. We were in a hurry, but the inspection process took quite a while, since besides our personal items, we had a full trunk of books, oil, icons, and akathists. And when they opened the trunk, one of the cops with a Caucasian accent said:
“Brothers, you’re Monk Gabriel’s boys!”
Immediately automatically answering, “Yes,” we blushed and were amazed at the same time. How could this cop know Elder Gabriel? It was surprising because it’s mainly Muslims living there in Kabardino-Balkaria.
“I remember you guys. You were here in August too, but in a different vehicle. You know, after I saw the icon of your saint then, I didn’t know what to do with myself. I told my mother about it. She’s Orthodox. I’m going to become Orthodox soon too. I watched some films about Elder Gabriel, and now there’s a new film out. Have you seen it?”
“What’s it called?” I asked.
“Come to Samtavro…”
“Maybe I’m Waiting for You in Samtavro?” I said with trepidation.
“That’s it!” the cop said.
When he found out that I wrote this film and that we were all the makers of the film, he hugged us, thanked us, and asked us to somehow send him the akathist and life of Elder Gabriel sometime. We didn’t have to send it—I quickly opened the trunk and gave the cop some books, oil, icons, and the akathist to the Elder.
St. Petersburg: the Elder’s joke
We first went to St. Petersburg, where the organizers of an Orthodox public forum were expecting us. The next day after we arrived in St. Petersburg, a husband and wife—Alexander and Marina—came up to us and told us their story:
“When we found out that the icon of Elder Gabriel and Seraphim of Sarov was coming to our city, we came yesterday and prayed to the elders. I took a picture on my phone and sent it to all my friends,” said Marina joyfully.
Then we went to my husband’s parents’ grave, lit some candles, and as we were leaving, I realized I had lost the phone my husband Alexander bought me a few days ago. We immediately called my number, hoping someone would find the phone and answer. Just in case, we went back to his parents’ grave, but we didn’t find it there either. At some point, I said my phone had been on silent since we venerated the icon of Elder Gabriel of Samtavro and Seraphim of Sarov, and suddenly it dawned on me: “Why not ask Frs. Gabriel and Seraphim to help me find my phone… Elder Gabriel is an especially bold saint…” And I said out loud: “Batiushka Gabriel, forgive me for bothering you with such a simple request, but please, help me find my phone. You help everyone…” And what do you think? On our way out of the cemetery, we literally ran into my phone, which was lying among the dried leaves at another grave. My joy knew no bounds that we found my phone so soon, and my amazement knew no bounds when I saw written on the tombstone opposite where I found my lost phone the Georgian surname Mishveladze. We prostrated on the spot and thanked Elder Gabriel. It was obvious that he helped us. We also lit candles at that grave.
When I heard the end of the story, I laughed at the top of my lungs.
“You can’t even imagine,” I told Marina and Alexander, “how the Elder was joking with you.”
“Yeah, we found the phone at the grave of a Georgian!” Marina answered.
And I told them:
“Yes, at the grave of a Georgian, and also with that surname. The thing is that the root of Mishveladze—“mishvele”—translates as “help.” And the Elder helped you, responding to your request.
When they heard that, Alexander and Marina also started laughing, and then we read the akathist to the saints together at the icon.
Izhevsk: “Batiushka himself came”
After St. Petersburg, with the blessing of Metropolitan Viktorin (Kostenkov), our group headed for Izhevsk. Words can’t describe the feeling that took hold of us when we saw that the entire church was crowded with people who were anxiously awaiting the arrival of the icon and the relics from Elder Gabriel early in the morning. We placed the icon and relics in the St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, and the head of the missionary department of the Izhevsk Diocese Fr. Dimitry Syrchin and a number of parishioners later witnessed:
“As you brought the icon and sacred items into the church, there was one woman who was unable to approach the icon, and she screamed and ran out of the church shouting: ‘I can’t stand this terrible elder… Let him leave… We are legion. Legion…’ After a while, the woman was brought back into the church, sprinkled with holy water, and venerated the relics of Elder Gabriel. She immediately quieted down and began to thank God for such great mercy.”
A man named Alexander also came up to us in Izhevsk. He was crying violently and said that “Mama1 Gabrieli” had heeded his request.
We took an interest in his story, and he showed us an icon that Batiushka Gabriel himself had given him in 1992, blessing him to never part from this icon. The back of the icon had an inscription made by the Elder Gabriel’s own hand. Alexander fulfills this obedience and blessing of Batiushka to this day. He told us that just a few weeks ago he had prayed to the Elder to help him somehow meet with him, because he couldn’t go to Georgia due to certain circumstances. And here Batiushka heeded his request and himself came to him and to many people who longed to meet him.
On the road to Samara. “Go in peace!”
After Izhevsk, we headed for Samara, where we went to the Sts. Cyril and Methodius Cathedral. We were greeted by the rector of the cathedral at that time, the now-reposed Archpriest Sergei Guselnikov, who helped us organize the artistic meetings and evening in memory of Elder Gabriel in Samara. May Batiushka Sergei inherit the Kingdom of Heaven. We are grateful to him for such great love for Elder Gabriel, before whose relics he will be remembered forever.
When we were driving to Samara, police control was heightened on the road for some reason. They were stopping cars almost every sixty miles and checking licenses, inspecting cars, and so on. We were in a hurry because we were supposed to be at the church already in the morning. Every time they stopped us, I had to explain that we were driving to Samara with the blessing of Metropolitan Sergei to bring the icon and relics to the cathedral for veneration. After three such stops, I was automatically reciting the same story to the cops about why and where we were going. Then we were stopped again and the cop asked:
“And where are we going?”
And I said involuntarily:
“With the blessing of Archimandrite Gabriel (Urgebadze), we’re going to Samara to…”
The cop interrupted me saying:
“I see. Go in peace…”
Amazed by what happened, I crossed myself, and we continued on our way. And although we went through five more of these control points, no one else stopped us. So we arrived in Samara with the blessing of the Elder himself. That’s how it was everywhere we went. The blessing and love of Batiushka Gabriel never left us.
In the Vyatka Diocese. Preaching … in the foyer
After Samara, we headed to Vyatka (Kirov) with the blessing of Metropolitan Mark (Tuzhikov) of Vyatka and Slobodskoy. We visited Nizhneivkino, Slobodskoy, and Kirovo-Chepetsk, showing the films about St. Gabriel everywhere.
One particular beautiful day, we showed the film I’m Waiting for You in Samtavro in the cinema at one of the sanatoriums. Due to technical problems, we started the film thirty-five minutes late. After our film, they were supposed to show some comedy. We asked the sanatorium director and the audience that had come to see the comedy to wait a few minutes until the end of the showing.
“Well, I won’t be able to talk about Elder Gabriel today,” I told my friends. And actually, I was very tired and not especially worried that I wouldn’t able to talk. The film finished, we left the hall, and in the sanatorium foyer I saw the rector of the Church of the Nativity of the Most Holy Theotokos, Fr. Nikolai Andreev, standing with my friends and some parishioners, waiting for me.
“Kostya, could you say a few words about the Elder and the film here in the foyer?”
I was a little confused. How could I say anything in the foyer, among many other people who don’t even know who I am or what film I’d be talking about? But I had to respond to the request and fulfill the blessing. And I, a little embarrassed, began to do my favorite thing—I started talking about Elder Gabriel. Some people were surprised to hear the Georgian accent with which I was loudly “preaching.” After a while, I noticed that the sanatorium administration, guards, and people who just happened to be there, including those who came to see the comedy, had joined those listening to the story about Elder Gabriel.
“It’s okay, they’re showing the comedy tomorrow too. But you see, a Georgian is talking about something,” I heard from someone who was listening to the story about Batiushka Gabriel with great interest and called all his friends who were staying in the sanatorium. Thus, the foyer gradually filled up, and many people learned about Elder Gabriel.
In the following days, I saw them at the molebens with the icon in church.
The most significant thing for us from our visit with the icon and relics of Elder Gabriel to the Vyatka Diocese was what we learned about the day before. It turns out that after the icon and relics of Elder Gabriel visited Nizhneivkino, every Monday the whole village gathered in the Church of the Nativity of the Most Holy Theotokos and serve a moleben and read an akathist to St. Gabriel together with Fr. Nikolai Andreev. After all, Batiushka came to each person personally just when they needed him. Many said:
“We really needed the icon at just that time.”
We were convinced of this with every step, but one story has strengthened our faith even more. In Slobodskoy, a priest told us:
“Just a few weeks ago, our street was renamed from Lenin to Nativity, by our request. Since some people didn’t want it, and some were too lazy to change their address on their identification and on various documents, these people protested and caused trouble for us. We prayed to God to help us, and we suddenly found out you were bringing the icon of Elders Seraphim of Sarov and Gabriel (Urgebadze), who in 1965 burned a huge banner with the image of Lenin during a demonstration right in front of thousands of people. Thus, Batiushka Gabriel came and comforted us at such a difficult time. Very soon after his visit to Slobodskoy, all misunderstandings disappeared.”
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