Saint Gabriel, schema-archimandrite of the Seven Lakes Monastery near Kazan (†1915), was one of the last great spiritual guides to grace Russia before the Revolution. In his early monastic life he was a disciple of the great Elder Ambrose of Optina Monastery, and drank deeply of the living water there. His life thereafter was filled with trials, labors, and illness, all of which refined his soul and formed him into a superb guide to those around him.
The biography of St. Gabriel was written soon after his repose by one of his close disciples, Archimandrite Symeon Kholmogorov, in an engaging and moving style. This biography bears witness to the elder’s unceasing and ardent prayer, his spiritual experiences, wondrous visions, and clairvoyance, as well as the Divine healings wrought through his prayers. Having single-mindedly sought after the highest good of love for God and man from his youth, he was granted a profound revelation of God’s love for the world, seen in His redemption of the human race. This revelation filled him with overwhelming gratitude to the Lord, especially as he contemplated Christ’s earthly life. Thus was opened to him that which he longed for: the experience of love for God with his entire being.
“I recognized that I was deeply sinful,” he wrote, “but at the same time a fiery hope in the saving love and mercy of the Lord truly uplifted my spirit. Tears of contrition poured forth from my eyes. And what my heart experienced at that time, I cannot describe. I felt no need of food. I was burdened when others visited me. I was blissful, wounded by love for the Lord. I was willing to remain even eternally alone and suffer, if only I could be with the Lord and be filled with love for Him.”
This love for God, which informed the elder’s entire life, filled him at the same time with an overflowing love for others. As one who knew him wrote: “Elder Gabriel showed utter childlike simplicity, all-forgiving love, and unchanging meekness. Love — in all of its pure and holy emanations in man — was not his property and did not come from him. It was a gift of God. This gift of grace-filled love was poured out abundantly by the Holy Spirit upon Fr. Gabriel, and that is why all who were near him felt so good, joyful, and comfortable.”
In his emphasis on God’s love for man, and on man’s grateful response to it by loving God and neighbor, St. Gabriel reminds one of holy Athonite elders of more recent times, St. Porphyrios of Kavsokalyvia (†1991) and St. Paisios of Mount Athos (†1994), both of whom have been glorified by the Church in the last few years.
This new, greatly expanded book on St. Gabriel contains the elder’s Life — first published in English as One of the Ancients — and, for the first time in English translation, his complete writings and letters to spiritual children, as well as an Akathist hymn. It also features a biography of the author, who suffered martyrdom at the hands of the Communists in 1937.