Tag Archives: Mother Gavrilia

Nothing of all these exists anymore.

Today we celebrate the Veneration of the Holy Cross, “planted” like a tree in the middle of Great Lent for our refreshment and encouragement, and as a foretaste of Pascha. We haven’t completed our Lenten labors, but the fatigue of them is lightened by the joyous hymns of this feast, such as this from Matins:

“Let all the trees of the forest dance and sing, as they behold their fellow-tree, the Cross, today receiving veneration: for Christ, as holy David prophesied, has exalted it on high.”

This quote from the shining Mother Gavrilia also reflects that joyful mood:

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“Think and see only the Light. Everything else is irrelevant and should not affect you in any way… By reliving regrettable incidents of the past, you cause much harm to yourself… We should take all our sorrow and place it at the Feet of Christ. Because He suffered on the Cross for our sins, and for our sorrows, and for our problems, and for all the gloom of our souls. For everything! And when you remember that the Blood of our Lord is cleansing us from everything, that’s the end of it! Nothing of all these exist anymore… Place them at the Feet of Christ… and then go forth as a joyful person.”

~Mother Gavrilia, The Ascetic of Love

Mother Gavrilia had more than personality.

Mother Gavrilia was one of those people I have heard about who know what it is to die to oneself, to “cease to exist,” as she put it. St. Paul wrote about this in his letters, saying, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” You might think that someone for whom this is a reality would lack personality or presence, because if your self is truly swallowed up in Christ, who would you be?

I know this question has come up through the years, talking with various people. It’s been theoretical to those of us who talk, knowing as we have that we ourselves have not advanced very far on that road to “non-existence.” But of course, to be fully in Christ is to be most fully alive, and about the opposite condition Mother Gavrilia also said, “When we lack love, we become corpses, entirely dead.”

gl-gavrilia-mother-or-gerontissa-gabrielaShe was born in 1897, and was the second woman ever to enter a Greek university, but she said, “One thing is education: that we learn how to love God.” Later she trained in physiotherapy in England and returned to Athens to open her own practice when she was over 50 years old. Several years after (and older still) she traveled to India by herself. She treated lepers and helped the poor everywhere. Then Palestine, East Africa, France, America. She was friendly with Muslims and Hindus and Protestant Christians, but often withdrew from society altogether. As John Brady tells in one account of her life, “Mother Gavrilia’s life obliterated the inane distinctions that we so often make between prayer and service, contemplation and action….The difference was immaterial because the Source was the same.”

Lately I have encountered many  thought-provoking sayings from Mother Gavrilia. Reading them, and about her very active and miraculous life, I get the impression of a bright intellect, a radiantly energetic person, so full of life and light as to make the concept of mere “personality” seem tiresome.

Here is one story in her words that makes a good introduction:

Once… some foreign missionary came and said to me, “You may be a good woman, but you’re not a good Christian.”

I said, “Why?”

“Because you have been here so long and you only go about speaking English. What local languages have you learned?”

I said to him, “I haven’t managed to learn any of the local languages, because I travel a great deal from place to place. As soon as I learn one dialect, they start speaking another. I’ve only learned ‘Good morning’ and ‘Good evening.’ Nothing else.”

“Bah, you’re no Christian. How can you evangelize? All the Catholics and Protestants learn all the local dialects in order to . . .”

Then I said, “Lord, give me an answer for him.” I asked it with all my heart, and then I said, “Ah. I forgot to tell you. I know five languages.”

“Really? What are these five?”

“The first is the smile; the second is tears. The third is to touch. The fourth is prayer, and the fifth is love. With these five languages I go all around the world.”

Then he stopped and said, “Just a minute. Say that again so I can write it down.”

With these five languages you can travel the whole earth, and all the world is yours. Love everyone as your own — without concern for religion or race, without concern for anything.

Mother Gavrilia reposed in 1992. Her monastic daughter, with the contributions of others of her spiritual children, wrote the story of her life in the book Ascetic of Love.