St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church
of Boston, MA

March 2012- Mother Gavrilia

Gabrielia Papayannis was born in Constantinople on October 2, 1897.  She grew up there until her family moved to Greece in 1923.  Gabrielia trained as a chiropractor and physiotherapist.  In 1938, she moved to England and remained there throughout the Second World War.  In 1945, she returned to Greece to work with the Friends [Quaker] Refugee Mission and the American Farm School in Thessalonika in the aftermath of the war.  She opened her own therapy office in Athens and practiced there until her mother died in 1954.  Gabrielia then traveled to India where, for five years she worked with the poorest of the poor, including lepers.

In 1959 she went to the Monastery of Mary and Martha in Bethany, Palestine, to become a nun. For her first year in the monastery, she read only the Gospels and St. John Climacus.  In 1962, Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople sent her to the ecumenical monastic community of Taize in France.

Two years later she left again for India.  Her spiritual father, Elder Amphilochios enthusiastically supported the notion that a nun would be engaged in active ministry in the world. In India, she spent three years at the ashram of Fr. Lazarus Moore in Nani Tal in Uttar Pradesh while she assisted him with his translations of the Psalter and the Fathers.  From 1967 to 1977, Mother Gabrielia traveled in the emerging Orthodox Mission fields of East Africa.  In 1977, she withdrew to live a hidden life in a little apartment, the "House of the Angels" in the midst of the noise and smog and confusion of central Athens, known to many as a little place, a hidden place, a precious place.

In 1989, she moved to Holy Protection hermitage on the island of Aegina, close by the shrine of St. Nectarios.  At the start of Great Lent in 1990, she was hospitalized for lymphatic cancer.  She was forty days in the hospital, leaving during Holy Week and receiving communion of Pascha.  To the puzzlement of the doctors, the cancer disappeared.

Mother Gavrilia passed from this world on March 28, 1992.  Only the angels could count the number of lives that God touched and changed through her.  Everyone who knew Mother Gavrilia realized that God has not left us without His saints, even in the present day.  She never sought a reputation and she never allowed anything about her to be published during her long life. Those whom God touched through her called her Gerontissa [Gr. Elderess]; she never thought of herself as anything but the nun Gabrielia.  She was known as humility and love incarnate. Her 'ecumenism' served as a model for many Orthodox; she was completely loving and open to all people, she worked gladly with other Christians, Moslems, Buddhists and Hindus in service to others while witnessing to her Orthodox faith through charity and humility.  The following quotes are taken from her notebooks.

“Every place may become the place of the Resurrection. It is enough that you live the humility of Christ”.

“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 and are altogether dead”.

“The Christian must respect the mystery of the existence of everyone and everything”.

“To reach nonexistence, love, love, and love—and so identify completely with the Other, with every other. Then at the end of the day you ask yourself, "Do I want anything? No. Do I need anything? No. Do I lack anything? No." That’s it!”

“Whoever lives in the past is as if dead. Whoever lives in the future in his fantasy (or imagination) is naive, because the future belongs only to God. The Joy of Christ is found only in the present, in the Eternal Present of God.”

St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church | V. Rev. Fr. Timothy Ferguson, Pastor
55 Emmonsdale Road P.O.Box 320164 | West Roxbury, MA 02132
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