St Anthony of the Desert

Orthodox Christian Mission

Las Cruces, New Mexico

Fr Gabriel

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Mother Gavrilia


Gavrilia Papayanni was born into a wealthy Greek family in Constantinople in 1897.  She was the second woman in history to enroll in a Greek university, at Thessaloniki.  Following what she called a direct command of Christ, she entered nursing and eventually became a physiotherapist in Athens.  She opened her own practice in 1947.  From then on her ministry began to blossom through a unique combination of prayer and physical healing.  She used her income from her wealthy patients to enable her work among the poor.

In 1954 her mother died, a pivotal event in her life.  Again she felt under call from Christ, so she closed her practice, gave her savings to the poor, and moved to India with no apparent plan.  She was already recognized at this time as a saintly person, and she traveled by herself to India from Greece through a series of countries including Jordan, Iran, and Iraq.  In each place people who met her invited her to the local Mosque to pray.

In India she worked as a healer, giving her skills to anyone in need.  People across a wide spectrum of religions became her friends and sought her counsel.  Eventually she spent time in the Himalayas in solitude and, following yet one more turn in her life under command of Christ, she entered the Monastery of St Lazarus at Bethany in 1959.  She remained there twenty years, engaging in mission and teaching tours across Europe and Asia Minor.

In 1979 Mother Gavrilia received a house in Athens, which became known as the House of Angels.  She spent her mornings in intense prayer and the rest of the day she counseled and healed those who came for spiritual direction.

Mother Gavrilia is not yet a glorified saint but her time will come.  Her private life in Christ drove her public life of service.  She was at home with people of all religions, yet maintained steadfastly the practice of her beloved Orthodoxy in fasts and feasts.  Often people draw a line between contemplation and action in the belief (or the hope) that spiritual life is not a unity; Mother Gavrilia shows the folly in this split.  As she said, “It is not what we say, but what we live.  It is not what we do, but what we are.”  She died March 15, 1992.  She is a clear model for all Christians this Lent.

Published 17 mar 07