Icons of the Venerables:
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St. Luke of Crimea, Bishop-Surgeon
Saint Demetrius, the Archbishop of Rostov
St. Alympius the Stylite,
St. Nicholas of Myra,
work by Alexandra Rudogo
St. Basil of Ostrog,
Saint Basil of Ostrog Church, Gornji Budački, Croatia,
Saint Seraphim of Sarov
Saint Gabriel Urgebadze Burning a Poster of Lenin
May 1, 1965, Holy Saturday. Fr. Gabriel served the Divine Liturgy at the usual time in the morning, then headed for the Kashveti Church of the holy Great Martyr George.
People would celebrate one of the main Communist holidays on May 1—Workers’ Solidarity Day. On the façade of the Soviet ministry building hung a huge portrait of Lenin, 26’ x 16.5’, illuminated by lights. Above it was written the famous phrase, “Glory to Lenin the Great!” The sound of music, applause, and people’s shouts could be heard. Party officials would stand on the government rostrum.
This godless spectacle scandalized Fr. Gabriel in the depths of his soul, and he, moved by love for Christ, came up with an amazing plan. He took some oil in a small vessel and some matches from the candle desk in the Kashveti church and headed for the government building. Amazingly, a man, dressed in full monastic garb, walked past the line of security guards, around to the back of the government platform, and found himself right in front of the portrait of Lenin.
He took out the dish with the oil hidden in his clothes, doused the Lenin portrait, and set the image of the “Great Leader” on fire. Within a few seconds the fire had covered the entire portrait, with the help, besides the oil, of the oil paint with which the leader’s portrait was painted. The lights began to shatter from the heart and togive off a sound like an explosion. It seriously scared the workers standing on the dais, and those celebrating thought it was some act of sabotage. Frightened at first, they scattered in various directions and quickly summoned the famous Eighth Regiment, but when they saw from the platform just one cleric dressed in black, they calmed down. Fr. Gabriel stood before the burning Lenin portrait and loudly called, “The Lord says, 'Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them' (Ex. 20:4-5).
When people realized it was no act of sabotage, but that this clergyman was guilty of everything, they became angry. By this time, nothing remained of the portrait but the wires. The people, angered by the burning of the leader’s portrait, violently rushed forward to beat Fr. Gabriel. Fr. Gabriel again loudly called out, “Glory does not belong to this corpse, but to Jesus Christ, Who has trampled down death and given us eternal life.” Then Fr. Gabriel’s voice went silent.
Speaking about this with us, Fr. Gabriel once said, “The lost think they do well. Conversely, the arrival of the soldiers of the Eighth Regiment helped me, because they dispersed the people, and when the saw me, all covered in blood, they threw me in a car and took me to jail. When I decided to burn this beast, I knew that they would give me no quarter and that I would be shot, but I considered it an honor to die for Christ. I crossed myself and entrusted my life to the Lord.”
A first class state of alarm was declared in the city. The soldiers of the Eighth Regiment carried Fr. Gabriel, with seventeen maxillary and bodily breaks and fractures, to Ortachala, to the security service’s detention center, and, in the full sense of the word, threw him half-dead directly onto the concrete floor. At first they didn’t even wipe the blood away from him, but as an interrogation was inevitable (undertaken by the most senior representatives of the power structure), they cleaned up the blood, but they deemed medical help unnecessary, saying, “The orders from the Kremlin will be to shoot him anyways.”
Thus, Fr. Gabriel’s interrogation was conducted under such conditions of physical torment. Fr. Gabriel himself never began to speak about it with visitors, but on rare occasions, after fervent requests, he would tell something from the story, in two words, very briefly, in a light and easy fashion, even somewhat jokingly. In doing so, he always hid this terrible story, so as not to garner any respect from dumbfounded people.
St. Sergius of Radonezh
Work by Aleksandar Vasilevich