St. Gabriel (Igoshkin), Confessor of Melkess

Today is the feast day (according to both Gregorian and Julian calendars) of St. Gabriel (Igoshkin), Confessor of Melkess. Below I present my translation of his life.

Troparion, Tone 3:
The brightness of thy life of struggle has been shown to us/ confessor of Christ Gabriel;/ for the sake of the love of Christ thou didst forsake all and with joy underwent suffering and deprivation/ carrying thy Cross/ and by it showing us an example of patience,/ faithful in times of tribulation/ thou didst guard the faith of thy flock,/ having acquired the grace of the Holy Spirit by thy boldness,/ therefore we sing to thee: // through thy prayers save our souls.

Kontakion, Tone 2:
Named as the strength of God/ and partaker of His grace,/ Father Gabriel,/ by thy monastic life and preaching/ thou didst uphold the Orthodox faith,/ carrying the yoke of Christ until the end,/ and glorified, therefore, with the saints,// pray to Christ God to save our souls.

St. Gabriel, in the world Ivan (Ioann) Ivanovich Igoshkin, was born in 1888 in the village of Samodurovka in the Serdobsk region of the Saratov province into a peasant family. His life’s path was already set out from his youth; he was not interested in playing games with other children and he spent all his free time that he could in church.

When he was 15, after he had completed a theological school in the village of Russky Kachim, he became a novice at Zhadovsk-Kazan Icon of the Theotokos Monastery in the Simbirsk (Ulyanovsk) province. In 1909 he was called to military service to the city of Kaunas. During his service he sang in the choir at the military cathedral. Returning in 1913, he lived with his parents and was Psalm reader at the local church where he had been baptized. The following year he was called to active duty where he helped to serve liturgies at the front. In 1917 he was released from service due to illness and returned to live with his parents. During this time he was a Psalm reader in a Church of the Nativity in the village of Syresevo.

Ivan Igoshkin during WWI, August 18, 1914.

In 1921 he was ordained a deacon by the Archbishop of Uralsk and Nikolaevsk Tikhon (Obolenskii +1926) in the Church of the Holy Trinity in the city of Pokrovsk (currently the city of Engels). The next year, in the same fashion, he was ordained a priest. In 1923 Archbishop Tikhon,  who had been named a member of the Temporary Partriarchal Synod, brought Fr. Ioann with him to Moscow where he was appointed as priest at the Pokrov church of the Martha-Mary Convent.

In 1929 Fr. Ioann was tonsured a monk with the name Gabriel at the Theophany monastery in Moscow. A year later he was raised to the rank of abbot. Though Martha-Mary Convent had been officially closed in 1926, the Pokrov church continued to function for two more years. From 1928 until 1931 he served at St. Nicholas in Pyzhii, Moscow. On April 14, 1931, he was arrested and 16 days later was sentenced to three years at Vishersk labor camp. He was released early on June 29, 1932, with a restriction from living in 12 cities. He settled in Rostov and later moved to Vladimir. In December of 1933 he returned to Moscow and again served at St. Nicholas.

In June of 1934 Fr. Gabriel was raised to the rank of archimandrite by Archbishop Pitirim (Krylovym) of Dmitrovsk. In July of that year St. Nicholas in Pyzhii was seized by the renovationists whereupon Fr. Gabriel, faithful to true Orthodoxy, left and began to serve at the Church of the Resurrection in Kadashii, Moscow. He was soon chosen as a candidate for the episcopacy but was arrested on August 19 and charged with the secret tonsuring of monastics. Freed on October 3, Fr. Gabriel moved to the village of Zvyagino, Pushkin region, Moscow province and served at Pokrov Church as the Church of the Resurrection in Moscow had also been seized by renovationists.

The parishioners of the Moscow churches where Fr. Gabriel served highly honored him, believing in the strength of his prayers and his intercession before God. As Pokrov Church was burned down by members of the Komsomol, Fr. Gabriel transferred to the Church of the Descent of the Holy Spirit in the city of Pushkin. On November 4, 1936, he was arrested during a service and taken to the Ukhto-Pechersk camp. After being freed in mid 1942, he traveled to his sister in the Penza region.

Camp life seriously undermined Fr. Gabriel’s health and, therefore, he did not serve for a few years and lived with several deep believing people in the village of Bazarny Uren in the Ulyanovsk region. Only in 1946 did he request to be appointed to service and he was names to the Church of the Icon of the Theotokos “Unburnt Bush.” Being, however, an “enemy of the people” he was not allowed to register and was transferred to St. Nicholas Church in the city of Melekess (currently Dimitrovgrad) in the Ulyanosk region.

Archimandrite Gabriel after arrest in 1949.

On July 8, 1949, after being denounced by the church choir director, Fr. Gabriel was arrested and sentenced to ten years in a labor camp and the confiscation of his possessions.

When he arrived at camp he greeted his fellow inmates with the words “Peace be to you!” and immediately began to pray. He continued to conduct divine services in camp for which he received much persecution: they beat him, drove him into the snow barefoot, and even tried to poison him. But by the grace of God Fr. Gabriel was able to pacify both the prisoners and the camp authority. He was especially respected by the camp warden whose wife had been healed by the prayers of Fr. Gabriel.

In 1954 Fr. Gabriel made a plea to the Supreme Court of the USSR to examine his case and the next year he was freed and completely rehabilitated by the Presidium of the Supreme Court. He was given back his home in Melekass where he lived until his death, feeding his spiritual children, helping the poor, and giving all who asked his spiritual direction. The Lord called Fr. Gabriel to the Heavenly Mansions on October 18, 1959. Even during his life considered a saint, Fr. Gabriel had the gift of clairvoyance and the ability to work miracles. On August 20, 2000, Fr. Gabriel, by the decision of the Jubilee Bishop’s Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church, was added to the number of new martyrs and confessors of Russia. On October 18, 2000, his relics were uncovered and transferred to St. Nicholas Cathedral in Dimitrovgrad.

A few of St. Gabriel’s thoughts on the Church:

After the death of Patriarch Tikhon, Fr. Ioann recognized Metropolitan Sergei (Stragorodsky) as the Locum Tenens of the Patriarch, considering it necessary to centralize power in the Church. About this he said, “Our job as pastors is to serve the Lord, fulfill our duty and not to get involved in church politics and the judging of bishops.”

“A priest is like a guard who needs to keep and guard the Lord’s property – his flock. Whenever an enemy approaches to deceive into sin on of his flock he must warn them and chase away the enemy. If he is indifferent, lazy and negligent, and the enemy has used it to his advantage to deceive a soul and cause it to sin then the one who is guilty is the pastor. The Lord, in this case, will say to him, ‘I will take his soul from your hand.”

From one of St. Gabriel’s sermons:

“…for the soul’s salvation from eternal suffering it has to in every possible way be afraid of sin. And if, through its weakness, it falls into sin then it is necessary get right back up and repent with a humble heart and tears cleanse the unfortunate fall… such repentance is pleasing to God and saving for the soul. Our loving mother, the Holy Church, calls us to repentance and offers its healing wisdom for help in repentance and cleansing of the soul. She wants our salvation and for us to be joyful and happy in our lives.”

Several auto-biographical notes from St. Gabriel’s life while serving in Moscow:

“Sometime in the 1940s I started to feel a strange illness. At night I would sleep soundly for an hour or hour and a half and then woke up drenched in sweat. In the morning I got up worn and exhausted. This continued every night. I went to a doctor but they were not able to help… Despaired of getting any relief, after heartfelt prayers for help I placed on my neck a piece of paper with words from the Gospel written on it… Words about all sickness being taken away immediately… After my miraculous healing I used this same way on others, especially those suffering from hay fever and malaria. And everyone upon which I, even not being near someone, prayed the prayer for health and healing or placed upon them the words from the Gospel were completely healed… One very ardent parishioner came to me and begged me to help her son who was a student. He was suffering with a very serious case of tropical malaria… In absentia I read the prayer for healing and gave his mother the words of the Gospel for her to hang them around his neck on a string. From the time that she did this he had no more attacks and was completely healed. There were dozens of such cases in my life but I won’t tell about them all.”

“After the evening service I…went out on the ambon to read the prayer before confession. And old, hunched over woman covered in an old kerchief came up to the ambon saying, ‘Hear my confession, I want to commune tomorrow!’… She stood next to me before the iconostasis and prayed… Taking the Cross and Gospel I began to confess people. The old woman came up first… Bent over and propped up by her cane she repeated a few words of the prayer of repentance and, all of a sudden, stood up to her full, quite tall, height, lifted up her arms, threw off her cane and coat, and with a deep masculine voice turned to me and said, ‘What am I to repeat after you? You repeat what I say.’ With those words she went down from the ambon with a squat dance and started clapping in time singing, ‘Scatter, scatter, scatter, what you’ve scattered, pick it up! Oi, lyuli, oi, lyuli!’… The people were horrified… Coming to my senses I hurried over to her and grabbed her head. ‘In the name of the Lord I command you, unclean spirit, be quiet!’ I then forcefully began to read the exorcism prayers over her. She fell over, started oinking like a pig, barking like a dog, and, at last, crowing like a rooster. I continued to read without stopping. As if she ran out of strength she quieted down and stretching out on the ambon began to quiver. After she stopped quivering she became calm and laid there as if dead. When I had read all the prayers I sprinkled her with holy water and taking her hands said, ‘In the name of the Lord, stand!’ She stood up with much trouble, looking now like as she had before, hunched over and feeble, and slowly followed me to the confession kliros. ‘Batushka, forgive me, I didn’t tell you at first that I am possessed and for 30 years have suffered from an unclean spirit. May the Lord save you, you’ve helped me.’ (In the morning she reverently and without any help peacefully communed of the Holy Mysteries…)”

From life in camp:
“They came up to my cot and the camp director began to conduct a search. He straight away put his hand right into the pocket sewn in my mattress and took the books which were hidden there. Next to my bedside table stood a half-liter bottle of wine for liturgy which had been sent to me… The camp director asked, ‘What’s that?’ ‘Oil,’ I answered. ‘That’s suspicious,’ he said and took it away. They searched everywhere, emptied all the straw from my mattress onto the floor and, examining each straw, looked for the golden cross of which my neighbor had informed. I didn’t have a golden cross but only an aluminum one.”

Pascha in the camp:
“At night I secretly served the Paschal service and all present communed of the Holy Mysteries. The feast of the Bright Resurrection of Christ, Pascha, is the biggest and most important feast for Orthodox. My spiritual children tried to send me a package with goods to break the fast. They thought that they had done it cautiously so that the  wouldn’t find out. In the morning the supervisor called me and angrily ordered…sweep the floor. I said to him, ‘Comrade supervisor, today is a great feast, Pascha, I will not break it.’ …Then the supervisor called the camp director who…shaved my head and beard. He released me remarking, ‘There’s a Holy Pascha for you, pop [derogatory term for a priest].’ On my soul was such suffering but I immediately remembered the words that the Savior of the world spoke from the cross, ‘Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.’ Thanking the Lord that He allowed me, on particularly that day, to suffer for His Holy Name I sang, ‘Christ is risen from the dead…’ and went to my barrack.”

Holy St. Gabriel Pray to God for us!


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