Just a few days ago, my copy of the biography of Mother Gavrilía, the book Ascetic of Love, which I lent over a year ago to a neighbor, was anonymously returned by being pushed through the mail slot in my front door. What a blessing! I so missed that book, and when I wanted to read it, I had no choice but to find bits of it here and there posted on the internet. If you follow the linked title to Amazon, you may find that what few used copies are available are too expensive to buy.
When I lend a book and it's not returned, I just assume the person needed it, and so I never ask for it back. I just buy another. In the case of Ascetic of Love, the book is out of print, and I could not find another. So I broke down and asked for the book to be returned. I was afraid the neighbor might have thrown it away, but I am so thankful she kept it, and returned it. I decided that, if I got it back, I would post some of my favorite passages here at Cost of Discipleship, and share the blessing that Mother Gavrilía has been to me, with others.
The following passages are from pages 232-236. Mother Gavrilía tells of her journey to India, where she was an Orthodox witness for Christ, a sort of 'faith missionary', one who is not sent or supported by a missionary society, but who simply goes because of the call of Jesus Christ, relying on Him, and Him alone, for everything. When you read what follows, you will understand what I mean.
I set out for India, where my first stop was at a small dispensary within the ashram of Guru Sivananda—a great guru of that time—up on the Himalaya Mountains. I made the journey by bus, because I wanted to avoid having all those vaccines and injections. So, I traveled from Beirut, to Syria, Jordan, Baghdad, Tehran, Meshed, Zahedan, the Persian Desert, Pakistan, and finally I reached my destination, after a journey that lasted eleven months… I shall never forget the sunset at Khorramshahr. The greatest solar disk to be seen is there!… At that time India too was like the world before the Fall… When I arrived at the Himalayas I was almost out of money. For God had sent me on my way without money, so that I could see His glory at every step. Before long, I faced the first difficulty.
My passport expired and I had to revalidate it. They told me that the Greek Consulate was in Bombay, and I sent the passport there together with a letter: «Dear Mr Consul, you are certainly aware of the adventurous nature of the Greek race and also of the inherent dignity of the Greek people. As I am here offering my services without payment, I would appreciate the issuance of a new passport free of charge.»… In a few days I received my passport, stamped gratis, and a very nice letter written in English: «…it is with great pleasure, etc., etc.» When later, God guided my steps to Bombay, I went to the Greek Consulate and you can imagine my astonishment when I saw that the Consul was not a Greek but an Indian gentleman! In fact, there never was a Greek Consul in Bombay.
Well, such surprising things happened all the time, from the beginning to the end of my stay there… At that time, back in 1954, India made appeals for help all over the world—for persons afflicted with leprosy, for children suffering from infantile paralysis and so on… The inner Voice had told me: ‘You will not accept payment anymore. You will not have money anymore.’ Yet, everything is so simple in life. Even if you know no one, when you know Christ, He will take you everywhere. All the doors open before you, and you are considered an important person, because you take no money, although you are penniless. That's how it is. But then again, what would it cost to provide food and shelter for one person? Rice and yogurt, rice and yogurt—that had been my food for five years!
Did you know the purpose of your going to India?
No. The Lord was leading the way and I followed. But you know, as soon as I arrived in India, at the first place where I was offered hospitality [Guru Sivananda's ashram], I received something like a message—the quotation from the Gospel: «Go not into the way of the Gentiles… but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel» (Matthew 10:5-6). Indeed, many of the foreigners, Europeans, Americans, etc., who went there, were on their way to Hinduism, about to lose Christ… I watched them all, coming to seek the Truth. For you know, everybody in India is still seeking the Truth.
Many of their wise men asked me: ‘Are you a seeker of the Truth?’ And I would answer, ‘I am of a church called the Orthodox Church.’ They had not heard of it up there. They knew Catholics, they knew Protestants, but not this Church. ‘This Church exists in Greece and many other countries.’
‘We know Socrates and Pythagoras,’ they would say, ‘so we welcome you as one of their descendants.’ Whenever they invited me to speak, I would always say, ‘I am particularly happy to be near you in a «Before Christ» country, because I see your quest and hope that someday, like so many others in the whole world, you too will find the Light…’
On one occasion, a Member of Parliament stood up and said: ‘Well, we too need a Socrates’… Actually, anywhere I went, I almost always came across Europeans—and all these Christians were about to forsake Christ! I said to myself: ‘There is your destination. Love them and make them come back.’ And, with God's help, many did come back… I had such enthusiasm then, a feeling beyond words… India was my great adventure with Faith and the Love of God.
I had gone there knowing nothing at all, neither where nor how I should live in a foreign land with a foreign language, without money… Just God and I on earth… I never asked anything. I always awaited the Call—to any field of action. Because when Christ calls you, you have no will of your own. You go wherever He takes you. And He led me to very poor surroundings—like Fr Athanasios Anthidis, who is now experiencing exactly what I went through thirty years ago, and in the same places too: at Hooghly, outside Calcutta. I know what it is like when conditions are so hard!
Still, to this very day, I am so certain that there is nothing I have to think of. I am as I was the first day I set out for India: Awaiting God's will. To anyone proposing something I say «Yes» and I go on. That is how I traveled all over India. ‘Come and work with us,’ they would say. I went, worked, and left…
You have loved this people very much…
What I cared about was Love. I loved the people there. I loved them for many reasons. In the first place, because if you stop loving, it is as if you stop breathing. Love is the Breath of God. Where I was, there came so many sick, so many suffering, so many hungry ones. Entire families of pilgrims came up the Himalayas after walking for six or seven days. Some had even walked for fifteen days, some others as much as a month… Quite often their children died up there.
My first task at the dispensary of the ashram was to put a dead child in a sack, together with a stone that would sink it into the river Ganges. I had such a shock and felt so sad that unconsciously tears flowed from my eyes. Then, the head of the ashram [Guru Sivananda] said: ‘Look at that! From the end of the world, a person has come to weep over this poor child’…
In a short time it became known that there was someone who could help cure some ailments. Indeed, I must tell you that the miracles of Christ were astonishing! I was amazed! You know, it is very easy for people that have not been acquainted with medicine to have no doubts. The moment I told them that with a little massage the painful arm, etc., would feel better, they believed it. This belief and the help of God made them well. So the news spread around that a Greek lady who could help had arrived, and so on. It was then that they started asking: ‘What church does she belong to?’
At about that time, when J. Nehru was in power, I happened to meet his daughter, Indira Gandhi. She suffered from a painful nape that required massaging. While treating her, she talked to me about her life. One day, a lady came and after introductions she asked: ‘Is this lady a Catholic?’ ‘Oh no! She belongs to a church you do not know at all, a church that is completely different’… Mrs Gandhi replied.
The difference was—and I beg forgiveness of all who think that I was wrong—that I did not talk. I never said anything. I just loved these people… and worked, and worked, and worked.
Once, a very wise man, along with some other persons, came and asked me: ‘Who is your God?’ I said, ‘There is only One God, and Christ is His Son. This is my God!’ ‘I guessed as much. But why don't you say it? It is the first time that we see a European who doesn't talk, who doesn't tell us that our gods are nothing. You see our life, you know our philosophy, but you make no comments. How is that? Missionaries always reprove and go away, criticize, then leave’… ‘I cannot say such things,’ I answered, ‘because our ancestors were like you!’
‘What do you mean by that?’ he asked. So, I started to talk about the ancient Greeks and to explain how, when Christianity reached our country, it did not make us renounce all our ancient philosophy, but gave us Christ as Life. Because Christ is not only a religion. Christ is Life… Then, they asked me for Gospel books. I also gave them, even before the Gospel, the Imitation of Christ, as it is a book full of reference…
I lived in the Himalayas for a whole year. After that, I was invited to visit various centers. I could say that in five years I traveled all over India—North, South, East and West. I went to Bombay, Calcutta, Madras, Langpur, Cashmere, the Himalayas, Dharasul, Uttar Kashi, and to so many other places… without a penny of my own!
I had no money. The fare was paid for me, and I was taken to my destination. And it was really strange: One day, I would sleep on the floor, with rats running about and scorpions crawling everywhere. The next day, the Maharajah of Patiala would send for me, to help organize a small group of physiotherapists at the local hospital; and then servants in liveries would come to ask what I would like for dinner! This is the way I journeyed all over India. But what impressed me most is that wherever I went, whether for a few months or for a year, I was learning the «Lessons».
And just one more short but very important testimony, from page 237…
In India, when I was asked: ‘Are you a missionary?’ I answered, ‘No.’
‘Well,’ they would say, ‘who sent you, then?’
‘What did He tell you?’
‘India,’ and ‘Follow Me.’
In a way, you are one of the pioneers of Christianity in contemporary India…
No. Because Christ was already there! He was leading the way and I was following Him…