Memories of a New Christian
Revaz says: In the late 1980s, my hectic life led my family to the verge of a complete breakdown. I became addicted to gambling and drank alcohol like water without skipping a day. I lost my job and my friends, causing suffering to all my relatives. Deep down, I realized the severity of my state, but was unable to cope with myself. Most likely I was already getting used to this kind of life. I had sunk into despair and became distressed to the point where I was feeling too much of a “fifth wheel” to go on living. I was not seeking any spiritual shelter at the time; neither had I any thoughts of going to church, whose clergy I did not take seriously.
This decadence may have continued further, if one fine evening Elder Gabriel had not walked into the pub where I was finishing my regular glass of beer and preparing to commit an insanely reckless act. Yes, you have read it right: Elder Gabriel entered that pub!
Here is how it all happened: Sitting in a noisy room, I heard a clear, loud, angry voice of a man demanding to pour beer and vodka into the largest possible glass for him, or else “his heart will break”. For that he “will pay any money.”
“Don’t worry, I have the cash donated by the parishioners,” the man behind by back repeated in a thunderous voice, while the people laughed, darting contemptuous glances at the strange visitor. I did not know the meaning of the word “parishioners” then, and I continued to sit with my back turned to the person who had said it and without being particularly interested in who he was. For some reason I remember imagining that man as a tall, stylishly dressed man; a kind of a rebel, who, like me, was drenching his grief with alcohol. The voice did not stop speaking, and soon the usual background sounds of the pub were interrupted by the “rebel” who began to sing a Georgian song so beautifully that I couldn’t help turning around to see in the center of the pub a short, grey-haired priest dressed in rags. The priest was making hand gestures of a drunk person as he was dancing in tune with his song.
The whole pub was quietly staring at him, while he was looking right at me with his big incredible eyes. At some point, he approached me, looked into my eyes and said, “Revaz, burn what you have in your pocket!” He artistically hit me in the chest, raised his hands to heavens and in a split second made the sign of the cross over me. Then he looked into my eyes again and said, “Burn what’s in your pocket!”
It happened so quickly that people did not even notice anything, thinking, like myself, that the sign of the cross was some kind of a dance move. Soon, having finished his dance, the old man left. His departure was accompanied by everyone’s applause and phrases like “What a good man… Well done, father! That’s how you do it!”
I stood dumbfounded, with tears in my eyes. I was crying not because I understood the whole meaning of the elder’s actions, but because his words hit me like an electric shock. I could not understand how he could possibly know that in my pocket I had a suicide note, written a few hours ago, in which I was saying goodbye to my family. Yes, I really was ready to commit that terrible, irreparable act when God’s will brought me that priest with his wonderful performance!
No less amazing was the fact that from that day I gave up alcohol together with my hectic lifestyle and didn’t want to hear a word about gambling.
I regret not being able to find that priest in Tbilisi. I asked around, but received the answer that it was some crazy guy, who appeared now and then. Soon I turned to God and started going to church. It was only a few years later that my family and I went to Mtskheta and visited the Samtavro’s Convent, where I saw a large photo of the priest who had rescued me and made me sober again. It was on one of the graves and surrounded by many people. I stood rooted to the spot, while tears were welling up in my eyes. He was smiling at me from the photograph, as if asking me jokingly, “So, Revaz, you have come to see the “rebel man?” His full name is elder Archimandrite Gabriel (Urgebadze) and he is loved throughout the Orthodox world. His prayers and love save many people and, by God’s grace, will save many more.
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds