The Gerontissa Gabriela was born in Constantinople on October 2/15, 1897. Her family moved to Thessalonika in 1923. She trained in England as a chiropodist and physiotherapist. In 1945 she returned to Greece and worked with the Friends Refugee Mission and the American Farm School in Thessalonika. Later she opened her own therapy office in Athens, where she practiced until 1954, the year her mother died. Sister Lila (later Gerontissa Gabriela) traveled overland to India where she worked with the poorest people, even the lepers, for five years.
In 1959, she went to the Monastery of Mary and Martha in Bethany, Palestine, to become a nun. She asked the chaplain for a rule of prayer. Father Theodosius was surprised to find that she could read ancient Byzantine Greek. He said, "The great elders that we hear about no longer exist. I certainly am not one. You came here to save your soul. If I start giving you rules, you will lose your soul and I will as well. But here is Father John. He will be your elder." So for her first year in the monastery he had her reading only the Gospels and St. John Climacus. (The Ladder had not been published in modern Greek.)
After three years in Bethany, Sister Gabriela, who was fluent in French, went to Taizé because Patriarch Athenagoras sought an Orthodox monastic for that community.
which we live.
It is not what we do,
but what we are."
In 1963 she was back in Greece, where she was tonsured to the small schema by Abbot Amphilochios on Patmos just before she and the nun Tomasina left for India. There she spent three years in Nani Tal, where Fr. Lazarus Moor, the priest, consulted the gerontissa in his translations of the Psalter and the Fathers.
Between 1967 and 1977 the Gerontissa traveled in the mission field of East Africa. She also spent time in Europe visiting old friends and spiritual fathers, such as Father Lev Gillet and Father Sophrony of Essex. She was briefly in Sinai, where the church was attempting to reintroduce women's monasticism.
Her concern and broad love for the people of God attracted spiritual children, some of whom found her in Jerusalem beside the Tomb of Christ. Others found her in East Africa. For many years, she lived in a little apartment, the "House of the Angels" in Patissia, hidden amidst all of the noise, smog, and confusion of central Athens, a precious place to those who knew her.
In 1989 she moved to Holy Protection hermitage on Aegina, close to St. Nectarios' shrine. She called the last two of her spiritual children to become monastics near her and continued to receive many visitors. At the start of Great Lent in 1990 she was hospitalized for lymphatic cancer. She was forty days in the hospital, leaving during Holy Week and receiving communion on Pascha. The cancer disappeared.
The gerontissa finally withdrew to quiet. With one nun she moved, for the last time in this life, to Leros. They established the hesychastirion of the Holy Archangels. Only in this last year of her life did she accept the great schema at the hands of Father Dionysios from Athos in the Chapel of the Panaghia atop Leros.
Gerontissa Gabrielia passed from this world on March 28, 1992. Over the years, six of her spiritual children became monastics. Only the angels can count the number of lives that God touched and changed through her.
Anyone who knew the gerontissa realized that God has not left us without His saints, even down to the present day. The few words we have scarcely suggest the clarity and love of her soul. Words are the tools of this world; the wonder of the gerontissa was wrapped in the mystery of the silence of the world to come. She was humility and love incarnate.
Those whom God touched through her called her "Gerontissa"; she herself was the nun Gabriela.