1. Father Gabriel, on 26 January 2006, along with His Eminence Peter, Metropolitan of Prespa and Pelagonia and Administrator of Australia and New Zealand, you arrived in Australia as a cleric of the Macedonian Orthodox Diocese of Australia and New Zealand. Could you, please, tell us something about yourself… Let us begin with your native town.

- I was born in Shtip. There I graduated from the informatics vocational high school. Afterwards, in 1992, I enrolled at the faculty of Theology in Skopje and graduated from it. In the course of my studies I met my spiritual father, Bishop Nahum, who, being a Hagiorite monk (of mt. Athos, “the Holy mountain”), was a model of monasticism to us in those years of mass spiritual awakening – mostly among the young people – in Macedonia. I used to visit his monasteries frequently and learned about the essence of monasticism, the monastic mode of life in stillness, the unceasing Jesus prayer. And now I am here, in a monastery… for which I am much grateful to my in Christ elder. I thank him for having opened to me the true doors and taken me along the genuine road of salvation, toward Jesus Christ Himself – our God and Savior. As it is written in the holy Gospel, He is the ‘Road, Truth and life’ and ‘he who believes in Him will not see death, but will have eternal life’ (cf. John 11:25).

I am particularly grateful to His Eminence Metropolitan Peter of Prespa and Pelagonia, who, as the hierarch-administrator of this diocese of our Church, has chosen exactly me for this not small endeavor, which I am unworthy to carry out – the renewal of the spiritual and monastic life among our emigrants in this part of the world.

2. What was your motive to take the monastic vows?

- I have always strived and wanted to dedicate myself completely to what I have been doing. Still, previously, whatever I engaged in, at one point I would face some disappointment … instead of freedom and delight in the road that here or there I chose in order to build and perfect myself as a person, I would find certain insufficiency, captivity and shortcoming in the aim I had embraced. It was thus all until I came to believe in God truly and decided to entrust myself to Him entirely. (Nothing can hinder a monk from walking the narrow road of Christian perfection, if only with steadfastly strong will and desire he constantly devotes his life to God).

Here, too, in the beginning I searched, examined myself, analyzed… All until the night I was a guest in the monastery of Saint Leontius in Vodocha, when my spiritual father invited me to attend a synaxis of the fathers-monks (an assembly at which spiritual life and prayer are discussed). Our father talked to us about ‘purification’ from passions and sins, ‘opening of the heart to God’, ‘unceasing mind-and-heart prayer’. Until then I had read many books, yet what I heard that night I had not read anywhere. Then I realized, this was what I had yearned for and sought my whole life, and so at the confession I made the same night – with the words the holy Apostle Peter had spoken to our Lord – I, too, said to my elder: “Where could I possibly go now? You have the words of eternal life” (cf. John 6:68).

3. Tell us, please, in details what a monastic day in a monastery is like, so that our believers could be acquainted more closely with the monastic life.

- The monastic life outwardly viewed is monotonous and boring, yet the essence of this life is inner and hidden from the eye of the worldly man. Every monastery has its own typikon (a set of rules for the common God-centered life), although the typikons of coenobitic (community) monasteries, basically, do not differ much from one another.

We have embraced the ascetical-hesychastic typikon of most of the Hagiorite monasteries. In conformity with it, we get up early in the morning and gather at a synaxis, where the elder (spiritual father) gives counsels on prayer; then we withdraw each to his own cell (room) to say with the prayer rope, in peace and quiet, the short Jesus prayer, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner’ or merely, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me’. After few hours of saying the prayer, we gather at a liturgy in church – we celebrate Divine Liturgy every day – and partake of the Holy Mysteries. Then follow a little rest, common meal, and afterwards everyone occupies himself with his own daily monastery tasks. In the course of the day we again withdraw to our cell (depending on the time off the duties and tasks) to do our personal prayer rule, but also to win some more time to pray to God in solitude. In the afternoon we gather in church for Vespers, then follow the second common meal, a little rest, and early in the evening we go to church again for the so-called Little Compline, at which we read the Salutations to the Most Holy Mother of God, dedicated to holy Annunciation. After this, the day is completed and everyone goes to his cell to continue with the prayer and have a rest.

You see, at first glance monastic life is perhaps boring, still the core of this life is inside the heart, where there are so many unconquered areas, breadths and depths, which in order to conquer (transform toward Christ and toward unconditional love for our fellowman), a monk needs more than the daily twenty-four hours.

Because of the general fall of mankind, our heart is captured by the passions and closed to God, and our mind is darkened for the boundless mysteries of God. The monk detaches himself from the world and withdraws to a monastery so he could, through practice of prayer and obedience to his elder and spiritual father, make progress in the purification of his heart from the passions and illumination of his mind by the grace of God, up to the condition of ‘deification’ and ‘perfect man’ (to the measure of the stature of Christ), to spiritual heights of ‘contemplation’ and delight in the uncreated energies of God, which the eye of a worldly man cannot see and which could not come to mind to him (cf. 1Cor. 2:8).

4. You are the first monastic of the Macedonian Orthodox Church in the diaspora. What does Your coming to Australia signify and what changes do You expect in the spiritual life of the faithful in the diaspora?

Monks (monastics) are a fruit of someone’s repentance. If a people has genuine repentance, it will have monastics as well – as a fruit of this repentance of its… This means that my arrival is not accidental and is not to my credit, but it is a fruit of the repentance of my people here, in this distant land. A witness to this is also the cordial welcome I was received with, so that although I am so far away from my country, I do not feel that way in the least – this is not diminished by the fact that everywhere is the Lord’s land, and we are citizens not of earthly countries and kingdoms, but of the Kingdom that is to come: the Heavenly Jerusalem.

St, ap. Paul in his first epistle to the Corinthians tell them:” I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then nether is that planted any thing, neith he that watered; but God that giveth the increase. Now he that planted and he that watered are one: and every man shell receive his own reward according to his own labour. For we are labourers together with God: You are God’s husbandry, you are God’s building.” (I Kor. 3,6-9). Also and in here, prior to my arrival someone had worked on the field of God. The one had made deep furrows and sown the good seed. What I expect, I know not myself – the Lord knows. All is a work of God, we are merely unworthy servants.

5. You can paint icons?

- Yes, I can. Father Theophilus (a hieromonk in the monastery of the Forty Holy Martyrs of Sebaste in Bansko) – to my opinion one of the best icon-painters in our midst, and even farther – has given me the basis in icon-painting. In Macedonia and in the Macedonian Orthodox Church in the recent years a certain feeling has been developed of authenticity and of return to our tradition; the Byzantine (old) Macedonian ecclesiastical icon-painting and chant have been restored. I said ‘old has been restored’ not ‘new has appeared’ since this icon-painting and this chant have always existed and have been cherished in our Church… Moreover, our fathers were authors of such works. For instance, one of the most beautiful and renowned styles in Byzantine icon-painting is exactly the one of the Macedonian School, with the inimitable and supreme Emanuel Panselinos at its head, who frescoed the Protaton (cathedral) on Mount Athos. His disciples Michael and Euthychius painted in several of our churches and monasteries, leaving behind them masterpieces which even today are valued as priceless treasure in ecclesiastical art heritage. It is the same with chanting. Our patrons, saints Clement and Nahum, among else were also authors of wonderful spiritual hymns. ‘The angel-voiced’ they call St. John Koukouzelis, who came from the Debar area and is the most distinguished church author and chanter in the whole Orthodox Church. In the 19th century we have the bishop Joan Harmosin and the archimandrite calistratus of Zographou, and also many others. Today in our churches they use the so-called ‘Chanting of Mokranyats’ or as it says in the textbooks, Serbian folk singing. This chant entered our Church in the last century’s thirties, when the Macedonian territories fell under Serbian jurisdiction. This chant today even the Serbs themselves are discarding little by little. It also glorifies God, yet the old chanting and painting had been created by holy people, inspired by the Holy Spirit, whereas the other one by people with sinful and non-church life.

6. In the end, what is Your message to our believers?

When I came to Australia there were many who asked me and I heard about the fear of the near coming of the antichrist. That question drives man insane, makes him frightened, anxious, absent from reality… which is exactly the aim of the evil one.

The coming of the antichrist is a reality and it will happen some day – when it will be, no one knows but the heavenly father. Therefore, do not believe any such prophecy, although the actual state in the world shows the time is quite near. It could happen tomorrow or the day after tomorrow or in a year, but also in a thousand years. This question has upset the Church right from the start. You remember that the holy Apostle Paul, too, writes about this to the Thessalonians (2Thess. 2), and still the antichrist, after almost 2000 years now, has not yet come.

His work is to intimidate the people of God and sow anxiety in our hearts, but I will say: we have nothing to be afraid of and be anxious about. We should prepare ourselves as if it would happen already tomorrow. By virtue of confession, fasting, prayer, repentance, virtues – and as a seal and fullness of all this by regular partaking of the Precious and Life-creating Mysteries of Christ – let us exert ourselves in the struggle for purification of our heart from the passions, for opening of our heart to God, and for actualization of the fullness of the baptismal grace of the Holy Spirit within our heart. Let us fill ourselves with every good deed. Let peace and Love in our hearts be our sole criterion, and thus we will prevent the coming of the antichrist and help each other and also the ones in our surrounding.

To complete with, what I inherited as tradition I transmit to you too: repeat constantly – at all times, and particularly whenever you find yourselves in trouble and temptation – the prayer ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner’, or its shorter version ‘Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me’. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the father and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all