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Archbishop Gabriel (de Vylder)
Archbishop Gabriel of Komana (in the world Guido de Vylder) is born on June 13, 1946, in Lokeren, near Ghent, in a Flemish Roman-Catholic family. After his secondary studies at Saint-Nicholas College in Ghent, he received a technical formation and was destined to succeed his father as head of the family enterprise. When he has achieved his military service in 1966, he enrolled in the Institute of late vocations of Courtrai where he studied until 1970. From 1970 until 1974 he studied philosophy and theology at the Seminary of Ghent. During this period he came into contact with Orthodoxy in the Russian Orthodox parishes in Belgium and The Netherlands and this led him to refuse to receive the Minor Orders in the Roman Catholic Church. In January 1974 he was received into the Orthodox Church in the Orthodox parish in Ghent which was in the jurisdiction of the Archdiocese until 1976. He continued his studies in the department of moral and religious studies at the University of Leuven.
On October 5, 1975, after being ordained reader and subdeacon, Guido de Vylder was ordained deacon by Archbishop George of Syracuse in the parish of the Holy Trinity, in the crypt of Rue Daru. On June 27, 1976, he was ordained priest by Archbishop George in the Cathedral of Saint Alexander Nevsky. On May 18, 1977, he was appointed Rector of the parish of Saint John Chrysostom in Maastricht (The Netherlands), which had been founded in 1972, and where he will stay until 2003. During that time he also teaches history of religion at secondary schools in The Netherlands from 1976 until 1977. During the following years he actively took part in the founding of other parishes in The Netherlands and Belgium, in Deventer, Breda, and Antwerpen, and took care of their pastoral needs, until they became independent parishes with their own priests. He also founded a chapel in Kollumerpomp, in the province of Friesland, in the extreme north of The Netherlands. On March , 1985, Father Guido was elevated to the rank of Archpriest by Archbishop George of Eudociade. Then he was appointed Rector of the parish Saint Alexander Nevsky, in Liège (Luik), on January 1, 1993. Thanks to his efforts, this parish is now officially recognized by the Belgian civil authorities.
In 1993 the new Archbishop Sergius of Eucarpia appoints Father Guido head of the Deanery of the parishes of the Archdiocese in Belgium, The Netherlands and Germany. In this function he represents the Orthodox Church at the Council of Churches in The Netherlands, from1995-2003. On May 11, 1994, Father Guido takes his monastic vows in the presence of Archbishop
Sergius in the church of Saint Sergius of Radonesh in Paris, and is given the name Gabriel in honor of the Archangel Gabriel (whose feast is celebrated on July 11). The next Sunday he is elevated to the dignity of Hegumen. On May 21, 1998, he is elevated to the rank of Archimandrite. Having been elected member of the Diocesan Council by the General Assembly of the Archdiocese in 1994, he takes part in it as representative of the clergy, until 2002 and afterwards, from 2002 until 2003 ex officio as auxiliary Bishop. He was also, from 2000 until 2003, member of the disciplinary commission. In October 1998 he was member of the delegation of the Archdiocese, led by Archbishop Sergius, to the Phanar, in order to review the status of the Archdiocese in the Ecumenical Patriarchat. This resulted in the granting of the Tomos of 1999.
At the end of the years 1999 Archimandrite Gabriel participates in a pilgrimage of the diocese to the Holy Land and also in another pilgrimage to the monasteries in Russia. On January 1, 2001, he is elected Bishop of Komana and auxiliary to Archbishop Sergius by the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and his episcopal ordination took place on June 24, 2001, in the Cathedral of Saint Alexander Nevsky in Paris. After the death of Archbishop Sergius, on January 22, 2003, he leads ad interim the Archdiocese as locum tenens. He has to face violent attacks which call in question his person as well as the canonical status of the Archdiocese within the Patriarchate of Constantinople. A letter was circulating, written by Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow, dated April 1, 2003, and addressed to « the parishes of the Russian Tradition in Western Europe », which proposed a new structure of ecclesial organization in the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Moscow. This letter provoked many tensions in the Archdiocese which Vladyka Gabriel had to face.
On May 1, 2003, Vladyka Gabriel was elected head of the Archdiocese by an Extraordinary Assembly of delegates of clergy and laymen, with a majority of votes (134 out of 168 votes). On May 3 of the same year Vladyka Gabriel was elevated to the rank of Archbishop by the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Patriarch Bartholomeus appoints him Exarch of the Patriarch of Constantinople. His solemn enthronisation took place on June 1, at the Cathedral of Saint Alexander Nevsky.
Enthronement of Archbishop Gabriel: Part 1
Enthronement of Archbishop Gabriel: Part 2
From this time onwards he presides the diocesan Council, the four General Assemblies of clergy and laymen (2004, 2007, 2008, 2010) and several pastoral assemblies as well as diocesan conferences.which were held at his initiative. Besides all this Vladyka holds the post of Rector of Saint Sergius Institute from 2003 until 2013, and he was Rector of the parish of Christ the Savior in Asnières from 2003 until 2013 and Rector of the parish of the Cathedral of Saint Alexander Nevsky from 2009 until 2013.
Vladyka Gabriel took efforts to place the presence of the Archdiocese on the international scene. For that reason he has made several visits to the Phanar, he has participated in official delegations of Patriarch Bartholomeus in Tblisi, Georgia, in 2004 and 2006, and Kiev (Russian Orthodox Church), in July 2008. He made offficial visits to the Churches of Poland in May, 2008, and of Finland in February, 2005. He has officially welcomed in Paris Patriarch Bartholomeus (February 2007, April 2009 and April 2011), but also Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow in October 2008, Metropolitan Sava of Warsaw in September 2004, and Metropolitan Leo of Finland in August 2004. He has led a diocesan pilgrimage to the Holy Land in October 2011, on which occasion he was decorated by Patriarch Theophilus III of Jerusalem with the Cross of Knight of the Holy Sepulcre.
The nine years which Vladyka served at the head of the Archdiocese are marked with numerous events, some of them being particularly radiant and filled with grace. Thus Vladyka Gabriel has visited all the parishes and communities of the Archdiocese without exception ; he presided over several consecrations of new places of worship throughout Europe, in particular the new church of the Monastery of the Protection of the Mother of God in Bussy-en-Othe ; he has ordained some forty priests and deacons. Other events, however, were of a more sad nature : the taking by force of the church in Biarritz and the juridical trial which followed, the passage to the Patriarchate of Moscow of the parishes in Perpignan, Lyons, Altéa and Charleroi, and the loss of the Cathedral in Nice, which was assigned to the Russian State by the French Civil Court. It is, without doubt, too early to give a definite appreciation of this periode. The reception of several Orthodox parishes in Great Britain into the Patriarchate of Constantinople, led by their Bishop at the time, Vladyka Basil (Osborn), and their integration within the Archdiocese, has been on the part of Vladyka Gabriel a courageous act which has permitted to these parishes to continue to lead their liturgical and pastoral life in peace, conform to the spiritual legacy of Metropolitan Anthony of Surozh, which they considered to be impossible within the framework of their previous canonical attachment. The solemn canonization of Father Alexis Medvedkov, as well as that of Father Dimitri Klepinin, of Mother Mary (Skobtzov) and their companions Elias Fondaminsky and Yurie (George) Skobtsov by the Holy Synod of the Ecmenical Patriarchate at the request of Vladyka Gabriel, on January 16, 2004, was without any doubt an outstanding event which had a special significance both for the Orthodox Church in the West as well as for the Universl Church. It was the first canonization of saints of the Orthodox Church who have lived in Western Europe in these modern times. Vladyka presided the solemn celebration of glorification, on May 1 and 2, 2004, at the Cathedral of Saint Alexander Nevsky.
The health of Archbishop Gabriel, who was treated for a cancer of the lungs in the beginning of 2011, rapidly deteriorated in the beginning of the year 2012 as a result of the effects of chemotherapy. He took his retirement in January of that year, Vladyka Gabriel has settled in his house near the church in Maastricht and he continued to undergo heavy medical treatment. A few days before his death he had to be placed in the nursing home « De Keerderberg ». After a sudden detoriation of his physical state he is again transferred, on October 24, to the Academic Hospital in Maastricht (AZM). He dies there in the night of 25-26 October. Metropolitan Emmanuel made the following statement after the news of his passing away : « I just received some sad news, which I immediately wish to share with you. Archbishop Gabriel has died. Let us pray for the repose of his soul and may his memory be eternal ».
The body of Vladyka Gabriel was placed in the church in Maastricht, the evening of October 26, and later on transferred to Paris during the middle of the week. The funeral of Vladyka Gabriel was held in the Cathedral of Saint Alexander Nevsky, under the presidence of Metropolitan Emmanuel, who temporarily administered the Archdiocese. The burial took place in the crypt of the church of the cemetery in Sainte-Geneviève-des-Bois (Essonne), where his predecessors, the Metropolitans Eulogy and Vladimir, and the Archbishops George (Tarassov), George (Wagner) and Sergius (Konovalov) are laid to rest.
« Now the moment has come to leave you […] In tribulations of all kind, continue to have confidence and hope in the Word of God which is the pledge of our salvation and the consolidation of our Church.The freedom of the Church and the universality of the Orthodox faith are the two treasures which I have sought to keep in tact, following the example of my predecesssors at the head of the Archdiocese. And this, in order to permit us to concentrate on what, in the eyes of the disciples of Christ, has to constitute the « unique necessary » : Seek the Kingdom of God and its Justice », as the Lord Himself has commanded (Mt 6,33). My last word will be to ask you to keep your love and your unity.That is the most precious treasuryof our Church. May the Lord « give you a spirit if wisdom » and « illumine the eyes of your heart in order to know which hope His call will give to you » (Eph. 1, 17-18), pastoral letter of Vladyka Gabriel, dated January 8, 2013.
Extract of a pastoral letter of Vladyka published for the Feast of Pascha 2012 :
« When we consider our lives, the life of all human persons on earth, we are tempted by sadness and we could say like Ecclesiastes ‘All is vanity and pursues the wind’ (Eccl. II, 17). What unhappiness, how many loves are broken ! The grave illness, the unexpected accident, the old age at which everything declines : that many subjecs of dismay ! Many youngsters doubt about their future and are overcome by anxiety, sometimes looking for substitutes that have no tomorrow. Facing these anxieties and these agonies, we have to remember that before Pascha there is the Friday of the Passion ! We have to think again at Gethsemane – ‘My soul is sorrowful until death’- and at the crucifixion –‘My God, why hast Thou forsaken me ?’. Then we will understand that the Resurrection is not just a simple and jolly family festival which is forgetten the next day, but a real outpouring of joy, a hymn that celebrates Life and Love ! If Christ has accepted suffering, the abasement (kenosis), the exclusion, the rejection, the terrible solitude, being abandoned by his Apostles, and finally the death on the Cross, this all has happened in order that through the mystery of the Resurrection that followed, we no longer will have fear !... »