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Metropolis of Piraeus Office of Heresies & Sects: Illegitimate Spirituality of Gabrielia Papagianni

Updated: Oct 26, 2023

By The Church of Greece, Metropolis of Piraeus, Office of Heresies & Sects



"One of the most significant problems in the life of the Church has been and remains the distinction between genuine and spurious spirituality. By studying hagiographical texts and the writings of our holy Fathers, we find that in the life of the Church, already from its early days, from the time of the apostolic era, alongside genuine spirituality, which is the product and fruit of the Holy Spirit, another 'spirituality,' spurious and deceitful, inspired by Satan, emerged with the aim of deceiving the faithful. As the Acts and the Pauline Epistles inform us, the neophytes, after their baptism, received supernatural gifts, allowing the presence of the Holy Spirit to be felt in the members of the Church and even outside it.

Nun Gabrielia (Papagianni), from Constantinople, who passed away in Leros, was added in the Calendar of the Orthodox Church by the Ecumenical Patriarchate

One of these supernatural gifts was the so-called 'discernment of spirits,' as mentioned by the apostle in his First Epistle to the Corinthians: 'To another, faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues' (1 Corinthians 12:10). These individuals were given the specific gift to be able to discern true prophets and teachers from impostors and the genuine gifts of the Holy Spirit from the false ones, which conceal deceitfully the truth. The same issue is highlighted by the evangelist John, who commands us to 'test the spirits to see whether they are from God' (1 John 4:1). In other words, we are encouraged to examine and discern people who appear to be inspired by the Holy Spirit to determine if they truly come from God.

If we also study the ascetical texts (e.g., the Gerontikon, the Beneficial Sayings, etc.), we will encounter numerous stories of great ascetics who, at one point, became proud and believed that they had reached high levels of virtue and sanctity. In such cases, God allowed them to fall into delusion, and they received what seemed to be revelations, visions, and false spiritual experiences, supposedly coming from God, while, in reality, they were deceptions and tricks of demons. For example, Saint John Cassian recounts how Abba Heron, even though he had spent fifty years in strict asceticism, became proud and trusted his own thoughts without subjecting them to the judgment of his spiritual Fathers. As a result, he was deceived by the devil, who appeared to him as an 'angel of light' and persuaded him to commit suicide by falling into a deep well.

Classic examples of spurious spirituality in our time can be found in the so-called 'charismatic movements' within the Protestant community, such as the 'Free Apostolic Church of Pentecost' and other groups of the occultist 'New Age' network, whose followers claim to have received the gift of speaking in tongues or other gifts in a similar manner to the apostles on the day of Pentecost.

However, the phenomenon of spurious spirituality is unfortunately not absent from the Orthodox Church. It is precisely such a case, which brings great pain to our souls and heavy-heartedness, that we wish to address in this announcement with the aim of timely informing and safeguarding the faithful people of God. This case pertains to a nun named Gabrielia Papagianni (1897-1992), whose life, purportedly apostolic activities, and teachings have been published in a voluminous book (approximately 500 pages) by another nun, who is evidently her subordinate, also named Gabrielia and titled "The Asceticism of Love." This book has been thoroughly studied by Father Vasileios Speliopoulos, who subsequently published a well-founded and fully documented critique titled "Critiques and Comments on the Content of the Book 'The Asceticism of Love,'" prefaced by Archpriest Sarantis Sarantos. The spiritual damage that has arisen from the circulation of this book is incalculable, given that it is currently in its 13th edition and has already been used in many parishes as a catechetical manual.

In the following paragraphs, we will provide a brief commentary on the book after first presenting some biographical details of the aforementioned nun. Elderess Gabrielia was born on October 15, 1897, in Constantinople (Istanbul) to affluent parents. "She was the fourth and last child of the family. Her older sister, Vasiliki, was the one who first spoke to her about God. Along with the fairy tales she read to her, she told her stories from the Gospel and the Old Testament." She studied Agriculture in Switzerland but had developed a "metaphysical connection" with plants, as "literally until the end of her life, she 'talked' to them, as if she saw their response every time." After the death of her mother in 1954, she went to India as a missionary, a country she loved passionately. However, in this vast land where she stayed for five years, she worked more philanthropically than evangelically, as "she never spoke to others about Christ unless they asked her themselves!" During her time there, she also made acquaintances and developed friendships with "Mother Teresa, Sivananda, Baba Amte" as well as well-known gurus of Hinduism and Buddhism, all of whom are mentioned in her subordinate's writings.

Gabrielia Papagianni

From the examination of Father Vasileios's critique, and especially from excerpts from the book, we have observed that the book, in question, is characterized by religious syncretism and interfaith ecumenism from beginning to end. Simultaneously, it undermines the uniqueness of the theanthropic person of our Lord Jesus Christ, reducing Him to the same level as leaders of other religions. Through the words and actions of the Elderess, there is a subtle and systematic effort to indirectly promote the fundamental doctrinal teachings of Hinduism and Guruism, which are meticulously interwoven into Orthodox spirituality. According to the author of the critique, "this book aims to promote popular ecumenism among simple Orthodox Christians, both clergy and laity, teaching that all religions possess part of the truth and, therefore, not only should we not reject their various teachings, but we have a sacred duty to accept them, so that we may eventually achieve the desired union of all religions into one. It is thus an act of hatred, fanaticism, or 'fundamentalism,' in modern terminology, and bigotry to persist in the doctrines, rules, and traditions of our Church while rejecting the beliefs and practices of others, a phenomenon attributed, according to the author, to various complexes and fears that afflict us" (page 4).

More Specifically:

Reference is made to "the many non-Christian and heterodox friends of the Elderess with whom she maintained relationships throughout her life, without ever attempting to convert them, or even engage in the slightest effort to do so. On the contrary, she often regarded them as saints (e.g., pages 212 and 407) or role models for Christians (p. 72), and, therefore, conversed with them about God (but which God?)" (page 4).

There is mention of "the close relationship of the Elderess with the Quaker heresy" (page 5). Quakers are members of a Christian Anti-Trinitarian denomination known as the Religious Society of Friends, founded in the 17th century in England by a traveling preacher named George Fox. According to the author of the critique, "their work [the Quakers] in Thessaloniki is promoted as significant, while she [the Elderess] herself holds positions as director in their school and as an evangelist. Who, however, could ever believe that if her views and interpretation of the Gospel did not entirely align with those of the heresy, they would entrust her with these two unquestionably critical positions in such an anti-Trinitarian sect? In addition, the reader is intentionally given the impression that Quakers are a group of Orthodox Christians with significant work and activities, an erroneous and highly misleading impression, even proselytizing" (page 5).

Also, in the criticized book (pages 50-51), a comparison is made between Guruistic techniques and Orthodox perspectives. The Elderess believes that in Orthodox Monasticism, as well as in Hinduism, it is common for the ascetic to attempt to become invisible to people, something entirely foreign and unknown in our own ascetic tradition. On page 53, Hindu worship is compared to Orthodox worship, with the "similarities" including the constant invocation of the name of God, allegedly present in both religions, with the only difference being the name of God invoked. Of course, the difference is much more significant, and the message is subtly conveyed that all religions have the truth, with the only difference being the name they give to the Divine (page 6).

Furthermore, reference is made to the veneration of mosques, and it is claimed that this "does not contradict the spirit of the book because Muslims, Hindus, and Jews all have God within them and are led by the same spirit of God, as claimed by the Elderess herself" (page 6). Specifically, it is written: "Many times they told me: Why do you consider Hindus as your own, or Muslims, or Jews? But because I see Christ Himself in them, who perhaps consciously did not recognize Him yet... And I saw many of them, through their actions, doing what led them to do God's spirit..." (page 325).

Moreover, an example of religious syncretism is presented: the author of the book wants to convey the message that "what saves is simplicity, poverty, and the narrow path, which, however, is experienced and practiced in Orthodox monasteries and ashrams alike" (page 7). Specifically, it is written: "But the Lord said it. Narrow is the way leading to the truth... And He led me by His hand. And again the next day somewhere else, to the hospital of a large community of monks, where everything was simple, just like in our own monasteries..." (pages 245-246).

Gabrielia Papagianni

Additionally, it is noted (page 9) that in the book (page 288), "the love we owe to everyone is misinterpreted, and the Elderess is presented as a confessor of the faith, while those who disagree are called persecutors of love and are considered fanatics, fundamentalists, fearful, unbelieving, bigots, etc. The familiar ecumenical kind of love is thus promoted, concealing the truth in Christ, placing it on the same level as the falsehood of the world's religions, and simultaneously attempting to bring together 'love' with the truth, light with darkness, ignoring the words of the apostle: 'Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?'" (2 Corinthians 6:14).

Moreover, it is pointed out (page 10) that there is a reversal of Christian terms, which is one of the most characteristic features of the New Age ideology. This phenomenon of inversion is frequently encountered in the book in question. It is written: "For example, they take the term 'prayer' and identify it with the content of the term 'meditation' to more easily attract unsuspecting victims, bending possible doubts and potentially misleading even the chosen ones, as the book speaks of Christian virtues and methods. The phenomenon of inversion is very common in this book. The reader is cleverly prepared to accept Hindu philosophy and life, especially since it is presented as genuine Orthodox spirituality, he is indoctrinated and gradually initiated into it, often involuntarily, and risks moving away from the life of the Church or remaining in it only formally, worshipping other gods, who are, in reality, demons that will gain increasing power over him, alienating him from Divine Grace and tarnishing his baptismal robe" (page 10).

Further down (page 13), in the chapter about the holistic view of the world, which is a well-known fundamental doctrine of the New Age, it is demonstrated that the Elderess was deeply influenced by this misleading teaching. It is written: "Perhaps our thoughts may seem excessive to some. However, let them explain to us why the Elderess encourages us: 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your soul, with all your heart, and with all your mind,' and quickly proceeds to explain, 'that is, the universe?' (page 199). According to her, the universe is thus identified with God, creation with the Creator, which demonstrates her adoption of the holistic view of the world."

To avoid being long-winded, Father Vasileios subsequently mentions numerous instances from the book under discussion where it is clearly proven that the Elderess clearly promotes New Age ideas and practices as supposedly Orthodox, such as vegetarianism, glossolalia, Yama, non-existence and annihilation, meditation, positive thinking, universal energy, and the presentation of numerous demonic practices. The culmination of all these is her claim to possess a "healing gift" by "healing" with her hands, which "burned and reddened as if by the Holy Spirit."

Continuing our reference, we want to congratulate Father Vasileios for his excellent critical presentation and to emphasize to the faithful people of God that this book contains delusions that originate from the realm of the pan-heresy of Ecumenism with a strong element of religious syncretism. Therefore, there is a great danger that, by reading it, the Orthodox mindset of the faithful could be distorted, leading them into syncretic theories and views that will take them far away from the loving embrace of our Church, where salvation alone exists. The risk is particularly great for those faithful individuals who do not have sufficient knowledge of the Orthodox dogmatic teaching of our Church and, as a result, are unable to clearly distinguish Orthodox truth from the falsehood of heresy. And let us not forget that the dark centers of the "New Age" do not aim to empty the Churches but to have them filled with believers, albeit with an altered mindset and spurious "spirituality" [1].

From the Office of Heresies and Sects.


Original Book Review by Father Vasileios Speliopoulou Translated from the Greek

Fr Vasileios Speliopoulou Review
Download PDF • 382KB



[1]. "Ι.Μ. Πειραιώς: 'Η νόθη πνευματικότητα και η γερόντισσα Γαβριηλία,'" Βήμα Ορθοδοξίας, accessed October 18th, 2023,

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