The Hieromartyr Protopresbyter Gabriel Kostelnik was a Carpatho-Russian priest who returned to the Orthodox Church soon after the end of World War II and was assassinated during the political and religious turmoil of the late 1940s.
Gabriel Kostelnik was born on June 15, 1886 in Ruski Kerestur, now Serbia, into the Uniate Church. His father Fedor and mother Anna Kakai had six children. Besides Gabriel, there were two brothers, Michael and Janko, and three sisters, Maria, Jula, and Helena. Gabriel 's father was a member of the village government from 1895 to 1919.
He attended the local primary school of his village for the first six years of his education from 1894 to 1898. His next four years in grammar school was split, two years in Vinkovci, Croatia and two years in Zagreba, Croatia. In 1906, he enrolled in the theological faculty of the University of Zagreb. After his first year, the dean of the Faculty sent him to the Lvov Theological Seminary from which he graduated in 1911. At that time he became a member of the archdiocese of Lvov and received a scholarship for postgraduate studies.
He continued these studies at Freiburg University in Switzerland, receiving in 1913 a doctorate in philosophy. In 1915, he also received a doctorate from the University of Lvov. While an excellent academic theologian and Church historian, his interests also included poetry and philosophy. He was fluent in his local language as well as Ukrainian, Croatian, German, Polish, and Latin.
In 1913, he married the daughter of the principal of the Lvov Ruska gymnasium, Eleonora Zaricka. The couple had five children: Sviatoslava, Irene, Bohdan, Zenon, and Christina.
In 1913, Gabriel was ordained a priest in the Uniate Church in Lvov. After his ordination he served in the Cathedral of the Transfiguration in Lvov as well as a professor at the Lvov academy. His continuing studies of the Church Fathers convinced him of the correctness of the position of the Orthodox Church. In 1930, after expressing his views in published papers, Fr. Gabriel was dismissed from his position with the academy.
Not cowered by his dismissal, Fr. Gabriel continued his critique of Catholicism throughout the 1930s. He was convinced of the error of the Unia and its wrongful effect on church life. During this time he formed a body of supporters who agreed with his position.
In the midst of the chaos at the end of World War II, Fr. Gabriel and his supporters called for a return to the Mother Orthodox Church. As the pre-war political alignments collapsed around them, Patriarch Alexei I of Moscow welcomed their desire for the return of the Uniate clergy and faithful to Orthodoxy.
On February 23, 1946, Metr. John of Kiev received Fr. Gabriel and twelve other priests from the Unia to Orthodoxy. Over the following months additional priests and laypeople joined Fr. Gabriel's movement. This religious movement came at the same time that the political atmosphere in the area changed, as the remnants of the Nazi regimes, various nationalistic groups, the Bolshevik forces, and religious differences collided with the sincerity of the people. In that environment, many of the clergy and laypeople returning to Orthodoxy became victims of fanatics, both religious and political.
On September 28, 1948, after the Divine Liturgy Fr. Gabriel was attacked on the steps of the Cathedral of the Transfiguration in Lvov and killed by one, Vasily Pankiv a political terrorist, who killed himself immediately after his deadly assault. Fr. Gabriel was buried in the Lychakov cemetery in Lvov.
Fr. Gabriel has been under consideration for glorification.
- Dissertation: De Principiis Cognitionis Fundamentalibus, Leopoli, 1913.
- Idyllic Sequence - From My Village, 1904.
- Arise Ukraine, a poem in Ukrainian.
- Boundaries of Democracy, Lvov, 1919.
- Song for God, 1922 - a poem of fifty eight homilies.
- Grammar of Bach-Rusyn language, 1923.
- Jephthah's Daughter, 1924 - a play
- Dew Drops and the Sun, 1931 - contains thirty one lyrical essays.
- Christian Apologetics.