a man chosen by Virgin Mary.
The meaning of the serving
of Brother Joseph, keeper of the
myrrh-streaming icon of Montreal
Inok Vsevolod (Filipiev)
"Russia needs an example of a real monk, who has completely renounced the world and given himself unto God..." (Joseph Munos)
1. The key to his personality
2. Spiritual life
4. The Icon
6. Signs of Joseph. Russia Abroad
1. The key to his personality
The appearance of a righteous man into the world — it's always a mystery. The righteous men of our days — those are doubly mysterious. For even in ancient times the holy fathers prophesied that in the end times, the righteous would be concealed from the eyes of humanity, that they would not perform miracles during the day; their feats, their fame, even the spiritual life itself would be secreted away from the world.
Joseph Munos Cortes, the keeper of the myrrh-streaming Iverian icon, is not only a Christian martyr, but undoubtedly a great godly man of our days. His life is covered by a heavy curtain of mystery, exactly as in the prophecy of the righteous in the end times. We can reflect on that side of his life and servitude that is visible to us in reverential silence.
Joseph was the most mysterious righteous man of the last decade or even century. Here is but a short listing to the mysterious sides of his life.
We don't know all the exact circumstances of his childhood and adolescence. Besides that, Joseph himself, and not long before his martyrdom asked the icon's home that when he was being written about (he foresaw this), they should never write anything about his family, as such was the request of his mother.
The circumstances of the contact between Joseph and the nativity kellion on Mount Athos are shrouded in mystery. This was where he received the Wonder-working Iverian icon of Montreal in 1982. There exist at least two versions of the story of his finding of this icon, which are for the most part contradictory.
Was Joseph a monk? He himself confidentially opened up about his being a monk and even showed his monastic paraman to several people close to him. But no confirmation of this fact could be gotten in the aforementioned cell on Athos — the most likely place of his monastic vows. Elder Clement, the head of this cell and the spiritual father of Brother Joseph passed away in 1997, half a year before the martyrdom of Joseph, so it is impossible to know about his monastic vows for certain. The mystery of the vows was carried away into the other-world by hieromonk Clement and Brother Joseph.
Brother Joseph short time before starting his service with the Myrrh-Streaming icon
Joseph's mingling with external non-orthodox people also seemed very strange to many people. At 14 years of age Joseph accepted Orthodoxy from the Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, archbishop Leontij of Chile, and at the same time many Catholics close to him (he had come from amidst Catholics) learned only after his death of the fact that he had been Orthodox.
Joseph, a thin person and of high spiritual stature, stretched forth a helping hand to the so-called "outcasts of society" — degraded people; this also raised a mass of questions and bewilderment.
About his coming end Brother Joseph certainly knew from the Elder Clement, who also foresaw, among other things the posthumous slander against Brother Joseph. It is unknown, incidentally, who the people were who were looking after Joseph before his death, and why he, knowing about them, did not undertake any measures for self-defense.
Finally, there exist two dates for the birth and passing away of Joseph…
We must honestly admit that we cannot, at least today, rip away the curtain of mystery associated with the personality of Brother Joseph and answer all the puzzling questions, arising upon investigation of some variants of his biography.
But nonetheless we will attempt to find the key to the personality of Brother Joseph and while we're at it, using this key, we'll attempt to paint a picture of the life of his soul, and in doing so bring meaning to the primary landmarks of the servitude of this amazing person.
It is clear that the life of Joseph is impossible to explain using ordinary human logic. But this does not meant, that everything related to him is illogical. Joseph, the chosen one of the Mother of God, followed logic, but not of the earthly kind, but the heavenly, the higher mystical logic in the tradition of Orthodox mysticism (revelations, visions), where cognition does not occur simply rationally or emotionally, but always like something crystallizing, like an act of Godly revelation, an evidently righteous personality. It was with this very righteous personality that Joseph became the blessed of God in the year of his serving the Wonder-working icon. In this sense Joseph can be called a visionary.
Being a visionary of the Providence of God, Joseph, in all circumstances in life, was directed solely by the will of God. And this very thing is the key to understanding his personality.
Here we must again admit that we don't know how the will of God was revealed to Joseph. It is known, incidentally, that sometimes these were apparitions from the mountainous world: an appearance of the Mother of God and holy saints. And also the link between Joseph and his spiritual mentor never ceased. In any case, two of them — Father Leontij and the nun Magdalina — after their blessed passing away, appeared to Joseph and conversed with him.
In other cases the will of God was revealed to Joseph through an inner revelation of the soul, constant prayer-conversations with the spiritual world. Before every trip with the icon Joseph would get on his knees and ask the Mother of God to reveal the will of Her Son. And when this will was revealed to Joseph, he never strayed from it for anything. And so it happened that Joseph suddenly cancelled a planned trip with the icon and set off in a completely different direction, arousing confusion and amazement. Earthly wisdom is one thing; heavenly wisdom — another. Joseph chose the heavenly. He always repeated his favorite stanza from the prophet Isaiah: "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, sayeth the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts." (Isaiah 55, 8-9).
Joseph was once asked: "Isn't it hard for you to combine your existing deeds with spiritual feats?" He replied: "It is not my fault, that there are two likenesses in me."
Afterwards, there was a remarkable conversation between a woman, spiritually close to Joseph, and the abbess Serafimoj Knjazheskoj:
"You know, mother, I think mystery surrounds Joseph because he stands with one foot on the ground, and one in the heavens."
"Why, God bless you, he was always in the heavens!"
2. Spiritual life
The connection of Brother Joseph with the higher world became manifest primarily through ceaseless prayer. We are obliged to the prayer of Joseph because to us was revealed the myrrh-streaming Iverian icon. For he, having brought the icon from Mount Athos to Montreal, began to read the acathist before it daily, and then it began to stream myrrh.
Joseph prayed greatly the icon, and did not leave this holy object concealed and held back, vowing not to use it for his own enrichment. He went with the miracle to the people. Unfortunately, people for the most part took this miracle for granted, and all the while Joseph was saying: "Many think, that the icon will always stream myrrh forth, but it can very easily stop issuing forth myrrh."
Few thought that Joseph, having prayed to the icon, continued to pray and pray as it was myrrh-streaming, as if the blessing of God helped suffering people through the icon.
The foundation of Orthodox spiritual activity was ingrained into the soul of Brother Joseph by his abbot — the archbishop Leontij of Chile. Afterwards, Joseph got the answers to questions that came up about spiritual life from rare but meaningful meetings with such blessed characters as the archbishop Anthony of Western Europe, sister Magdalina from Lesno Monastery in France, abbess Serafima Knjazheskij from Bulgaria, and of course his last confessor, Elder Clement of Athos.
For example, the level of beneficial influence that Archbishop Leontij had on Brother Joseph can be judged by the following episode: Once, a person close to Joseph received from him a strict spiritual admonition and was upset by this, but Joseph noted: "What are you upset about? Father Leontij was even stricter with me." The truth is this: Father Leontij disciplined Joseph strictly and made a real monk out of him, taught him the ceaseless facilitation of the Jesus prayer and revelatory thoughts. These are the two parts making up intelligent facilitation of the religion and they helped Brother Joseph in his complex serving.
Joseph used to say, that the Jesus prayer allowed him to complete countless trips with the icon. Because on the road he did not have the strength or the opportunities to observe the daily "cell rule," but the Jesus prayer fulfilled everything; and without the prayer he would not have made it. The last confessor of Joseph, Elder Clement, preached to him thus to replace the cell rule with the Jesus prayer in times of travel. Those who traveled with Joseph noted that on the road he often sat, as in the Hesychastic tradition, bowed his head to his knees and prayed with a "chotki," deeply focused.
In the short periods of time when he was home in Montreal Joseph tried to read the entire cycle of offices. He prayed by books in French. In the evenings Joseph hurried to seclude himself, to read the service and pray with a "chotki."
His daily rule with the "chotki" consisted of ten sets of 100 — 1,000 Jesus prayers. Those who sought his advice about rules for praying were recommended to do several sets of 100, say 4, and in between each one read the Holy Trinity prayer: "Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us."
Joseph recommended using a shortened version of the Jesus prayer in the temple for greater focus and concentration: "Lord, have mercy."
Having been to Athos and encountering the local practice of a very swift oral reading of the Jesus prayer, Joseph said that in principle, this method was not bad, but only on the condition that the prayer was completed without any off-topic thoughts.
During prayer Joseph usually stood straight up, did not sit, even though in his weakened state of health this was torture. Joseph often said that in prayer it is very important to be stationary: "You have a prayer regimen, do not stray from it," he suggested. And so Joseph considered it necessary to pray in one's own words every day, at least a little, but not dramatically or wordily.
For steadfastness in his feats of prayer the Lord gave Joseph abundant comfort. Once he confidentially admitted that to him had come a certain prayer, and he could hold it. He was probably talking about a self-propelled prayer from the heart.
Another fruit of prayerful activity is contemplation of Godly blessings in the form of Uncreated light. Joseph saw a blazing Uncreated light, coming from the myrrh-streaming icon, and sometimes saw a shining emanating from people after taking part of the Holy Gifts.
Temptation and Consolation
Taking root in prayer helped Joseph to overcome a multitude of temptations, about which little is known. Sometimes in confidential conversations Joseph revealed that he had had a fierce battle with the demon of gluttony, who urged him to eat meat, from which he was refraining because of ascetical sensibilities, but against the demands of his body to maintain health.
The demon of fornication especially hated Joseph for his chastity. Once, a certain nude girl, being possessed with voluptuousness, tried to rob Joseph of his chastity by force, but he, imitating the righteous Noble Joseph, chased her away, after which she began to hate chastity and stalk him.
Struggle of another kind had its place too, more terrible than that of the flesh: a demon pushed mental abuse upon Joseph, trying to drive him to despair. There were agonizing nights without sleep, when Joseph could not cross himself and whispered the Jesus prayer with difficulty, as if cast, alive, to the bottom of hell.
At times the Lord allowed Joseph to see frightful and terrible demons. It happened once that when he was praying for some people, who were experiencing heavy temptations, there appeared to him demons, perpetrators of these temptations. There were demonic hauntings in other situations. One night, the devil appeared to both Joseph and a friend of his living with him at the time, in their sleep. It was frightfully knocking and breaking down the door to the house. Joseph got up, sprinkled everything with holy water, lit up frankincense, and the haunting never recurred.
The devil rose against Joseph in all sorts of ways through people. It got to be "funny." For example, Joseph had been accused many times of using black magic for the myrrh-streaming icon, in part, they pointed to the magical lace which he always carried with him… This "lace" was Joseph's "chotki."
It happened that this or that trip of Joseph's with the icon aroused suspicion, misunderstandings, rebukes and upsets. Someone was upset that another parish was favored over theirs; someone was puzzled as to why Joseph went to a parish with an "unworthy" priest, and so on and so forth. All of this hurt Joseph's soul very much, for if he went somewhere with the icon, he went with a clean conscience, and not with profitable and "political" agendas.
But the Lord did not leave Joseph to his cares, making him to understand through a wise mentor. They taught Joseph: "Do not pay attention to gossip and attacks. Pray." And he prayed.
Entirely sudden miracles of God happened in Joseph's life, bringing spiritual consolation. It would seem like there could be no more miracles in the life of a wonder-worker, but there were. One of them happened in 1983, soon after the appearance of the myrrh-streaming icon. Confessor of the Lesno Monastery, the Archimandrite Arsenius, having learned of the appearance of the icon, came to Montreal to pray before it. But it happened so that that very day Joseph decided to busy himself with iconography and complete prayerful isolation. With this goal in mind, he turned off the telephone, the doorbell, and locked all the locks on the two doors. And what happened? He suddenly hears at his back: "Christ is Risen." He turns around and sees Father Arsenius. Joseph asks: "How did you get in here, father, everything is locked up!" "I said, 'Christ is Risen', and entered," father Arsenius replied. Such miracles happened in the life of Joseph from time to time for the purpose of reinforcing his spiritual strength.
Joseph's physical strengths were also established by God's blessing. It must be said that despite his iron constitution, Joseph's health did not stand up before his most difficult feats. He was plagued with diabetes and other ailments. But he was in charge of the Wonder-working icon of the Mother of God and was several times healed in a miraculous fashion.
The respecting of relics and icons
Three times a day, every day, Joseph would cense frankincense before the Iverian myrrh-streaming icon, and also before other countless icons and relics. This was why his entire house was filled with the wonderful fragrance of frankincense.
To Joseph were given as gifts anointing oils and large waxen candles to be lit before the myrrh-streaming icon. Three wonderful icon-lamps hung before the case of this icon and illuminated it with a soft light. On all sides of the icon stood wax candles and many other icon-lamps hung all around the house. Joseph had a pious custom of putting small icon-lamps in front of the myrrh-streaming icon and lighting it in prayerful remembrance of those, who were in need of prayer-help at that very moment. Sometimes several lamps burned before the icon, each one for a different person.
Joseph kept, for safekeeping, a multitude of holy relics. He got the blessing to keep the relics from his abbot, Father Leontij. It was from him that he received as a gift his first relics. When Joseph was informed that laymen in private houses were not supposed to keep relics, he replied that in our times there could be exceptions to this rule. At least because in case of a persecution, relics in a private house could be in very little danger, much less than in a temple. Father Leontij knew this by personal experience, for he had himself experienced persecution in Russia because of his faith; and because of this he gave his blessing for pious laymen to keep holy relics.
Besides that, Joseph thought that in our times of deviation from the faith, the holy relics, being located in the hands of the faithful, are a source of great comfort, well-being and protection. And so he always joyfully shared all the holy relics he had with other people.
Having hundreds of relics, Joseph did not ascribe this to his efforts or being someone specially chosen. He believed that relics and icons of the saints go where they want, and there is not a single shred of chance in their coming or going. All that happens is agreeable to the Will of God.
The study of the Word of God and the sacrament of communion
An inexhaustible source of spiritual strength for Joseph was the Holy Scriptures. "A daily reading of the Word of God — there's the soul's primary nourishment," he used to say.
Joseph believed it to be of vital importance to read sequentially from one chapter every morning in the Old Testament, The Bible and the Apostles. Besides that, also writing down, in a notebook, some especially memorable passages upon reading of the Bible, and then returning to it mentally during the course of the day. And thus he advised those who turned to him for spiritual advice.
Joseph behaved with great reverence to the sacraments of the Orthodox Church, and especially to the sacraments of Communion of the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. He prepared for Communion very meticulously, but did not reveal his sacred feats, and so they stayed between him, his confessor and God.
Having received Communion, Joseph tried to be alone: he locked himself in his house and spent the entire day in solitude, in prayer and godly thoughts. To his fellow strugglers he said: "After communion, it's your day with the Lord, do not waste this blessing with conversations and scatter-brained things."
Revelation of thoughts
Revelation, or confession of thoughts and intentions, being the smart thing to do, was a life-long principle of Brother Joseph's.
A frequent confession of thoughts and intentions develops in someone a habit of looking after one's inner condition: to cut off unclean thoughts and not accept demonic provocation. Joseph, having spent all his life in the internal feat of struggling with thoughts and temptations, attained meaningful results in all walks of life. He once revealed, that from a certain time, by the grace of God, he could completely drive out of his head irrelevant thoughts and not accept enemy provocation, and that from that time forward, he did not know the meaning of day-dreaming and wandering of the mind. The state of being that Joseph was able to reach was called sobriety by the holy fathers. Based on personal experience, Joseph also urged others to cut out all unclean idle thoughts and sinful fantasies.
Many people considered themselves to be co-strugglers with Joseph. But Joseph revealed one thing to one person, another thing to another person, and the entire picture of his complex spiritual life was visible only to a select few. His confessor, of course, knew all there was to know about him, often even without his revelations. And so, in Joseph's words, the elder Clement, being sagacious, during confession himself talked flawlessly about his spiritual condition.
Some people were spiritual brothers and sisters of Joseph. And Joseph had spiritual children, who ceaselessly turned to him for nourishment. Incidentally it should be noted that people always gravitated to Joseph, even when he was not yet the guardian of the Myrrh-streaming icon. During the years of his studies, students had faith in him and came to him to pour out their souls. But, of course, after Joseph became known in the respect of the keeper of the Wonder-working icon, there streamed to him hundreds and hundreds of suffering souls in hope of receiving spiritual answers to their torturous questions.
The gifts of meekness, love, the ability to comfort, discourse, and sagacity.
With what did Joseph attract to himself the spiritual attentions of hundreds of people? Let's answer with one word — love. His strength came from Christian love. Joseph did not have, on a large scale, any sympathy or antipathy towards anyone. He loved everyone equally and always said that one must see Christ in every person. He believed that he had an obligation to all people, that he owed them something, but no one owed him anything. He was absolutely devoid of egotism.
Joseph absolutely did not hold any grudges and passionately believed that any person can change for the better. When he was asked for forgiveness by those who had caused him no small evil, he did not ask for an explanation. And when Joseph was asked why he forgave so lightly, he answered: "The Lord forgave the prostitute, not asking for an explanation; therefore who am I to ask. I am much worse than those who think that they have hurt me somehow."
Gifted with Godly blessings, Joseph gained the gift of love. He was worthy of this gift thanks to remarkable volitional efforts and stubborn work on himself. But a gift remains a gift, after all. Joseph won from the Lord love and meekness by the intercession of the Holy Mother of God, as from the time the icon became Myrrh-streaming; he asked Mother of God for the gifts of love and Myrrh-streaming, and he pleaded with the mother of God like this because to him had already been revealed the entire thorny path of the future, all of his cross-bearing service.
As an example of Joseph's humility and meekness we shall call up the following event. On Mount Sinai some young people from America met Brother Joseph. He introduced himself, mentioning that he was from Canada (Quebec). The young people told Joseph that they had heard of there being an Iverian myrrh-streaming icon in Montreal. Brother Joseph replied that he knew about this, but did not mention that it was he who indeed was the keeper of this Wonder-working icon.
A servant of love, Joseph suffered very much observing the absence of love among the faithful, encountering demonstrations of hate, envy and slander. "Lord, o how sad I am at all of this," — he wrote once in his notebook.
It is also necessary to note in Joseph his Godly attraction to justice and truth. He had a hard time bearing injustice and slander aimed at others (injustice and slander towards himself he humbly put up with) and fearlessly leapt to the defense of the wronged. Of course, being human, Joseph sometimes erred in his views, but usually, this concerned worldly or church-administrative life and did not spill over into spiritual life.
What exactly did the service of the keeper of the Myrrh-streaming icon entail? He traveled around the world a great deal, irrigating anything and everything with the blessing of his icon: parishes, private homes, hospitals, Orthodox institutions, and besides that, he always tried to light the spark of Christian love in all his personal communication. In these journeys Joseph was open to all people. Frequently he started up conversations with people whom he knew very poorly or were complete strangers to him. During this time he would try to change the subject to a spiritual theme and one way or another interest the other person in Christian truths. He did this as a subtle psychologist and a wonderful preacher.
Despite his poverty, Joseph always found a way to help the needy financially. He had the gift of kind-heartedness from his very youth. Joseph's mother had given all the children of the family some money each and every month. Joseph, never saying anything to anyone, took his portion to the nearest temple and distributed it among the poor.
Joseph always loved to visit the sick with the icon. Sometimes he would visit a hospital in secret. When visiting the sick, he never made any distinction among the people based on their faith.
Joseph knew from personal experience that love was first and foremost in Christianity. He became an Orthodox Christian without the influence of some firebrand preacher; and afterwards, in a poverty-stricken refugee temple, where Joseph wandered in "accidentally," the Hierarch-in-exile (Father Leontij) said to him with love: "No, my boy, you did not come in here accidentally" — and, smiling slightly, added: "Come again another time."
In that instant a thought pierced Joseph — if this Hierarch was so poor and had so much love, then this was truly the Church of Christ. It is not surprising then, that Joseph, brought into the Church by love; himself became a witness and servant of Godly love, a servant even until death…
Joseph's service was based on his deep-rooted belief that God, Who is Love, came into this sinful world and truly acts in it. Having seen daily the miracle of this God-given world, Joseph knew from experience the great love of God to mankind, to all humans without exception: to good and bad, to the educated and uneducated, young and old, men, women, and children.
Joseph went to these people, like an apostle of Love, went in the footsteps of Christ, having shared meals with sinners and prostitutes. Many condemned Joseph for such Christ-like living; they said that the keeper of the myrrh-streaming icon should not be friends with people of questionable character. But Joseph, selflessly, and not discriminating against anyone, continued his services.
Also, of course, Joseph constantly conversed with a multitude of church people; Hierarchs, clergy, monastics. On many of them he exerted a strong spiritual influence. Joseph prepared two Hierarchs for transition into the other world. And all the while, in his child-like manner, he was amazed: "I don't understand how a Hierarch can be afraid of death." Joseph himself was not afraid of death, because he wholeheartedly threw himself on God's mercy and love for mankind. After his prayers and conversations before the myrrh-streaming icon, the aforementioned Hierarch gained an inner calm and went to the Lord in peace.
Joseph was blessed by the Lord with wisdom. As is well known, the holy fathers place this gift above all others. Joseph was able to explain complicated questions of theology and spiritual life in an amazingly simple way, was able to untangle the knots entangled in contradictory human souls and clearly demonstrate a simple way out of the hardest situations in life.
Joseph possessed a certain spiritual flair and a sensitive spiritual hearing. This was expressed in his distinction between signs and small revelations of God, to which most people simply did not pay attention. Joseph watched after signs, seeing in them the Will of God. And he advised others: "Follow the signs." And sometimes he would directly point to an obvious sign in the life of some person or other, it having gone unnoticed by that person.
Joseph was extraordinarily spiritually sensitive. He could sense the holiness or sinfulness of people. For example, he used to tell the story of how when he came up to get a blessing from the memorable Metropolitan Filaret (Vosnesensky), that he literally was physically feeling the strength of his blessing, and even got goosebumps on his skin.
For serving those close to him, Joseph was given the gift of foresight. He admitted that much was revealed to him, but he does not wish to reveal everything, so as not to deflect people's attention from the myrrh-streaming icon of the Holy Mother of God, the meek servant of whose he always wanted to remain.
And yet about Joseph's exceptional sagacity hundreds of events bear witness. He would often call on the telephone or come with the icon to people in need of spiritual support. To one person who was close enough to him, who considered Joseph his spiritual mentor, he once said: "You know, I see right through you." And these were not just empty words, of which that person was certain.
The servant of God L--- recalls that in her first meeting with him, Joseph, talking about a supposed female friend of his, recounted to her her entire life, and then said that his "friend" needs to do such and such. In the following conversations with that woman, Joseph gave her spiritual advice relating to the exact passion which plagued her, but about which she was too shy to tell anyone. He likewise told her that when she felt bad, he always felt it, and at those times prayed fervently for her. The same sort of thing happened with many other people.
Brother Joseph with relatives of Bishop Alexander
Joseph served people with his sagacity, but he himself suffered from it. For many secrets of lawlessness were revealed to him, and he saw the unfiltered dirt of human souls. For example, he was always very upset when he felt that many coming into the temple and even to the myrrh-streaming icon not for prayer, but to look good for one another. Joseph spilled tears invisible to the world and grieved about the lowliness of our human existence. But should one even be surprised, for the service of love, which he carried, is inseparable from grief and suffering.
Wrapping up the first stage of our reflection, let us note that Joseph undoubtedly had great spiritual gifts from the Lord. These gifts of peace, love, calming ability, ceaseless praying, sobriety, sagacity and wisdom. The possession of such spiritual gifts made Joseph an elder-layman of his kin, pre-determined by the Providence of God to a certain spiritual direction. It was not a coincidence that many considered him an elder and a confessor, and thus regarded his words with the accompanying weight. However, Joseph never considered himself an elder and did not seek spiritual direction. He did not love, and actually avoided, signs of spiritual worship. Once, he strictly reprimanded a woman who made a full prostration in front of him as a sign of veneration.
Before we continue our discourse about the elder-like serving of Joseph, we will say a few words here about eldership in general.
The appearance of eldership can take many shapes. An appearance being completely spiritual, and not administrative-structural, eldership was expressed in different ways in different periods of church history. In the early Christian epoch it was known as teaching and prophecy (the latter being the same as sagacity); this is reflected, for example, in the monument of the 2nd-century Church writing "The Didache."
From the start of the 4th century eldership was personified by the spiritual leaders of the monastics. Among monks it always flourished both in Russia and especially appeared in the assembly of the holy elders of Optina.
But in all ages, elders appear from among pious laymen also. For example, the elder Theodore Kuzmich. There were elder-hierarchs, for example, the venerable Hierarch Ignatius (Brjanchaninov), Theofan Zatvorinik, and others. Among the Hierarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia of the 20th century, the eldership there shone through with a great flourishing. Here, following St. John Maximovich, one can name a whole slew of hierarch-elders, right through to the recent Archbishop Anthony (Medvedev). The eldership is not affiliated with any particular church "estate." Elders are in possession of the blessed gift of wisdom, and likewise, if God wills it, then also other gifts of the Holy Spirit (the gift of wisdom is indispensable in any case). Wisdom makes an elder an elder because with the help of this gift a person can understand the will of God, and thus would be able to lead spiritual children.
To make the image complete, we must talk of false "elder-ness," which often accompanies blessed "elder-ness," just as false mushrooms grow near edible mushrooms even look like them externally. A true elder can be distinguished from a false elder because the former runs from it, and the latter thirsts for it. A genuine elder does not consider himself an elder and does not even put such a goal of becoming an elder before himself, but a wonder-worker, finding himself being an object of fascination, wishes that people acknowledge his spiritual leadership or at least has a goal to become an elder, in time.
We have discussed all these reflections on eldership here so that it would become clear to the reader, that Joseph was a genuinely blessed elder of our times. He appeared by God's design as such so that modern people, and especially the youth, could easily understand, hear, comprehend and accept him. He could easily talk about modern music, literature, theatre, fashion, and unnoticeably bring up eternal topics. However Joseph was not in step with the modern age in a spiritual sense, he did not stoop to the level of modern worldy humanity. In addition to that, he was externally one of us — one of those who live in this world, and so his eldership was accessible and applicable for hundreds of suffering souls. Symbolically, the name which was give to Joseph, as is the custom, was given in a secret taking of monastic vows — Ambrosius, in honor of the great Russian Elder Ambrosius of Optina.
Joseph's system of spirituality did not consist of edicts, not in rules and regulations, but in fervent prayer for his spiritual children, and likewise in leadership to salvation by the personal example of his own life.
A warning to admirers
For those who were friends or spiritually close to Joseph, and these were few, it was important to protect themselves from self-gratifying and proud feelings, called up because of their proximity to the righteous man. The righteous man lived among us, socialized with and befriended us, warmed us with love, enlightened us with his holiness, but as soon as he is gone, we find ourselves immediately in the darkness of our own sinfulness. While the righteous man was with us, we thought that his light was ours. When he was gone, we understood that our "light" was darkness, and we had been basking in the rays of a saint living with us. This is an immutable law of spiritual life, and woe to us if we reject it, if we consider ourselves to be something "special" simply because a righteous person lived among us. And did we utilize his proximity to us for personal spiritual success? Did we learn anything from him? Did we carry out his advice? Do we strive to imitate his life? Or do we continue to be slaves of this world, lying in hatred, "wonder-workers" of daily hustle and bustle, exclusively external Christians?
If we do not change for the better internally, if we have not at least learned calm introspection, then in this case our proximity to a righteous person will serve not to save us, but to condemn us. For even righteous Lot, when he lived in Sodom, socialized with and knew people, but their proximity to him served the people of Sodom not unto salvation, but unto great condemnation. Brother Joseph was compared by some to righteous Lot; o God, let us live so that our fates are not like those of the people of Sodom.
O, pitiful spectacle. How out of place and stupid seems the bravado of earthly people, strut about, displaying their close relationship with spiritual people. But this, unfortunately, was exactly what happened after the passing of Brother Joseph. Yes, he lived with us, talked with us "in one language," but through all this, he always remained a heavenly person. And we, if we strut about and are proud, we are in ourselves the image of people who, although they may be wise (sometimes!) in spiritual matters, nevertheless always remain earthly and worldly.
It would be good for many of us to reflect on all of this, having repented in conceitedness and self-aggrandizement, to really change our lives, understand the meaning of our existence, disconnect from the earth and wholly give to loving the Sky, as did Joseph…
The iconographical practice
Completing our overview of the servitude of Brother Joseph, it is necessary to touch upon, in a few words, his iconographical work. It remained, for many, completely unnoticed, at the same time as he placed iconography very high among his priorities, and devoted all of his spare time to it.Iconography, as you all know — is theology in paints. Much can be done and said through iconography — one can defend and emphasize Orthodoxy, or one can erode and undermine it. Joseph, without a doubt, defended and emphasized the faith of Christ with his iconographical practices.
His attitude towards iconography was like his attitude towards priestly serving. Joseph felt that when one does iconography, one forfeits the right to engage in worldly painting, for the combination of the two does not have a favorable effect on the craftsmanship of the iconographer.
The Myrrh-Streaming Iverian icon
Joseph strictly followed all the rules of iconography: he obeyed the iconographical canon, felt it to be necessary to use natural, living paints, did not eat anything until the evening on days when he wrote icons, wrote with prayer. And on top of that he usually prayed to whosever's likeness he was creating.
When Joseph was commissioned to write icons, he did not name a price himself. The buyers sometimes paid half the worth of the board, gold and paints themselves. But Joseph submitted to this, thanking God for whatever he got.
Joseph especially loved to write icons of the image of the Savior, not made by human hands, and likewise icons of the Angels. Many saints' icons were written by him.
Joseph felt an especial feeling of awe and reverence towards the writing of icons of the Holy Mother of God. By the deepest humility, he did not dare to write copies of his wonder-working icon. And he would not have written a single one, if there had not followed a directive from the Most Holy Lady Herself. It is well know that copies of the Iverian Myrrh-streaming icon, intended for Russia and the Russian people, were written by Joseph by the direct bequest of the Most Holy Theotokos. Afterwards, there appeared to Joseph archbishop Leontij and told him who in Russia to pass the icon along to, and so it was done.
Joseph's icons breathe with the warmth and light of Orthodoxy. On them sparkles the reflection of Uncreated shimmering, which brother Joseph saw, in the literal sense of the word (he himself talked about this), emanating from the Wonder-working icon of Montreal. He saw it and impressed it into his iconographical creativity.
Towards the end of his brief life brother Joseph was the carrier of a significant iconographical trade and fervently wished to pass along his experience to others. He saw a great need for icons everywhere and especially in Russia. Joseph said, that in the modern world everything attracts people to the earth, at the same times as iconographical imagines, contrariwise, lift the soul to the Sky — to our true home. With his iconography Joseph called us to the Sky.
4. The Icon
Without a doubt, the greatest meaning in Joseph's life consisted of the service of the Myrrh-Streaming Iverian icon of the Most Holy Mother of God.
God's finger at first pointed to this service: Joseph was given his Orthodox name of Joseph the Betrothed, keeper of the Lady Mary. Archbishop Leontij of Chile, having accepted Joseph into Orthodoxy, foresaw that by his name Joseph would be made keeper of the Mother of God and the god-child Christ. In that moment the youth did not understand the meaning of these words, but when he became the keeper of the Iverian image of the Most Holy Mother of God, the meaning of this prophecy was revealed.
Joseph was always upset and someone voiced the thought that, well, you see, the Lord had chosen him and especially him for this servitude. In such cases Joseph, with great calmness, restraint and confidence, would repeat that he was a sinful person, that he was completely unworthy of being the keeper of the icon, and himself was puzzled as to why it was his. The only explanation he saw in all this was that the Mother of God expresses herself in any way She wants, and why She had chosen Joseph in this case remains a mystery. The mystery of Joseph's being chosen remained between the Most Holy Mother of God and the elder Clement. A somewhat miraculous sign followed, after which the elder Clement, not at all even wishing to sell the icon, suddenly gave it to Joseph as a gift. Afterwards, Joseph would ask the elder Clement what had effected his decision. He replied: "I cannot say, because that would be useful for either of our meekness'."
It is thought that the main reason for Joseph's having been chosen can be expressed in biblical words: "Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject to one another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace unto the humble." (1 Peter. 5, 5). Joseph was all meekness. He never intentionally looked for miracles and never asked from heavenly signs, and before the appearance to him of the Wonder-working icon he never even in his inner thoughts imagined himself possibly being the guardian or server of some miracle or holy relic.
An amazing lesson in meekness was taught us by the very appearance of the icon of Montreal. As Christ chose for His coming into the world a poverty-stricken den, and not glistening kingly palaces, likewise the icon of Montreal, the icon of the Most Holy Mother of God began to stream forth myrrh not in patriarchal chambers but in a half-subterranean cell/apartment of a poor Hispanic emigrant. Is this not a lesson to us, that the might of God consists in infirmity, and that we attempt to better our support of the strong of this world, not setting our hopes in God, Who unfailingly sends His help in times of need?
Myrrh-streaming, and other manifestations of the icon
The icon of Montreal streamed myrrh over the course of fifteen years, "calming down" only at the time of Holy Week. It streamed myrrh not evenly, but depending on the spiritual need of those whose houses or parishes it visited. Sometimes the myrrh-streaming was abundant, sometimes weak, sometimes it completely froze up.
It is remarkable that there was always enough myrrh for all those in need. However many of the faithful gathered in one place or another, each and every one of them were anointed with holy myrrh, without exception. Let's bring up two perfect examples.
At the visitation of one temple around New York, the myrrh-streaming suddenly stopped. The local priest, with supplication in his eyes turned to Brother Joseph, asking him to do something. Joseph prayed greatly to the Mother of God about the forgiveness of sins intentional and unintentional of those gathered there, and the granting of the holy myrrh. After some time the myrrh-streaming was renewed…
The famous iconographer of Jordanville, the archimandrite Cyprian, was at first doubtful of the miracle or the myrrh-streaming icon of Montreal. Once he served in the synodal cathedral in New York and at the time of the Polyelei he anointed the faithful with cotton from the myrrh-streaming icon of Montreal. The icon itself was not at the service in the cathedral. The cotton was almost dry, but a great number of the faithful had gathered. Imagine then the surprise of Father Cyprian, when during the course of the anointing, the cotton not only didn't dry out, but on the contrary was miraculously filled with myrrh, so much so that by the end of the anointment, it ended up moister than it had been ever before. Father Cyprian, in tears, entered the altar and began to ask forgiveness from the Mother of God for his lack of faith.
The myrrh of the icon of Montreal had shades of amber with a soft, but stable fragrance. And only the first myrrh, issuing forth from the icon on Pascha, after Holy Week is unique: it is very light and has a unique aroma.
The myrrh of the icon, by the goodwill of God, possesses wonder-working powers of healing diseases both physical and spiritual. Other miraculous properties of the myrrh include its ability to multiply, something that many of its owners noticed.
How does the icon issue forth myrrh? Joseph himself revealed to us the "mechanism," if it can be called that, of the amazing mystery of the myrrh-streaming. He explained that during a time of myrrh-streaming the myrrh comes not from the icon itself, as many think, but from the Sky, like blessed dew. In this way, and in this way only, can the occurrence of the myrrh-streaming of the icon-case and its glass be explained; and likewise, word for word, do other instances of myrrh-streaming icons occur; when the myrrh appears, for example, on metal lithographs.
Brother Joseph's explanation illustrates the account of one Christian, standing right beside the Iverian myrrh-streaming icon and being amazed at how, right in front of his eyes, on the glass icon-case there was forming, from absolutely nothing, an ever-growing drop of holy myrrh.
But the miracle of the icon lies not only in the myrrh-streaming. Many have noticed that when praying before this likeness, the clearly feel the real presence of the icon of Montreal. Its other unique quality was that it brought peace. People who had been fighting amongst each other for decades made peace, praying before the icon.
Joseph noted that the Mother of God, through Her Myrrh-streaming icon often brought people to repentance; people came to bow before the icon and began to bawl out loud. In their hearts welled up feelings and desires to repent and take part in the Sacraments of Holy Christ.
Sometimes, thanks to a meeting with the Wonder-working icon, there were even cases of those of other faiths turning to Orthodoxy.
The meaning of the existence of the icon
In connection with the Iverian myrrh-streaming icon, which now can be called the icon of Brother Joseph, before us there arise three important questions: What called forth its appearance into the world, what does its concealment signify, and wherein lies the meaning of this great miracle of the 20th century?
Joseph unquestionably connected the appearance of this icon with Orthodoxy. He was convinced that if he had not been Orthodox, he would not have traveled to Mount Athos, and thus would never have received the Wonder-working likeness.
Joseph connected the appearance of the icon with Russian Orthodoxy, for it was namely the Russian people over the course of a thousand years that surrounded the Mother of God with great reverence and love. And the Sky answered back to this love.
And, finally, Joseph did not consider it an accident that the icon appeared right in the lap of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, as it was in this very church that in 1981, that is, the year before the finding of the icon, that there happened something that was the salvation for the fortunes of Russia — the glorification of the holy Neomartyrs and Confessors of Russia at the head of the royal family.
In the beginning of the 90's, Joseph noted that the icon of Montreal appeared to be a light omen of the fall of godless communism in Russia and the beginning of a spiritual rebirth of the Russian people.
The icon of Brother Joseph began to stream myrrh in Montreal on November 24, 1982. In exactly fifteen years, with only one month's difference, the icon disappeared, at the same time as the martyr-like passing away of its guardian.
In connection with this disappearance we must, as it would seem, concentrate our attention not on the dark forces that are hostile to us, but on ourselves, on our internal conditions. The dark forces will invariably be defeated by God, but our own spiritual setups, from which our own salvation depends, depend on us to large degree.
Our infatuation with the worldly, attachment to prosperity, hypocritical, from the point of view of the church, but in essence not even Christian life — here are the reason of the concealment from us of the Iverian myrrh-streaming icon. Besides the completely obvious fact that the disappearance of the icon is connected to the passing away of its keeper, what does it bring to mind about the cooperative serving of the Wonder-working icon and Joseph? It is possible that he was an inseparable part of this miracle, and thus they went away together.
Will the icon ever return? The answer to this question yet again directly depends on our inner status, on the quality of our Christian lives. If there is repentance — so too will the icon return; if there is not repentance — the icon will not return.
And even though right now the icon is not visibly with us, its Good News continues. For as Joseph repeated over and over again, the icon appeared not as a reward for our efforts, but for the sake of the prayers of thousands of neomartyrs, so that people, from coming into contact with this miracle, would open their hearts to faith. Contact with the miracle continues even into the present day: an ever greater number of people in Russia and in the whole work learn about the icon of Montreal and its keeper-martyr Joseph Munos, and many new hearts are opened to faith.
The Good News of the icon continues in different incarnations. One of them is the countless articles, brochures, books and films in different languages about the icon of Montreal and its keeper; another, especially important — it is the miraculous myrrh-streaming of the multitude of paper copies of the amazing icon.
The unique position, into which Brother Joseph was led into by the Providence of God, placed a certain responsibility on all his judgments and statements. Not only did laymen listen to Joseph, but priests and even Hierarchs also. He knew this and paid the greatest attention to his judgments before the face of the church community.
Joseph prayed that the Lord might make him to understand and gave him the right words. And the Lord gave.
When Joseph spoke on spiritual topics, he became seized up with blessed inspiration. This was at once clear, even upon reading the transcripts of his conversations and interviews, and those with whom he conversed saw this to an even greater degree. The words and decisions of Joseph combine within themselves an amazing simplicity and nobility. Socializing with him, one could not help but marvel at the bible-clear and child-like faith of this person. This faith would blaze in his eyes and shone throughout his entire visage. Unique traits of Joseph's character — the interlocutor and the preacher: his soft pleasant voice, inspirational-prophetic facial expressions and amazing, flowing hand gestures.
In private conversations, Joseph loved to use quotes from the Holy Scriptures. He especially quoted the holy apostle Paul, on whom Joseph had put together a significant amount of research in his years of learning on the theological faculty in Montreal.
From the Acts of the Apostles, Joseph especially singled out the letters to the Ephesians. As is well known, at the center of these letters stands the Church — the Body of Christ.
Joseph's preoccupation with the topic of the Church is not accidental, for all his serving was deeply involved with the Church. He lived in Church and served there, and thus considered such ideas as obedience to one's spiritual leadership and church discipline extraordinarily important. "This miracle," Brother Joseph was saying of the icon of Montreal, "belongs to the Church and is inseparable from the hierarchy." "I think that miracles cease to be potent, when a person ceases to obey the Church hierarchy."
Joseph saw himself as one of the feeblest members of the church body. He understood his service to the Myrrh-streaming icon as church obedience, and did not think about his existence outside of the church community. Joseph was filled with joy form the fact that he had the opportunity to serve brothers in faith and tirelessly called others to this. "Every Christian must work for the Church and listen to it," he used to say.
The Church, for Joseph, was inseparable from love. He was convinced that without love, there would be no Church.
For love was understood by Joseph not in the distracted way, but in the most direct and practical way, like paying active attention to the personality of a neighbor.
Joseph voiced the moral law of life: see Christ in everyone. This law — it is truly the greatest spiritual discovery of the 20th century! A discovery more important than the harnessing of the power of the atom or spaceflight.
This genius of this moral law lies in the fact that in practice, it allows one to unite the facilitation of the two most important Christian commandments: love towards God and love towards one's neighbor. It is true, that loving Christ in one's neighbor, one can only overcome godless misanthropy, and likewise secular humanism — the two main evils of our age. The moral law of Brother Joseph created a real opportunity to eradicate the sense of agonizing disconnection amongst people.
Having perceived the moral law of Brother Joseph, we reveal the secret of his personality. It becomes clear to us, why he had such an attitude of spiritual participation and genuine love to every (!) person. It was for this very reason — he saw Christ in everyone!
In the way of a living picture, let us bring the following example to the given part of Joseph's theological heritage. Once, in Spain, Joseph was walking with his friend David through the market. Among the motley, bustling crowd he noticed an old lady, who looked terrible. In old and dirty rags, swaddled in a plica hair, with a shaking head and a toothless mumbling mouth, she was sitting somewhere off to the side, begging for alms. To the amazement of his friend, Joseph dashed off to the old lady, embraced her, tenderly pressed her to him, playfully, like a son, kissed her and gave her alms.
Afterwards, David strongly reprimanded Joseph for such behavior, but Joseph, in reply, only smiled silently. It never occurred to the friend, that in that entire bustling crowd, one person by the name of Joseph had, five minutes ago, in the face of an wretched old woman in the market plaza, encountered Christ!
Church, for Joseph, was inseparable from holiness. The topic of holiness was one his favorite topics. He would constantly repeat this during his conversations with youths; he would repeat that he wanted all young boys and girls to become holy people.
If one were to pose the question: what did Joseph consider to be the goal of human life, the most likely answer would become the answer: holiness!
Joseph even began to love Orthodoxy because in it holiness is always seen clearer and valued more. The idea of holiness pierces all spheres of Orthodox Church art and architecture. It is in fact the basis of the ascetical and monastic ideal. It inspires existing piety and pierces all daily life of Orthodox Christians.
Holiness is at once not only a goal, but a fact. The guarantee of holiness is that spiritual gift, which is received by Christians in baptism and which it is befitting to guard and develop them in every way possible. Otherwise for us, in principle, a righteous life would be impossible, and holiness, as a goal, would be pointless. Joseph understood all of this, when he said, that although he was not a saint, but being the keeper of God's miracle, he should live as a saint.
This last rule is also applicable to all of us, Orthodox Christians, for each and every one of us is in fact a keeper of God's blessings, which can be granted in the holy sacraments of the Church.
One of the key questions for Joseph was the question about the sacraments of the Church. From his point of view the church sacraments were almost synonymous with Orthodoxy. "The greatest thing in our Church — it is the meaning and point of the sacraments," Joseph said.
The Church, for Joseph, was inseparable from truth. By his deep convictions, truth, in all its undamaged fullness is preserved only by Orthodoxy; "…the most important thing is to be Orthodox, be in the Church," Brother Joseph taught.
In questions of faith Joseph was a man of principle, but not embittered. He did not substitute Orthodoxy with party spirit. Preconceptions also were a mystery to him. Joseph had a respectful attitude towards certain Catholic martyrs, who lived after the split of Catholicism from Orthodoxy. However, it was his opinion that participation in Catholicism placed on their spirituality a corresponding unwanted print; for the final judgment against each person — it is in God's hands.
Joseph said, that among unbelievers can be met many highly moral people, honestly aiming to live spiritually. He tried to make such people's acquaintance with the valuable and undamaged spiritual experience of Orthodoxy. He was open to all, disregarding their convictions and faith, but this openness did not have anything in common with ecumenical lukewarmness and willingness to accept anything. It was the apostolic missionary openness of a convinced preacher of Orthodoxy.
Let us bring up one telltale example, bearing witness to the ardent inner mood of Joseph, as a preacher and defender of Truth. Among his close friends there were not a few Catholics, who he sometimes visited with the Wonder-working icon, literally as a silent witness to the verity of Orthodoxy. During one of the meetings, Joseph fervently began to prove to a Catholic priest that the Roman doctrine about the Immaculate Conception was the greatest blasphemy against the Mother of God. Madeline, a Catholic woman by creed, talked about witnessing this event.
Joseph thought that despite some similarity in Christian creeds, the purity of doctrinal teaching is present exclusively in the Orthodox Church. This thought was especially important for him in connection with his iconographic works. Joseph said, that as icons express one or the other doctrine, only Orthodox Christians can write them. When he began to examine icons written by Catholics, he strongly mourned their spiritual shallowness and poverty. Joseph explained how he tried to teach iconography to Catholics, but they could never imitate this blessed Church art at the level required.
Serving the Wonder-working icon of the Mother of God, Joseph made a stand against the face of the modern world with the most important Christian doctrines: the doctrine of Orthodox reverence for the Mother of God, the doctrine of holiness and the doctrine of icon-veneration.
The last doctrine, as in the life of the Orthodox Church, so too in the life of Joseph did he have a special significance. For it was not by accident that the celebration of the day of the Triumph of Orthodoxy, in connection with the final victory of icon-veneration., was stopped by the Orthodox Church. It was not by accident that there was the situation, in which the confessor of Athos Joseph, Monk of Skhima Clement, passed away in 1997 on the very day of the Triumph of Orthodoxy! Icon-veneration — this is the flag of Orthodoxy, over the fate of which Joseph was always very worried.
With great attention Joseph followed the course of the struggle inside the Orthodox Church between worldly adherent of the reformed ecumenical Christianity and the defenders of the enlightened tradition of the holy fathers. Through this, Joseph hoped very much and prayed a great deal that all the dissent inside Orthodoxy would be healed and the truth would triumph. He believed that this would still be possible! For the most part of his Church views, Joseph followed the spiritual guides of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, highly treasuring their conciliarism, moderation, sobriety and uncompromising belief in Orthodoxy. Joseph derived his confidence in such a Church position not from rational-analytic formations, but from personal experience communicating with the celestial realm. Joseph did not need to be convinced of the fact that we live in pre-apocalyptic times. He himself, on the basis of his own personal experience, once warned one close friend: "You know, I must definitely tell you, that the end of the world is near." It is likely that he had very weighty reasons for such a warning.
Dogma and Ascetics
Joseph did not write dogmatic works, but his service and his oral preaching were filled with the golden brilliance of Orthodox doctrines. And this was at that time when Christians in general payed attention to the dogmas of the Church, when from the ambos, in the best case, are offered moralizing admonitions, when evil ecumenism preaches dogmatic "omnivorous-ness." In spite of the lukewarm non-dogmatism of most Christians, Joseph raised the gonfalon of the living Orthodox-dogmatic tradition.
As is well known, dogma and piety are inseparable and mutually demonstrable. The purity of dogmatic teaching confirms the correctness of the ascetical feat, but the availability of the blessed fruits of ascetics underscores, in its own right, the verity of dogmatic learning. And vice versa, the damage being done to dogmatism leads to the distortion of asceticism, but the charm of the ascetic invariably leads towards an inclination away from the purity of dogmatic confession or is even directly related to this inclination.
Joseph observed a full harmony of dogmatism and piety. His love for the dogmas of the Church sparked within him love for the ascetic ideal of Orthodoxy, and vice versa.
And so, not surprisingly, Joseph valued the monastic ideal of life very highly.
The main point of monasticism is, as the holy fathers teach, not internal feats, but repentance: "…the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit…" (Psalms 50:17, LXX). And so one can safely say that Joseph, living in the world, by the example of his short and humble life preached monastic ideals to people. His flowering chastity and sheer generosity promote this proverb. He said that he sacrificed everything for the Lord's sake: left his native land, house and relatives, rejected personal life and all attachments.
Joseph kindled the lofty ascetic ideal even before the eyes of the monastics, often visiting monasteries and living in them. His influence upon monastics was great. So, in the Lesno monastery many nuns came to Joseph to confess their thoughts. And there was nothing amazing in this, for a simple monk or nun can confess thoughts, or even a struggler-layman. It is assumed that for this is required a certain amount of spiritual experience and blessedness. Joseph had both: spiritual experience he had acquired from the aforementioned mentors, and a blessing for the accepting of confessions he had received from the archbishop Vitalius of Montreal and Canada (subsequently the Metropolitan of New York and Eastern America).
Joseph was a convinced adherent of the lofty ideal of monastic life. Without this ideal, monasticism, Joseph thought, lost all meaning and became a temptation for the faithful. Joseph, for example, thought that monks, imitating the holy John the Baptist, should not drink wine at all; it befits them to lead a generous and strictly repenting life, the main goal of which is ceaseless prayer. Well, and laymen ought to imitate the monastics as much as possible.
The words and legacy of Brother Joseph would not have had the force and spiritual weight that they had begun to possess, if it had not been for his martyrdom. For us modern Christians, it is important to study these words, sprinkled with martyr's blood, with great awe.
The theological legacy of Brother Joseph is not great by its external dimensions, but is very deep in its content. It does not consist of tomes about scientific theology, gathering dust on shelves, but of simple, yet inspired words. By the mercy of God, these precious words of this martyr of our days have been saved for us in the texts of his conversations and interviews, in personal letters and journal entries. It is remarkable that some of these journal notes, apparently "accidental" and personal, are in fact spiritual poetry of the highest caliber.
The theology of Brother Joseph contains answers to many questions, both about personal/spiritual matters and common church life. It is in fact a straight-up instruction about how to live and think in these evil times. From our point of view, just for the revelation of the moral law alone, showed to us, Joseph can be called a heavenly teacher of the Church.
An important part of the spiritual legacy of Brother Joseph is a prayer-prophecy, written in 1985. Here it is: "The Lord Jesus Christ, having to come to our Earth for our salvation and being crucified of his own free will on the Cross, and having endured such sufferings for our sins, allow me to also endure my suffering, which I accept not from my enemies, but from my Brother. Lord, do not hold this against him as a sin."
This prayer contains in it a dual prophecy. On the one hand, in it was foretold the martyr death of Joseph, and on the other hand the prayer can be related to the fate of the Church of Christ in the end times. For all true Christians pay for the fate of the Savior, betrayed to death by those closest to Him, His people. In these times of apostasy, the Church will be betrayed, in the face of genuinely Orthodox Christians, (and is not being betrayed already?!), betrayed to either overt or secret persecutions by its own brother-Christians. It is enough to say then, that in accordance with the betrayal of the Church, the Orthodox patriarch of Jerusalem will take part in the crowning of the Antichrist to kingship.
In the last days to come of persecution against Christianity, in the last days of the earthly history of humans, it will be very important for true Christians to save Christian love towards the persecutors: for the retention of this love is the quintessential sign of true and living Orthodoxy. And to aid the Christians of the end times, Brother Joseph did leave his prayer.
Together with the neomartyr Joseph we will meekly call out: "Lord… help us worthily bear our suffering, inflicted upon us not by enemies, but by our brothers. Do not hold this against them as a sin."
Joseph always knew that to him belonged the feat of martyrdom.
For a year before his passing away the Lord showed him in a nightly vision all the terrible circumstances of his martyrdom. And nevertheless Joseph considered himself to be unworthy of the crown of martyrdom, and once said outright: "I am not worthy of martyrdom."
But at the same time, willing or not, he had his entire life been preparing to a martyr's witness. With great piety Joseph gathered and kept the relics of martyrs, loved to write their icons, read their books. Sometimes he would be amazed by one or the other martyr and with worry would retell the stories to others. By the way, Joseph asked, that when he was to die, he was not to be given any sedatives or painkillers of any kind.
Joseph once said that his grandmother had been preparing him for martyrdom from his childhood. In accordance with the wishes of Brother Joseph, we do not have the right to talk about his family, but one thing must be said: from his earliest childhood Joseph was a bloodless martyr…
Having been acquainted with Russian Orthodoxy, Joseph fervently loved the Neomartyrs and Confessors of Russia. He especially revered the holy martyr Elizabeth, with whom he had established a particular prayer connection. It is known that Joseph was considered worthy of an appearance by this holy princess-martyr.
All his servitude to the Church was for unknown suffering people. How often in parishes the Myrrh-streaming icon was triumphantly received, but they forgot about its faithful guardian and his most urgent needs. For some reason, people then did not think much of Joseph and how he needed money for tickets, needed something to eat (sometimes at the parishes there were only meat dishes to eat, and he did not eat meat, and therefore remained hungry), needed somewhere to sleep, and so on.
And oh, how much evil suffering did Joseph endure in his endless travels. For the most part he was forced to travel alone with the icon, and this forced him to refrain from fulfilling his most basic needs for hours and hours, for he could never part from the icon. All of this, apparently, was the threshold of an already real blood-martyrdom.
When, before the end of the earthly wanderings of Brother Joseph, the clouds over his head became especially dense, he was all the more ready for suffering for Christ and his Most Holy Mother. Then not only Joseph, but many people close to him felt that something terrible was coming. In his last days people openly watched out for Joseph; literally walked in his footsteps, right behind him. Once, noticing that he was being followed, Joseph sharply turned and told the spy to his face: "You know, I'm not afraid of you, because my life is in God's hands."
At last, the final confessor of Joseph, the elder Clement, openly told him about upcoming difficult trials and tribulations and unbelievable slander, which would attempt to blacken his name and his holy works. He realized that Satan would be tempting Joseph even more, because he could not do anything against the likeness of the Mother of God and thus would mobilize his forces even more against the keeper of this likeness.
In the last months of his life Joseph said his goodbyes to people. Often with tears in his eyes, sometimes doing a full prostration, he asked forgiveness, not explaining anything, of course. But many understood. And those who did not, understood after his martyr's death.
The girl K--- told about how not long before the end Brother Joseph completely unexpectedly (they were not well acquainted) turned to her with the following words; "If you will ever be in need of anything, turn to me. Though I cannot do much, still, turn to me…" Now this girl was sure: Joseph was talking about turning to him in prayer, as to a martyr.
A black curtain of mystery covers the circumstances of the murder of Brother Joseph. Without a doubt, the disappearance of the icon of Montreal is somehow related to this murder. One thing is commonly known — Joseph and his icon had been hunted for a long time and by all the rules of the art of hunting and killing. The details are not important now, for it is clear that the main force behind the killing was Satan.
And another thing is clear: when on that stuffy, summer evening in Athens, in a small hotel room, the tormentors of Joseph began their dark deed, there by his martyr's death-bed, there invisibly stood and watched over him the Most Holy and Most Blessed Lady Mary. And it is very possible that in the last instants of his life, fully lucid, Joseph saw the Mother of God. A divine and long-awaited meeting!..
Not for nothing, the doctor, examining the body of Brother Joseph, came to the conclusion that his eyes were widened as if from some great amazement, as if at the moment of death he had suddenly seen a well-known someone. One can be almost sure that this "well-known someone" was the Mother of God.Joseph was killed by at least three people. Two held him down, one tied him up, and then they all three beat the martyr unmercifully. Before the beginning of the torture there was a brief conversation: the killers threatened and tried to get something from Joseph. They were probably talking about the icon of Montreal. Joseph did not submit to the entreaties and threats, but nor did he resist when they began to tie him up. Then they began to savagely and professionally beat him, about the head and neck, and broke his Adam's apple, blood streamed down from his mouth and eyes…
Metropolitan Laurus leads the burrial service for brother Joseph in Jordanville
There is a heavenly, blessed, fiery-brilliant joy, which at the moment of suffering illuminates a martyr of Christ; it cannot be known to mere mortals. It is exactly this spiritual calmness which helps those who endure great pain to meekly and humble bear any tortures, for Christ's sake. And so Joseph Munos Cortes went up to his anxious Golgotha.
God cannot be desecrated. And neither can the Most Holy Mother of God be desecrated; it was in her hands her Wonder-working likeness would now have been. "The icon goes where it wills," Joseph often repeated. And it is now there, where its arrival, in accordance with the inscrutable decisions of the Lord, would be most useful and needed. If it is in the hands of Joseph's friends — it is their solace and reward; if in the hands of his enemies — it is their healing and punishment, and likewise with those a call to repentance and correction.
But the murdered keeper of the Wonder-working likeness of the Most Holy Mother of God is already raised up from the likeness to the original and now joyfully sees the Heavenly Queen and Her Godly Son, not in icons, but face to face.
6. Signs of Joseph. Russia Abroad
As we have already said, Brother Joseph advised the following of the signs of God. Let's bring up some heavenly signs from his life.
He was born in a Spanish Catholic family in Chile on May 13, 1948. Let us turn our attention to the date — the 13th of May. This is the day of the blessed passing away of the Bishop Ignatius (Bryanchaninov), the teacher of asceticism and unknown prophet of his time. A coincidence? After having seen the serving and theology of Brother Joseph at a glance, it is clearly obvious that this was not a coincidence, but a sign of God.
The Iverian icon of Montreal of Brother Joseph began to issue forth myrrh on November 24th, 1982. This is the day of remembrance of the most holy Theodore Studita, confessor, great champion and defender of the dogma of icon-veneration. It is clear, that this "coincidence" was not really a coincidence. And nevertheless we were amazed by the wisdom of the Providence of god, when we tried to put the name of Brother Joseph in the most holy Theodore's kondakion (this tradition of using the texts of one saint for prayerful supplication to another saint is well-known to Orthodox hymn composition). To our great amazement, it turned out that the kondakion completely reflects the life of Brother Joseph! Judge for yourselves: "The chosen one of the Mother of God, your angelic living hath made clear your feats as a martyr, crowned with the wreath of the martyr, and Angels, blessed by God, appeared to you, Joseph: with them, you prayed to Christ God for us all."
Brother Joseph accepted his martyrdom in Athens in the night as the 30th of October became the 31st, in 1997. To be more precise: in the early morning of October 31st. What day is this? October 31st is a holiday, satanic in its own right, on which in the West it is the custom to dress up in costumes as witches, demons, and various other representatives of dark forces.
From the point of view of the Church October 31st is a day of remembrance for the holy Apostle and Evangelist Luke. The Apostle Luke was one of Joseph's favorite saints. He carefully guarded the relics of this father of iconography; he often took then to his iconographical workshop and kept them near while we wrote icons.
On the fortieth day after the passing of Brother Joseph, in the cemetery of the Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, on his grave during the requiem service, during a strong wind, there occurred a miracle of candles spontaneously lighting themselves. These signs of the candles took place on December 9th, 1997, that is, on the eve of the holiday of the icon of the Mother of God "of the Sign." And so the Mother of God, in honor of her icon "of the Sign," sent a sign to praise her faithful servant. Besides that, the Kursk icon of the Sign is the guide and patroness of the Russian Church abroad.
During the burial service at the Holy Trinity Monastery, Brother Joseph's body did not show any signs of decay and did not emit any putrid smells, even though that was the twelfth day since the moment of death. One year later, construction workers were digging a ditch above Joseph's grave to lay the foundation for a monument over the grace and were extremely amazed that they did not feel the usual, inescapable stench of a fresh grave.
Nature answered Joseph's death and the disappearance of the icon of Montreal with terrible natural disasters. Two months after Joseph's martyrdom, on the Christmas Eve of 1998, the city of Montreal and its suburbs were turned into a deadly kingdom of ice. A massive cold front caused a blackout in the city, and people lived for weeks on the brink of death in unheated homes. Trees fell under the weight of the snow, and, falling, closed off roads. At the completion of everything, on January 25th, the frost became the external cause of a fire in the cathedral of the Nicholas parish of the city of Montreal, where the Myrrh-streaming icon of Brother Joseph had often been present during services… Many were bewildered: How did we sin against the icon and its keeper, if our cathedral has been taken away? But did not some of us believe the loathsome slander against the Chosen One of the Mother of God, slander having its origins in Canadian and Athenian newspapers, looking for cheap sensationalism? And did not some of us even blame Brother Joseph for the disappearance of the icon of Montreal? Unfortunately, the aforementioned sensational exposes frightened even some respected higher-ups in the Church, who chose to silently wash their hands of all wrong-doing, Pilate-style, at the very moment when all impatiently awaited decisive words and decisions from them. Forgive us, Mother of God. Forgive us, Brother Joseph.
First icon of brother Joseph made in Optina
and given as a gift to Russian Church Abroad
A heart-felt and prayerful thanksgiving goes out to those of our Hierarchs and priests, who, decisively cast off evil doubts, as many did for the salvation of the brilliant memory of Brother Joseph, by which they showed all of us a kind example of true martyr-love.
The icon of the martyr and the Orthodoxy of Optina
The faithful in Russia answered Joseph's martyrdom with an amazing outpouring of prayer. I will tell of but one instance.
In the summer of 1999 the author of these words himself bore witness to the hope of the Optina desert revering the memory of Joseph.
On a sunny morning we, along with priest's wife Mary Potapova from the St. John the Baptist parish of the city of Washington came to the holy gates of the monastery of the desert of Optina. Entering through them, we found ourselves in a kingdom of fragrant plants and grasses, bright colors, fluttering butterflies and precious peace and quiet. We came up to the doors of the hewn cell-hut of the abbess Michelle, whose acquaintance I had made on my last visit to Optina. Father Michael, a literally epic bogatyr, huge and kind, was having a conversation with someone on the balcony of the cell and was apparently waiting for us. Having noticed the guests, he hurried to say his goodbyes to the interlocutor.
"Ah, Father Vsevolod! So, you brought the priest's wife, Maria?" Father Michael cheerfully greeted us.
"Yes, Father; may I have a blessing?"
Having blessed us, Father Michael suddenly disappeared into his cell, saying, "Wait here, please. I'll be right back."
Half a minute later he came out to us, beaming with joy, carrying a glittering gold icon.
"This is the first icon written of the martyr Joseph!" He triumphantly proclaimed. And later, having blessed Maria with the icon, he said,
"Dear, this icon — it is a gift to your parish for love towards Brother Joseph!"
She stood, dumbfounded, and only smiled in surprise, opening her eyes wide. What a miracle!
Father Michael explained:
"For Joseph, of course is one of ours — of Optina. Ambrosius, in honor of our elder. And so we wrote this icon."
On this icon Joseph is depicted on a gold background, in the snow-white garb of a martyr, with a cross in his right hand and the icon of Montreal in his left; and above his head — a halo.
…That very evening we met with part of the elder brothers of Optina, to view a film we had brought about Brother Joseph. And another "coincidence" — the brothers set up the viewing of the film in the very cell where the Bishop Ignatius (Bryanchaninov) had lived. It was at this point that we had first noticed that Brother Joseph's birthday and the holy Ignatius' day of remembrance coincided.
After we watched the film I wanted to propose that we would sing "Memory Eternal" to Brother Joseph. And suddenly something completely unexpected happened — the brothers triumphantly sang a troparion and a song of praise for Joseph, just like for a martyr!
And so Optina laid the foundation for the exaltation of Brother Joseph.
The Salvation of Russia
Why does the heart of the Russian Orthodox people open up so easily to Brother Joseph? It's because Joseph was the last of the great assembly of the Russian Neomartyrs and Confessors. And now the sky has given him the floor.
This is also because he is one of those inoks (that is, other-worldly, heavenly-minded people) from who will come the salvation of Russia, as foretold by Theodore Mikhailovich Dostoevsky.
The venerable Sergei of Radonezh and Seraphim of Sarov were such inoks in former times, and in our times — the venerable hierarch John (Maximovich) and the hieromonk Seraphim (Rose). Church-going Russia honors and loves them. From them the Russian people, awakening from a spiritual sleep, learn, and get examples of faith and piety. Joseph was one such inok, standing between the heavenly world and the earthly world, receiving light from on high and sending it down to all people.
Joseph once said: "Russia needs an example of a real monk, who has completely renounced the world and given himself unto God…" He himself, not seeing this, followed in the footsteps of the venerable Hierarch John, and the hieromonk Seraphim showed this example to Russia and the whole world.
Despite the many millions of copies and editions of the Holy Scriptures and other Christian literature are published, and however many spiritual institutes and seminaries are opened, as much external emphasis we would place on our Orthodoxy, nonetheless, steadily and invariably, year by year and century by century the lives of Christians becomes more and more worldly.
And that is why it is vitally important for there to appear, at least from time to time, an inok in spirit (he could even be a layman), who would illuminate the biblical ideal of Christianity in people's consciousnesses; not so much by his words, but by his deeds and life, and if necessary, by his death. The fiery preaching of such a person is capable of enlivening hundreds of hearts. We modern Christians are so spiritually weak and unstable that it is necessary for us not to read in books but to hear for ourselves, at least once in our lives, a biblical message of good news; "This earthly world is a river flowing by, luring to their deaths careless boatmen. Triumphs and tears, successes and shipwrecks — a tricky current, an entrancing mirage, the yawning expanse of the grace. There is no other truth save the Sky!"
Today with this Good News Joseph came to us. If god wishes, others will come in their own time. And the more of these messengers of good tidings that there are, the faster Russia will be saved. Her salvation does not at all mean that she will remain her current geographical size. The Salvation of Russia — in her confluence with Holy Russia, in her own self-realization, as in times long gone, will be the Home of the Most Holy Mother of God.
Such a Russia would properly be called the mother of all the Russian people, in the fatherland and in the diaspora.
Such and only such a Russia will be worthy of the return of the Iverian icon of Montreal.
Of such a Russia always prayed, and still prays now, the Neomartyr Joseph Munos Cortes.
Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville, USA, 1999-2002
(At the time of this writing, there was used a manuscript of the chronicle of "Icon's Home — a Foundation for the memory of Brother Joseph." Montreal, Canada)
(Translated from Russian by Andrew Choufrine)