Four Meetings - reminiscences of Tatiana Philipiev

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We would like to offer to our readers accounts of Tatiana Philipiev’s encounters with brother Joseph. Tatiana Philipiev is the mother of Monk Vsevolod of the Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville.

The first brief meeting

I live in Moscow, but because of the nature of my work, travel about the world a great deal. I don’t remember when or from whom I first heard of the Myrrh-streaming Iveron Icon of the Mother of God, but each time I flew into Montreal, I hoped to see and venerate the Icon that, like me, was traveling throughout the world. In September 1995, while on a business trip to Montreal, I as usual called Fr. Sergius, the parish rector, and asked whether any services were scheduled. He answered that there would be an Akathist to the Mother of God.

The Akathist had just begun as I entered the church. About 15 people were standing there, reading and singing the Akathist out of their books. At the time, I could still not make out all of the words, and I decided that the Akathist was being served before the Vladimir Icon of the Mother of God. I stood by myself off to the side, and immersed myself in prayer. My heart opened up, there was a softening within my soul, and I burst into copious, cathartic tears of repentance. It was real spiritual cleansing. My weeping was such that some people turned to look at me, but, unacquainted with me, they left me in peace, interrupting neither my weeping nor my prayer.

At the end of the Akathist, they began to venerate the Icon and the Cross. I was the last to approach; with my eyes blinded by tears, I did not actually see the image of the Mother of God. After venerating it, I remained standing next to the analogion – why, I myself do not know.

Suddenly, a layman in dark clothing came out of the Altar. I remember being surprised that a man dressed in secular attire should be coming out of the Altar. (I had never seen such a thing happen in Russia.) He asked me in English, “Was it you that had asked for cotton with Myrrh from the Iveron Icon of the Mother of God?” I answered, “I had not asked, but I am from Moscow; please give me the cotton.” He gave it to me, and I asked, “And where is the Icon itself?” He replied “Right over there,” and pointed to the Icon lying on the analogion. Truly, I had eyes, but could not see. How it then struck me to the core! I began to do full prostrations and venerate the Holy Icon. Meanwhile, the person quietly disappeared, but I could not forget him. It was only years later that I came to understand that this was my first encounter with the curator of the Myrrh-streaming Icon – brother Joseph.

A second encounter lasting two weeks

On learning that the 8th All-Diaspora Russian Orthodox Youth Conference would be held in Sao Paulo, Brazil, I decided to attend, together with my daughter Anastasia and my husband Nikolai. Frs. Georgi Petrenko and Constantine Boussygin, organizers of the conference, announced that the Iveron Icon of the Mother of God would be with us for the full two weeks of the Conference. Fr. Constantine met us at the airport and drove us to his home. He and his family live next to the church of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker. There I had my second encounter with brother Joseph. Here is how it happened: Saying, “The Icon is going to be brought here now,” Fr. Constantine went off somewhere. Five minutes later we could see, walking up the path to the house, a tall man dressed in dark clothing and carrying before him the Iveron Icon; Fr. Constantine, chanting a prayer, followed. We bowed down before the Icon, and brother Joseph (it had been he) passed into the living room and carefully placed the Icon on the analogion that had been prepared for it in the Bright Corner. Everyone present came up one at a time to make full prostrations and to reverence the Icon. Brother Joseph was present right nearby, but as usual kept himself inconspicuous, standing quietly and humbly somewhere in the corner. Matushka busied herself with setting the table, right there in the living room. We had a quiet talk about life in Russia – the usual subject when meeting Russians abroad. We prayed before the Icon, and sat down to eat. Brother Joseph was smiling, sociable, and affable.

The Conference was held in the Terras Altas Hotel, in a picturesque little place in the hills about 60 km from Sao Paulo. Each day began and ended with prayer before the two icons that were patrons of the Conference: the Iveron Icon of the Mother of God, and the Icon of St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco. And every day we got to see and talk with brother Joseph, who was always somewhere near the Icon he watched over so attentively. Brother Joseph had already promised before the Conference to bring the Icon to the Conference, but then word came that his trip was being put off. The organizers wondered “Could it be that we are unworthy to host such a holy thing?” However, with God’s help, brother Joseph and the Icon safely arrived in Sao Paulo. The miracle of Myrrh-streaming to which brother Joseph had been a witness for 15 years occurred daily in the sight of all of the participants of the Conference. None of the participants and guests went away without receiving from brother Joseph’s hands a precious piece of cotton steeped in the miraculous Myrrh.

One morning, brother Joseph was the first to bring to our attention something to which we all bore witness – that over the course of the night, the analogion cover on which the Icon lay had become completely soaked with Myrrh. It poured forth so abundantly, and was so sweet-smelling! People would reverently do full prostrations before the image of the Most-holy Theotokos, recognizing that [her miraculous outpouring of Myrrh] was a special manifestation of grace made by the Mother of God toward all of us, sinful and unworthy ones. In the evenings, we would chant and read the Akathist beforе the Iveron Icon of the Mother of God. There was little space in the small hall, and people stood crowded against each other. People of all ages – from the very young to the very old – attended the Conference, and everyone, young and old, opened the Akathist service books, and read and chanted the inspired words; many wept. The mood was something special. Everyone together, as one, raised up prayers in a single torrent to the Mother of God. Here there neither were nor could have been bored bystanders or indifferent people. I have been to monasteries many times, including during celebrations of great feastdays. However, I cannot remember a single place where they prayed like they did here.

A third and unexpected encounter

It was the fall of 1997. I arrived in Athens (Greece) three days before the start of the international business conference I had been sent to attend. I did not know that on the same day, brother Joseph was also in Athens. I spent Friday, Saturday and Sunday in the Greek Old-calendarist monastery in Fili; during those same days, brother Joseph lay lifeless, murdered, in a hotel room in the old city.

Although I traveled around the world a great deal, it was never my custom to call home from abroad. However, this time, my co-worker and fellow delegate Irina literally insisted, quite late at night, that I call Moscow. When I heard my daughter Anastasia answer the phone with an alarming cry, I realized why I had had to call. My daughter literally screamed at me, “Mama, where in Athens are you? Somewhere there, brother Joseph has been murdered!” We could not speak; we could only cry. And now, four years later, I still cannot think of those events without crying. Seeing my shock and bitter tears, my traveling companions asked me, “Has a relative died?” “No,” I said, “not a relative.” I was unable to say any more.

The next morning, two hours before my flight to Moscow, I took a taxi and rushed to the Russian church, but no one there knew about what had happened, and I could find nothing about it in the papers. With all my heart and soul I felt a sense of loss that was inexpressible, the irreplaceable loss of brother Joseph. It seemed strange to me that Athens did not even notice it, and that the world calmly went about its business, as if nothing had happened. Only after I had arrived in Moscow did I learn some of the details of the tragedy. Thus, even in the very final days of brother Joseph’s life on earth, I was not far from him, sharing with him space and time.

I happened to find myself standing next to brother Joseph, and unintentionally, I could see his face during the reading of the Akathist. It was calm and joyous, and his eyes were moist with tears. Brother Joseph was an emotional person who exuded warm and kind energy. One could calmly and easily pray while standing next to him.

The talks given at the conference were both interesting and useful. Some of them led to discussions. Brother Joseph spoke at one of them, following a talk by Archpriest Vladimir Schlenew (Argentina).

The question under discussion was whether confession of a given sin should always be kept in confidence, or whether, in order to cause the demons to quake [in fear], it should – without identifying the sinner - be made public and revealed to others for their edification, so that they would have no excuse to fall into that particular sin. Conflicting opinions were offered loudly and excitedly, and then brother Joseph spoke out. He spoke in Spanish. As always, his speech was calm, his voice velvety-soft. The commotion in the hall abated, everyone quieted down, taking in his words.

Hierodeacon Theophylact of Jordanville translated into English. Brother Joseph brought to our attention the story of a certain monk who had committed the sin of fornication with a woman in his cell. The other brethren complained to the abbot of the monastery. As the abbot entered the unfortunate monk’s cell, the monk hid the woman in barrel, and then sat down upon it. The wise abbot did not initiate a search, but simply, lovingly counseled the monk never to do anything like that again, for it was bad and ruinous for the soul. In order to calm the brethren, he said that there was no one in the cell, and that there had been a mistake. In that way, the feelings of the brethren were calmed down, and they stopped making judgements about the sin, and the monk, who had experienced great shame and fear, did not fall into that sin again. Thus, to fight sin, you should not raise a ruckus and convene a court of law. It is best to calmly, sometimes even silently, but firmly and decisively, oppose demonic temptations. Brother Joseph offered such a lesson to us from the lives of the holy fathers.

Brother Joseph dreamed of bringing the Icon to Russia. One day, he approached me and said the following words to me, “Tell Vladyka Metropolitan Vitaly that the Iveron Icon of the Mother of God must come to Russia, that the Russian people in Russia also need to witness the miracle of myrrh-streaming, and that it would not be dangerous: that the Icon has already been to Bulgaria, and everything was fine, and that the Mother of God herself would protect both her Icon and all of us, that Russians in Russia also need to be given the opportunity to pray before the miraculous image.” I replied that I would certainly try to tell Vladyka Metropolitan. Truth to tell, I did not get the opportunity to do so.

Priests and bishops from Russia requested that the Icon be brought to Russia, but unfortunately, that never came to pass. Yet, when you give ordinary parishioners in Russia an image of the Montreal Iveron Icon of the Mother of God, they accept it reverently; they know about that Icon. Books and videos about the Myrrh-streaming Iveron Icon of the Mother of God, and about brother Joseph, its faithful curator, have now been released.

A fourth encounter, which has no end

I flew to Washington on the Apodosis of Pascha 2002, and learned that brother Joseph’s sister Angela was coming from Miami to pray at the grave of her older brother Jose (brother Joseph). We were to go in one car to Jordanville, to the Russian cemetery where her brother, and our brother in Christ, was laid to rest; the trip would take seven hours by car. The opportunity to talk to and get to know Angela made me inexpressibly happy. I met Angela in Archpriest Victor Potapov’s house. We embraced and kissed, almost as if we had been relatives or had known each other since childhood. Such an encounter! Through Angela, brother Joseph himself looked at me with brown eyes; her soft, warm, velvety hands reminded me of his hands; her expression, smile, and vocal intonation all reminded me of encounters with brother Joseph. Fortunately Angela turned out to be a very active, open, sociable person who was full of life and who eagerly help up her end of the conversation; in that regard she also resembled her brother. I told Angela of my encounters with her brother, and here is what she related to me on our trip to Jordanville. Jose loved his younger sister very much, and was very much involved with her upbringing. He taught her to read, buying for her first children’s books, and later more serious, difficult texts. He literally forced his little sister to read, and now Angela is very thankful to her brother for having done so. Jose introduced the girl to the arts; he would buy theater tickets, and would take her to the ballet, opera, and dramatic presentations. She very well remembers the impressions these encounters with the arts made upon her in childhood.

Jose studied at the university, and that is where he learned to draw. Angela has carefully preserved her brother’s first drawing: a watercolor painting of flowers. Jose always loved to travel, and everywhere he went, would bring his sister jewelry – e.g. earrings or necklaces. On one occasion, Jose brought a Christmas present from India: a bead necklace of remarkable beauty, fashioned of pearls and colored stones. For a long time, Angela kept them as a precious gift from her beloved older brother. Later she decided to use them to decorate two wooden boxes; she did it so artfully that the results looked like the work of a master jeweler. The main thing was that the little pearls and colored stones, that retained the warmth of Jose’s hands and heart, have now found new life in Angela’s hands. Truly love and kindness give birth to beauty.

Angela says that by the age of eight, Jose loved to go to church, that he would spend all of Sunday in church. All children have their “treasures,” and Jose had some as well. He loved to collect bits of bone, relics he kept in a special box lined with red fabric. On one occasion, while Jose was in church, his brother, acting out of curiosity, touched and looked through everything, and put the box in a different place. Although Jose was not given to fighting, this time on his return, he gave his brother what was coming to him, so that he would not do it again.

Among Angela’s favorite sayings from childhood was “Al que buen arbol se arrima, buena sombra lo cobija.” Come closer to a good tree, and you will be shielded by good shade.

I told Angela that we are drawn to brother Joseph as to that tree, so that he might shelter us all with his love. Angela told me another saying, “Arbol que nace torcido, nadie lo endereza” - A tree that is born growing twisted, it will be impossible to straighten.

Because brother Joseph understood quite well how important it was for young people to timely form a correct worldview and develop spiritually, he seriously took care to work with his sister, and was skillful in his dealings with young people.

We arrived at the cemetery, and lit candles. Fr. Vladimir Boikov served the Panikhida in Slavonic and English. Angela wept. We sat quietly on the white bench. Angela handed me a folded napkin and said, “This is for a memento for you in Russia.” Unfolding the napkin, I saw that it contained a purple flower - a pansy. She explained, “This was from Jose’s grave. He loved these flowers very much, and would dry them for me between pages of a book. He had many such flowers. I was deeply touched by this gift. The next day, when we parted, she said, “It is very dear to me that in Russia, where Jose had never been, they know him, and remember him with reverence.” She asked me to express to everyone in Russia her thanks, her friendship, and her very best wishes. Angela departed.

...I stand at the beautiful Cross over brother Joseph’s grave in the peaceful cemetery in Jordanville. In summer, in fall, in winter and in the spring, and this is also an encounter; there is even no need to count the number of our meetings, for in God we are always together.

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