Jordanville, NY: "He hears our prayers and answers them" - Pilgrimage to Brother Jose’s Grave, November 2013

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On Saturday, November 2, at 5:30 AM a large group of parishioners from St. John the Baptist Cathedral gathered at their church in Washington, DC. They loaded their rented bus with a huge amount of food ‒ prepared in advance for the monastery brethren and the more than 100 Washingtonian pilgrims ‒ and personal items, and began their journey to Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, NY. The trip made parish history as the community’s 16th annual pilgrimage to the "Diasporan Lavra" of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. The goal of the pilgrimage was to venerate the holy objects at the monastery and pray at the grave of Brother Jose Muñoz-Cortes, guardian of the myrrh-streaming "Montreal" Iveron Icon of the Mother of God, murdered in 1997 in Athens. The pilgrims were accompanied by the parish’s copy of the "Montreal" Icon.

Two copies of the "Montreal" Icon are preserved at the Washington cathedral. The first was written by Archimandrite Chrysostom – the same Athonite isographer who produced the renowned "Montreal" Icon that was gifted to Brother Jose by the Athonite Elder Klimentos in 1982. This icon is adorned with a cover (riza or oklad) identical to the one made for the original Icon guarded by Brother Jose. Both we made by Greek jeweler Manolis Argiris, a friend of Brother Jose’s, who personally brought the icon to Washington in 1998 for the first anniversary of the Mother of God’s chosen one. The Icon is held in a large frame (kiot), which was built earlier for the "Montreal" Icon itself and which was kept at Brother Jose’s apartment. After the righteous one’s death, the frame was given to the Washington parish by Elena Galitzine-Navarr, chairwoman of "Icon’s House" in Montreal. Fr. Chrysostom presented the new icon via Manolis Argiris with the words "from love to love" – that is, the icon is given to all those who love and venerate the Mother of God and honor her chosen one. On the back of the icon is written: "Given for the entire Russian Diaspora to St. John the Baptist Parish in Washington." Placed inside the icon is a small reliquary found among the murdered Jose’s personal items, containing a piece of thread from the Belt of the Theotokos. Since Great Lent 1999, a light fragrance has emanated from the icon.

A second, wonderworking copy of the "Montreal" Icon is kept at the cathedral, as well. It was this icon that the pilgrims took with them on this year’s 16th pilgrimage to the grave of Brother Jose. It is worth briefly sharing its history alongside this account.

In March 2002, parish rector Archpriest Victor and Matushka Maria Potapov organized a small pilgrimage to Russia, during the course of which they visited Optina Hermitage, where they met once more with the monks of that holy habitation. They were accompanied by other clergy of the Church Abroad – Archpriest Stefan Pavlenko (California), Archpriest Vladimir Boikov (New Zealand), and Protodeacon Nicholas Triantafillidis (California).

Having venerated the relics of the Elders, they, accompanied by then-deputy abbot Fr. Tikhon, followed a picturesque path to a skete located behind the monastery, where some of the venerable Optina Elders had once spiritually labored. An hour into to their visit to the skete, Abbot Michael, one of the skete’s residents, came to fulfill his obedience in reading the Psalter. He warmly greeted the guests and told them about how one of two (blank) icon boards (given by Fr. Victor to the Optina iconographers years earlier) had been used to write an exact copy of the Iveron "Montreal" Icon of the Mother of God. It is worth noting here that Brother Jose is widely venerated in Optina, whose residents consider him one of their own – this is because Jose was secretly tonsured a monk with the name Ambrose, in honor of Venerable Ambrose of Optina. There have even been several icons of Brother Jose written at Optina Hermitage, the first of which was given as a gift to the Washington cathedral. Fr. Michael went on to say that the icon in his cell, written on Brother Jose’s own icon board, had been streaming myrrh the past three months. Having explained in detail the miracle of its myrrh-streaming, Fr. Michael brought the icon out of his cell for the visitors to venerate. They prayed before the icon with a feeling of joy and gladness, after which they thanked the kindly Fr. Michael and warmly wished him farewell. Fr. Michael returned with the icon to the skete’s church to fulfill his obedience, while the guests, accompanied by Fr. Tikhon, Nun Anthonia from the convent in Bryansk, and another local pilgrim, went to visit the home of Venerable Ambrose.

They prayed in Elder Ambrose’s cell and listened to Fr. Tikhon tell interesting stories about the Optina Elders, who spiritually labored in this house and other spots around the skete. They then departed for the monastery’s iconography workshop, where a group of monks and novices was waiting for them to join in brotherly teatime and fellowship. The guests slowly made their way down the path and shared their impressions of what they’d seen at the skete. It was at that point that a novice or pilgrim rapidly approached them from the direction of the skete, saying: "Fr. Michael asks that Fr. Victor and Matushka join him in the church immediately." Totally surprised, they returned to the skete. Fr. Michael walked out to meet them, holding his myrrh-streaming icon of the Mother of God, which he had shown them an hour earlier in St. John the Baptist Church. He came right up to them and blessed Fr. Victor with the icon in the sign of a cross, and handed him the icon. "Reading the Psalter," Fr. Michael said, "I felt that the icon must return with you to Washington!" He departed with a bow and quickly returned to the skete. Fr. Victor was at a loss, and did not know what to think or say. This feeling was shared by the other members of the pilgrimage group. Matushka recorded the moment of the icon’s transfer on video camera, with which only minutes before she had been recording the inside of Elder Ambrose’s cell. Frs. Stefan and Vladimir would separately record their own impressions of this miraculous day.

The guests proceeded from the skete to the monastery with the myrrh-streaming icon of the Iveron Mother of God – and spent several hours in her presence in deep and spiritually beneficial interaction with the Optina monks.

Upon his arrival in Washington, Fr. Victor twice told parishioners about what took place in Optina, and gave everyone an opportunity to venerate the icon. Currently the icon does not stream myrrh, but its face is covered with many streaks where the myrrh once ran.

On the inside of the bottom board of the icon’s frame, the iconographer wrote: "This holy icon was written on a board belonging to the martyr Jose Muñoz-Cortes."

In August 2009, the Washington parish was visited by the Hawaiian copy of the "Montreal" Icon. On Sunday, August 23, after the English Liturgy, Fr. Victor was realized that one wad of cotton might be insufficient for distribution to the many faithful. He called his matushka on the phone and asked her to bring more fresh cotton to the later Liturgy.

Matushka remembered that a large roll of cotton, which once had belonged to Brother Jose, was kept at their house.

When she arrived at the church, Matushka entered the sacristy with the Icon’s guardian, Brother Nektarios, in order to separate the necessary quantity of fresh, dry cotton. They placed the new cotton in a silver vessel and prepared to approach the Icon, which was in the middle of the church, in order to remove the myrrh-soaked cotton and change it out with the dry. At that point, the reading of the Epistle began. Nektarios and Matushka decided to wait on the right kliros until the reading of the Epistle and Gospel had ended. They placed the vessel with the dry cotton on a small table on the kliros. The reading of the Word of God ended, and they were stunned to discover that the cotton they had prepared, placed some distance from the Icon, has been filled with Holy Myrrh! Nektarios and Matushka looked at one another were filled with pious awe. They returned to the sacristy and had a server inform Fr. Victor, so that he could witness the miracle that had taken place during the Divine Liturgy. Truly, the Mother of God reminds us that she, the Bodiless Hosts, and the whole Heavenly Church pray with us and offer up the Bloodless Sacrifice.

The cotton is now kept in the cathedral, laid in the frame with the Optina copy of the myrrh-streaming Iveron "Montreal" Icon as a holy object for veneration.

It was this icon that the faithful took with them to Holy Trinity Monastery, to the grave of Brother Jose.

* * *

The trip from the American capital to Jordanville is a long one (seven hours), but thanks to prayers, brotherly interaction, and spiritual discussions on the history of the monastery and the martyric struggles of Brother Jose, the time flew by unnoticed.

On the way the monastery, Fr. Victor reminded the pilgrims about the recent scheduled visit (October 26/27, 2013) of the "Hawaiian" Iveron Icon to ROCOR’s capital parish and said that the impending prayers at the grave of Br. Jose would be a continuation of the previous week’s triumph of pious prayer to the Mother of God. He also reminded them that Brother Nektarios, guardian of the myrrh-streaming "Hawaiian" Icon, is thoroughly convinced that the appearance of the icon entrusted by God to his care is directly linked to the glorification of Joseph, the chosen one of the Mother of God.

At 3:00 PM, the pilgrims arrived at Holy Trinity Monastery’s cemetery and began to prepare for the first panihida for Br. Jose. A sudden downpour began… Having expected bad weather, the pilgrims came armed with umbrellas. Despite the foul weather, their souls were warmed by the familiar words of the Church’s prayers for the departed. Another comfort was seeing one middle-aged pilgrim from Ottawa, who stood on his knees on the wet ground for the duration of the panihida, holding an umbrella over the copy of the "Montreal" Icon of the Mother of God, which had been propped up against the cross of Br. Jose’s tombstone. By his humble kneeling, he reminded worshippers of the tribulations Br. Jose had suffered in his earthly life, which he underwent while guarding the wonderworking icon entrusted to his care from above.

After the panihida, the pilgrims departed for the monastery to get warm and prepare for their evening meal. In the former monastic printshop, the brethren had prepared large tea and coffee pots; the thankful pilgrims were able to quietly drink several cups and tea and share their initial reactions of the pilgrimage.

After the meal, those taking part in the pilgrimage went to pray in Holy Trinity Cathedral at the monastery’s three-hour Vigil. Over the course of the whole evening service, in the lower Church of St. Job of Pochaev, Fr. Victor confessed virtually all of the pilgrims, who had expressed their desire to commune of Christ’s Holy Mysteries the following morning.

On Sunday, November 3, after the Liturgy and luncheon, Holy Trinity Seminary professor Deacon Andrei Psarev acquainted the pilgrims with the monastery’s sights ‒ the cathedral, with its iconography and relics, the lower church, the bell-tower, the seminary, the iconography studio, and the new candle factory, answering many of their questions. The pilgrims prayed at the graves of the holy habitation’s ever-memorable founders, builders, and benefactors buried in the monastic cemetery and in the crypts beneath the cathedral’s altar wall.

At 3:00 PM, the pilgrims gathered once more at the cemetery in order to serve a farewell panihida at Br. Jose’s grave. The day was cold and sunny, and the neat and tidy grave was covered with candles placed by the faithful. After the panihida, all those present were anointed with oil from the Hawaiian Iveron Icon of the Heavenly Queen, and all those who wanted one were given a vial with oil from the lamp at Br. Jose’s grave, as well as a photograph of the Mother of God’s martyred chosen one.

In a sermon after the panihida, Archpriest Serge Konobas, recently arrived from Russia, offered some beautiful words about Christ’s martyrs, reminding those gathered that the righteous, like Br. Jose, hear our prayers and answer them.

A day earlier, Fr. Serge had presented Fr. Victor with a large relic of the Holy Martyr Lawrence of Rome (commemorated August 10/23) for veneration in the cathedral. In closing, Fr. Victor thanked Fr. Serge and noted that the first time he was displaying this precious gift – a martyr’s relic from antiquity ‒ was at the grave of a modern martyr, Brother Jose.

May God grant that more people who love the Mother of God at all times visit the holy monastery named for the Most Holy Trinity and the resting place of the chosen one of the Mother of God.

Archpriest Victor Potapov
November 2013

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