On the Occasion of the Martyric Death of Joseph Muñoz-Cortez

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Transfigured Passion
A Conversation with the Murdered Brother Joseph

Hello, brother Joseph. Your soul, of course, sees me as I stand and look upon your body, resting in its coffin at the center of our Holy Trinity Cathedral. They brought you here today at noon, and now it is already evening. All of this time, the brethren have been reading the Psalter over you. Tomorrow will be the funeral ser-vice, and your body will return to the earth, only to arise at the glorious second coming of Christ. I did not know you in life. Yet tell me, why do I have this feeling that we have known each other for a long time? Why does my soul experience this gentle, bright, joyous sorrow? Is it that such feelings visit mortal men whenever they encounter saints? For although I never knew you, I nonetheless have no doubt as to your sanctity. This confidence comes neither from my intellect nor from my senses, but from some more subtle and higher faculty: my soul believes it, and after all, the soul is wiser that the external man.

I will not try to keep from you, dear brother Joseph, the fact that for a moment, that horrible abuse which the world rushed to pour out upon you cast its shadow over my sinful soul as well. Pray that the Lord might forgive me this weakness. Yet, even this mere shadow was appalling to my soul. Oh, I recognized the one who was hiding behind this abuse. His handwriting has become well known to Christians over the past two thousand years. For it is he, the father of lies, who in like manner slandered the earliest Christians, it was he who taught the persecutors to first murder the saints and then slanderously announce that they, Christians who met to pray together and to commune of the Holy Gifts of Christ, were horrid people who secretly visited cemeteries by night in order to drink blood. Depart from us, Satan: we do not believe your lies about your murder of our brother.

Hello, dear Joseph. You have left us, but for many, that departure will become the beginning of their acquaintance with you. I believe that your soul's biography is already set down upon the tablets in heaven. There are few such chosen ones. The Mother of God herself chose you to serve her miraculous image, the Iveron Myrrh-streaming icon, an icon which miraculously appeared to you on the 24th of November (old style), 1982. And lo, for 15 years (an entire 15 years!), you faithfully served the Most-pure Virgin. Through all these years, the miraculous Icon, carefully guarded and accompanied by you everywhere, healed hundreds and hundreds of human souls. While you always lived as it were on the border between two worlds, the visible and invisible one, and constantly observed God's miracles revealed through the Iveron Icon, you nonetheless expressed the idea that one cannot become accustomed to a miracle. Now a new miracle: this time revealed by God directly through you. We know that you were beaten, tortured, mocked and taunted. How your soul must have sorrowed as it endured such tortures, not only physical tortures, but a spiritual torment evoked by the sight of human evil. For your murderer lured you into going like an innocent lamb to the slaughter. With what did your killer lure you? Was it with a promise of money or some needed service? No. He lured you by asking for your help. The demon of course prompted him, knowing that your kind heart would be incapable of turning away one who asked for assistance...

Now it is finished. You endured to the end. You have been sacrificed, or rather, one should say, you have been called by the Son of God to His Most-glorious bridal chamber. You, throughout your life dedicated to the service of His Mother, have now departed from us to be with His Heavenly Companions on high. Well, everyone must die at some time. What can be better than the laudable martyrdom of which the Lord made you worthy.

Hello, our dear brother Joseph. Now we will frequently commemorate your name before God. Should you have the daring to do so before the Lord, then, beloved friend, pray for us who are left here. By your prayers, may the Lord work a miracle. May He soften our evil hearts, may He teach us to love, to endure and to forgive. Of course, this will take a miracle, but after all, you yourself, brother Joseph, said that "one cannot become accustomed to a miracle." A miracle is miraculous precisely because it crosses the line between the possible and the impossible. It is always a gift, a gift given by God to man.

Tell me, dear brother Joseph, why does the news of your demise so pierce through the soul to its very depths? Why are both heart and mind amazed by what has happened to you? Why do I not want to leave the temple, but instead to remain there, standing longer and longer beside you? It must be because through you, as through any Christian martyr, the souls of the faithful as it were encounter their Lord Jesus Christ, the first of martyrs.

In the person of God's holy ones, we honor the Christ. Bowing down before the martyrs, we bow down before the Divine Sufferer. During these moments, does not the soul so clearly and joyously experience His mystical presence?

I believe that you, dear Joseph, already see our Most-sweet Saviour, Who promised salvation to all who endure to the very end.

One final thing: I would like to tell everyone about your face, about what we saw therein during the minutes in which we bade you farewell. For what we saw was transfigured passion. On your face was imprinted the amazement of a soul which recognized that the time of suffering was just about to end, and that in a moment it would encounter God.

Night has passed, and day has begun, a day to be remembered forever. Today was the first day of your glory, dear brother Joseph. Can one doubt that this glory will grow, that Orthodox people throughout the world will honor the Christian struggle of your life, a struggle crowned with martyrdom? I believe that even after your death you will continue your service to the Lord, and that as a result of the impression made upon them by your martyrdom, more human souls will be renewed. Once again, as in life, in which you had 50 God-children, you will bring new servants to Christ.

Dear brother Joseph, your funeral attracted to Holy Trinity Monastery hundreds of people, as many as come here on Pascha. Yet it seemed, to me at least, that the atmosphere was somewhat different from that on Pascha. It felt to me as if I were attending services of Holy Saturday, as if I were standing reverently before the Epitaphion, while with awe and tenderness the souls of the faithful looked upon the Lord's salvific Passion and remembered His burial. All that happened today during your funeral and burial, dear Joseph, was at the same time mystically elevated, and brightly sad. Of course, there were tears, for how could our eyes keep tears back when, in the light of day we more clearly examined your weary face and your martyred body, decorated with wounds, as if with some kind of Divine pearls. We saw your hands, on which remained the purple gashes which traced how you were bound by your executioner. Joseph, Joseph, our poor, dear, beloved, Joseph. Did any of us have so stone-hard a soul that he could remain indifferent to your sufferings? Was any conscience so charred that it could have doubts about your innocence? I want to believe that there was not. Forgive us, and...farewell, dear brother Joseph. Now we have left the cathedral, we have accompanied your body to the monastery's cemetery. Now the final prayer, and the coffin is lowered into the grave. We believe that this grave pit will become for you a window into Heaven. We each cast into your grave a bit of earth, and it is finished...One person who had recently come from Russia and who "coincidentally" happened to attend brother Joseph's burial said to me, "You know, I had the sensation that I was attending not funeral and burial services, but the rite of the Triumph of Orthodoxy. I realized, clearly and distinctly, that even if during those minutes we were to have been led out of the church to be executed by a firing squad, we would nonetheless have been victorious!"

At brother Joseph's grave, we recognized, with all of our being, that his martyrdom was one more victory of Christ over the forces of darkness. How could it be otherwise, for we Christians believe that the love of Christ conquers all evil. Is this not so? I also got the impression that the time has come, when before our eyes the "Lives of the Saints" are coming to life.

Monk Vsevolod
Holy Trinity Monastery (Jordanville)
29-30 October (o.s.) 1997

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