There Lived a Poor Knight

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(The mystery of the life and death of the keeper of the miracle)

Recollections of Z A. Krakhmalnikova an author from Moscow, regarding her encounter with brother Joseph. This article first appeared in the magazine Ogonyok.

…In the Lesno Convent in France, they were awaiting Joseph and the Icon; he was expected to come for the Feast of St. Nicholas in December. They said that he would come for an extended period of time, and that he would be restoring the iconostasis.

This was our first and last encounter. The service had not yet ended, when in whispers, the news spread, "He has arrived!" "It can't be! I will be able to witness this miracle?"

After the service, I met Joseph in the kitchen. I had been told to fetch something [from the kitchen], and he was there, being fed after his long and difficult journey. I can't remember who introduced him to me. We embraced, and I felt that his whole being exuded a sweet aroma. After all, he always carried the Icon at his breast!

I don't speak English, and he did not speak Russian, but each time we met, he would say with delight: "Russia!" Sometimes the nuns in the monastery would help us - Russian foreigners, born abroad, [the children] of the first generation of emigrants.

And then I saw the Icon. Every day, we and the sisters would pray before It for our relatives and acquaintances, would touch our crosses, little icons, and commemoration lists of names to it; We especially fervently asked the Mother of God for the salvation of Russia.

Joseph would tell me that he dreamed of bringing the Icon to Russia, but that Metropolitan Vitaly (First-hierarch of the ROCOR) had not given his blessing [to do so]. And how would it be possible to take such a miraculous thing there without a security detail? Joseph would not even leave the Icon in the church overnight. To the accompaniment of chanting, it would be taken to him in his cell. Before Church Services in the morning, the sisters would once again bring it and place it on an analogion...

The day came when I heard from Joseph about how the miracle had taken place. Our conversation itself was also miraculous, for we could not make ourselves understood to one another. One of the novice nuns helped out. I remember every word, but I will be unable to relate the entire account - the editors would demand that it be abridged in any case.

Joseph was awakened by asubtle aroma of unusual flowers, an aroma he had never smelled before. Was it a dream? He wanted to go back to sleep, but was unable to. Then he called a neighbor, a youth whom Joseph was teaching iconography. "Why are you surprised?" responded the student. "You have a lot of holy relics in your cell. Probably, they are giving off the sweet aroma." He went off to his own place, and Joseph, approaching the Icon, saw that drops of oil were covering the board. Toward morning, he fell asleep, and then awoke, again immediately sensing the sweet aroma. Drops of Myrrh covered the entire Icon...

Carefully wrapping it up, he went to see Metropolitan Vitaly. This happened on October 24, 1982. Metropolitan Vitaly ordered that he bring a piece of cotton. When his wish had been obeyed, he cleaned off the Icon and wiped it dry with a clean towel. A little while later, drops appeared on the board, and everyone in the Metropolitan's room got down on their knees. A Moleben to the Most-holy Theotokos began. Either during this or a later Moleben, they commemorated by name all of the prisoners in far-off Russia. I received as a gift a video tape of the Moleben; among the names of prisoners and exiles was my name. At the time, I was sitting in the KGB's Lefortovo Prison."

Thus began the new life of the Iveron Icon. Joseph traveled with it throughout the world, visiting every house, to which he might be summoned. He brought the Icon to the sick, the elderly, the infirm, and to children. It brought healing.

Because Joseph did not have the funds needed for his travels, The Icon's House was established in Canada. In addition to collecting the resources needed for Joseph, the curator's peregrinations, it also distributed copies of the Icon throughout the world. Sometimes, those ordinary paper reproductions would also become fragrant [with Myrrh]. That was what happened to my reproduction, in the Gethsemane Convent in the Holy Land, at that awful hour when - as had so often happened in the 20th Century - Russia's very existence hung by a thread: early October 1993, the time of the spilling of blood, the siege of the White House...

The news of Joseph's death reached Russia the day after it had happened. It happened in Greece. At the close of October 1997, Joseph was returning from Mt. Athos. He did not have the Icon with him; he never took it with him when he was making a short trip abroad to visit one of the people spiritually close to him. Fr. Clement was such a friend. Joseph needed his advice. Recently, Metropolitan Vitaly had begun to act quite jealous over the Icon's continuing to be in Joseph's care. The Metropolitan saw the Cathedral where he served as the proper place for the Icon to be. By the way, shortly after Joseph's death, a fire broke out in the Montreal Cathedral…

…Thirteen days passed between Joseph's murder and the day his body, tightly sealed in a plastic body bag, was brought from Greece to Canada. Priest Victor Potapov (whose talks many in Russia would listen to [in the broadcasts] over Voice of America) reported, "They wanted to have his funeral service before his closed coffin, with [his remains in] a sealed plastic bag." He continued, "However, God judged otherwise. The coffin was opened, and the bag was torn open - and everyone saw the many signs of torture… There was no stench, and there were no signs of decay. That fact was confirmed by an official from a funeral home..."

A great multitude of people from various countries assembled for his burial. Candles would be blown out by the wind, but would spontaneously, miraculously, light again. Eyewitnesses said, "The Mother of God is lighting them…"

On hearing about brother Joseph's death, I immediately thought, "The Queen of Heaven has taken him to herself." I had known for a long time that disagreements had begun over the Montreal Iveron Icon, one of the few miraculous icons of the awful 20th Century: the Greeks yearned to take possession of it, Metropolitan Vitaly wanted it for himself - they say that even the Ecumenical Patriarch strove to lay claim to it…

Of course, the thought that came to mind was a comforting one. However, why did he have to suffer so before his death?!

Reading the Lives of the Saints during those long days of exile, I would think about why God sends suffering and pain to the most precious, the most faithful, the most beloved ones. Why had so many martyrs to the Faith steeped our earth in their blood?

This was something foretold by Christ. The seeds of the Church are the shed blood of Its martyrs.

Among those who came to bid Joseph farewell was a pilgrim from Russia. "I had the feeling," he later said, "that I was present not at a funeral and burial, but at the rite of the Triumph of Orthodoxy… If during those minutes we were all to have been taken out of the church and shot, we would have nonetheless been victorious.

Christ was victorious, and He said, "In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world." (John, 16: 33).

Why had the most-pure and most-pious knight of the Most-holy Virgin been murdered? Where is the Montreal Iveron Icon now? Is it perhaps in Metropolitan Vitaly's cell? Has it perhaps been hidden away by people whose identities are unknown to us but who revere it? Is it worth taking the time to speculate [about such things]? Should we be trying to unravel that great mystery? Let us rather wait for the Mother of God herself to shine a star above it.

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