November 14, 2013
"He hears our prayers and answers them" - St. John the
Baptist Parish leads Pilgrimage to Brother Jose’s Grave
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
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
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
until the reading of the Epistle and Gospel had ended. They placed
the vessel with the dry cotton on a small table on the
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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