The Chosen One of the Mother of God
Below are excerpts from the first interview given by Brother Jose Muñoz-Cortes to "Orthodox Russia" (1983, №s. 17, 18, 20)
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Brother Jose was responding to the question "Why did the Lord choose you for this miracle?"
…I recognize my shortcomings and confess my insignificance, but I think that God nonetheless is using me for His purposes. God often makes Himself known through the least of men. I am one of the least in the Orthodox Church: I am not Russian, but a convert whom God once called to the True Faith. And according to His mercy, He has now chosen me a second time. (Note from the editor: Here the original quotation ends. What follows is a contemporary translation of the Russian.) But the Lord allows me to sense that I am nothing. Every day I feel my nothingness more and more; I am but a tool, though defiled and sinful, in God’s hands. I have noticed that some people often ask me this question specifically: why did God choose you in particular? Why did this happen to you? I answer and tell them that I have always prayed to the Most Pure Virgin, and never asked for a miracle, never asked the Most Pure Virgin for some proof of herself. I believe in the Mother of God as I believe in God. I greatly honor the Mother of God, because that is how I was taught by my mother from childhood. I believe that the Most Pure Virgin reveals herself to us where she so wills.
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"A great and marvelous miracle is taking place"
Almost a year ago, two friends and I went from Canada to Holy Mt. Athos. I left one of my companions, who had decided to become a monastic, at one of the small sketes. From that skete, I and my other companion, who speaks Greek well, set off to visit the most famous Athonite monasteries. I very much wanted to spend some time in the St. Daniel kellion, in which there is an icon painting studio which adheres to ancient traditions. We took a boat and came to the skete of Kapsokalyve. Here we spent the night, and then went on foot to our goal, the St. Daniel kellion. For eight hours, we walked up and down the mountains, and still the kellion was not in sight. We had already lost track of time, but nonetheless continued along our way. Finally, I could go no further; my legs hurt very much, and I said to my companion, "I cannot go on, let’s stop here." We were at the top of a hill. Looking down, we could see a little skete below us. We descended. It turned out to be the Skete of the Nativity of Christ. The rector of the skete received us joyously, and on the terrace offered us some tea and rakhat-loukoum [traditional sweet – ed.] Then, as we entered the house, I saw in their iconographic studio this Icon of the Most Holy Virgin. I can never explain what I felt upon seeing this icon. I think that my heart turned over in my chest. I became very strongly attached to this image. In as much as they wrote icons here, I asked the monks to sell this icon to me. However, they told me that they could not sell this icon, for it was one of the first written in their skete. For a long time I persisted in asking them to sell the icon to me, but the monks politely gave me to understand that they could not sell it. They could write me a copy of the icon and send it to me. But I felt some kind of special, deep, attachment to that specific icon. After making further lengthy and persistent requests – to the point that my friend was already tired of translating them – I decided that there was no hope of acquiring the icon, for they did not want to sell it. That night, as I was going to the Liturgy, during the singing of "Meet it is," I fell to the ground and fervently prayed to the Most Holy Virgin, "I have already done everything humanly possible; I offered them money and pestered the abbot. Nonetheless, O Mother of God, come with us to America, for we are in need of You." After saying that prayer, I felt a spiritual calm, like a feeling of confidence that the Most Holy Virgin would come with us. The Liturgy ended, and we went to breakfast. After breakfast, we began to prepare for our departure from the skete. We were unable to say goodbye to the abbot upon our departure, because we could not find him anywhere. But as I was already leaving the skete, and about to descend to the shore (for the skete was on a hill) in order to get into the boat, the rector of the skete appeared, carrying the icon wrapped in paper, and said to me, "The Most Holy Virgin wishes to go with you to America." I was quite amazed, for this happened at the last minute of our departure. It is interesting to note that while I was leaving the skete, I did not have any sorrow in my soul over leaving the place where the icon was. I cannot express it in words, but I did not feel hopelessness. When the abbot gave me the icon, I wanted to pay him for it, but he told me that money cannot be accepted for a holy thing. I was insistent, and wanted to somehow show my thanks, wanted to contribute money toward the poor skete, but the abbot would take absolutely nothing.
After I received the icon from the abbot, I said to my friend, "Let’s leave quickly, before he reconsiders." We got into the boat. When we were already underway and as we were moving in the direction of Daphne, a powerful voice within me was insistently saying to me, "Go to the Iveron Monastery, and touch your image of the Iveron Theotokos to the renowned Miraculous Icon of the Iveron Mother of God which is in that monastery." Heeding that voice, we made our way to the Iveron Monastery. There, an old monk greeted us none too warmly, and said, "Wait. The church containing the Iveron Icon is not yet open." And we waited an entire three hours near the church before another monk came and opened the church. When we asked that monk to permit us to touch our icon to the image of the Iveron Mother of God, he asked in amazement, why we wanted to do that. I explained to him that we wanted to bless the icon, for we were taking it to America, where Satan had taken everything into his hands. The monk agreed, and we touched our icon to the Iveron Icon. From the Holy Mountain, we went to Spain, and spent one week at my mother’s home. Throughout this period, the icon was entirely dry, with no signs of moisture on its surface…
(…) From Spain, I returned to Canada. I bought a lampada for the icon, and placed the holy image between the holy relics of several saints of the Kiev-Caves Lavra which Vladyka Leonty of Chile had given me while I was in Chile, and an icon-photograph of the Holy Venerable New Martyr Grand Duchess Elizabeth. Three weeks passed, during which I read an Akathist to the Most Holy Virgin every night. Suddenly, one night around 4:00 AM, I awoke and smelled some kind of sweet aroma which filled the entire house – not only my room, but the entire house.
(…) A young man lived with me in the house. I asked him whether he had broken a vial of perfume, causing such a sweet aroma to be felt. He answered, "No, no!" I told him "I am certain that this aroma is coming from the holy relics which are lying on the table." The next day, as I got up to say morning prayers, I looked at the icon, and saw that from the hands of the Most Holy Virgin, there were little streams pouring down to the base of the icon. I told my housemate, "When you fill up the lampada, be careful," for I thought that he had carelessly filled the vigil lamp and had gotten oil on the icon. But he told me that he had not filled the lamp. I wiped down the icon and sensed that the sweet aroma was emanating from it. But it was so unusual that I kept examining and examining it, and could not comprehend that something marvelous was taking place. Soon thereafter, Hieromonk Irenaeus came to us, and told me that we should take the icon to the church. This we did.
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"Upon brining the Icon into the church, we placed it on the Altar Table, and Fr. Irinei once again blessed it. The Icon had already been blessed at the Iveron Monastery and at the Protaton, where I had received a receipt with a seal, so that it might be taken out of Athos. After we had placed the Icon on the Altar Table, and throughout the entire Liturgy, streams of myrrh flowed from the hands of the Infant Christ. Another two weeks passed, and no one yet knew about the miracle except for Fr. Irinei, who recommended that I should relate everything to Vladyka Vitaly (of Montreal and Canada). But I answered him that I could not even now understand what was happening to the Icon. I was so stunned by what had happened, I was so amazed by this miracle, that I could not come to my senses. And the Icon continued to stream myrrh. Ultimately, we decided to tell Vladyka Vitaly about everything. One Sunday, Fr. Irenei was to serve in the monastery in Montreal, and we went there with the Icon. I told Fr. Irenei: "If Vladyka is to see this Icon today, he must come to the church himself without any invitation." Vladyka almost always enters the monastery church and then goes on to the Cathedral. But on this day, he did not come. For this reason, I said to Fr. Irenei, "Let’s wait another week before telling him about the Icon." Soon afterwards, Vladyka found out about the miracle, and sent us word that we should come to the monastery. When we arrived at the monastery, with the Icon wrapped in a piece of cloth which was entirely steeped in myrrh, the first thing that Vladyka did was to take a piece of cotton and wipe the entire Icon dry, removing all of the myrrh on the surface of the Icon. Then he took the Icon and went throughout all of the rooms of the three-story building. When he returned to the church, the Icon was again covered with myrrh, and myrrh flowed over Vladyka’s hands. He venerated the Icon and said that a great miracle was transpiring. Afterwards, we took the Icon to the cathedral. From that point, the Icon never stopped streaming myrrh except on one occasion, this year (1983 – ed.) for several days during Passion Week. On Great Tuesday all of the myrrh and all of the sweet fragrance entirely disappeared, and I thought that the miracle had come to an end. I took the Icon from its shrine, as my apartment was very small and the shrine very large, and I hung the Icon on the wall. On Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday morning, not a single drop of myrrh streamed from the Icon. But upon my return from the afternoon service on Great Saturday, I saw that the entire table which abutted the wall upon which the Icon hung was covered by golden colored myrrh, which was dripping down upon it from the Icon. This was the only time over the course of 10 months that the icon was completely dry.
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– Were there ever days when the Icon streamed myrrh more abundantly than at other times?
– Yes, there were. For example, in Montreal, on the day of a consecration to the episcopate, the myrrh flowed down onto the floor. That is the first time I witnessed such a thing. Another was in St. Petersburg, Florida… Myrrh simply rose up out of the hands of the Mother of God and the Divine Infant, as if some force were squeezing it out of the Icon.
– From what parts of the Icon does the myrrh flow?
– It has always, always, without change, flowed from the hands of the Mother of God, and from the star which is on the Most Pure Virgin’s left shoulder. Only on occasion does it flow from the Lord Jesus Christ’s hand. The myrrh always flows downward. It is noteworthy that the myrrh streams only from the images of the Mother of God and the Infant, and does not stream at all from the back of the Icon. The reverse is entirely dry. Some people used to say that we poured oil onto the Icon. Vladyka Paul (of Australia & New Zealand) said in that regard that whenever such a miracle takes place, the devil is greatly angered. For that reason, at first there was a great deal of suspicion.
– Did you ever have the occasion to encounter a scientist who offered an opinion regarding the miraculous streaming of myrrh?
– Yes, I have met learned people who observed this miracle. In Miami there is a scientist, a faithful Christian, who after examining the Icon very carefully from all sides, said that this was the greatest miracle of the 20th century. "Where is this oil coming from?" he wondered. By the way, when this person came to examine the Icon, he did not want to touch it, lest he lead the faithful into temptation. But I told him, "Please examine the Icon in any manner you wish, as long as you do not insult the Mother of God." The first thing he did was to turn the Icon over and examine its back, to see whether the oil was seeping from there to the Icon’s face. However, the reverse side was completely dry. He stated that something miraculous was taking place. He became convinced that the oil was streaming neither from the reverse nor from the wood upon which the Icon had been written. Earlier, a wood chip from the upper edge of the Icon had been taken for study; it turned out that the Icon had been written on ordinary spruce wood.
"Parish Life", August-November, 1999