Orthodox America


The Biography of a Martyr


The Russian Orthodox Church Abroad was making preparations to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the Myrrh-streaming Iveron Icon of the Mother of God, when it was shaken by the news of the tragic death of the icon's guardian, Brother Joseph (José) Muñoz- Cortes. He was brutally murdered on the night of October 29/30 in a hotel room in Athens. A 20-year-old Romanian man is awaiting trial for the murder, although there is suspicion of a conspiracy. (Br. Joseph had been threatened on several occasions.) Evident marks of torture were interpreted by the media as indications of a sordid affair, setting in motion vile rumors, which only confirmed the words of the Athonite schema-abbot Clement, who had told Brother Joseph that 1997 would be a decisive year for the Icon's guardian: "...you will be subject to awful slander." But the evil one overplayed his hand. Who could believe such gross falsehood.

Brother Joseph was born in Chile in 1950, into a pious Roman Catholic family of Spanish descent. He was a boy of twelve or thirteen when, passing by the Russian Orthodox church in Santiago, he was attracted by the sound of singing and went in. There he became acquainted with Archbishop Leonty of blessed memory, and under his influence José was baptized into the Orthodox Church two years later, with his mother's consent. As a university student, José was studying theology when Metropolitan (then Archbishop) Vitaly, on a trip to Chile, learned of the youth's monastic aspirations and invited him to Canada. José lived for about a year at the metochion (a monastic affiliate of Holy Transfiguration Monastery in Mansonville) in Montreal, but the hectic life there did not suit him, and he left to live on his own, while preserving a genuine monastic disposition to the end. A talented artist, he secured a job teaching art ((watercolor) at the University of Montreal, and began studying iconography.

In the summer of 1982, Brother Joseph went to Mt Athos with a particular interest in visiting some sketes and monasteries specializing in icon painting. At the small skete of the Nativity of Christ, Brother Joseph felt an immediate and strong attraction for an icon of the Mother of God, a contemporary (1981) copy of the ancient and revered Iveron Icon. He was disappointed to learn that it was not for sale, but to his great joy, as he was leaving the skete, Abbot Clement, unexpectedly handed the icon to him, saying that it pleased the Mother of God to go with him to America. Back in Montreal, Brother Joseph began reading an akathist daily before the icon. A few weeks later, on November 25, he awoke and smelled a strong fragrance. The new icon was streaked with myrrh, miraculously emanating from the hands of the Mother of God.

For the next fifteen years, as myrrh continued to flow from the Icon, Brother Joseph devoted himself to its care, accompanying it on numerous trips to parishes all over the United States and Canada, to South America, Australia, and Europe. Everywhere, the Mother of God worked miracles, healing souls and bodies, reconciling adversaries, strengthening the fainthearted, inspiring repentance, and consoling those burdened by grief or misfortune. This applied not only to Orthodox believers, but to many heterodox as well. But where grace abounds, one can expect trials and tribulations, and the difficulties that Brother Joseph endured can only be imagined: "Come here," "Go there"; he was criticized for not doing as others wanted, he was offered fantastic sums of money for the Icon (he himself lived in monastic poverty, readily giving what he had to those in need; or he bought icons and materials for painting icons). At all times, Brother Joseph tried to be sensitive and obedient to the will of the Mother of God. He was, first and foremost, her devoted servant. He was also faithful in fulfilling the countless requests for prayers that he received, daily commemorating scores of people, among whom were several dozen godchildren.

While the sinister circumstances of his death are still unclear, it is tempting to speculate concerning the motive for such a ghastly murder; after all, the Icon was not in Brother Joseph's possession at the time. From a spiritual perspective, however, the explanation is apparent. As written in an obituary prepared by the Icon's Home: "We live in a time of great spiritual awakening, but the spirit that awakens is that of satan, and all that is of Christ, of Jesus, of God, is a goading irritant to the carnal man, inciting the infernal wrath of the deluded."

May the life and martyric death of this true warrior of Christ be for us a compelling example, and may his memory be eternal. Editor

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