Orthodox America

Brother Jose Munoz-Cortez, Reflections at the Funeral

Several hundred people gathered at Holy Trinity Monastery for the funeral of Brother Joseph on November 12, 1997. Many came from as far away as California; others came from South America and Europe; Abbess Macrina came with a nun from the Lesna Convent in France (Brother Joseph had spent considerable time there, painting icons for the iconostasis). His body had been flown from Athens to Montreal and was then transported to Jordanville, where it arrived on Tuesday, in a sealed plastic bag. On the eve of the funeral, the bag was cut open, revealing gruesome signs of torture: a cord had cut into his mouth and cheeks. After Liturgy the next day, the bag was opened further, exposing his hands, which had also been tightly bound, the fingers broken; above his right wrist was a raw wound, as from a burning cigarette. (A year ago, Brother Jose himself related that he had woken up one night and felt himself bound hand and foot; his mouth was also bound, and he was unable to cry out or to extricate himself; he could only pray, knowing this to be the work of an unclean power.) There was no odor, nor any visible signs of corruption-13 days after his death. Eighteen priests assisted Archbishop Laurus at the funeral, at which Bishop Mitrofan was also present. (A more complete account of the funeral has been printed in Orthodox Life #6, 1997.) The funeral inspired mixed emotions, as the following "reflection" so eloquently attests - ed.

Greetings, Brother Joseph. Your soul, of course, sees me standing and looking at your body, lying in the coffin in the center of our Holy Trinity cathedral. You were brought here today at noon, and it is now evening. All this time the brothers have been reading the Psalter over you. Tomorrow is the funeral, and your body will be returned to the earth, from which it will rise up at Christ's Second Coming.

I never met you in this life, but tell me, how is it that I feel we are old acquaintances? Whence is this gentle, light and joy-creating sorrow that fills my heart? It may be that such feelings always visit us mortals when we encounter saints. In spite of the fact that I never knew you, I do not doubt your sanctity. This certainty did not come from my mind or my feelings; it came from more refined and higher spheres. My soul believes this, and, after all, our soul is more intelligent than our outward man.

I will not conceal from you, dear Brother Joseph, that, like others, my soul was also momentarily clouded by the shadow cast by that hideous scandal which the world lost no time in pouring over you. Pray that the Lord forgive me this weakness... The shadow alone brought terror to my soul. O, I know who was concealing himself behind this calumny. His handwriting has become well-known to Christians over the past two thousand years. After all, it was he, the father of lies, who in like manner slandered the first Christians; he was the one who taught the persecutors to kill the saints, spreading rumors that they - the Christians-were terrible people, who secretly went to cemeteries at night in order to drink blood... when in fact the Christians gathered to pray together and to partake of the Holy Mysteries of Christ. Get away from us, Satan; we do not believe your lie about our murdered brother.

Greetings, dear Joseph. You have left us, but for many your departure will become the beginning of their acquaintance with you. The biography of your soul has, I'm sure, already been inscribed upon the heavenly tablets. There are not many such chosen ones. The Mother of God herself chose you to serve her wonderworking image, the Myrrh-streaming Iveron Icon, which miraculously manifest itself to you on 24 November (O.S.) 1982. And for the past fifteen (fifteen!) years, you faithfully served the Most Pure Virgin. In the course of this time, the icon, carefully guarded and everywhere accompanied by you, brought healing to hundreds upon hundreds of souls. You lived on the boundary of two worlds, visible and invisible, being, as you were, a constant witness of God's miracles, manifest through the Iveron icon.

And here is a new miracle, but this miracle God revealed not through the icon but directly through you. We know that you were beaten, tortured, mocked and ridiculed. These were not only physical torments; they were torments inflicted upon the soul. How you must have suffered in witnessing such a gross manifestation of human evil. Your murderer lured you to the slaughter, like a pure and meek lamb. And when they made fun of your trusting nature, no doubt your soul was deeply grieved. How did your murderer lure you? Perhaps he promised you some money, or you were in need of his service in some way? No. He lured you by asking your help. The demon who inspired him knew, of course, that your kind heart could not refuse anyone with such a request.

But it is all over now. You endured to the end, you were slaughtered, or-to better express it-you were called by the Son of God into His radiant chambers. Having dedicated your life to serving His Mother, you have now left us for your heavenly friends. Everyone has to die sometime, and what could be better than glorious martyrdom, which the Lord granted you. Dear Brother Joseph, we shall commemorate you frequently before God. And if you should obtain boldness before the Lord, then pray, dear friend, for us who remain here on earth. May the Lord work a miracle through your prayers; may He soften our wicked hearts; may He teach us to love, to endure, and to forgive. This will indeed be a miracle, for a miracle is something that exceeds the limits of what is possible and impossible, a gift of God to man.

Tell us, Brother Joseph, why is it that the news of your death pierces the soul to its very depths? Why is it that the heart and the mind are so stricken by what happened to you? Why is it that I want to remain standing here by your side, that I cannot bear to leave you? Undoubtedly it is because through you, as through every Christian martyr, the souls of the faithful encounter, as it were, their Master and Lord, Jesus Christ, Who is the First of all martyrs.

In the holy people of God we venerate Christ. In bowing down before the martyrs we bow down before the Divine Sufferer. Is it not His invisible presence that the soul experiences at times like this? And we believe that you, dear Joseph, are already beholding our Sweetest Saviour, Who promised salvation to all those who endure to the end.

Finally, I should like to tell everyone about your face, about what we saw in it as we bade you farewell. We saw the transfiguration of suffering. Your face was imprinted with the amazement of a soul which realizes that the hour of suffering is just about to end, and that in the next moment it will meet God...

The night has passed, and there has come the day that will be remembered forever. Today was the first day of your glory, dear brother Joseph. Can one doubt that this glory will increase, that Orthodox people from all the ends of the earth will come to revere the Christian exploit of your life, crowned as it is with martyrdom. Surely, even after death you will continue serving the Lord, and more souls will be renewed, impressed by your martyric death. And you will bring new people to Christ, as you did during your lifetime...

Dear brother Joseph, your funeral drew hundreds of people to our Holy Trinity Monastery-as many as come on Pascha. But the mood, at least for me, was different. It seemed that I was present at the Great Saturday service; I was reminded of standing before the shroud of our Lord, when the souls of the faithful look with fear and compunction upon the saving Passions of the Lord and recall His burial. All that happened today during the funeral and the burial had a similar quality of solemnity and mystery, of bright sadness. There were tears of course; how could we restrain them when, in the daylight, we could see more clearly your worn face, your martyric body, adorned with wounds like divine jewels. We saw your hands, bearing the purple scars from the cords with which your torturers bound you. Joseph, our poor, dear, beloved Joseph! Was there among us such a stony heart that could remain in-different to your sufferings? Was there such a seared conscience that could doubt your purity? One wants to believe that there was not.

Forgive and farewell, dear brother Joseph. We have left the church and accompanied your body to the monastery cemetery. The final prayer has been said and the coffin has been lowered into the grave. We believe that this pit will become for you a window into Heaven. Into your grave we throw clumps of earth. It is finished.

A man who recently came from Russia and "happened" to be at the funeral, remarked to me, "You know, I had the feeling that I was present not at a funeral or a burial, but at the service of the Triumph of Orthodoxy..." At brother Joseph's grave, we realized, in the depths of our being, that his martyrdom was yet another victory for Christ over the powers of darkness. And could it be otherwise? After all, we Christians believe that Christ's love will triumph over all evil. Is that not true?

It also occurred to me that the time has come when, before our very eyes, the lives of saints are somehow coming to life.

Rassophore-monk Vsevolod Holy Trinity Monastery 29/30 October (O.S.) 1997 Translated from the Russian