José Muñoz-Cortes (1950 - 1997) was a Chilean convert to Orthodox Christianity who became interested in monasticism, and became the guardian of the miracle-working myrrh-streaming Iveron Icon of the Mother of God (Montreal Icon). He was murdered on October 31, 1997, in his hotel room in Athens, Greece.
Brother José was born in Chile into a pious Roman Catholic family of Spanish descent. He was a boy of twelve when became acquainted with Archbishop Leonty of Chile and under his influence José was baptized into the Russian Orthodox Church two years later, with his mother's consent. He began to lead a monastic life as best he could within the confines of the world, although he did not enter a monastery. Later he moved to Canada and continued to observe this way of life.
A talented artist, he secured a job teaching art at the University of Montreal, and began studying iconography. In the summer of 1982, Brother José went to Mount Athos with a particular interest in visiting some sketes and monasteries specializing in icon painting. At the small skete of the Nativity of Christ, the abbot, Elder Clement, greeted Brother Jose and his travelling companion warmly and offered traditional Athonite hospitality. He then took them to see the skete's icon studio.
Brother José felt an immediate and strong attraction to an icon of the Mother of God, a contemporary (1981) copy of the ancient and revered Iveron Icon. It was one of the first icons which had been painted at this skete, by one Fr. Chrysostomos in 1981. 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 chased after him handing him the Icon, saying that it pleased the Mother of God to go with him to North America.
Back in Montreal, Brother José began reading an akathist daily before the Icon. A few weeks later, on November 24, he awoke and smelled a strong fragrance. The new Icon was streaked with myrrh, miraculously emanating from the hands and stars of the Mother of God.
Soon thereafter, It was recognized by the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, and given the blessing to travel to churches and monasteries for the edification of the Christian faithful. During the next fifteen years, as myrrh continued to flow from the holy Icon, Brother José devoted himself to Her care, accompanying the holy Icon on numerous trips to parishes all over the United States, Canada, South America, Australia, and Europe. In Bulgaria, over sixty thousand people came to venerate the Icon at one particular church in Sofia.
Brother José was also extremely faithful in fulfilling the countless requests for prayers that he received, daily, commemorating thousands of names, among whom were several dozen godchildren.
Jose was tortured and brutally murdered in a hotel room in Athens, Greece on the night of October 31, 1997, by several individuals. He had planned to return to Canada the following day to celebrate the fifteenth anniversary of the appearance of the miraculous appearance of myrrh on the Icon. The case is still unsolved, though several individuals were suspected in the crime. The Myrrh-Streaming Montreal Icon disappeared following Brother José's murder, and has not been seen since.
Brother José has not been glorified a saint by the Church, though many miracles have reportedly taken place in his name, including icons of Brother José himself that have begun giving myrrh. One such miraculous connection is the newly-revealed and miracle-working Hawaiian Myrrh-streaming Iveron Icon of the Theotokos, which began giving myrrh shortly before the 10th anniversary of Brother José's martyrdom. The Hawaiian Icon is a printed copy of the Montreal Icon. Other copies of the Montreal Icon have also given myrrh at various times.
Brother Jose, pray unto God for us!
Be ye merciful, even as your Father is merciful (Luke 6:36)
PLEASE REMEMBER THESE NAMES IN YOUR DAILY PRAYERS, AS THEY ARE IN NEED OF YOUR MERCY AND COMPASSION:
Blessed are the merciful, because they shall obtain mercy, says the Scripture. Mercy is not the least of the beatitudes. Again: Blessed is he who is considerate to the needy and the poor. Once more: Generous is the man who is merciful and lends. In another place: All day the just man is merciful and lends. Let us lay hold of this blessing, let us earn the name of being considerate, let us be generous.
Not even night should interrupt you in your duty of mercy. Do not say: Come back and I will give you something tomorrow. There should be no delay between your intention and your good deed. Generosity is the one thing that cannot admit of delay.
Share your bread with the hungry, and bring the needy and the homeless into your house, with a joyful and eager heart. He who does acts of mercy should do so with cheerfulness. The grace of a good deed is doubled when it is done with promptness and speed. What is given with a bad grace or against one’s will is distasteful and far from praiseworthy.
When we perform an act of kindness we should rejoice and not be sad about it. If you undo the shackles and the thongs, says Isaiah, that is, if you do away with miserliness and counting the cost, with hesitation and grumbling, what will be the result? Something great and wonderful! What a marvelous reward there will be: Your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will rise up quickly. Who would not aspire to light and healing.
If you think that I have something to say, servants of Christ, his brethren and co-heirs, let us visit Christ whenever we may; let us care for him, feed him, clothe him, welcome him, honor him, not only at a meal, as some have done, or by anointing him, as Mary did, or only by lending him a tomb, like Joseph of Arimathaea, or by arranging for his burial, like Nicodemus, who loved Christ half-heartedly, or by giving him gold, frankincense and myrrh, like the Magi before all these others. The Lord of all asks for mercy, not sacrifice, and mercy is greater than myriads of fattened lambs. Let us then show him mercy in the persons of the poor and those who today are lying on the ground, so that when we come to leave this world they may receive us into everlasting dwelling places, in Christ our Lord himself, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
MATUSHKA OLGA MICHAEL
Over the past few years an Orthodox woman, native of North America, has slowly become known to more and more people, particularly other Orthodox women.
Matushka Olga was the wife of Archpriest Nickolai O. Michael from the village of Kwethluk, on the Kuskokwim River in Alaska. As described in Fr. Michael Oleksa's book, Orthodox Alaska , she was neither a "physically impressive or imposing figure." She raised eight children to maturity, giving birth to several of them without a midwife. While her husband was away taking care of so many other parishes, she kept busy raising her family and doing many things for other people. One is reminded of the story of Tabitha in the book of Acts (9:36-ff) when hearing that "in addition to sewing +Father Nikolai's vestments in the early years and crafting beautiful parkas, boots and mittens for her children, she was constantly sewing or knitting socks or fur outerwear for them. Hardly a friend or neighbor was without something Matushka had made for them. Parishes hundreds of miles away received unsolicited gifts, traditional Eskimo winter boots (mukluks) to sell or raffle for their building fund. All the clergy of the deanery wore gloves or woolen socks...[which she] had made for them." While fulfilling many of the other tasks (like preparing the Eucharist bread) that are often assumed by other priests' wives, she also knew by heart the hymns of many feast days, including Palm Sunday, Holy Week and Pascha in Yup'ik (her Eskimo language).
After miraculously surviving an initial bout with cancer when it seemed that nothing could be done, she eventually succumbed to a return of the disease, preparing herself for death which took place on November 8, 1979 with great courage and faith. It appeared that the normal snow and river ice of that time of the year would prevent many people from attending her funeral. But the weather uncharacteristically changed and a southerly wind helped to melt the ice and snow, allowing parishioners from the neighboring village to make the journey to Kwethluk. "Hundreds of friends...filled the newly-consecrated church on the extraordinary spring-day of the funeral. Upon exiting the church, the procession was joined by a flock of birds, although by that time of year, all birds have long since flown south. The birds circled overhead, and accompanied the coffin to the grave site. The usually frozen snows had been easy to dig because of the unprecedented thaw. That night after the memorial meal, the wind began to blow again, the ground froze, ice covered the river, winter returned. It was as if the earth itself had opened to receive this woman. The cosmos still cooperates and participates in worship the Real People, [i.e. the name the native people give to themselves] offer to God". However, it has not been just her story, that has been so life changing to others, but the actual encounter with her presence that has taken place in remarkable ways. One woman, originally from Kwethluk, but now living in Arizona, had a dream in which Matushka Olga appeared, assuring her that her mother would be alright because she was coming to join Matushka Olga in a bright and joyful place. This woman did not know her mother was sick at the time, that she had been rushed to Anchorage, and that she would soon die. But the next day she received news of her mother's emergency and she rushed from Arizona to Alaska, comforting her mother with the news Matushka Olga had brought her about her eternal destiny. The woman died in peace and with her daughter, without the shock and grief that would have certainly ensued if the dream had not reassured her. Another woman, after viewing a picture of Matushka Olga, experienced a "compassionate, loving, gentle, and very real-very accessible presence."
The most detailed account comes from an Orthodox woman who, as in the previous example, had suffered for many years from the consequences of severe sexual abuse experienced as a child. This is her testimony of meeting Matushka Olga:
I was deeply at prayer and awake. I had remembered an event that was very scary. My prayer began with my asking the Holy Theotokos for help and mercy. Gradually I became aware of standing in the woods feeling a little scared. Soon a gentle wave of tenderness began to sweep through the woods followed by a fresh garden scent. I saw the Virgin Mary, dressed as she is in an icon, but more natural looking and brighter, walking toward me. As she came closer I was aware of someone walking behind her. She stepped aside and gestured to a short, wise looking woman. I asked her, "Who are you?" and the Virgin Mary answered, "St. Olga." St. Olga gestured for me to follow her. We walked a long way until there weren't many trees. We came to a little hill that had a door cut into the side. She gestured for me to sit and she went inside. After a little while some smoke came out of the top of the hill and from the open hole on the top of the hill. Everything around me felt gentle, especially Mother Olga. The little hill house smelled like wild thyme and white pine in the sun with roses and violets mixed in. Mother Olga helped me up onto a kind of platform bed, resembling a driftwood box filled with moss and grasses. It was soft and smelled like the earth and the sea. I was exhausted and lay back. St.Olga went over to the lamp and warmed up something which she rubbed on my belly. I looked five months pregnant. (I was not pregnant for real at the time.) I started to labor. I was a little scared. Mother Olga climbed up beside me and gently holding my arm pretended to labor with me, showing me what to do and how to breathe. She still hadn't said anything. She helped me push out what seemed to be afterbirth, that soaked into the dried moss on the bed. I was very tired and crying a little from relief when it was over. Up until this she hadn't spoken, but her eyes spoke with great tenderness and understanding.We both got up and had some tea. As we were drinking it, holy Mother Olga gradually became the light in the room. Her face appeared to have a strong light bulb or the sun shining under her skin. But I think the whole of her glowed. It was the kind of loving gaze from a mother to an infant that connects and welcomes a baby to life. She seemed to pour tenderness into me through her eyes. This wasn't scary even though, at the time, I didn't know about people who literally shone with the love of God. (It made more sense after I read about St. Seraphim). I know now that some very deep wounds were being healed at the time. She gave me back my own life which had been stolen, a life that is now defined by the beauty and love of God for me, the restored work of His Hands." After some time I felt that I was filled with wellness and a sense of quiet entered my soul, as if my soul had been crying like a grief-stricken abandoned infant and had finally been comforted."Even now as I write... the miracle of peacefulness, and also the zest for life which wellness has brought, causes me to cry with joy and awe.
Only after this did Holy Mother Olga speak. She spoke about God and people who choose to do evil things. She said that the people who hurt me thought they could make me carry their evil inside of me by rape. She was very firm when she said, “That’s a lie. Only God can carry evil away. The only thing they could put inside of you was the seed of life which is a creation of God and cannot pollute anyone." I was never polluted. It just felt that way because of the evil intentions of the people near me. What I had held inside me was the pain, terror, shame and helplessness I felt. We had labored together and that was all out of me now. She burned some grass over the little flame and smoke went right up to God who is both the judge and the forgiver. I understood by the "incense" that it wasn't my job to carry the sins of the people against me either. It was God's, and what an ever-unfolding richness this taste of salvation is. At the end of this healing time we went outside together. It was not dark in the visioning prayer. There were so many stars stretching to infinity. The sky was all a shimmer with a moving veil of light. I had seen photos of the Northern Lights, but didn't know they moved.)
Either Matushka Olga said, or we both heard in our hearts — I can't remember which —that the moving curtain of light was to be for us a promise that God can create great beauty from complete desolation and nothingness. For me it was proof of the healing — great beauty where there had been nothing before but despair hidden by shame and great effort."What is one to make of these accounts? If nothing else, for now, one can acknowledge the special place that Matushka Olga has had in the lives of certain native people and a growing local veneration to broader awareness that God reveals how He can be "wonderful in His Saints."
Matushka Olga was herself a midwife and may have also known from personal experience the traumas of being abused earlier in her life. Perhaps it is this role as an advocate for those who have been abused, particularly sexually, that God will continue to use Matushka Olga in drawing "straight with crooked lines." His work of creating beauty from complete desolation and nothingness. Although Matushka Olga has not yet been formally glorified as a Saint of the Church, she continues to be venerated locally in Alaska and throughout the world as word of her sanctity spreads. The Canonization Commission of the OCA is scheduled to take up the matter in the near future.
For the Orthodox Christian, he who has put on Christ becomes an ‘anointed one’ in the likeness of Our Lord and Savior. Each is sealed with the charismata of the Comforter. Through the "rite of birth in God", holy baptism, man is illuminated, freed from slavery to sin and the devil, and is united with God. Sin may later cloud this illumination, but no matter how sinful and indifferent our lives become after baptism, the Spirit never totally departs from us. However, unless we struggle of our own free will to obey the commandments of God, the Spirit remains largely hidden and unconscious. The voluntary separation from God is the reason for illness within the soul. All our ills, physical and psychological, stem from our broken communion with God. The spiritual life offers us a remedy, a return home.
The cure of the soul is the business of the Orthodox Church. Christianity is principally a science which cures, a psychotherapeutic method and treatment. The influences of western Christianity, which has lost the Hesychastic tradition, has caused many in their despair and hopelessness to turn to the humanist science of psychology for help. The father of modern Psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, was an avowed atheist. It is due to his influence that modern psychology is by and large a fraud, based upon Godless theories and speculation. What psychology defines as normal human behavior is foreign to the Orthodox ethos. To the Holy Fathers, being 'normal' means to live in communion with God , a state that came naturally to us before the Fall. Since we have lost this ability we have become 'unnatural': we must work to maintain spiritual union with God. This communion takes place primarily in the heart, for the heart is the place where the entire spiritual life develops, the place energized by God's uncreated energy. For the Fathers, what is 'normal' stems from the premise that we are created in the image of God: however tarnished we are by sin, the goal of our life is to attain His likeness.
Human nature became `sick' through its fall away from God and is need of a cure to return him to his first estate. The Fathers see this work of salvation as a synergy of human and divine volition, God and man working together through their own free wills. Our therapy consists of purifying our heart from the passions that darken it or rather transforming the passions so that the heart may be warmed and ignited by the love of God and enter into communion with Him. Man then can regain his spiritual life and continue towards its ultimate goal of theosis.
Many Fathers distinguish three stages in the spiritual life: practical philosophy or purification of the heart, natural theoria or illumination of the nous, and mystical theology or communion with God through theoria. The emphasis is on purifying the nous, which is defined as the 'eye of the soul' or as the 'eye of the heart'. In many places, the Fathers link the two: according to St John of Damascus, 'as the eye is to the body, so is the nous to the soul . Since the nous is the nourisher of our whole being, we must seek to free our nous from the passions that deaden it. When the nous is released from the passions through repentance, prayer, vigil, fasting, sober watchfulness (nepsis) and stillness (hesychia), it is resurrected.
Like any illness, the first step towards a cure is to acknowledge that we are ill. Our pride often prevents us from seeing this. We must constantly reproach ourselves, for this brings upon us the humility needed to facilitate a cure. Logically, one must then seek out a good physician. St John of the Ladder wrote that “A physician is one whose body and soul are sound, needing no plasters on them" This physician is the priest, the spiritual father. He has first been cured of his own ailments or at least is struggling to be cured, and then he also cures his spiritual children. One who has come through the devil's devices can safely guide others. One who has come to know spiritual health can help cure. Anyone who has found his nous can help others to find theirs.
When the soul, nous and heart are cured, then the knowledge of God is obtained. This is a knowledge that is not in words about God, but knowledge of God Himself. In other words, it is in the cured heart that God is revealed. It is clear then that Orthodox epistemology is closely related to the therapy of the soul. Knowledge of God is increased as healing increases, and a pure knowledge of God is given to that person who has been purified and cured. In possession of such knowledge, man is one step closer to theosis, which has been the aim of his spiritual life all along. - Fr. Stephen
The Priest’s Prayer from the Holy Orthodox Church’s Order of the Office of Prayer and Supplication for the Victims of Abortion Prayed to our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ
O most merciful, all gracious and compassionate Lord Jesus Christ our Savior, Son of God: we entreat Thee, most gracious Master: look with compassion upon Thy children who have been condemned to death by the unjust judgment of men. And as Thou hast promised to bestow the heavenly kingdom on them born of water and the Spirit, and who in blamelessness of life have been translated unto Thee; and Who said, "Suffer the little children to come unto me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven" - we humbly pray, according to Thy unfailing promise: grant the inheritance of Thy kingdom to the multitude of spotless infants who have been cruelly murdered in the abortuaries of this land; for Thou art the resurrection and the life and the repose of all Thy servants and of these innocents, O Christ our God.
Turn the hearts of those who seek to destroy Thy little ones. We beseech Thee to pour forth Thy healing grace upon them, that they may be convicted in their hearts and turn from their evil ways. Remember all of them that kill our children as on the altars of Moloch, and render not unto them according to their deeds, but according to Thy great mercy convert them: the unbelieving to true faith and piety, and the believing that they may turn from evil and do good. O Holy Master, Almighty Father and pre-eternal God, Who alone made and directs all things; Who rises up quickly against the evil of the impious ones; who, by providence, teaches Thy people preservation of justice and the obliteration of evil on earth; Who condescends to raise up warriors for the protection of the people of God: we entreat Thee with compunction, that as Thou didst give David power to defeat Goliath, and as Thou didst condescend through Judas Maccabeus, to seize victory from the arrogant pagans who would not call on Thy Name; so too, grant protection to us, Thy servants against the enemies rising against us as we go forth to do spiritual battle against the evil one and those who do his will rather than Thine.
For Thou art a merciful God, and lovest mankind, and unto Thee do we send up glory: to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. Now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.