On Saturday the 28th and Sunday the 29th of October, the 25th annual pilgrimage of the parishioners of St. John the Baptist Cathedral in Washington, DC to Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, NY took place in a spirit of thankful prayer to God.
A week before the pilgrimage, the Holy Protection Sisterhood of the capital-region parish began to amass a large supply of foodstuffs to feed all of the pilgrims, the monastery brethren, and the students of Holy Trinity Seminary. Such a large amount of food was prepared that it was enough for several more meals in the monastery. This practice has existed since the days of the ever-memorable Metropolitan Laurus (Škurla; +2008), who suggested bringing food along to the monastery to commemorate Brother José and, at the same time, to lighten the burden of the monastery brethren. Parishioners are happy to fulfill the wishes of the beloved Metropolitan Laurus.
Several days prior to the pilgrimage to Jordanville, the Hawaiian Iveron Icon of the Mother of God arrived in Washington and visited a number of parishes in the Capital Region Deanery.
On Friday, October 27, the eve of the pilgrimage, a moleben and akathist were served in St. John the Baptist Cathedral before the myrrh-streaming icon. The temple was filled with parishioners, as well as believers from various local church communities. The service was conducted in English and Church Slavonic. After the service, people approached the icon for a long time, each was anointed with holy myrrh and received cotton wool soaked in the myrrh, as well as a small copy of the Hawaiian Icon. After the moleben, the priests heard confessions from those who intended to receive Communion in the monastery. The moleben and akathist can be seen here.
The pilgrims from Washington began the seven-hour journey on Saturday, October 28, at six o'clock in the morning. Along the way, morning prayers were read and a film was shown about the life and labors of José Muñoz-Cortés, the chosen one of the Mother of God who was martyred in 1997.
This year, the pilgrim group was joined by people who had never been to Jordanville before and were faintly familiar with Brother José’s life story. Many have asked what led to the murder of Brother José and the disappearance of the Montreal Icon.
I always explain to those who ask that this question was answered by the ROCOR hierarchs in 2002 in a special "Address on the Occasion of the 20th Anniversary of the Wonderworking Myrrh-Streaming [Montreal] Icon of the Mother of God":
"This icon, which abundantly streamed wonderworking myrrh for 15 years, consoled our Russian Church Abroad, a visible and tangible symbol of the mercy of the intercession of the Mother of God for us sinners… Did we act in a worthy manner during the presence in our Church of this icon, which clearly performed miracles? Did we put to good use this visitation of the Mother of our Lord for our souls, and is it not our collective sin of having grown cold toward this holy icon and in our prayers, cold to the works of charity and witness to the Orthodox Faith, that was the reason for its disappearance, through God’s will?
"With tremulous gratitude we prayerfully recall the arrival of this wondrous myrrh-streaming Icon in our Church, and with repentance we pray to the Most Holy Mother of God for the forgiveness of our transgressions, for peace to reign in our Orthodox Church…"
"During the life of Brother José, we grew accustomed to the miracle; some of us became indifferent to this concrete revelation of God’s mercy ‒ meanwhile, in Brother José’s words, ‘We must not grow accustomed to miracles.’"
By the grace of God, in the beginning of October 2007 – the year of the restoration of canonical unity within the Russian Orthodox Church – a paper myrrh-streaming reproduction of the Montreal-Iveron Icon was revealed in the state of Hawaii.
At 3:00 PM, the bus full of pilgrims arrived at the monastery cemetery, where Brother José is buried. Bishop Luke of Syracuse and 50 people from St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Howell, NJ, as well as other cities of the United States, awaited them.
The weather was sunny and warm. The panihida was served by Archpriests Serge Lukianov (rector of St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral), Zoran Radovic (rector of St. George Serbian Church in Elizabeth, NJ), and Dimitry Jakimowicz (rector of St. Nicholas Church in Stratford, CT), Priests Stephen Kaznica (cleric of Sts. Peter & Paul Cathedral in Passaic, NJ), Damian Dantinne (cleric of St. John the Baptist Cathedral in Washington, DC), and Nectarios Yangson (guardian of the Hawaiian Icon), and the author of these lines. Praying at the service was His Grace Luke, Bishop of Syracuse, abbot of the monastery, along with monastics and seminarians.
The panihida was supposed to begin at 3:30, but it was decided to wait for the arrival of the Hawaiian Icon, which was visiting a sick person at that time. Soon, the icon was brought.
When the icon was taken out of its case, it was immediately apparent that the fabric frame containing the icon was inundated with myrrh. Drops began to fall on the granite frame of Brother José’s grave. The icon was placed on an analogion prepared for this purpose next to the grave of the murdered José. It was noticed that the overflowing myrrh began to flow onto the white lectern cover, forming a large wet spot. In a sermon before the panihida, I drew the attention of those gathered that the icon always streams myrrh strongly when it is next to the grave of the chosen one of the Mother of God.
At the first panihda at the grave of Brother José, he was not solely alone, but also his spiritual mentors: the ever-memorable Archbishop Leonty (Filippovich; +1971) of Chile, who converted José to the true Faith, and Schema-Archimandrite Clement, abbot of the Nativity Skete on Mount Athos, the birthplace of the Montreal Icon.
Before the panihida began, I gave a short sermon, in which I said that "the annual pilgrimages to the grave of Brother José began in 1998, on the first anniversary of his martyrdom, and is now in its 25th year. The tortured guardian of the wonderworking icon often said that ‘we must not become accustomed to a miracle.’ In Russia and Georgia, veneration of Brother José is expanding, but in our country, unfortunately, it is declining."
It should be noted that in the diocese of the Georgian Metropolitan Nikoloz, with the blessing of His Holiness Ilia II, Catholicos & Patriarch of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Brother José and Hieromonk Seraphim (Rose) were glorified for local veneration. God grant that our Church Abroad follows the example of the Georgians…
After the panihida, believers were anointed with holy myrrh from the Hawaiian Icon of the Mother of God.
At 7 o’clock in the evening, the appointed Vigil began at the monastery. Pilgrims who did not have time to confess at home were given the opportunity to do so in the lower church of St. Job of Pochaev, where three priests received the repentance of pilgrims.
The next day, October 29, at 9 o’clock in the morning, Bishop Luke was greeted in Holy Trinity Cathedral. Concelebrating with His Grace were 13 priests and 11 deacons. The choir of monastics and seminarians sang touchingly and harmoniously under the skillful direction of Deacon Nicholas Kotar.
After Liturgy and lunch, the pilgrims gathered on the steps in front of the monastery cathedral for a group photo, after which they visited the first-class Museum of Russian History and then went to the cemetery for the second, farewell panihida for Brother José. Since it was drizzling lightly, it was decided to hold the panihida in the cemetery chapel. The rain stopped, however, and the panihida was held right at the grave of Brother José. After the service, I again offered a sermon, during which I reminded those gathered of the importance of not forgetting Brother José’s labors. Regular pilgrimages to his grave will serve as evidence that ordinary believers revere him and keep in their memory the wonderworking Montreal Icon, which returned to us in 2007 in the form of the myrrh-streaming Hawaiian Icon.
After the panihida, it started to rain again...
It was getting late and we had to get ready for the long journey home to Washington.
After leaving Holy Trinity Monastery, the pilgrims visited the nearby Iveron Mother of God Monastery, where they talked with the sisters and visited their bookstore. Some pilgrims had previously managed to inspect the new site and the house of the convent, where the sisters had recently moved.
Next was a long journey to the American capital. On the way home, the spiritually enriched participants in the pilgrimage shared their impressions.
One pilgrim reported the following:
"Two years ago, my brother Andrew became very ill. Andrew is my best friend; we are very close. My mother and I were afraid that he would not recover. Being on the verge of despair, I began to ask the Lord for a miracle. And one of my Orthodox friends told me that there are several wonderworking icons that work miracles. I began to read about similar icons and learned about the Hawaiian Icon and its miracles. I found out that the icon was on the East Coast of the United States and will be in Washington. I took time off from work and got on a bus in Philadelphia, PA and went to St. John the Baptist Cathedral to pray before the wonderworking icon.
"My Andrew is alive and well and recently celebrated his 30th birthday. Our priest, Fr. Mark, gave me a copy of the Hawaiian Icon and I hung it in Andrew's room.
"I am obliged to Brother José because I believe that through his prayers the Mother of God performed the great miracle that I asked for. It was very moving for me to stand at the grave of Brother José. I will forever remember this pilgrimage with gratitude."
When we returned home, I received the following email from Estonia:
"Joyous commemoration day of Brother José Muñoz! We would like to share this joy: an akathist for brother José for private reading. Compiled unexpectedly, with great love for Brother José, right on the day of the 25th anniversary of his memory. Apologies for any errors in facts and phrasing. Greetings on the feast!"
The akathist sent is entitled: "Akathist to the Great Holy Equal-of-the-Apostles José of America." Its text can be found here. Several years ago, an akathist to the Hawaiian Icon was also compiled in Russia.
Some ask what is the significance of bringing back the Montreal Icon in the form of the myrrh-streaming Hawaiian Icon? One possible answer: is the Lord moving us toward the Church’s glorification of the Martyr José among the saints? Brother José and the Montreal Icon were inseparable. They departed from us together. The icon has returned – and the memory of Brother José must also return, and the veneration of the martyr must find Church-wide recognition.
In recent years, amazing signs have appeared at the grave of Brother José. The guardian of the Hawaiian Icon, Priest Nectarios Yangson, is convinced that with this, the Mother of God herself glorifies her chosen one. Every year that Fr. Nectarios brings the Hawaiian Icon to the grave of Brother José, the holy icon streams myrrh so strongly, forming bubbles of the holy myrrh on the icon, and this blessed moisture overflows onto the analogion cover and sometimes even to the ground. The candles on the grave burn in the pouring rain and sometimes burn down to ground level and even below ground level when the candle wicks floating in the water continue to burn. All this was captured on video. All this can be seen on the Washington cathedral’s website: www.stjohndc.org.
In 2003, on the 20th anniversary of the appearance of the Montreal Icon, a book was published in Russian entitled The Montreal Icon & Brother José, where on 500 pages, many memories of Brother José and testimonies of physical and spiritual miracles performed through the prayers of people before this wondrous icon are shared.
Yes, Fr. Nectarios, the guardian of the Hawaiian Icon, is right – the Mother of God is sending us signs to glorify Brother José. How many more such signs will it take to convince us weak believers that "God is wondrous in His saints," and that it is time to get serious about glorifying the chosen one of the Mother of God?
Archpriest Victor Potapov
Translated by the Media Office of the Eastern American Diocese