Life of Brother Joseph Muñoz-Cortez
Who was he - the chosen one of the Mother of God that carried Her icon for 15 years, the one whom everyone would call Brother, even to this day?
Brother Joseph Muñoz-Cortez, the keeper of the Iveron Montreal Myrrh-streaming Icon of the Mother of God, is known to the Orthodox world as the Guardian, the Chosen One. He was brutally tortured and murdered after 15 years of selfless service to the Mother of God, who gave him Her unique image for the blessing, anointing, healing, and pacifying of the world in the face of believers.
How and why did a simple Spaniard from Santiago, Chili, a convert to the Orthodox faith from Catholicism, end up on such a Divine path that performed miracles manifested in the Russian Church Abroad at the end of the 20th century?
There are many questions about Brother José, and the answers are hidden from us for a reason. We can contemplate these unanswered questions and feel awe and inspiration; we can write poems and icons, all without waiting for his glorification, yet much of the Chosen One of the Mother of God's life still remains a mystery.
There are testimonies, memories, and photographs which touch us with a wave of heavenly aroma, fanning the entire spiritual history of Brother Joseph. His life exceeds rational comprehension like a mystery you feel and understand but have no words to describe. Yet, many of those who met and knew him spoke of him as "an ordinary person," "the same as everyone else." The Apostle Paul is recalled: "For all I became all things, that I might save at least some" (1 Cor. 9:22).
And yet, was he really "like everyone else"?
Joseph descended from the ancient Spanish family of Cortes, in which the Virgin Mary was especially revered, and all the firstborns were named after Joseph the Betrothed. But his family lineage was not what defined him: it was his humility, extreme simplicity, compliance in everyday communication, complete absence of egoism, genuine sense of his own insignificance and firmness in matters of spiritual responsibility. It would not be an exaggeration to say that these are the traits of holiness that distinguished many of whom we call God's saints: servants of love, who have shown love with their whole lives.
It was the noble spirit of Brother Jose's personality that does not allow us to comprehend his spiritual feat rationally. It is impossible to conform his life story into the standard polishing that most saints receive during their canonization, which kills them a second time by removing their unique qualities until their stories sound like the same person in the end.
Who really is Brother Joseph, who was "like everyone else" to so many that met him? He was an approachable, warm, gentle, compassionate, and unusually kind person who consciously disappeared into the shadows in the presence of the One Who was praised by his "every breath." By carrying Her Icon, he brought into the world Her radiance, Her fragrance, Her healing power: he gave his own life in complete attention to the will of the Mother of God. He listened with spiritual ears: his life was illuminated by the mystical fire of unceasing communication with the heavenly world. He was also simple for "those who have no ears to hear," and to them, he was an ordinary person who, for some reason, a unique mission just "fell into his lap."
Jose Muñoz-Cortes was born on May 13, 1948. Since childhood, he was distinguished by an artistic feeling, craving for beauty in everything. He graduated from the Academy of Arts in Santiago, and after being drawn to Orthodoxy, he was especially interested in icon painting. How did Jose, who grew up in a strictly Catholic family, find himself in the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia? The story of the circumstances of the arrival of the Spanish boy in the Russian Church of the Holy Trinity is similar to that of a fairy tale.
Brother Jose recalled:
"We first lived in a city on the seashore and then moved to the capital. We went to church regularly every Sunday. On the day of our move, my mother told me: 'Go to church yourself, I'm very busy because of the move, I'll come back later. The church is at the end of the street.' I went. In the middle of the street, I stopped when I heard the singing. I saw a small church and entered it. There were many icons: Christ, the Mother of God, and various saints. Seeing the icons, I thought that this is not a Protestant church, but also not a Catholic one. Soon Vladyka appeared with a miter on his head. I had a feeling that this was a dream…. Finally, he spoke to me in Spanish: 'Come and kiss the cross.' I replied: 'Sorry, I was mistaken, I came here by accident.' Then he affectionately told me: 'No, my boy, you were not mistaken. God brought you here.'… What touched me especially was the poor environment and his love. I thought, 'If the bishop is so poor and there is so much love in him, then this is the true Church.' And I started going there."
Gradually, his whole life changed completely, and a few years later, in 1964, Jose would become Joseph in baptism. Beauty called him to Orthodoxy - the aroma, wonderful singing, the light of vigil lamps, warm hues of icons, and the loving gaze of Vladyka.
In a modest church where pious Russian exiles prayed, Jose found a spiritual mentor in the Russian bishop-confessor, Archbishop Leonty of Chile, a great friend of St. John of Shanghai and San Fransisco.
Vladyka Leonty, who faced unimaginable trials during the years of persecution in Soviet Russia and miraculously survived, conveyed to Joseph his wavering, agitated, and passionate love for Russia.
What entered into the compassionate heart of young Joseph was the knowledge about the unprecedented torments of the people, its shepherds, monks, laity, peasants, and intellectuals; the mass martyrdom of Orthodox Christians marked the Russian history of the twentieth century with a true Golgotha Cross. Joseph fell in love with this land soaked in martyr's blood, and he associated the future acquisition of the icon, which happened exactly one year after the glorification of the New Martyrs of Russia, with this event.
During the years of communion with Vladyka, the angelic icon of the martyr Grand Duchess Elizabeth came into his life, and he honored and loved her from that moment. St. Elizabeth, one could say, is the most spiritually akin to Brother Joseph. Thus began his path to those days on the Holy Mount Athos, when all his searching and prayers would unite him with the Higher, unearthly Beauty - the miraculous image of the Iveron Mother of God.
The event of acquiring the Icon in November 1982 was described many times by Joseph. He lacked a teacher, his studies at Shelekhov were not exhaustive, and for years he dreamed of traveling to Mount Athos to find a place where monastic iconographers work. His long and ardent desire for monasticism also pointed him to the Holy Mountain. The Nativity of the Theotokos Skete of Katounakia, a place renowned for its icon painting, is where he met Her Icon, which from one glance, "the heart seemed to turn over in the chest," as he himself would say later. Requests, prayers, the abbot's firm refusal to sell the Holy Image of the Virgin, and an inexplicable feeling that the icon would go with him to Montreal.
"I felt that it would be so without proper grounds for this, because after the Liturgy, when I once again asked to sell me an icon, they answered me: 'It's impossible, don't insist.' But in spite of everything, I believed that the icon would go with me. It was not pride and self-confidence; it was a child's faith in a miracle.
"The next morning, we had to leave at 5 o'clock to be in time for the ship. All the monks came to say goodbye to us, except for the abbot. Before leaving, a friend told me: 'You see, we are leaving without an icon.' I answered: 'We have not yet left the skete.' We were already at the gate when we were suddenly overtaken by the abbot, who was carrying a package in his hands. 'Joseph,' he said, 'the Mother of God wants to go with you.' I couldn't believe my ears. 'The Mother of God,' I asked, 'which one?' 'Iverskaya.' I was in awe ...
"Three weeks later, we returned to my apartment in Montreal. On the night before the feast of Saints Mina, Victor, and Vincent (November 24/11), I suddenly woke up from an amazing fragrance. At first, I thought that the perfume bottle had broken or that the fragrance came from the relics of the saints in my room. I got these relics from Vladyka Leonty, and I placed the icon next to them. In the morning, when I began to read Hours in front of the icon, I noticed that it was covered with myrrh. At first, I thought it was oil from a votive lamp ... I wiped the icon dry, but soon myrrh reappeared on it.
"So one week passed. Myrrh continued to pour out and fill my room with fragrance. Then I called Vladyka Vitaly. He came and dried the icon with a piece of clean cloth. And when he put it in its place, myrrh began to flow out again. Then he fell to his knees and said: 'This is God's miracle!' The icon was taken to the cathedral, and during the liturgy, myrrh was poured out in such abundance that it dripped onto the floor. We did not receive this God's grace for any of our merits - we do not deserve anything! - but for the blood of thousands of martyrs shed in Russia and other countries ...
"... for 12 years now, I have been traveling everywhere with the icon. I realized that this miracle calls us all to spiritual rebirth. This means that may we not confuse the fragrance of God's grace with the stench of sin, and may we live in this kingdom of materialism as true Christians. With this wonderful gift, the Holy Mother of God wants to show us that the spiritual world is completely different from the material world and that our Church is not of this world. This requires us to renounce the world in our hearts; we must be transformed in order to enter our heavenly homeland, where there is no place for anything unclean. "(Conversation with Brother Joseph in Sofia, Bulgaria, October 1995)
For fifteen years, Brother Joseph traveled with the icon to almost all the parishes of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad and visited many countries. Visits of the Icon were always accompanied by innumerable miracles, so many that they cannot all be accounted for.
The miracle of the myrrh-streaming of the Iveron Montreal Icon of the Virgin, the Mother of God, the Theotokos, marked the final decades of the twentieth century. These were the years when the world was just entering a "new technological era. "During these years, the heavenly incense was poured out on humanity, with fragrant myrrh, a substance whose nature cannot be explained in any other way than by the certainty of the existence of God, which was distributed throughout the Orthodox world. "When God so wills, the order of nature is overruled, for He does whatsoever He wills." (Ode 4, Theotokion, The Great Canon of Saint Andrew of Crete) Out of "nowhere" appeared on the image of the Mother of God, a fragrant substance, myrrh, that has the power of transforming matter - "the blind see and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear" (Matthew 11:5). The Iveron Montreal Icon became a powerful message of evangelical truth and remains so to this day.
Brother Joseph Munoz-Cortez was brutally martyred on the night of October 31, 1997, in Athens. The location of the icon is not currently known.
There is no doubt that in the Iveron Montreal Icon, the apostolic mission of the Most Holy Theotokos was fulfilled with a special power and purpose. This mission cannot be stopped by skepticism, indifference, or any form of violence: in fact, this mission becomes stronger with more push-back.
The martyrdom of Brother Joseph, his selfless love, and the example of his service continues to change people. Brother Joseph ignites human hearts with faith, hope, and love. And "love never ceases, though prophecies cease, and tongues are silenced, and knowledge is abolished." (1 Cor. 13:8)