Amphilochius of Pochaev
Yakov was born on November 27, 1894 to Varnava and Anna Golovatiuk in the Ukrainian village of Malaya Ilovitsa. He was one of ten children in the family. Varnava, his father, took any work that was available, including making shoe-lasts and sleighs. Varnava also was an experienced setter of broken bones, and during Yakov’s youth he helped his father setting broken bones.
In 1912, Yakov served his compulsory military service as a field medic. During World War I, he helped in rescuing wounded companions from the battlefield. Captured by the Germans, he was sent to the Alps where he spent three years as a prisoner working for a farmer. After he escaped in 1919, he returned to his native village. In Malaya Ilovitsa, he resumed his life as a peasant and cared for the sick who came to him for help.
In 1925, Yakov entered the Pochaev Lavra as a novice. At the monastery he performed his duties industriously and with humility. He was tonsured a monk, with the name Joseph, on July 8, 1932 by Metr. Dionisy of Warsaw and All Poland. On September 21, 1933, he was ordained a Hierodeacon by Bp. Anthony. On September 27, 1936 he was ordained a hieromonk.
Among the tasks and obediences performed by Fr. Joseph at the Lavra, he became well known for his skill setting broken bones, such that suffering people were brought to him from all over the district. To limit the disturbance to the brethren of the Lavra by all the people coming to Fr. Joseph for treatment, he moved, with the blessing of the prior, to a small house in the monastery cemetery. Here, he lived with hieromonk Irinarch for the next twenty years. On some days he would receive up to 500 people who were looking for physical and spiritual healing. He dedicated his entire being to serving God and used his God given gifts helping his neighbor.
In the world of eastern Europe after World War II, he was attacked one night by a group of partisans who burst into his cell, demanding food. After finishing their meals, the group requested that the elder escort them away from the small hut. Upon reaching the gate the leader of the partisans told him he was to be shot. Facing imminent death, the elder took the news with utter humility, asking only that he be given ten minutes to pray. Granted the time, he read the “our Father,” O Theotokos,” “ I believe,” and began the prayer for the departure of the soul, when a distraught Fr. Irinarch burst out of the hut, concerned about Fr. Joseph’s long absence, and, seeing the machine gun pointed at the elder, knocked the gun down and began pleading with them to show mercy to the elder. Heeding Fr. Irinarch’s pleas, the group of partisans then left without any further threats.
During the days of Khrushchev’s persecutions of the Church of the late 1950s and 1960s, monastics were evicted from their monasteries and not allowed to return. In 1962, the elder, leading a group of monks, successfully defended the Holy Trinity Cathedral at the Lavra. However, after having defended the church, Fr. Joseph was taken away in the middle of the night to a psychiatric hospital where he was placed in the ward for the most “agitated” patients. Here he was “treated” with medications that caused a massive edema of his whole body. Pleas by his spiritual children for release went for naught. But, after three months the chief of medicine asked if he could heal others in the ward to which he answering yes. After rejecting his request for the Holy Gospels, a Cross, and vestments so that he could serve a Moleban with Bless of the Waters, he was returned to the ward.
Fr. Joseph’s release was gained through intervention by Svetlana Alleluieva, Joseph Stalin’s daughter, whom Fr. Joseph had once healed of a spiritual illness. Through her efforts he was released and return to his home village, to live with one of his relatives.
With his return home, suffering people began seeking him out again. This conflicted the local authorities, worried about the flood of people coming to the village to seek the elder’s blessing. The authorities finally persuaded one of his relatives to their position. The relative, tricking Fr. Joseph, took him on a tractor into the swamps beyond the village. In an isolate spot the elder was beaten and then thrown in the cold December water nearby to die. Some eight hours late some of the elder’s spiritual children found him still alive and took him to Pochaev Lavra, where he was immediately tonsured into the schema with the name Amphilochius, honoring the Holy Hierarch Amphilochius of Iconium. Through God’s mercy schema monk Amphilochius recovered. Since he did not have a residence permit to live at the lavra, he soon returned to his village.
In the village he continued serving a Moleben with Blessing of the Waters each day in his yard, helping the sick, and maintained an ascetic life. The elder found time for everyone.
- ‘‘Parish Life’’, Bulletin of the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, Washington, DC, May 2008