18 September 2018

Iov (Kundria) the Venerable of Ugolka

Venerable Iov, the Abbot of Mala Ugolka

Ten years ago today, the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church canonised the holy Carpathian-Rusin Archimandrite Iov, who was the monastic head of the Eparchy of Khust and Vinograd. A gentle monastic under the Soviet authorities, he nevertheless stood fast against incursions by the government, for the traditional rights of Orthodox monasteries and the Church more generally. Many thanks to Fr Edward (Pehanich) for writing the life of this recent saint of Carpathian Rus’, from which I borrow heavily here!

Ivan Georgevich Kundria was born in the small Rusin village of Iza under the (often cruelly oppressive) Habsburg Monarchy, one of eight children in his family. He attended the local public school and graduated in 1920 with a specialisation in agronomy and animal husbandry. (Iza, it should be remembered, was the village where the return of the Rusins to Orthodoxy from Uniatism had begun in earnest, at the behest of priests returning from America who had served under Fr Alexis of Wilkes-Barre.) By the time he graduated, Iza had been integrated with the rest of Transcarpathia into the First Czechoslovak Republic, and young Ivan Georgevich joined the Czechoslovak Army, serving with distinction and loyalty in a unit stationed in Michalovce. Young Ivan saved up some money, and after his term of service, he twice made the journey on foot to Mount Athos, but was refused admission to the Russian Monastery of St Panteleimon there because he did not have the proper paperwork, and the Greek government was at that time legally restricting the number of non-Greeks allowed to live on the holy mountain.

Ivan Kundria attended the school at the Monastery of St Nicholas in his home village and graduated from there with a degree in pastoral theology. He and his brother the Hieromonk Panteleimon (Kundria) pooled everything they had and used it to buy a plot of land in the neighbouring village of Gorodilovo, on which was to be built a monastery consecrated, after the example of the monastery founded by St Sergius of Radonezh, to the Holy Trinity. The funds for the building were provided as a gift from St Panteleimon’s Monastery on Athos, as well as a relic from Greatmartyr Demetrius the Myrr-Streaming of Thessaloniki. The first rector of this monastery was the Venerable Saint Aleksei (Kabalyuk) of blessed memory, from whose loving and patient hands Ivan Kundria received the tonsure and the monastic name of Iov, on 22 December 1938.

Monk Iov’s life at the Holy Trinity Monastery was soon to suffer great sorrow and disruption. The Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia in 1939, and the Rusin people of Transcarpathia were driven en masse into the Soviet Union. They went in great processions, often preceded by their crosses and icons, along with what few meagre worldly goods they had, piled onto rickety carts. Unknowingly, they were fleeing toward – not a welcoming country of kinsmen, but a ruthless and determined atheist persecutor, the revolutionary Soviet government which had come to power more than twenty years before. Stalin had many of these Carpathian Rusins rounded up, arrested and sent straight on to Siberia when they came over the border from Czechoslovakia and Poland into Russia – and many of them perished en route or died of starvation once they arrived. Those Stalin could conscript for his armies, he did, and Monk Iov (having served in the Czechoslovak Army) was one such conscript.

Monk Iov was sent by the Soviets to the front lines to fight Hitler and the Nazis as an artilleryman in the First Czechoslovak Army Corps under Lieutenant-Colonel (later General) Ludvík Svoboda. As a monk, he was forbidden from shedding blood; when ordered to fire mortars, he would defuse them in secret before loading and firing them so that they could do no harm. It was during his service in the army that he met Archbishop Saint Luke (Voino-Yasenetsky) of Krasnoyarsk; the saintly doctor apparently made quite an impression on the younger Rusin monk, and all the rest of his life Saint Iov kept a photograph of him in his cell in a place of honour, alongside that of Gen Svoboda. For his service in the war, Gen Svoboda honoured him with a position as a Czechoslovak Embassy guard in Moscow – and later was secured pardon from his Siberian sentence by Gen Svoboda and given leave to return to Holy Trinity Monastery.

He was very quickly appointed to the priesthood and later made abbot at Gorodilovo, and served the Liturgy every day with prayerful attention. He set an example of humility, and did the menial work of the monastery alongside his brothers. His spiritual children, both inside and outside the monastery, benefitted greatly from his meek, kindly and merciful disposition, and he was greatly loved by all around him.

Fr Iov’s difficulties continued, however – the Soviets appointed a ‘bishop’, Barlaam, whose mission it was to close and liquidate the monasteries in Transcarpathia; Holy Trinity at Gorodilovo was not exempt – particularly when Fr Iov complained of Barlaam’s tyranny to the Patriarch in Moscow. He was sent from monastery to monastery after that, and in 1962 he ended up in the small Rusin village of Monastyrets (Mala Ugolka or Little Ugolka), at a hram dedicated to Greatmartyr Demetrius of Thessaloniki. Legend had it that Monastyrets was where the disciples of Saint Methodius fled after being forced out of Velehrad by hostile German authorities.

Fr Iov won the hearts of the people of Little Ugolka through an example of hard work, patience and humility that soon earned him the reputation of a starets. He served the Liturgy every day, just as he had at Gorodilovo. He made predictions about the end of Communist rule (that would come to be proven true after his repose), healed the sick, gave spiritual advice to many from peasants to university professors, and especially delighted in match-making for young couples. It is said that no marriage that had been arranged and blessed by him ever ended in divorce. During the 1960s he presided over the consecrations of over thirty temples and monasteries in the Carpathians.

He reposed peacefully on the 28th of July, 1985, and was soon considered for glorification, as the healing miracles continued even after his death. His relics – his body, Gospel, cross and vestments – were all found to be incorrupt, and smelled of myrrh and incense when they were unearthed. His relics were then placed in honour in the Church of Saint Demetrius at Little Ugolka, the town to which the Soviets had exiled him but which he nonetheless made his home. Holy Father Iov, Venerable Abbot and Wonderworker, pray to Christ our God for us, your unworthy children!

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