By Michael H. Brown
He was released after the intervention of President Ronald Reagan. He spent twenty years in some of the harshest prisons known to humanity — imprisoned in the Soviet gulag for his Catholic activism. In prison, he suffered tremendous hardship as well as mystical experiences. Upon release, he met privately on several occasions with another victor over Communism — John Paul II.
His name was Josyp Jaromyr Terelya and he died Monday night at the age of 65 at a Toronto restaurant after several years of battling congestive heart failure.
He was a friend of mine. Together, we wrote his autobiography, Witness: to Apparitions and Persecution in the U.S.S.R.
I had never met anyone quite like him. No one was tougher. No one was more dedicated to the Church (and his homeland of Ukraine). He was like any human. He was not perfect. But he was a hero. He was a hero of his time and his death leaves a void for all who were even vaguely familiar with what he had suffered. It is hard to be perfect when you have witnessed many killed and your youth has been robbed from you.
Years in camps. Months at a time in frigid prisons. Isolation in cells the size of an outhouse — not even able to stand. Beating after beating. Water thrown on him outside in the midst of a Soviet winter — left with a coating of ice because he would not remove a religious medal. Pins stuck into his arms, lamps shined in his eyes all night, and a “freeze cell” in the notorious Corpus Two unit of Vladimir Prison, where he related a rescue by the Blessed Mother (who appeared to him in apparition, reviewed his life and the country’s future, and caused the cell to turn preternaturally warm — terrifying his captors).
Let’s let him tell it:
“Cell 21 had been turned into a veritable freezer,” he wrote in Witness (which was later presented to the Pope by a future Ukrainian bishop). “It was the middle of winter and they were forcing in frigid air. The walls were coated with ice so thick that you could make it ring by tapping an object against it.
“They stripped me of my winter clothes, leaving me there in a light shirt. In half an hour I felt my jaws freeze shut. I couldn’t move them. And the very roots of my hair hurt.
“My mind was working, I was aware that I was freezing, and I gathered my strength. I climbed the grate on the cell door to warm my head against the ceiling light bulb.
“The guard on duty looked through the peephole, saw this, and switched off the light. I sat on my bed and began to freeze. There was an old quilt you could see through and I wrapped myself in it, garnering what little comfort it could afford me. Too weak, I finally lay down, praying and awaiting my fate. Within another ten minutes my lips wouldn’t move, and my eyelids felt like they too were freezing shut. My head was splitting, my eyes, my temples, my jaws. I could still think but I couldn’t move my limbs. I was freezing to death.
“It was then that I became aware of an intense flash in the room, a very powerful light, and heard what sounded like someone walking in my cell.
“My eyes were clamped. I couldn’t tell who it was. I can’t explain what happened — lying there with my eyes shut, in a state approaching paralysis — but somehow I became aware that the room was illuminated. And the cell was starting to feel warmer. Against my eyelids I felt the palm of a woman’s hand and smelled the soft pure fragrance of milk.
“When the hand lifted I was able to open my eyes. There before me was the young Virgin. ‘You called to me,’ she said, ‘and I have come.'”
It was one of several major mystical experiences in prison. In this case, the date was February 11, 1972 (feast day of Lourdes). The guards were terrified at how the cell was suddenly so warm. They accused him of “yoga.” Terelya survived. Eventually, he found his way into freedom and married Olena, a doctor who waited years for his release. They moved to Canada and had three children, who remain in that nation. After Olena’s death, Josyp married an American woman, Alexandra (Sam) Terelya, from Freeland, Michigan, on his birthday, October 27, 2006. She is now his widow. Funeral plans have not yet been announced.
He was released from prison and fled to the West in 1987, appearing before a congressional committee and then spending years shipping bibles, holy cards, and other religious items to Ukraine. He was featured on an NBC series and written about in dozens of newspapers. In recent years he eked out a meager existence selling his artwork.
A fiery speaker on the Marian circuit during the 1990s, some of his later prophecies were controversial, but no one could doubt his heroism, faith, and the work he did in spreading word not only about his prison experience but also a major apparition at Hrushiw in his native Ukraine (which I personally travelled to and verified). He often traveled with close friend Bishop Roman Danylak, also of Toronto, who translated the interviews.
There was a power around Terelya that was tangible.
Once, at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, my wife felt a sudden force down one of the corridors and looked up to see him.
There was the charism of strength.
There was the charism of power, no matter the odds.
He never quite recovered from spending his youth — his twenties, his thirties, part of his early forties — in confines.
Neither did he ever concede a single thing that impinged on Catholicism. As a reputed mystic, Terelya saw huge events — apocalyptic events — on the horizon
He was a hero for our time and a man whose experiences in prison were largely verifiable, one of the most extraordinary occurring (and documented by a letter written to Olena on July 17, 1983) when he was passing out from cold and fatigue in solitary at L’viv concentration camp HSP-7-385-30 for possessing religious items.
“I was very tired so once again I crouched in a corner,” he wrote. “I don’t know whether I fell asleep or was awake. It was night. I saw myself in the center of a meadow and all of a sudden an intense light illuminated the meadow and I recognized a familiar aroma spreading around me. The odor was like apple blossoms. A large white eagle came and settled on the field and told me I should not fear. In the distance I saw an old man dressed in white. I remember only his face. And he said to me: ‘Why are you so troubled?’
“I asked who he was and he said he was a servant of the Lord. ‘I know you and you know me,’ he said.
“His voice continued in this dream or vision. ‘The Lord is now gathering the good men against the evil,’ he said. ‘The world would long ago have been destroyed but the soul of the world would not allow this.’
“I asked what he meant by the ‘soul of the world.’ He said the soul of the world is composed of Christians.
“The old man went on to give me a long message, and I related it to Olena. The man told me rebellion against God extended across the world and apostates were presenting themselves as prophets.
“‘Even worse times are approaching than the time of Luther,’ he said. ‘There are many faithful and even members of the hierarchy who will fall into neo-paganism. God needs fervent and constant sons. Prayer will help you to find a solution to difficult situations. In four years you shall meet the Pope and his cardinals and they will listen to you. A year later great miracles will take place and the testimony of hundreds of thousands of Christians of the true faith will verify your words. The Pope will call you once more but bad priests and apostates will confuse and cause problems for the Holy See.
“‘You shall go through the ways of the world and give witness, and in the end God will punish the apostates because only through this punishment will God be able to bring man back to sound reason.'”
“‘And when the faith and love shall be reborn, Satan will begin a new persecution of Christians. Times of persecution will begin, of priests and the faithful.
“‘The world will be divided into the messengers of God and messengers of anti-christ.’
“‘After the great revelations of the Virgin Mary, renewal of love of Christ will begin. You will see the rapid rise of devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.’
“I asked him,” recounted Terelya, “whether I would still be in prison, and this ancient, celestial man answered, ‘Yes, but not for long because God has other plans for you.’
‘I asked again, ‘Who are you? What is your name?’
“His answer: ‘I’m a servant of God, the archangel Michael.’
“Tears streamed down my face. When I came to I didn’t know if I had dreamed it or really seen it.
“Meanwhile the guards smelled the aroma of apples and began searching the cells. But of course there were no apples to be found.”
[Please pray for Josyp, his wife Alexandra, and his family, with, too, the memory of Olena]
From the Archives:
When we ran into him last month at a conference at the University of Notre Dame Josyp Terelya informed us that he would be in Ukraine for the Pope’s visit. We’ll have a story later in the week on the extraordinary phenomena in that mysterious land. Terelya is the Catholic activist who spent 20 years in the Soviet gulag because of his faith and who experienced visions of the Archangel Michael and the Blessed Mother while imprisoned and tortured. His story is told in the book, Witness, which was presented to the Pope on September 2, 1991, by Bishop Roman Danylak of Toronto. Terelya has met with the Pope several times, including at John Paul’s place of retreat, and believes the Pope too has visions, though John Paul did not specifically speak to Terelya about it. During a meeting on November 7, 1987, at the Vatican the Pope did listen to Terelya’s accounts of apparitions at a small chapel called Hrushiw not too far from Lviv, which the Pope is currently visiting. Terelya said the Pope’s especially eyes widened when he mentioned Zarvanytya, a shrine located east of Lviv. We’ll be mentioning it again later in the week. We believe it is one of the most power (and hidden) shrines in the world. Stay tuned…