(†) CHARALAMBOS D. VASILOPOULOS
SAINTS’ LIVES (258)
His memory is celebrated on 3rd April
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Saint Joseph the Hymnographer was born on Sicily in the 9th century. Since he was young he had studied the Holy Scriptures and was devoted to ascetic life and to acquiring the virtues. His handiwork was calligraphy.
When the Agars conquered Sicily, he first left and went to the Peloponnese and then to Thessaloniki. Later he was ordained a priest and together with Saint Gregory of Decapolis they went to Constantinople, where they stayed cloistered in the church of the Holy Martyr Antipa. Then, when he left for Rome he was arrested while en route, and put in prison on Crete. After Theofilus’ death, when the persecution of iconoclasm stopped, he returned to Constantinople where he received the gift of the Hymnographer by God’s Grace. Having extolled many Saints through canons and troparia, he departed to the Lord where he has been resting together with all the Righteous ones.
HOLY JOSEPH THE HYMNOGRAFER
Holy Joseph, who is called the Hymnographer, lived in the era of king Theofilus the iconoclast (829-842) and his successors Michael the Third (842-867) and Vasilios the First (867-886). He came from Sicily where he was born in 816. His father’s name was Plotinus and his mother’s Agatha.
An ascetic life since his Youth
Since he was young, the blessed Joseph was pious and mild and he occupied himself with the study of the Holy Scriptures with diligence. But when the Agars landed on Sicily in 827 and little by little they conquered the island, the Saint, just 15 years old, left with his mother and brothers for the Peloponnese. From there he went to Thessaloniki, where he became a monk and devoted himself to the spiritual struggles of an ascetic life. For a bed he had a piece of leather laid on the ground and his clothes were very beggarly. His food was a piece of bread and for drink he had plain water. He had many overnight vigils and he prayed on his knees for many hours too. His mouth was constantly filled with hymns towards God. As handiwork he had calligraphy and he studied the Holy Scriptures.
He is ordained priest
Due to all this toil, the blessed one became peaceful, modest, moderate, simple, benevolent, in a few words the blessed one had all the virtues that follow the above characterizations. So, because of these virtues, he was ordained a priest.
Together with Saint Gregory of Decapolis
After a while, he met Saint Gregory of Decapolis, a holy and literary man and travelled with him to Constantinople, where for a period of time they were both cloistered in the church of the Holy Martyr Antipa. There, Joseph kept struggling in respect of obduracy and other hardships of the body. Due to the rise in iconoclasm, the Christ fighting heresy, he was encouraged by some pious men to leave for Rome in 841.
He is put in prison on Crete
While the Saint was travelling to Rome, he happened upon some pirate ships of Cretans who captured him and took him to Crete where they put him in prison. There, he always preached to those who visited him, guiding them in the way of salvation and virtue and he saved a lot of people from the hands of the devil with his soul edifying speeches.
Saint Nicolas appears to him.
While he was still there, a sacred and venerable man, who was Saint Nicolas, said to him: “I come from Myra in Lycia and I have come to you in order to give you this paper. Therefore, receive it and read it.” After the Saint took it, he read it through and simultaneously chanted what he was reading. “Hurry, You The Compassionate and come Merciful to help us because you can if you wish.” The meaning of this chant, oh what a miracle, immediately came true in the morning, since Theofilus, the leader of iconoclasm died. Thus, not only did Christ’s church return to the ornamentation and the magnificence of the venerable Icons but also the monks who had been exiled, were called back from their banishment and returned to their monasteries. It was then that Saint Joseph was released from prison on Crete and returned to Constantinople in 842.
The sacred gift.
Because the Saint received from a Christian, a piece of the great Apostle Bartholomew’s honourable relic, he built a church together with Saint Gregory of Decapolis dedicated to this holy Apostle. He also tried hard to honour the celebration of this Apostle with chants and troparia. So, he begged the Apostle, with tears and groans to give him the gift of composition and in the end he got what he asked for. He saw in vision an awesome man with the Apostolic attire who took the Holy Gospel from the Altar and placed It on the Saint’s chest and then blessed him. That was the beginning of the holy gift that he had wished for. Since he composed the holy melodies and chants’ canons with such ease and with no effort, and gave them to the people who asked for them, some people believed that he did not compose them himself, but borrowed them from others, memorized them, copied them and finally gave the chants to them. But that was not the case, as they wrongly thought, since he composed the chants, inspired by the Holy Gift he had received. This is the reason why he had a good reputation and was liked and beloved not only by the simple people and the noblemen but also by kings.
He is exiled by Varda.
Despite all these, Cesar Vardas, the uncle of King Michael, who was governing the empire, accused him of being a friend of Saint Ignatius the Patriarch (whose memory is celebrated on the 23rd October) because both of them continuously criticized Vardas for leaving his wife and having a relationship with his daughter in law. This is the reason why Vardas deposed Saint Ignatius the Patriarch from the throne after 11 years in Patriarchate (846-858) and exiled him. For the same reason he exiled Saint Joseph.
He becomes Sacristan of the Holy Church.
After a while he was called back from his exile and during the second period of Saint Ignatius Patriarchate (867-877) he was appointed Sacristan of the consecrated vessels of the Holy Church. He also kept this position during the second period of Saint Fotios’s Patriarchate (877-886). This is because Saint Fotios, who succeeded Saint Ignatius for a second time, held him dear and praised him for his virtues.
The Saint’s death.
So, the thrice-blessed Joseph having lived meritoriously until the end of his life and also having praised many Saints through canons and troparia, he set off to the Lord, while in Constantinople in the year 886. His honourable relic was buried in his monastery.
He was honoured in Heaven.
The Omnipotent and Most Gracious God, wanting to reveal to humans the honour that Saint Joseph received in heaven, allowed the following incident to happen: on the very day of the Saint’s death, a good slave happened to disappear. His master went to the Church of Saint Theodor the Tyro, who is called the Revealer, and he begged the Martyr to reveal to him where his slave was. He stayed in the Church for three days and nights with no news about his slave and he felt sad and considered of leaving. But while the matins were being chanted and a soul edifying speech was being given in the Church, this man fell asleep and during his sleep saw the Martyr who told him: “Why are you upset, my man? Know that the poet Joseph died at this very night and he was welcomed by all us Saints, because his Holy soul honoured us through encomiastic canons and troparia. This is why I was not here and I have just arrived. So, go to such and such a place where you will find the slave you are looking for.”
Saint Nikodemus, the Monk of Mount Athos, says about Saint Joseph the Hymnographer, that he was an excellent and prolific writer and melodist of Christ’s Holy Church. This is because the greatest majority of the chanting Canons of the months’ services were composed by his melodious pen whilst the rest were composed by others. His canons have been printed in the months’ services and in the ninth ode they form his name in the acrostic. This holy hymnographer did not stop there, but he also composed octoechos canons in order to honour Virgin Mary, Saint Nicolas, John the Theologist, Michael the Archangel, Saint Stefan the First-Martyr, Saint George, Saint Panteleimon and many other Saints which are saved on manuscript at Mount Athos. Additionally, the fervent Octoechos, daily chanted in the Church, which is also commonly called Supplicatory because it either comforts those who read it or moves the sinful to repent. It is also his composition but not the troparia of Saturday verses which refer to the dead and are the compositions of Saint Theophanous who was also a melodist and writer. This is what Saint Nikodemus, the Monk of Mount Athos, notes about Saint Joseph, whereas younger researchers say that many of the supplicotary, the Triodion of Pentecost which are signed as Joseph’s, are Joseph of Stouditou’s compositions and not Joseph the Hymnographer.
When somebody lives a meritorious life and makes an effort from a young age to be as close as he can to God through fasting, prayers, vigils and struggling against the enemies of our faith then our Savior gives him whatever he asks for. This is exactly what happened with Saint Joseph. What did he ask Him with tears and sighs? He asked to receive the gift of composing hymns in order to delight Him. And He gave it to him and he became one of the greatest hymnographers of our church who delighted and glorified not only Christ but also the blessed Virgin Mary and all the Saints. That is why he was honoured so much as Saint Theodor of Tyro described. God glorifies His faithful servants and makes them coheirs to His everlasting kingdom.
You, father, were a godly praiser of the living God; I am a new praiser of you now that you are dead.
The twelve-chord instrument of God’s Word, the fully harmonious navla of God’s Grace, the godly speaking guitar of Heaven’s virtues, let us applaud Joseph who was inspired by God, since he resonated the Angels’ praise and sang hymns to all the Saints. So, together with them, he was glorified.
Your God inspired tongue, was David-like distinguished, as a discerning writing pen upon which God breathed, and which indeed praises the Saints’ achievements; due to your struggles your tongue received the gift of calligraphy, for those who say; Joseph, rejoice that you are the kinira of numinous odes.
Rejoice that you are church’s divine flute, the sweet sounding trumpet, the sweet- voiced nightingale; rejoice that you are the Saints’ God-inspired composer, oh Joseph, you thrice blessed, remarkable chord.
navla = an ancient musical instrument
kinira =an ancient musical instrument
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