December 28, 2014

The Silence of Joseph

By Fr. Vasilios I. Kalliakmanis

A) If it is true that the language of the world to come is that of silence, then Joseph, the Betrothed of the Virgin, is a type of the man of the age to come. None of his words are recorded in the Gospels, none of his conversations mentioned. Only his thoughts and actions are described. He approaches the mystery of the ineffable self-emptying of the Son and Word of God with awe, circumspection and silence. And when thoughts of doubt overwhelm him, with the torment caused by unbearable mental pain, then heaven speaks.

B) But let's take things from the beginning. Joseph was chosen when he was at the threshold of old age to become the protector and guardian of the Virgin. During the betrothal, however, she was found to be pregnant "by the Holy Spirit". This caused him doubts and he considered it the result of adultery. According to the poet of the Akathist Hymn: "Filled with a storm of contradictory thoughts, the wise Joseph was greatly tormented."

C) This torment was "translated" in a lively and dramatic way by another hymn that is chanted during the First Hour of the Feast of Christmas:

Joseph said to the Virgin: “What has happened to you, O Mary? I am troubled; what can I say to you? Doubt clouds my mind; depart from me! What has happened to you, O Mary? Instead of honor, you bring me shame. Instead of joy, you fill me with grief. Men who praised me will blame me. I cannot bear condemnation from every side. I received you from priests in the temple as a pure virgin in the sight of the Lord. What is it that I now see?”

D) Despite his thoughts, for Joseph was pious and just, he did not want to publicly humiliate Mariam. He decided to break off their engagement, without formal proceedings. Then an angel of the Lord appeared in his sleep and said: "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins" (Matt. 1:21-22).

E) Joseph was a unique person, because he followed the path of his heart and not the rigor of the law. He has been declared "just", although he was not attached to the old law, but he exceeded it by helping to contribute to the work of grace. He became a minister of the new covenant, not according to the letter of the law but by the Spirit of God - "for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life" (2 Cor. 3:6). Moreover, Christian justice is found above and beyond the limits of any attachment to the letter of the law.

F) The words of the gospel are living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating deeply and judging the thoughts and intentions of people (see Heb. 4:12). Silence has proven, however, to be equally salvific. Not guilty silence, but the silence that comes from a heart of simplicity, clarity, spaciousness and unconditional obedience to the divine will. In the case of Joseph, silence accompanied the miracle of the Birth of Christ.

G) In a time of gabbiness, verbosity and even of the increasing dissemination of ecclesiastical words, it is almost impossible to estimate the value of silence. It is even more difficult in our modern rationalist time for someone to approach the divine Nativity in the way Joseph did. He, however, surpassed the shell of human reason and made his heart white as snow, having tasted even faintly "within his heart" the presence of the Redeemer "who became poor for us", in the personages of the beloved brethren and the "others" who are the least.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.