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April 4, 2017

Synaxarion of Saint Joseph the Hymnographer

St. Joseph the Hymnographer (Feast Day - Gr. April 3; Slav. April 4)


Of the living God you are a divine hymnist Father,
I at your death am a new hymnist.

Saint Joseph flourished during the reign of Theophilos the iconoclast (829-842), and came from the island of Sicily. He was the son of lieutenant parents named Plotinus and Agatha. Pious and meek in his mind, he dedicated himself to the study of the divine Scriptures. When Sicily became enslaved to the Hagarenes, the Saint went to the Morea together with his mother and brothers, and from there they went to Thessaloniki, where he became a Monk, and entered the spiritual struggle of asceticism. For a bed he laid out animal skin on the ground and his clothing was frugal. His food consisted of a little bread and for drink he simply drank water. He kept vigils and stood all night. Continuously he would bend his knees in prayer. On his lips were continuous hymns to God, and for handiwork he was a calligrapher and would do readings of the divine Scriptures. By such labors, the renowned one became meek, modest, measured, simple, guileless, and he had all the other virtues mentioned above. Due to these virtues, he was ordained a Priest. Not long after, he found Saint Gregory the Decapolite, a holy and notable man, went with him to Constantinople, and together they shut themselves in the Church of of the Holy Hieromartyr Antipas, struggling in hardships and other maltreatments of the body. Because the Christ-fighting heresy of iconoclasm arose, for this reason the blessed one withdrew to Rome, at the urging of some who were pious. On the way he encountered Cretan privateer ships, which took him as a slave to Crete and imprisoned him.

There the Saint always taught those who came to him the path of salvation and virtue. Thus with soul-benefiting words he liberated many from the hands of the devil. A sacred and revered person appeared to him there, the great Nicholas, and said to him: "I am from Myra of Lycia and I have come to you, therefore receive this scroll I give you." The Saint received and read the scroll, and chanted it saying: "Speed Thou, O Compassionate One, and hasten, since Thou art merciful, to come unto our aid, for Thou art able, if it be Thy will."* The meaning of this song, O the miracle!, immediately took place in the morning. And with the death of Theophilos who caused iconoclasm, the Church of Christ again received her decoration and comeliness with the revered and holy icons. Thus Saint Joseph was freed from imprisonment in Crete, and went to Constantinople.

Because the Saint received from a Christian a portion of the honorable relic of the great Apostle Bartholomew, and built a church in the name of the Apostle together with Saint Gregory the Decapolite, for this reason he took greater care and thought to honor the festival of the Apostle with sacred songs and troparia. Therefore he entreated with tears and sighs the Apostle of the Lord to grant him the gift of composition, and that which he longed for was granted to him. In a vision he saw a fearsome man with an apostolic form, who took the holy Gospel from the sacred Altar, and he placed it on the chest of the Saint, then blessed him. This was the beginning of the divine gift he desired. From then on, so easily and without labor did he compose the sacred melodies, and the asmatic canons and troparia, and gave them to those who asked, that some thought he did not composed them himself, but would take them from others, and having learned them and memorized them, he copied them and gave them to those who asked. But this was not the truth of the matter, as those who were deceived thought. Rather the songs were offered from the Saint by divine grace, for this reason he became famous through word of mouth, and to all he was much longed for and loved, not only to commoners and those who governed, but even to the emperors of his time.**

After this Caesar Bardas, the uncle of Emperor Michael, had him exiled because the Saint rebuked him, but he was soon recalled back from exile and became the skeuophylax of the sacred vessels of the Church, during the patriarchate of the divine Ignatios. After Saint Ignatios died, the wise Photios, who became Patriarch after Ignatios, loved the Saint and praised him. Because the renowned one struggled on behalf of Orthodoxy, he was exiled to Cherson, which is next to Crimea. After the death of Bardas, who was killed by his nephew Michael, the Saint was released from exile by Empress Theodora, who brought about Orthodoxy and restored the holy icons.

Surviving these things, and having composed many encomia to the Saints with various canons and troparia, he departed to the Lord,*** and his honorable relic was buried in that Monastery in which he still can be found. God, wanting to show people the honor Saint Joseph received after death, ordained the following. At the time the Saint reposed, a man lost one of his useful servants. Thus he went to the Church of Saint Theodore the Tiro called the Revealer, and he entreated the Martyr to reveal the location of his servant. After remaining in the church for three nights, and not finding out anything concerning his servant, he sorrowed and considered leaving. At the time Matins was being chanted, and a soul-benefitting discourse was read in the church, that man fell asleep, and behold in a dream he saw the Martyr, who told him: "Why do you sorrow O man? Know that the poet Joseph has reposed this night, and all of us Saints attended to him and conducted him, for that holy soul honored us with canons and encomiastic troparia. Thus I was not here, but have come now, therefore go to such and such a place, and there you will find you servant whom you seek."


* This was written by St. Romanos the Melodist and is taken from the Kontakion to the Three Children on December 17th.

** Since Joseph's contribution to the Studites reform is often confused with the works of Joseph of Thessaloniki, Theodore's brother, the exact attribution of poems "by Joseph" is still a controversial issue. According to Eutychios Tomadakes, among all the contributions of Joseph the Hymnographer, 385 canons and 9 kontakia of the Menaion, 68 canons of the Parakletike, 6 complete canons of the Triodion and 34 triodes-tetraodes, 2 canons and 24 triodes-tetraodes of the Pentecostarion could be clearly attributed to the Sicilian Joseph. He also created more than 6 canons and 13 stichera — so-called apocrypha - which were not included in the new chant books of the Sticherarion created by the Studites.

*** He reposed on April 3, 886.

Apolytikion in the Second Tone
Come, let us acclaim the divinely inspired Joseph, the twelve-stringed instrument of the Word, the harmonious harp of grace and lute of heavenly virtues, who lauded and praised the assembly of the saints. And now he is glorified with them.

Kontakion in the Third Tone
Your divinely inspired tongue was the pen of a ready scribe, according to the words of David. You sang of the contests of the saints,and described the grace they received through their labors. Therefore, we cry to you: Rejoice, O blessed harp of holy melodies.