September 4, 2019

Saint Joasaph, Bishop of Belgorod (+ 1754)

St. Joasaph of Belgorod (Feast Days - September 4 and December 10)

Saint Joasaph was born at Proluka, in the former Poltava governance, on September 8, 1705, the Feast of the Nativity of the Most Holy Theotokos. He was descended from the old and venerable Little Russian (Ukrainian) lineage of the Gorlenkovi. At Baptism he was named Joachim.

In 1712, his father enrolled the seven-year-old Joachim in the Kiev Theological Academy. Within the walls of the academy he felt attracted to monastic life. For seven years he studied it further, and finally revealed his intention to his parents.

For a long time his mother and father pleaded with their first-born son not to accept monastic tonsure. But in 1725, unknown to them, he became a “rasophore” (“robe-wearing novice”) with the name Hilarion at the Mezhigorsk Monastery in Kiev, and on 21 November 1727 he was tonsured in the angelic schema with the name Joasaph at the Kievo-Bratsk Monastery. This event coincided with the completion of his studies at the theological academy.

After the death of Bishop Barlaam, the See of Kiev was governed by Archbishop Raphael Zaborovsky. Archbishop Raphael noticed the abilities of the young ascetic and assigned him to greater service to the Church. He was entrusted with the responsibility of the office of examiner of the Kiev archbishopric.

In November 1734, Archbishop Raphael ordained the hierodeacon Joasaph as hieromonk, and he was transferred from the Bratsk Monastery school to the Kiev-Sophia archbishop’s house. At the same time, he was appointed a member of the Kiev religious consistory.

In fulfilling the office of examiner, he exerted much effort towards the correction of moral deficiencies among the parish clergy. The Saint’s service in the consistory office enabled him to develop his administrative abilities. During this time, he made a good study of the needs of clergy, noting both the good points and the failings of the diocese. His talent for administration was combined with his great spiritual effort. He quickly ascended the ladder of spiritual perfection, which can be seen in his work, “The Conflict of the Seven Venerable Virtues with the Seven Deadly Sins.”

On June 24, 1737 Hieromonk Joasaph was appointed head of the Holy Transfiguration Mgarsk Monastery, and elevated to the rank of abbot. Here he worked with all his strength to put the monastery in good order, for it was an old bastion of Orthodoxy in the struggle with the Unia. In this monastery were the relics of Saint Athanasios, Patriarch of Constantinople and Wonderworker of Lubny (May 2). Several times Saint Athanasios appeared to Abbot Joasaph, as a sign of his patronal protection.

In 1744 Metropolitan Raphael elevated Abbot Joasaph to the dignity of archimandrite. Towards the end of that same year he was called to Moscow and soon, at the direction of the Holy Synod, he was appointed vicar of the Holy Trinity Sergiev Lavra Monastery, the most important Russian monastery and the spiritual center of the Russian Orthodox Church. At this monastery of Saint Sergius he also unstintingly fulfilled obedience to the Church (this required much exertion for the rebuilding of the monastery after a fire).

On June 2, 1748 at the Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral in Peterburg, Archimandrite Joasaph was ordained Bishop of Belgorod. Ascending the archbishop’s throne, Saint Joasaph strictly concerned himself with piety and the condition of the churches, with the proper celebration of divine services, and especially with the moral condition of his flock.

The Saint devoted great attention to the education of the clergy, and the correct observance of ecclesiastical norms and traditions. Just as before, the Saint worked with all his strength in his archpastoral service, without regard for his health.

The Glorification of St. Joasaph on September 4, 1911

On the eve of his repose, the Saint forbade his cell attendant Stephen to aspire to the priesthood, and he predicted that if he did not obey him, he would meet with an untimely end. To another cell attendant Basil, the Saint indicated that he would be a deacon, but would never become a priest. Later, this prediction was fulfilled.

He died on 10 December 1754, at the age of 49, at a village of Graivoron. On 15 December his body was taken from there to Belgorod and was placed in his Holy Trinity Cathedral. Not until 28 February 1755 was the coffin transferred to a crypt in the cathedral which had been made on Joasaph's orders. Some years later his body was found to be incorrupt. News of this spread, and the sick began to visit the coffin of Joasaph, many reporting cures. The miraculous power of Joasaph's relics became known throughout Russia, and every year more people came to Belgorod to seek their help. Joasaph thus gained the veneration of a saint, and icons of him became popular. In 1883 the Holy Trinity Cathedral became a monastery cathedral, and a series of requests for Joasaph's glorification began to be made. Finally, in 1910, Tsar Nicholas II asked the Holy Synod to glorify Joasaph as a saint, which it agreed to do. On 4 September 1911 the glorification was celebrated in the Holy Trinity Cathedral, Belgorud, attended by more than 200,000 people, many of whom had come from all over the Russian Empire and beyond.

Before the First World War, Joasaph's relics were greatly venerated and were brought out for the curing of the sick, when great crowds came hoping for a miraculous cure. One who attended such an occasion wrote: "Now, it is hard to imagine that sight: thousands and thousands of sick, bent, crippled, possessed, and blind people stood and lay on both sides of the road, along which the saint's relics were to be carried." A substantial shrine, made of silver, was created in the Holy Trinity Cathedral.

In the summer of 1914, when news came of the Austro-Hungarian monitor bombardment of the Serbian city of Belgrade beginning on 29 July 1914, one landowner, Prince Obolensky, spoke stirringly to his peasantry of the need for war, and they reacted enthusiastically. He later learned that his hearers had understood him to mean the Belgorod which held the relics of the recently glorified Joasaph.

After the October Revolution of 1917, the Bolsheviks removed Saint Joasaph's remains from his shrine in the cathedral at Belgorod, and for some seventy years their whereabouts remained unknown. In 1927 the Holy Trinity Cathedral itself was demolished. In the late 1980s the remains were discovered in the Museum of the History of Religion and Atheism of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR in Leningrad, and on 16 September 1991 they were solemnly returned to the new Cathedral of the Transfiguration of our Lord in Belgorod, the occasion being marked by a service in which Patriarch Alexy II took part. The same year, Leningrad returned to its former name of Saint Petersburg.

The Feast of the Uncovering of the Relics of Saint Joasaph, Bishop of Belgorod, is celebrated on 4/17 September, and also on 10/23 December which was the date of his death.