This calendar of saints is drawn from several denominations, sects, and traditions. Although it will no longer be updated daily, the index on the right will guide visitors to a saint celebrated on any day they choose. Additional saints will be added as they present themselves to Major.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

April 3 -- Feast of Saint Joseph the Hymnographer

... or Joseph the Exile, or Joseph the Fugitive, or maybe just Joseph the Homeless.  And of course he was also called the Sweet-voiced Nightingale of the Church.

Joseph was a Sicilian, born around AD 810.  The Arabs had been invading Sicily since 652.  They didn't establish the Emirate of Sicily until 965, but by age fifteen, with both his parents dead, Joe could tell that the breeze was southerly and headed north-east to Thessalonika.  He joined a monastery and was ordained a hieromonk (monk-priest combo). Because he was such a remarkably promising fellow, he was invited to join the Studium -- the monastery connected to the university in Constantinople. 

Nice hat, Joe!  w/ Saint Nicholas
Leo the Armenian (Leo V), the Byzantine Emperor, dispatched Joseph to Rome to negotiate with the Pope.  The Great Schism was a century and a half away, but the small cracks in the united church's facade were already visible.   Joseph never made it to Rome, though.  His ship was captured by Arab pirates and he was sold into slavery in Crete. 

He might have thought it was good that Christians purchased him, but then he discovered that Leo V had revived Leo III's war on holy icons and, by extension, on those who revere them.  Joseph found himself thrown into prison, serving six hard, but serving Mass (and no doubt some last rites) to the thieves and iconodules on cell block C. 

Meanwhile, back in Constantinople, Leo V tossed a general named Michael the Amorian in prison.  Mike's boys got Leo in church on Christmas Day.  Actually, they were a little overwrought at the thought of killing a king in church on Christmas, so they got the wrong guy the first time.  And not just any wrong guy -- they got the priest.  But Leo seized a tall iron crucifix to defend himself, so they cut him down too.  Then they got Michael out of his cell but didn't have the keys to his leg irons, so they crowned him emperor while he was still shackled from prison. 

Sidenote One:  Michael was called the Stammerer.  He had to fight off Thomas the Slav for control of the empire, but he won and reigned nine years and was succeeded by his son, Theophilus. 

Sidenote Two:  Michael didn't cut Leo down for any religious or even ideological reasons.  In fact, he continued the iconoclasm that Leo had revived.  Had Leo been in the right faction of the Orthodox Church he would probably be considered a saint -- after all, he was cut down in church on Christmas.  But iconoclasts don't get to become saints. 

To return to Joseph, we last left him in prison on the island of Crete.  Saint Nicholas may have appeared to Joseph at the exact moment Leo was killed, urging the prisoner to a song of praise to God.  He then followed Nicholas to Constantinople via (rainbow bridge?  nimbus? lightning bolt?  montage?).  They may or may not have gone by way of Rome. 

He founded a monastery and opposed iconoclasm.  Emperor Theophilus exiled him again, but Empress Theodora overruled her husband and recalled him.  However, he got run out of town again when he denounced Theodora's brother, Bardas, for shacking up.  And when Bardas shuffled the mortal coil, he went back yet again, only to be exiled one last time for backing the wrong bishop in a rivalry. 

There are a few cool things to observe. 
1.  He led a pretty adventurous life for a guy who intended to live his life inside a monastery. 
2.  Despite all the factionalism, he lived to be an old man and died of natural causes. 
3.  He wrote upwards of a thousand poems and songs during his lifetime. 

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