(Welcome to our Saint of the Day series! Each weekday, we present you with an excerpt from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints series, published by Holy Cross Orthodox Press.Today's saint, Joseph, comes from Volume 4 of the series.)
St. Joseph the Betrothed
The Greek Orthodox Church reveres Joseph as a saint, preferring to call him the “Protector of the Virgin Mary,” but scarcely more than that because although he was chosen by God to be the husband of the Virgin Mary, he became a surrogate parent, so to speak, of the Son of God who was born of the Virgin Mary through the will of God. The Easten and Western Churches are poles apart in their concept of Joseph, and although the role he played is in dispute on minor points, it is the concept of Joseph, the man, which is so divergent that there can be no compromise between Greece and Rome, sad to say.
For one thing, the ancient Greeks, whose language was used as the universal tongue of the apostles and as the language of the original New Testament, have made it a matter of early record that Joseph was not the handsome young man depicted as having married the Holy Mother to save her from the embarrassment of bearing a child out of wedlock. There is no disputing that the presence of a husband was part of the divine plan for the universe, and the fact that Joseph was selected by God is enough to place him among the immortals whom we choose to call saints.
On the other hand, Greek theology holds that Joseph was not a young man, but a devout man of advanced years who was appointed by heaven and considered himself to be the protector of the Virgin Mary through marriage. His was not a random choice, because he was of a lineage in the noblest of tradition with roots going directly back to David, through his father Jacob and grand-sires Abraham and Solomon. Furthermore, he is seen by Orthodoxy as a widower who had long since become a father, which accounts for the claimants of relationship to Jesus; and he seems to have been the least likely choice for remarriage.
It is to his everlasting credit that Joseph not only obeyed the word of God, but went beyond an unfulfilled marriage to assure compliance with the law and remained at the side of Mary throughout as a protector and keeper.Matthew refers to Joseph as being a “just man, unwilling to put her (Mary) to shame.” He did consider sending the Mother-to-be away in secret, according to Matthew, who goes on to say: “But as he considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, Son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit’ (Mat. 20:25).
Joseph was more than just, as evidenced by his subsequent piety and reverence for both the Virgin Mary and the Son of God. Nevertheless, Orthodoxy does not place Joseph on the same level of sainthood that would give him stature with the highest, nor does it appear that, after nearly two thousand years, there will be a council in the future to make any changes. For that matter, it was not until 1621 that Pope Gregory XV declared a feast-day of obligation for Joseph, after which the name of Joseph became popular, which is hardly the case in Orthodoxy. With all due respect for a man chosen by God, a man who was rightfully “just” in the Holy Bible, there is a paucity of Greeks bearing the name of Joseph, and churches of St. Joseph are nonexistent.
There are prophets of the Old Testament who have been categorized as major and minor, just as there are major and minor saints, according to man’s concept of interpretation, but when it comes to Joseph, Church members prefer to fall back on that truism that all are equal in the sight of God. The Church itself, however, must take a stand one way or the other, and the stance is clear. Although the name Joseph is scarce among Greeks, it is well to remember that the Christmas vesper hymn contains the words, “Verily, Joseph the betrothed, saw clearly in his old age that the foretelling of the prophets had been fulfilled openly....”
The reference to Joseph “in his old age” implies that he may have outlived the Savior, which is the Western belief, but since Orthodoxy considers Joseph to have been well advanced in years when he heard the voice of the angel, the Eastern belief is that Joseph died at about the time Jesus Christ was thirteen years of age. His absence during the missionary days of the Messiah and the fact that he was not a companion of the Virgin Mary at the site of the crucifixion indicate that Joseph had long since departed this earth. Joseph’s memory is commemorated on December 16, together with his famous ancestor King David.
Text from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints. Image from Wikimedia.