(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 we commemorate St. Joseph, whose account is found in Volume 3 of the series.)
It is rather unusual that the land of India, with its many intrigues plus the cults that have over the centuries all but crowded out the hardy Christians who dwell there, would give one of its most illustrious sons to the cause of Christianity. Even St. Thomas, one of the twelve apostles, was drawn to this fascinating land and has come to be known as the patron saint of India. It remained for an Indian prince to symbolize the Christian spirit there.
In the time of Constantine the Great, a proud monarch called Abenner ruled over what we now know as India. He was highly respected for his courage as a warrior and esteemed for his administrative wisdom. His intense passion for the Indian code of honor was exceeded only by his fierce hatred of Christianity. The Christian code of piety, forgiveness and love for Christ was an offense to this king who considered the Christian code to be that of weakness. He failed to see the quiet courage of the Christians whom he ordered to be put to death.
When the queen bore the king a son, whom he joyously named Joseph, the entire royal court was summoned to pay homage to the young prince. In keeping with the custom, the royal astrologers prophesied that young Joseph would become a mighty monarch. There was one dissenting voice among the astrologers, however. One dared to foresee that the heir to the throne would, on the contrary, forsake it for Christianity. The king’s answer to this was death or banishment for every Christian in the land. Not content with this, the distraught king had a huge castle erected in which he secluded his son for twenty years. The king afforded his son every luxury, educated him with all the wisdom at the command of his tutors, and pridefully watched the development of his son’s mental and physical powers in an environment so insulated that he never knew Christianity existed.
Satisfied that the prediction of his son’s conversion was completely false, and thinking that he had eliminated every trace of Christianity in his country, the father finally yielded to his son’s ever-increasing desire to leave his sheltered environment and journey into the land of the people he would one day rule. Joseph’s great joy at being able to see for himself the marvels of this ancient land was quickly replaced with sadness at the sight of want, disease and misery. When he returned to the castle, the joyous sights did not elate him. Instead, he became determined to find his real purpose in life, which he felt could not be succession to his father’s throne.
On the very day the prince returned to his castle, the pious monk Barlaam, a thousand miles away, heard the voice of God calling him to seek out Joseph to bring him the light of the Savior. Barlaam made his way to India and gained access to the castle. Once there, the prince concealed him. With reverence and awe he listened while Barlaam revealed to him the meaning of life in Jesus. Joseph quickly found peace with God and was reborn through his baptism, performed by Barlaam. Such was the strength of his new-found faith in God that he not only converted his entire household, but in due course he was able to win over to the cause of Christ his father, who for so many years had stubbornly opposed Christianity.
After the death of the king, Joseph ruled wisely and well but found no satisfaction in the monarchy. He longed for the company of Barlaam and for a complete dedication of his life to the service of Christ. Turning the rule of the government over to his family, Joseph abdicated the power and the pomp of the throne for the simple monastery of the desert where he became a legend during his own lifetime.
The light of Christ may have dimmed somewhat in the royal confines after the abdication of St. Joseph, but he left behind enough of the brilliance of the Savior to endure forever, retiring to where its illumination was already assured, more so by his presence. His feastday is celebrated on August 26.
Text from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints. Image from GOArch.org.