Joseph the Hymnographer
|Joseph the Hymnographer|
|Died||883 or 886
|Honored in||Eastern Orthodox Church
Roman Catholic Church
Eastern Catholic Churches
|Feast||Orthodox: April 4/17
Catholic: June 14
Saint Joseph the Hymnographer (Gr. Όσιος Ιωσήφ ο Υμνογράφος) was a monk of the ninth century. He is one of the greatest liturgical poets and hymnographers of the Eastern Orthodox Church. He is also known for his confession of the Orthodox Faith in opposition to Iconoclasm. He is called "the sweet-voiced nightingale of the Church".
He was born around 810 AD in Sicily of devout parents, Plotinus and Agatha. After the death of his parents, Joseph had to flee Sicily due to an Arab invasion. He moved to Thessalonica where at the age of fifteen he was tonsured a monk at the monastery of Latmus, where he distinguished himself in humility and asceticism. The bishop of Thessalonica ordained him a Hieromonk (priest monk). While visiting Thessalonica the distinguished Gregory of Decapolis was so impressed with Joseph, because of his rare character, that he invited him to join his monastery of the Studium in Constantinople.
With the resurgence of Iconoclasm in 841 under Leo V, the Armenian, Joseph was sent to Rome to call upon Pope Leo III and the Roman Church to help in the battle for orthodoxy. While en route, Joseph was captured by Arab pirates and taken as a slave to Crete where the Iconoclasts detained him in prison for six years. Early in the morning on Christmas Day, 820, in the sixth year of Joseph's imprisonment, the Emperor Leo was slain in church while attending Matins. At that same moment, according to tradition, St. Nicholas appeared to Joseph in prison and asked him to sing in the name of God. Nicholas then said to him: "Arise and follow me!" Joseph found himself immediately transported to the gates of Constantinople. According to some accounts, however, after his escape from Crete he resumed his journey to Rome, where he was received with great kindness, and only then returned to Constantinople.
There he founded a monastery dedicated to his mentor, Gregory of Decapolis, in connection with the church of St. John Chrysostom, where he continued his ascetic labors and attracted followers. When Gregory of Decapolis died around 820, Joseph transferred his relics, together with those of another of his disciples named John, and placed them in the Church of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker. He also continued to oppose Iconoclasm, and the Emperor Theophilus exiled him to the Chersonese for eleven years. But the Empress Theodora (who herself was an Iconodule) recalled him in 842. But he was exiled again after denouncing Caesar Bardas, brother of the Empress, for illicit cohabitation. Joseph returned again to Constantinople in 867 after Bardas' death.
Through the favour of the Patriarch Ignatius I, he was appointed Skevophylax (keeper of the sacred vessels—i.e., the official responsible for the building containing the treasure of the church) in the Great Church of Constantinople. Joseph also stood high in the favor of Patriarch Photius the Great, the rival and successor of Ignatius, and accompanied Photius into banishment. He was among those who inspired the first missionaries to Russia.
He reportedly possessed the "gift of discernment" because of which Photius appointed him the spiritual father and confessor for priests, recommending him as, "A man of God, an angel in the flesh and father of fathers." He died peacefully in great old age on the eve of Holy and Great Thursday in either 883 or 886 AD.
Joseph composed numerous canons and hymns for many saints, and is credited with approximately 1,000 works. The melismatic canons of the Menaion are primarily his work; they bear his name in the acrostic of the Ninth Ode. He also composed most of the hymns in the liturgical book known as the Paracletike, which complements the Octoechos.
It is often difficult to distinguish his work from that of Joseph of Thessalonica, sometimes called Joseph of the Studium. The dates for both are approximately the same. Joseph of the Studium was the bishop of Thessalonika and the brother of Theodore the Studite. Both are cited as great liturgical poets.
His hymns are still sung, not only by Eastern Christians, but by Western Christians as well. A number of his hymns have been adapted into popular Protestant hymns.
The following is a selection of Hymns by Joseph:
- Let Us Now Our Voices Raise
- Stars of the Morning
- And Wilt Thou Pardon, Lord
- O Happy Band of Pilgrims (by John M. Neale, based on words by Joseph the Hymnographer)