Lives of all saints commemorated on April 4

Venerable Joseph the Hymnographer

Saint Joseph the Hymnographer, “the sweet-voiced nightingale of the Church,” was born in Sicily in 816 into a pious Christian family. His parents, Plotinos and Agatha, moved to the Peloponnesos to save themselves from barbarian invasions. When he was fifteen, Saint Joseph went to Thessalonica and entered the monastery of Latomos. He was distinguished by his piety, his love for work, and his meekness; and he gained the good will of all the brethren of the monastery. He was later ordained as a priest.

Saint Gregory the Dekapolite (November 20) visited the monastery and took notice of the young monk, taking him along to Constantinople, where they settled together near the church of the holy Martyrs Sergius and Bacchus. This was during the reign of the emperor Leo the Armenian (813-820), a time of fierce iconoclast persecution.

Saints Gregory and Joseph fearlessly defended the veneration of holy icons. They preached in the city squares and visited in the homes of the Orthodox, encouraging them against the heretics. The Church of Constantinople was in a most grievous position. Not only the emperor, but also the patriarch were iconoclast heretics.

At that time the Roman bishops were in communion with the Eastern Church, and Pope Leo III, who was not under the dominion of the Byzantine Emperor, was able to render great help to the Orthodox. The Orthodox monks chose Saint Joseph as a steadfast and eloquent messenger to the Pope. Saint Gregory blessed him to journey to Rome and to report on the plight of the Church of Constantinople, the atrocities of the iconoclasts, and the dangers threatening Orthodoxy.

During the journey, Saint Joseph was captured by Arab brigands who had been bribed by the iconoclasts. They took him to the island of Crete, where they handed him over to the iconoclasts, who locked him up in prison. Bravely enduring all the deprivations, he encouraged the other prisoners. By his prayers, a certain Orthodox bishop who had begun to waver was strengthened in spirit and courageously accepted martyrdom.

Saint Joseph spent six years in prison. On the night of the Nativity of Christ in 820 he was granted a vision of Saint Nicholas of Myra, who told him about the death of the iconoclast Leo the Armenian, and the end of the persecution.

Saint Nicholas gave him a paper scroll and said, “Take this scroll and eat it.” On the scroll was written: “Hasten, O Gracious One, and come to our aid if possible and as You will, for You are the Merciful One.” The monk read the scroll, ate it and said, “How sweet are Thine oracles to my throat” (Ps 118/119:103). Saint Nicholas bade him to sing these words. After this the fetters fell off the saint, the doors of the prison opened, and he emerged from it. He was transported through the air and set down on a large road near Constantinople, leading into the city.

When he reached Constantinople, Saint Joseph found that Saint Gregory the Dekapolite was no longer among the living, leaving behind his disciple John (April 18), who soon died. Saint Joseph built a church dedicated to Saint Nicholas and transferred the relics of Saints Gregory and John there. A monastery was founded near the church.

Saint Joseph received a portion of the relics of the Apostle Bartholomew from a certain virtuous man. He built a church in memory of the holy apostle. He loved and honored Saint Bartholomew, and he was distressed that there was no Canon glorifying the holy Apostle. He desired to adorn the Feast of Saint Bartholomew with hymns, but he did not dare to compose them himself.

For forty days Saint Joseph prayed with tears, preparing for the Feast of the holy apostle. On the eve of the Feast the Apostle Bartholomew appeared to him in the altar. He pressed the holy Gospel to Joseph’s bosom, and blessed him to write church hymns with the words, “May the right hand of the Almighty God bless you, may your tongue pour forth waters of heavenly wisdom, may your heart be a temple of the Holy Spirit, and may your hymnody delight the entire world.” After this miraculous appearance, Saint Joseph composed a Canon to the Apostle Bartholomew, and from that time he began to compose hymns and Canons in honor of the Mother of God, of the saints, and in honor of Saint Nicholas, who liberated him from prison.

During the revival of the iconoclast heresy under the emperor Theophilus (829-842), Saint Joseph suffered a second time from the heretics. He was exiled to Cherson [Chersonessus] for eleven years. The Orthodox veneration of holy icons was restored under the holy empress Theodora (February 11) in 842, and Saint Joseph was made keeper of sacred vessels at Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. Because of his bold denunciation of the brother of the empress, Bardas, for unlawful cohabitation, the saint was again sent into exile and returned only after Bardas died in 867.

Patriarch Photius (February 6) restored him to his former position and appointed him Father-confessor for all the clergy of Constantinople.

Having reached old age, Saint Joseph fell ill. On Great and Holy Friday, the Lord informed him of his approaching demise in a dream. The saint made an inventory of the church articles in Hagia Sophia, which were under his official care, and he sent it to Patriarch Photius.

For several days he prayed intensely, preparing for death. He prayed for peace for the Church, and the mercy of God for his soul. Having received the Holy Mysteries of Christ, Saint Joseph blessed all who came to him, and with joy he fell asleep in the Lord in 886 (some sources say in 883). The choirs of the angels and the saints, whom Saint Joseph had glorified in his hymnology, carried his soul to Heaven in triumph.

In 890, his biographer John the deacon of the Great Church wrote about the spirit and power of Saint Joseph’s Canons: “When he began to write verses, then the hearing was taken with a wondrous pleasantness of sound, and the heart was struck by the power of the thought. Those who strive for a life of perfection find a respite here. Writers, having left off with their other versification, from this one treasure-trove, from the writings of Saint Joseph, began to scoop out his treasure for their own songs, or better to say, daily they scoop them out.

“And finally, all the people carry it over into their own language, so as to enlighten with song the darkness of night, or staving off sleep, to continue with the vigil until sunrise. If anyone were to peruse the life of a saint of the Church on any given day, they would see the worthiness of Saint Joseph’s hymns and acknowledge his glorious life. Actually, since the lives and deeds of almost every saint are adorned with praises, is not he worthy of immortal glory, who has worthily and exquisitely known how to glorify them?

“Now let some saints glorify his meekness, and others his wisdom, and others his works, and all together glorify the grace of the Holy Spirit, Who so abundantly and immeasurably has bestown his gifts on him.”

Most of the Canons in the MENAION are Saint Joseph’s work. His name may be found in the Ninth Ode as an acrostic. He also composed many of the hymns in the PARAKLETIKE.

Venerable George of Mt. Maleon in the Peloponnesus

Saint George lived during the ninth century. His parents arranged a marriage for him, but he refused to marry the woman they had chosen. He entered the monastery on Mount Maleon in the Peloponnesus, and many disciples gathered around him. He was able to see the future, and predicted his own death three years before it occurred.

In the service to him, Saint George is called an earthly angel and a wonderworker.

Venerable Joseph the Much-Ailing, of the Kiev Far Caves

Saint Joseph the Much-Ailing lived during the fourteenth century. In his grievous illness he turned to God with prayer and vowed that if the Lord granted him health, he would then serve the brethren of the Kiev Caves monastery until the end of his days.

After his return to health, he entered the Kiev Caves monastery, received monastic tonsure, and began to work at deeds of fasting and prayer, and to serve the brethren with love. After his death Saint Joseph was buried in the Far Caves (his memory is likewise celebrated on the Synaxis of the Saints of the Far Caves on August 28).

Venerable Zosimas the Abbot of Vorbozomsk

Saint Zosimas of Vorbozomsk was the founder of a monastery dedicated to the Annuniciation of the Most Holy Theotokos on an island in Lake Vorbozoma, twenty-three versts south of White Lake. The monastery was founded in the fifteenth century. In 1501, the head of the monastery was Igumen Jonah, a disciple of Saint Zosimas.

The monastery was one of the numerous wilderness-monasteries modeled after the so-called “Trans-Volga” monasteries, which were scattered around the Saint Cyril of White Lake monastery. Saint Zosimas died in the first half of the sixteenth century. The saint wrote counsels and letters to his spiritual daughter Anastasia.

Venerable Zosimas of Palestine

Saint Zosimas was born near the end of the fifth century, and lived in a monastery by the Jordan River. He met Saint Mary of Egypt (April 1), gave her Holy Communion, then buried her.

Saint Zosimas lived to be one hundred years old, then fell asleep in the Lord around 560.

Virginmartyr Pherbutha (Phermoutha) of Persia, with her sister, and servant

The Holy Martyr Pherbutha (Phermoutha) and her sister and servants were martyred for Christ between the years 341 and 343. Saint Pherbutha and her sister were sisters of Bishop Simeon of Seleucia, who suffered for Christ under the Persian emperor Sapor between the years 341-344.

Both sisters and their servants had been brought to the court by the empress to attend her. Saint Pherbutha was distinguished by her extraordinary beauty, and the empress suggested that she marry in order to gain high position. The saint refused, since she had made a vow of virginity and total service to God.

Soon the empress fell ill. The sorcerers who were brought in to treat the empress, saw Saint Pherbutha and were struck by her extraordinary beauty. One of them asked her to become his wife. The saint answered that she was a Christian and had vowed to remain a bride of Christ.

The offended sorcerer reported to the emperor that the sickness of the empress was caused by poison given her by servants. By order of the emperor Saint Pherbutha, and her sister and servants were brought to trial.

At the trial the holy martyrs fearlessly declared that they were innocent of any crime, and that they were prepared to accept death for Christ.

The chief judge, the sorcerer Mauptis, was captivated by the beauty of the holy virgin Pherbutha, and he secretly sent his servant to her in the prison offering to free her and her companions, if only she would consent to become his wife. The two other judges secretly made similar offers to the holy virgin, one after the other.

Saint Pherbutha resolutely refused all these offers, saying that she was a bride of Christ and could never consent to an earthly marriage.

After this, the martyrs were found guilty of being Christians and of working magic in poisoning the empress, and they were sentenced to death. The pagan priests said that the bodies of the Christians should be cut into pieces. They placed three pieces on one side, and three pieces on the other side. Then they told the empress to walk between the body parts in order to receive healing. The bodies of the holy martyrs were thrown into a ditch, from which Christians secretly retrieved them and buried them.

New Martyr Nicetas of Pojani and Serres

The holy New Martyr Nicetas was a Slav from Albania, but we know nothing of his family or his early life. He lived on Mt. Athos in the Russian monastery of Saint Panteleimon, then lived in the Skete of Saint Anne. Burning with a desire for martyrdom, he decided to travel to Serres. He arrived on March 30, 1808 (Great and Holy Monday) and stopped at a local monastery. In speaking to the igumen, he revealed that he was a hieromonk from Mt. Athos. At midnight, the igumen was making his customary rounds of the monastery when he saw someone standing in the moonlight praying on the church porch.

As he came closer, he could see that it was Father Nicetas, who revealed his intention to shed his blood for Christ. After speaking with the saint for a while, the igumen continued his rounds and left Father Nicetas to pray.

In the morning, Father Nicetas received Communion from the Presanctified Gifts, then went to a mosque outside the city. There he debated religion with a Moslem teacher and his disciples. Saint Nicetas approached one of them, noticing that he was lame.

The saint asked the man why he did not seek healing from his infirmity. The man said that it was impossible for him to be cured, since he had been born this way.

The monk replied that the man could be cured easily, if he would agree to obey him. The afflicted man looked at him with amazement and asked, “How must I obey you?”

“Believe in Jesus Christ as the one true God. If you are baptized, I promise you that you will be healthy and no trace of your lameness will remain.”

The man said nothing, but went to his teacher to report what the monk had said to him. The teacher questioned Saint Nicetas about where he had come from, and what he had said to his disciple.

Fearlessly, the warrior of Christ told him he was from Albania and had come to preach Christianity. Feeling pity for the lame man, he had advised him to believe in Christ so that he might receive his bodily health and the Kingdom of Heaven after death.

The teacher sent word to the mayor that a monk had come to their city and was speaking against their religion. Saint Nicetas was locked up in prison for the night, and the next day he was interrogated by Moslem religious leaders. Since they could not defeat him with reason, they tortured him and hanged him in the evening of Great and Holy Saturday in 1808. He was left hanging until Bright Tuesday, when Christians were given permission to take his body and bury it.

Two separate services have been composed in honor of Saint Nicetas, one in Slavonic and the other in Greek. A comparison of the two services reveals a difference of opinion about the saint’s national origin.

St. Isidore the Bishop of Seville

Saint Isidore was born in the middle of the sixth century, and was related to the Visigoth royal family who converted to Orthodoxy from Arianism during his lifetime.

Saint Isidore was the brother of three saints: Saint Leander (February 27), Saint Fulgentius, and Saint Florentina. Orphaned at an early age, he was educated by his older brother Leander. The range of his knowledge was extensive, and included the study of Hebrew and Greek. He also wrote biographies of biblical figures and other illustrious men.

A prollific writer, Saint Isidore wrote on religious, historical and scientific topics. His ETYMOLOGIES (or ORIGINS) was a compendium of the knowledge of his time, and was used through the Middle Ages. Today, however, his history of the Goths and Vandals is of greater interest. He even composed a monastic Rule, although he was not a monk.

The tireless bishop also composed treatises refuting the Arian and Monophysite heresies. He participated in a council at Toledo in 610, and presided at the second Council of Seville in 618 or 619.

Saint Isidore fell asleep in the Lord in 636, and his holy relics were later transferred to Leon. Dante mentions him in his PARADISO (X, 130).

Venerable Theonas the Archbishop of Thessalonica

Saint Theonas was a disciple of Saint James of Kastoria (November 1), and lived at the beginning of the sixteenth century. He lived for some time in the Pantocrator and Simonopetra Monasteries on Mt. Athos. He founded the Monastery of Saint Anastasia, and was consecrated as Archbishop of Thessalonica. He died in peace.

St. George Mtsire of Georgia

No information available at this time.