St. Joseph, the Hymnographer, and St. Nicholas
St Joseph, hymnographer, commemorated April 4
Saint Joseph the Hymnographer, was born in Sicily in AD 816, to a pious Christian family. They moved to the Peloponnesos and when he was fifteen, Joseph went to Thessalonica and entered the monastery of Latomos. He earned the love and respect of his community through industriousness, obedience, piety, humility, and scholastic aptitude.
St Gregory the Dekapolite visited the monastery and took notice of the young monk. He asked Joseph to come along to Constantinople, which was then suffering under iconoclast persecution. There, they lived near the Church of the Holy Martyrs, defending religious icons, preaching the Word of God, and ministering to the suffering Christian population. At that time Roman bishops were in communion with the Eastern Church and it was decided to send an emissary to Rome to tell Pope Leo III about the iconoclastic persecution under the Byzantine Emperor. Joseph was selected and he set off for Rome at once.
During the journey, Joseph was captured by bandits and taken away to Crete. There he was handed over to the iconoclasts, who locked him up in a dungeon. Never giving up hope and faith in the Lord, Joseph ministered to his fellow prisoners, keeping their spirits high, praying with them, and inspiring many to die martyr’s deaths for the faith.
Joseph spent six years in prison. On the night of the Nativity of Christ in AD 820, he was granted a vision of St. Nicholas of Myra, who told him about the death of the iconoclast Leo the Armenian, and the end of the persecution.
Then St. Nicholas gave him a paper scroll and said, “Take this scroll and eat it.” On the scroll was written: “Hasten, O Bountiful One and as Thou art merciful, hasten to come to our aid, for as Thou wilst, Thou canst …” The monk read the scroll, ate it and said, “How sweet are Thine oracles to my throat” (Ps 118/119:103). After receiving instruction from Saint Nicholas, Joseph sang the words aloud, causing his chains to fall to the ground and the prison gates to be opened. He was transported through the air and set down on a large road leading into Constantinople. Joseph built a church dedicated to St. Nicholas and later a monastery.