Saturday, July 23, 2011

St. Joseph of Damascus

Joyous feast! St. Joseph the New Hieromartyr of Damascus was born in the Syrian city at the end of the 1700s under the Turkish Yoke. As a youth he became zealous for learning and quickly became well known by the Orthodox living in Damascus and so loved that in 1817 he was ordained to the priesthood at the age of twenty-four and assigned to the patriarchal cathedral in Damascus.

St. Joseph enjoyed the favor of both the patriarch who ordained him, Patriarch Seraphim of Antioch, and his successor Patriarch Methodius. He was also well loved by the Antiochian Orthodox faithful in Damascus thanks to his sermons, so much so that some called St. Joseph a new Chrysostom. When Damascus was struck by yellow fever the Saint worked tirelessly to comfort and care for the sick without regard for his own life and so became even more deeply loved by the Damascenes.

Because of his great learning St. Joseph attracted students desiring to study under him and eventually formed a patriarchal theological school in Damascus. The Saint also engaged in dialogue with the members of the then newly formed Melkite Catholic Church, bringing many of them back to the Orthodox Faith by strengthening them in their support of the Apostolic Faith and the Julian calendar when the Melkite Catholic Patriarch Clement forced the Gregorian calendar and various latinizations upon his flock. St. Joseph's influence within the Melkite Catholic Church was said to be so strong that had he not been martyred it would not have survived his lifetime because of the number of its member who were returning to Orthodoxy.

In 1860 a great persecution of all the Christians in Damascus and its region took place, with many of the Antiochian Orthodox taking refuge at the patriarchal cathedral. St. Joseph traveled along the city's rooftops from his home to get to the cathedral and strengthen the faithful there with both sermons and communion. When the cathedral was finally attacked St. Joseph was martyred together with the faithful gathered there on 10 July. For this reason we also commemorate today St. Joseph's companions in martyrdom, whose names are not known to us.

More on St. Joseph's life can be found here. May his blessing and prayers be with us all!

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