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Saint Joasaph of Belgorod

On December 23rd (the 10th by the old calendar) the Church commemorates the repose of Saint Joasaph, the wonderworker of Belgorod. This year marks the 250th anniversary of the blessed saints repose.

St. Joasaph was born on September 8, 1705 in the city of Priluki in the Poltava province of what is now the Ukraine. Born on the day of the Nativity of the Holy Virgin, he was given the name of Joachim. His parents were noble and pious people. His father came from the ancient and renowned Gorlenko family, which faithfully served the Russian sovereigns. His great-grandfather, the Cossack Lazarus Gorlenko, even ended his life martyrically for his faithfulness to the Tsar, being hacked to pieces by rebel Cossacks. The saints mother was the daughter of the famous Cossack military leader Daniel Apostol. But from his early childhood young Joachim knew grief and deprivation due to the vicissitudes of life, because his father, who served under Peter the Great, often became the victim of calumny, as a result of which the Tsar would favor him and exile him in turn. Due to this the Gorlenko estates would often be either taken away by Cossack officials, or rapaciously seized by malicious people in power. Only when Empress Elizabeth I came to the throne was the Gorlenko family able to start living a calm and peaceful life.

St. Joasaph of Belgorod

Saint Joasaph of Belgorod

Throughout all the long years during which the saints father, Andrei Dmitriyevich, lived in exile, the management of the home in conditions of near-poverty and the education of the children rested entirely upon the shoulders of their mother, Maria Danilovna. She was a true Christian, and she ruled over the despoiled estates so artfully, that she even found means of offering widespread charity to the poor and to pilgrims. The Gorlenko house was always home to all pious wanderers and beggars.

The righteous pair, Andrei and Maria, had eight children who early on realized the illusory nature of deceptive earthly happiness, and who learned to seek comfort and help in prayer. Joachim was the first-born and was chosen by God from birth. This was revealed in a vision seen by his father. At the age of seven Joachim was sent to study in the Kiev Academy, while his father stayed at home, pondering how best to arrange his first-borns future. It was evening and the sun was setting. Suddenly at the edge of the sky Andrei Dmitriyevich saw in the air the Mother of God, and in front of Her his Joachim, praying on his knees. The Holy Virgin, looking down kindly upon the boy, said: Thy prayer finds favor with Me. At that moment an angel flew down from heaven and covered the boy with a bishops mantle

While studying at the Kiev Academy, Joachim received a general and a theological education in the spirit of strict Orthodoxy and love of the homeland. All the directors and instructors at the Academy were learned monks. Upon graduating from the Academy, Joachim became a monk with the name of Joasaph, living in various Kievan monasteries and also teaching at his native Academy. In 1737 he was transferred to Moscow and first appointed abbot of the Lubensky Monas-tery, and then in 1745 of the Trinity-Sergius Lavra. St. Joasaph spent eleven years in hard monastic service, which served as excellent preparation for his future hierarchal duties. He found both monasteries in a run-down condition and, as a good manager, worked hard to make them flourish, both in the repair of old buildings and in the revival of internal monastic life. There was total lack of discipline among the monks, but the saint, being a strict observer of fasting and prayer, by his own example soon influenced the brothers, at the same time treating them with love and mercy.

So great were the labors of St. Joasaph that he soon became known to Empress Elizabeth I, who summoned him to court and listened to his homilies with great attention, later calling him to hierarchal service. In 1748 St. Joasaph was consecrated bishop of Belgorod and Oboyan. From that moment and until the end of his days, the saint was quite literally a good shepherd of his flock and knew each sheep by name. He constantly traveled through the diocese which had been entrusted to him, and everywhere he put things in order: he was concerned with the condition of churches and church vessels, with the beauty of services and icons, with the following of church rules; he made sure that his priests treated all sacred things with great awe, especially the Holy Gifts; he corrected various shortcomings among the clergy, especially pride, haughtiness and avarice. The Lord was well-pleased with such ardent zeal on the part of the saint for putting the house of God in order. The following event was a visible manifestation of Gods favor:

In 1754 St. Joasaph made one of his frequent journeys through his bishopric. In the city of Izyum he paid great attention to the main church. Upon entering the church, he immediately looked with amazement at a large icon of the Mother of God standing in the corner of the narthex, behind which the altar boys shook out charcoal from the censer. Getting down on his knees before the icon, the saint exclaimed: O Heavenly Queen, forgive the negligence of Thy unworthy servitors! Then, turning to the eldest priest, he said: Why is this icon not put in a better place? Gods special grace rests upon this icon. It is a sign of the Holy Virgins particular intercession for us here and for our entire country. Then St. Joasaph ordered the icon to be placed in the left-hand choir, and came daily to pray before it. There was a very special reason for such an order.

Peschan icon
Peschan Icon of the Mother of God

When St. Joasaph was on the point of departing from Belgorod, he saw in his dreams a certain church and in it, on a pile of rubbish, an icon of the Mother of God. The icon shone with a radiant light and a voice said: Look at what the priests of this church have done with My image! My icon is intended to be a source of grace for the entire land, while they have thrown it on a pile of rubbish. Astounded by such a dream, St. Joasaph examined each church in the course of his travels, checking whether it matched the one seen in the dream. When he entered the above-mentioned church and saw the icon which he had seen in his dream, he ordered everything to be done as described above. The Theotokos did not delay in showing Her favor: the icon, called the Peschan Mother of God, soon began to produce many miracles and attract many pilgrims from all over Russia.

While rectifying the various shortcomings in his diocese and punishing those who were truly to blame, St. Joasaph at the same time attempted to lovingly cure human weaknesses. The Lord endowed him with the ability to see deep into the hearts of men, to which the following extraordinary case bears witness. While traveling through his diocese, St. Joasaph noticed a very ancient priest. Learning that the latter was 130 years old and living with great difficulty, St. Joasaph advised the priest to think back whether there was some forgotten and unconfessed sin on his conscience, which bound him to such an unbearably long life. After pondering a while, the old priest did remember a forgotten sin and told St. Joasaph of how, in fear of an evil landowner, he had served two liturgies on the same day, despite having heard an unearthly voice say to him: Stop! What are you doing? Do not dare, lest you suffer damnation! And the priest even compounded his sin by replying: may you be damned yourself. Upon hearing this, and realizing that the old priest had cursed the angel of that church, St. Joasaph brought him to an awareness of the enormity of his sin, and then blessed him to serve a liturgy, during which the saint earnestly prayed on his knees. After the liturgy the saint absolved the priest of all his sins, and immediately the old man began to weaken and, falling at the foot of the altar table, died peacefully.

St. Joasaphs administration of the Belgorod diocese was quite brief. In 1753 he became ill of consumption, from which he died on December 10, 1754. The relics of St. Joasaph were found incorruptible and produced many miracles. St. Joasaph was canonized on September 4, 1911, in the reign of the Tsar- Martyr Niholas and with the active cooperation of this most pious Sovereign.

Daily, at 3:00 in the afternoon, the hour in which our Lord Jesus Christ died on the cross, St. Joasaph said a special prayer to the Saviour, which he has also bequeathed to us:

Blessed is the day and hour in which my Lord Jesus Christ was born, suffered on the cross, and died for my sake. O Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, in the hour of my death welcome the spirit of Thy servant, an earthly wanderer, by the prayers of Thy Most-holy Mother and all Thy saints, for Thou art blessed unto the ages of ages. Amen.

 

 

Homily for the feast day of Saint Joasaph, coinciding with the 13th Sunday after Pentecost

 

In today’s Gospel reading, dear brethren, we heard the parable of the wicked vineyard tenders. In this parable the Lord allegorically describes the plan of action used by Jewish elders – the Pharisees and the scribes – to lure God’s chosen people, who had been entrusted into their care, away from the One true God and to seduce them into worshipping His adversary – Satan. Speaking about this in the parable, the Lord clearly revealed to the elders that, on the one hand, He knew of their hidden designs, while on the other hand He did not yet openly denounce them, giving them the opportunity to recant. Later, however, seeing how firmly set they were on their destructive course, He denounced them openly, and the Evangelist Matthew gives us the Lord’s accusatory speech in its entirety – “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” – a speech in which the Lord described, point by point, how the Jewish people were being enslaved into falsehood, and He specifically named the Jewish elders – those wicked vineyard tenders of the parable – as sons of the devil.

But the parable of the evil vineyard tenders did not apply solely to the Jews of Christ’s time. Today we, too, live in a world which represents the next-to-last stage of the parable – a world which is totally in the hands of the evil vineyard tenders – the successors of those scribes and Pharisees whom the Lord had denounced; a world in which all the servants and even the Son of the Master of the vineyard have been killed; a world which is nearing the time of reckoning, i.e. the Last Judgment.

Truly we see all around us that the evil vineyard tenders have killed all the servants of the Master: they have killed morality, they have killed honesty, they have killed justice, they have killed beauty, they have killed piety, they have killed fear of God. Before our very eyes even the Son of the Master is being killed: Christianity is being killed by neo-paganism and innumerable heresies, Christian churches are being killed by ecumenism and modernism, Christian youth is being spiritually killed by various methods of demonization, while the Lord Jesus Christ Himself is being killed through desecration, ridicule, profanity, sacrilege. This is what the world has come to in the hands of the wicked vineyard tenders, dear brethren!

St. Joasaph of Belgorod

However, although the hour of judgment is at hand and, as we heard in the parable, the Master of the vineyard will come and will destroy the wicked husbandmen, that hour has not yet arrived, and in the meantime how should we, Orthodox Christians, continue to live in this spiritually desolate vineyard? At this point we are helped by the example of the saint whom we commemorate today – Saint Joasaph of Belgorod. In the service to the saint there is a certain canticle which contains the following words: “As the night grows darker, the stars shine brighter, and the eyes of lost wanderers are joyfully raised to them; similarly, seeing the darkness of sin increase on earth, let us lift our gaze upward, and seeing there the virtues of St. Joasaph shining brightly, may we be encouraged to strive towards the heavenly homeland.”

This is our answer, dear brethren: no matter how thick the darkness around us, we must only lift our eyes towards heaven, i.e. we must open our spiritual eyes, we must appeal to God and the saints, – and immediately the right path of life will be revealed to us, and we will know for sure how to live and what to do. Despite the terrible darkness of evil and sin that surrounds us, we continue to have in our possession all the necessary means for salvation: we have the Church with its sacraments and services, we have the Lord’s commandments and the word of God, we have the power of prayer and fasting, we have the lives of saints as a role model, and we also have the greatest gift of the love and intercession of the Holy Mother of God. Today we celebrate one of Her icons, named “The Burning Bush”; this icon has the power to save the faithful not only from physical fire, but also from the fire of sin and the flames of passion. And so you see, dear brethren, – we have everything we need, we must only make use of it and not immerse ourselves in the surrounding darkness.

And St. Joasaph of Belgorod provides us with a wonderful example of salvation: look how concerned he was about churches and church services; how he promoted a pious regard for holy things; how he prayed and fasted; and, at the same time, what love he had for those around him, and how he tried to correct their failings not with harsh words, but with compassion and the example of his own life.

We should do the same, dear brethren. And if we open our spiritual eyes, we will see the spiritual firmament all covered with brightly shining stars: these are the saints, our intercessors, calling us into the heavenly homeland, the Kingdom of God. Amen.

Father Rostislav Sheniloff


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