Today in the Matins service of Holy and Great Monday, the Church commemorates holy and Righteous Joseph the chaste, whose story was read in church last Wednesday at the reading of the Old Testament. Archimandrite Tikhon (Shevkunov) gave a sermon in Sretensky Monastery on Righteous Joseph at the Liturgy of the Pre-sanctified Gifts.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit!
Wisdom! This is a word we say more than once during Divine Liturgy. The wisdom that proceeds from the light of Christ that enlightens all is what we ask of the Lord God. Very much is revealed to us in the Church, in the Divine Liturgy, and in Holy Scripture. Today’s service is of course no exception. What does the Old Testament reading say to us today? It is about the meaning of human suffering—about the great mystery, and at times great curse, that overcomes the unbelieving human race. And only the Church reveals to us that great mystery—in a sense that only people who live the life of the Church can understand—of the meaning of what is at times terrible, even unendurable human suffering, and whether there is meaning it in. In this Old Testament reading we heard how the brothers of holy righteous Joseph sold their own, innocent brother, who was trusting and loved them sincerely, to the Egyptians out of envy, and greed, and because they did not want to come to pass what through God’s Providence was revealed to them: that he would rule over them. This revelation was absolutely unbearable for them.
Who were they? Bandits? Were they pagans, unable to comprehend the meaning of God’s commandments and ready to commit any sort of crime? Nothing of the kind. These were people of what was then the Old Testament Church. They were the chosen ones out of the entire world, disciples of God, and yet they committed such a terrible crime. They sold their brother, Joseph, into slavery to the distant, pagan land of Egypt! There he had to endure imprisonment; he was thrown into the dungeon, and only through the special Providence of God did he remain alive. Everything around him, the whole order of earthly things demanded his death—the betrayal by his own family, betrayal by the woman who fell in love with him, who wanted to force him into adultery, to which Joseph did not succumb.
A vile dungeon, Pharoah’s demand exceeding human powers to explain his dream—or die. But Joseph prevails in all of this.
Today we heard how Joseph’s brothers, plagued with hunger, come to Egypt just to receive at least a little grain. There have been seven years of drought, seven years of crop failure, and they were ready to go to any pagan country just to save their lives. And Joseph by that time had become Pharaoh’s chief magnate and administrator over all his affairs. Now we hear how he suddenly stands before those guilty of all his sufferings: the betrayers of their own brother, who without shame or the slightest twinge of conscience sold their own brother into frightful slavery. And what do we see? Looking at his brothers and seeing that it is them, he quickly removes himself into the next room. For what? To weep! To weep over the unfathomable ways of God. So now those betrayers stand before him begging—those beloved and close ones, who always remained to him beloved and close. He comes out and simply, with out the least contention, reveals himself to them. “I am Joseph, your brother,” he says, and wails in his tears now right in front of them.
His brothers throw themselves at his feet, repent to him; but what does Joseph say? With true Christian love—for Joseph is a prefigurement of Jesus Christ in the Old Testament—you are not guilty! It is God Who sent me here so that in time I might save you, to give food to you and all your families in these years of drought. It was God’s Providence.”
We often say: What is spirituality, where is it, how can we touch it? Here it is. This is that very wisdom, that very light of Christ that enlightens all. Here it is, right before us. He didn’t judge, and didn’t flare with anger at these human beings, this divine creation—this malicious and unjust creation that is only the instrument of God’s Providence. He did not judge them in the least. He was infinitely above that. He saw the ways of God’s Providence, even in his own sufferings.
We Christians are all called to this. We are called to emulate this prefigurement of Jesus Christ, this guileless, meek, infinitely wise with divine and not earthly wisdom, righteous Joseph of the Old Testament. In the New Testament, and in God’s Church can also be heard repeated this great wisdom: “Lord and Master of my life, a spirit of idleness, despondency, ambition, and vain talking give me not. But rather the spirit of chastity, humble-mindedness, patience and love bestow upon me, Thy servant. Yea, O Lord King, grant me to see my failings and not condemn my brother…” Long before this prayer was composed, holy righteous Joseph showed an example of this by his life. Amen.