Saint Joseph the Hymnographer (810-886), tireless servant of the Lord, glorifying Him in life, in works, and through writing countless hymns and canons to the saints. Despite a lifetime of struggle, suffering, and imprisonment, Saint Joseph produced a catalog of writings which remain today, as well as over 200 hymns, many of which are still sung by modern congregations. He has been called "the sweet-voiced nightingale of the Church." Through his legacy of writings and song, Saint Joseph preserved a priceless record of the history of our faith—a faith which continues, unchanged and unabated, today.
Joseph was born into a pious Christian family in Sicily. His parents, Plotinus and Agatha, in response to an invasion of Arabs, moved the family to Greece. There, at the young age of 15, Joseph entered the monastery at Thessolonica, and earned the love and respect of his community through industriousness, obedience, piety, humility, and scholastic aptitude.
Saint Theodosia of Constantinople). 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. When it was decided that an emissary should be sent to Rome to have audience with Pope Leo III and inform him of the persecution under the Byzantine Emperor, Joseph was selected due to his obedience, wisdom, and gift of oration. He set off for Rome at once.
But life was not to be easy for Saint Joseph. On the way to Rome, he was taken captive by Arab bandits, brought to the island of Crete, and turned over to the Iconoclasts who locked him away 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.
“Hasten, O Bountiful One and as Thou art merciful, hasten to come to our aid, for as Thou wilst, Thou canst…” Saint Joseph, after receiving instruction from Saint Nicholas, sang the words aloud, causing his chains to fall to the ground and the prison gates to be opened. He returned to Constantinople where he established a church in patronage to Saint Nicholas, and later a monastery.
Saint Joseph received the gift of the relics of Saint Bartholomew, which he placed in the church. He felt compelled to sing a hymn of praise to the saint, but no such suitable hymn existed, and he didn’t feel qualified or capable to write a canon for one so deserving. Saint Joseph prayed for 40 days, trying to discern the proper course of action, upon when Saint Bartholomew appeared to him. He said, “May the Right Hand of Almighty God bless thee, may Heavenly Wisdom pour out upon thy tongue, may thy heart be a temple of the Holy Spirit, and may thy hymnody sweeten the universe.” Following the apparition, Joseph wrote the canon to Saint Bartholomew, and from then on began to compose liturgical hymns in honor of Jesus, the Heavenly Father, the Mother of God, and the Saints.
Stars of the Morning, follows:
Stars of the morning, so gloriously bright,
Filled with celestial splendor and light,
These that, where night never followeth day,
Raise the “Thrice Holy” song ever and aye.
These are Thy ministers, these dost Thou own,
God of Sabaoth, the nearest Thy throne;
These are Thy messengers, These dost Thou send,
Help of the helpless ones! man to defend.
“Who like the Lord?” thunders Michael the chief;
Raphael, “the cure of God,” comforteth grief;
And, as at Nazareth, prophet of peace,
Gabriel, “the light of God,” bringeth release.
Then, when the earth was first poised in mid space,
Then, when the planets first sped on their race,
Then, when were ended the six days’ employ,
Then all the sons of God shouted for joy.
Still let them succor us; still let them fight,
Lord of angelic hosts, battling for right;
Till, where their anthems they ceaselessly pour,
We with the angels may bow and adore.
Upon the resurgence of iconoclasm, Saint Joseph was exiled for eleven years, but was subsequently returned to his position in Constantinople, and eventually made Bishop of Salonica. He continued to write Canons and hymns, many of which survive. After attaining advanced age for that time, Saint Joseph fell ill. Prior to his death, he received a vision from the Lord, telling of his approaching journey to Heaven. Saint Joseph set his affairs in order, and spent the remainder of his days in quiet prayer. He received Holy Eucharist, blessed those from the community who were present, and joyfully gave his life to the Lord. Saint Theodore, later appearing to an impatient friend of Saint Joseph stated, "Why do you become angry O man? Joseph the Hymnographer's soul was being separated from his body and we were with him. When he died this night, all of us whom he glorified in hymns, translated his soul to the heavens and placed it before the Face of God. That is why I was tardy in not appearing to you."
Saint Joseph is credited with 200 hymns and canons, although some place the number he wrote at more than one thousand. Throughout his life, he preached the Word of God—through his writings, through Canons to the Saint, through opposition to persecution, and through joyful song. Encouraged by his visions of saints, Saint Joseph the Hymnographer raised his voice in praise of Our Lord, even when he faced violent opposition, imprisonment, and exile. How often can we say the same of ourselves?
Let Us Now Our Voices Raise (written by Saint Joseph, the Hymnographer)
Let us now our voices raise,
Turns our human sadness;
Joy that martyrs won their crown,
Opened heav’ns bright portal,
When they laid the mortal down
For the life immortal.
Never flinched they from the flame,
From the torment never;
Vain the tyrant’s sharpest aim,
Vain each fierce endeavor:
For by faith they saw the land
Decked in all its glory,
Where triumphant now they stand
With the victor’s story.
Up and follow, Christian men!
Press through toil and sorrow;
Spurn the night of fear, and then,
O the glorious morrow!
Who will venture on the strife;
Who will first begin it?
Who will grasp the land of life?
Warriors, up and win it!
Why pray the Rosary every day for a year?
Each time the Blessed Virgin has appeared-- whether it be to Saint Bernadette Soubirous at Lourdes; to Lucia, Jacinta, and Francisco at Fatima; or to Mariette Beco at Banneux-- she has asserted the importance, saving grace, and power of praying the Holy Rosary on a daily basis. Based upon her words, the Rosary is penance and conversion for sinners, a pathway to peace, an end to war, and a powerful act of faith in Jesus Christ. Pope Paul VI presented the Rosary as a powerful means to reach Christ "not merely with Mary but indeed, insofar as this is possible to us, in the same way as Mary, who is certainly the one who thought about Him more than anyone else has ever done."
To show us how this is done, perhaps no one has been more eloquent than the great Cardinal Newman, who wrote: "The great power of the Rosary consists in the fact that it translates the Creed into Prayer. Of course, the Creed is already in a certain sense a prayer and a great act of homage towards God, but the Rosary brings us to meditate again on the great truth of His life and death, and brings this truth close to our hearts. Even Christians, although they know God, usually fear rather than love Him. The strength of the Rosary lies in the particular manner in which it considers these mysteries, since all our thinking about Christ is intertwined with the thought of His Mother, in the relations between Mother and Son; the Holy Family is presented to us, the home in which God lived His infinite love."
As Mary said at Fatima, "Jesus wants to use you to make Me known and loved. He wishes to establish the devotion to My Immaculate Heart throughout the world. I promise salvation to whoever embraces it; these souls will be dear to God, like flowers put by Me to adorn his throne."