Lives of the Saints

 The Life of Saint Joseph of Arimathea

Noble Joseph, taking down Thy most pure body from the Tree, Wrapped it in clean linen with sweet spices, And he laid it in a new tomb.

Saint Joseph of Arimathea,  who  in  former  times was accounted worthy to bury  the immaculate body of our True God  Jesus  Christ  and who, after the Lord's glorious ascension into heaven, preached the Holy Gospel in many divers  lands.   Of  St. Joseph's early years little is known except that he was the son of  wealthy  and  noble parents of the Old Covenant.  This  pious  family  lived  in  the  city  of  Ramah  or Arimathea.  As a youth Joseph was taught the sacred scriptures and knew well of those  things foretold by the Holy Prophets of what should come to pass when the Saviour and Redeemer  would  come  into the world.  As the God-loving Joseph grew, he pondered on the prophecies, inspired  by the Holy Spirit.   He considered the prophecy of the Holy Isaiah : The Lord Himself shall give you a sign.  Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son  and  shall  call  His name  Immanuel. (Is.7:14).   And  the prophecy of Micah,  But  you Bethlehem house of Ephratha,  are  little among the thousands  of  Judah, yet from you shall come forth to me Him who is to  be  ruler  in  Israel, and  His  going  forth  is  from  the beginning, from the days of eternity. (Mic.5:2).


As years passed, Joseph grew in knowledge and love of God and in goodness and righteousness. (Luke  23:50).   He had the position of an honourable and respected member of the Jewish  Privy Council.  It was then that He Who is from eternity  came unto the people  of  Israel performing miracles, teaching, and proclaiming the New Covenant between Himself and those who would follow Him.  As the Gospel of our Lord came unto the people  of  Israel, Joseph  wondered, Could  this  Jesus of Nazareth be the One foretold, the Redeemer of Israel?  And as Joseph beheld Christ and  His  disciples  and  the multitudes of followers, he recalled the words of Isaiah,  The people  that walked in darkness have seen a great  light: they that dwell in the land  of  the  shadow  of death, upon them  hath the light shined.  For unto us a child is born into us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. (Is.9:2-5).   It was then that. Joseph became a disciple of the Lord, but in secret for fear of the Jews. (John 19:38). But soon, He through Whom all things  were created, was betrayed and of His own Will gave Himself up for the life of the world, And they crucified  Him,  and parted His garments, casting lots....And it was about the sixth hour and there was a darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour.  And the sun was  darkened,  and the veil of the Temple was rent  in the midst.  And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice. He said,  Father, unto Thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, He gave up the ghost. (Luke 23:44-46).


St. Epiphanius says: “When even was come, there came  a  rich  man of Arimathea named Joseph, and went boldly unto Pilate and begged from  him  the  body  of Jesus.  A mortal went in before a mortal, asking to receive God; the God of mortals he begs; clay stands before clay so as to receive the Fashioner of all!  Grass asks to receive from grass the Heavenly Fire; the miserable drop seeks to receive from a drop the whole Abyss!  Who ever saw, who ever heard such a thing?   A man grants  to  a  man the Creator of men; a lawless man undertakes to surrender the Definition of he Law of lawless men; a judge deprived of judgment permits the burial of the Judge of judges Who has been judged to death.

When even was  come,  he  says, there came a  rich  man  named Joseph. Truly was this man rich who carried away the entire compound hypostasis of the Lord.  Verily was he rich, because he received the twofold nature of Christ from Pilate.  He was rich indeed, because  he was accounted worthy  to  carry  off the priceless Pearl.  Truly was he rich, for he  bore away the Pouch  overflowing  with  the  treasure  of Divinity.  And how would that man not be rich who acquired the Life and salvation of the world?  How should Joseph not be rich, who received a gift Him that sustains and rules all things?  When even  was come for the Sun  of  Righteousness  had  then  set  into Hades.  Wherefore There came a rich man named Joseph of Arimathea,  who  was  a secret disciple for fear of the Jews.  And there came also Nicodemus, which at first came to  Jesus  by night.  0 hidden mystery of  mysteries!   Two secret disciples came  to conceal Jesus in a tomb, thus teaching by His concealment the mystery concealed in  Hades of the God concealed in the flesh.  Each one  of these men surpassed the other in  their  affection for Christ.  For  Nicodemus  proved  his  magnanimity  by the myrrh and aloes, and Joseph  proved  worthy  of praise by his daring and boldness before Pilate.  For he, casting off all fear, went in unto Pilate and begged the body of Jesus.  Now when he went in he acted very shrewdly so as to obtain his longed-for aim.  Wherefore, he did not employ high-sounding and pompous words lest Pilate be moved to wrath and he fail in his request.  Nor  did  he  say to him, ‘Give me the body of Jesus, Who but a short time ago darkened the sun,  split  the rocks asunder, shook the earth, opened  the sepulchres, and rent the veil  of  the  temple!’ Nothing of the kind said he to Pilate.

But what,  then?  A certain pitiful plea, in every wise lowly.  'O judge, I have come to make of thee a  trifling request.  Give me a dead man for burial, nay, the body of Him that was by thee  condemned, Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus  the  poor, Jesus the homeless, Jesus the crucified, the naked, the common, Jesus the carpenter's  son, Jesus the bound, the shelterless, the Stranger, Who in a strange land is unknown,  Jesus the contemptible, Who for  all  was  suspended  on the Cross.  Give me this Stranger, for what profit to thee is the body of this Stranger?  Give me this Stranger, for from afar He came to this place to save a stranger, to a dark region He descended to draw up a stranger.  Give me this stranger, for He  alone  is  a  Stranger.  Give me this Stranger, Whose country we know not, the strangers.  Give me this Stranger, Whose Father we know not, the strangers.   Give me this Stranger, Whose place and birth and ways we know not, the strangers.  Give me this Stranger Who lived in a strange land a strange life and existence.  Give me this Nazarite Stranger, whose  generation  and  disposition we know not, the strangers.  Give me this voluntary Stranger, Who had not where to lay His head.  Give me this  Stranger, Who as a homeless  Stranger  in  a strange land was born in a manger.  Give me this Stranger, Who from the very manger fled Herod as a stranger.  Give me this Stranger, Who from His very swaddling bands was a stranger in Egypt, Who has no city, no village, no house, no abode, no kindred, for this Stranger  is  found in foreign lands with  His  Mother.   Give me, O prince, this naked man on the Cross that  I may cover Him that  covered  my  nature's  nakedness.  Give me Him that is both a dead man and God that I may  shroud Him that has hidden mine  iniquities.   Give  me,  O  prince,  this dead man Who buried my sin in Jordan.  I entreat  thee  for  a dead man Who suffered injustice from all.  Who by a friend was sold. Who by  a  disciple  was betrayed.  Who by  brethren  was persecuted. Who by a slave was smitten.  For a dead man I intercede. Who was  condemned  by  them  that He freed from slavery. Who by them was given vinegar to drink.  Who by them that He healed was wounded.  Who by His own disciples was forsaken.  Who of His own Mother was bereaved.  For a dead man, O prince, I beseech, that homeless One Who was suspended on the Cross, for He has no father near Him upon the earth, no friend, no disciple, no kindred, no  burier.  Nay, He is alone, the  Only-begotten of the Unique, God in the world, and none else save He.'


When these things Joseph spake  to  Pilate  on  this  wise, Pilate commanded that the all-holy body of Jesus be given him.  And he went to the place called Golgotha and took God in the flesh down from the Cross and laid Him on the earth, naked God in the flesh,  Him that was not merely a man.   Lo, He  is  beheld lying low, Who drew all men on high.  And He for a brief time is bereft of  breath, Who is the Life and Breath of all.  He is  seen bereft of eyes, Who created the many-eyed  beings. He lies prostrate,  Who is the resurrection of all.  And God is slain in the flesh, Who raised up the dead.   The  thunder of God the Word is now silent for an instant and He is borne in the arms of men,  Who holds the earth in His  hand.   Dost  thou  really,  O Joseph, know Whom thou was given when thou didst ask and receive?   Dost thou truly know Whom thou didst carry when thou earnest to the Cross and didst  bring  down Jesus? If in truth  thou  knowest  Whom  thou didst carry, thou art now verily become rich.  And how is it that thou givest burial to this most awesome body of God?  Praiseworthy is thine  ardour, but even more praiseworthy the disposition of  thy  soul.  For dost thou not tremble,  bearing  in thine arms Him  before  Whom the Cherubim tremble?  With what fear dost thou strip that Divine flesh of the  loin  cloth?   And  how  dost thou reverently restrain thine eye?  Art thou not fearful  when  gazing upon and shrouding the  nature  of  God's  flesh.  He that surpasses nature?  Tell me, O Joseph, dost thou really  bury  towards  the East a dead man that is the  Dayspring  of  the East?  And with thy fingers  dost  thou close the eyes  of  Jesus as befits the dead, nay, of Him that with His immaculate finger opened the eyes of the blind?  And dost thou bind the mouth of Him that opened the mouth of the stammerer?  Dost thou lay out with thy hands Him that extended the withered hands?  Or dost thou bind the feet, as befits the dead, of Him that made motionless feet to walk?  Dost thou place upon a bed Him that  commanded  the paralytic,  'Take up thy bed and walk'?   Dost thou empty out myrrh upon the  celestial Myrrh Who emptied Himself  and  sanctified the world?  Dost thou dare to wipe that Divine side of Jesus bleeding  still,  the  side of God Who healed the woman of an issue of blood?  Dost thou wash with  water  God's body which cleanses all  and bestows purification?  But what lamps dost thou light for the 'true Light which enlighteneth  every man'?  What funeral odes dost thou  chant  for Him that is hymned unceasingly  by  all  the Heavenly hosts?  And  dost  thou  weep as though He were dead that wept and raised up Lazarus, the four days  dead?   And  dost thou bewail Him that gave joy to all and banished the sorrow of Eve?


Albeit, I bless thy hands, O Joseph, which ministered  and clasped the bleeding hands  and  feet of Jesus'  Divine body.   I bless thy hands which drew nigh  to  God's  bleeding  side before Thomas, the believing disbeliever, the acclaimed  inquisitive.   I  bless  thy  mouth  filled insatiably and united to the mouth of Jesus, whence it  was filled with the Holy Spirit.  I bless thine eyes which thou didst press against the eyes of Jesus,  whence  they  partook  of  the true light.  I bless thy countenance which drew nigh to the  countenace  of  God.   I  bless thy shoulders which bore the Bearer of all.  I bless thy head against which Jesus, the Head  of  all, reclined.  I bless thy hands  wherewith  thou didst carry Him  that  carries  all.  I bless Joseph and Nicodemus, for they replaced the Cherubim by uplifting  and carrying God and, as God's ministers, the six-winged Seraphim also, for not with  wings but with a winding sheet they  covered  and rendered honour to the Lord.  Him that the Seraphim hold in dread, the Same Joseph  and  Nicodeuus carry upon their shoulders and all the bodiless orders stand in awe.   When Joseph and Nicodemus came,  the  entire  divine  populace  of  angels  swiftly gathered.  The Cherubim run before them, the Seraphim hasten with them, the Thrones help them to carry, the Six-winged cover Him, and the Many-eyed are struck with dread seeing Jesus  in the flesh bereft of vision; the Powers aid in shroudiny, the Principalities offer hymns, the orders of Angels tremble,  and  all the  hosts  of  the celestial  ranks  are stupified.  And marvelling  they question and say one to another, 'What fearsome thing is this?  What this  dread?   What this trembling?  What manner of deed?   What  is  this  great,  strange and  incomprehensible spectacle?  He that  as  naKed  God  on high we cannot see, the Same on earth is easily seen naked by men!'


Him before Whom the Cherubim stand  with reverent fear, Joseph and Nicodemus bury fearlessly and looking upon Thee dead, stripped, and without  burial,  in  his  grief and tender compassion he (Joseph) lamented, saying : 'Woe is  me, my sweetest Jesus!  When but a little while ago  the  sun  saw Thee hanging on the Cross,  it  wrapped itself in darkness  :  the  earth  quaked with fear and the veil of the temple was rent in twain.  And now I see thee for my sake submitting of Thine own will to death.  How shall I bury Thee, my God?  How shall I wrap Thee in  a winding Sheet?  How shall I touch Thy most pure body with my hands? What  song  at  Thy  departure shall I sing to Thee, O coupassionate Saviour?  I magnify Thy sufferings; I sing the praises of Thy burial and Thy Resurrection, crying : O Lord, glory to Thee.’


And so chanting sacred hymns,  Saint Joseph  buried the holy body of our Saviour.  Because of the Passover there was no time  to  prepare a tomb for our Lord,  so  Saint Joseph  placed our Lord's body in his own tomb which was hewn out of stone (Mt.27:60).   The  Jews,  enraged by Saint Joseph's action, threw him into  a deep pit and left him to die.   Through  the Grace of God, he was taken up from this place and brought to Arimathea.


After the Resurrection, our Lord appeared to him and revealed to him the mystery of His Resurrection.   It was after Christ's ascension that Saint Joseph gave up all fear and boldly confessed his faith in our Lord.  Even though his former friends and loved ones opposed him, he could not bear to keep   silent   and   openly preached the mystery of   the Resurrection.  Finally, he was driven from his home, but he was not grieved. Instead, he took this as a sign that he should travel and enlighten those who had never heard the Holy Faith.   The Holy Apostle Philip sent him with twelve followers to the Isles of Briton.

The history of the enlightenment of Britain was well known in the early Church. Tertullian (AD 155-222) wrote that Britain had already received and accepted the Gospel in his life time:

all the limits of the Spains, and the diverse nations of the Gauls, and the haunts of the Britons--inaccessible to the Romans, but subjugated to Christ.

Hippolytus (AD 170-236), considered to have been one of the most learned Christian historians, identifies the seventy whom Jesus sent in the Gospel of Saint Luke, and includes Saint Aristobulus listed in Romans 16:10 with Saint Joseph and states that he ended up becoming a Shepherd in Britain.

Eusebius, (AD 260-340) Bishop of Caesarea and father of ecclesiastical history wrote:

The Apostles passed beyond the ocean to the isles called the Britannic Isles.

Saint Hilary of Poitiers (AD 300-376) also wrote  that the Apostles had built churches and that the Gospel had passed into Britain. The same is said by Saint John Chrysostom (AD 347-407):

The British Isles which are beyond the sea, and which lie in the ocean, have received virtue of the Word. Churches are there found and altars erected ... Though thou shouldst go to the ocean, to the British Isles, there though shouldst hear all men everywhere discoursing matters out of the scriptures, with another voice indeed, but not another faith, with a different tongue, but the same judgement.


Travelling across the perilous marshes of Somerset, the thirteen holy companions crossed the water to Glastonbury, coming at last to a hill which tradition still shows today, called Weary-All.   As was the custom, the saint carried a pastoral staff of dry hawthorn. When he stopped to rest, he stuck the staff into the ground where it blossomed as a sign of God's favour.  The miraculous staff soon grew into a great tree, which continues to blossom to this day during Holy Nativity. In fact, official records show that after England adopted the Gregorian Calendar the Glastonbury Thorn continued to blossom on the Old Calendar date for Nativity.


Here at Weary-All Hill the saint's party was met by a local chieftain, Arviragus, who, being impressed by the piety, gentleness, and meekness of Saint Joseph, donated twelve 'hides' of land to the group (approximately 160 acres). Here, on the Twelve Hides of Glastonbury, our holy patron sank the firm roots of Orthodox Christianity, building a church which he dedicated to the Most Holy Theotokos.  St. Joseph and his companions enlightened many of the Tritons and baptized large numbers of them into the Holy Church. It was here that Saint Joseph of Arimathea, gave up his soul into the hands of our Saviour. Much later in 183 A.D. another group of missionaries came to the holy site where Saint Joseph had reposed, and there occurred many miraculous deeds and mysteries of healings.  Christians lived at this site as hermits until the fifth century when our holy father among the saints, Patrick of Ireland, visited Glastonbury and formed a monastery on the site. Shortly after this St. David of Wales also visited this venerable place and began the building of a larger Church on the site.  Glastonbury became a great place of pilgrimage for the Orthodox people of Britain.  Many other saints came and dwelt on the lands where the Holy Apostolic Faith was first preached to the natives of Britain, the lands of Glastonbury, sanctified by Saint Joseph.


Glory to God for all things.