Saint Joasaph of Belgorod

St. Joasaph of Belgorod St. Joasaph of Belgorod
On December 23rd (the 10th by the old calendar) the Church commemorates the repose of Saint Joasaph, the wonderworker of Belgorod. 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 saint’s 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.

Throughout all the long years during which the saint’s 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-born’s 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 bishop’s 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 God’s 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? God’s special grace rests upon this icon. It is a sign of the Holy Virgin’s 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.

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. Joasaph’s 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.

Holy Transfiguration Church, Baltimore

12/23/2011

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