By the grace of God, with the end of today’s service, we have entered the great and holy days of the saving Divine Passion Week. The festive Palm Sunday has finished, and we hear the wondrous words: “The Lord is going to His voluntary passion for the sake of our salvation.”
On Holy Monday, the Church remembers the Righteous Noble Joseph from the Old Testament, one of the twelve sons of the Patriarch Jacob. By his innocent suffering, by his patience, he conquered the enemy. He was a prototype of Christ the Savior Who innocently suffered for us all, which is why the Church remembers him first in Holy Week.
The righteous Old Testament Patriarch Jacob had twelve sons. His sons were farmers, tending their fathers’ flocks. Jacob’s young son, the youth Joseph, was the most beloved. He never left his father’s home, being a great comfort to him in his deep old age. Patriarch Jacob greatly loved his young son and was afraid to let him go. However, Joseph had a special purpose from God. He had special dreams that alarmed everyone living in the house: Eleven stars in Heaven bowed to him, then the sun and the moon, then ears of wheat. The brothers’ secret envy of Joseph was ripened. They said: “What? We’re going to bow to you? Your father and mother and your brothers?”
Envy is the mother of all vices, and the brothers had developed a secret hatred for the righteous youth Joseph. One day, when they hadn’t come home for a long time, their father Jacob was alarmed, why there was no news from them for so long, and sent Joseph to the desert to find his brothers—whether they were healthy, whether everything was alright with the herds of cattle? Joseph found his brothers pastoring the cattle. Seeing him from afar, they recognized him. And here, as the devil took up abode in Judas Iscariot, so he took up abode in them.
They decided to deal with their brother: “What, are we going to bow to him? What is this—our father and mother are going to bow to him? And he’s going to rule over us? It shall not be!” And when the young Joseph approached his brothers with a welcoming smile, they pounced on him like animals and wanted to kill him. Joseph prayed: “Brothers! I’ve done you no harm! I joyfully left our father to come to you!” But they had such cruel, envious, and violent hearts that they planned to kill him immediately. Then the older brother said: “Let us not spill the blood of our brother. It would be better to thrown him into a pit and let him die a natural death.” They removed Joseph’s clothes and threw his naked body into a large, deep pit, to die there of hunger. The youth endured heavy suffering. His brothers thought: “How we will tell our father what became of Joseph?” They decided to slaughter a kid and smear Joseph’s clothes with his blood and tell their father: “We found his clothes in the desert. We recognized them as the clothes of our brother, young Joseph. Probably jackals or wolves devoured him, and he died in the desert.” That is what they did.
At that moment, a merchant camel caravan was slowly making its way through the desert. The merchants were headed for far-away Egypt. The brothers decided: “Should we let him disappear and die? It’d be better to sell him as a slave and take money for him! They’ll take him to the distant Egypt land, and no one will find out about him.” They pulled Joseph out of the pit and approached the merchants. They saw a handsome youth, of young body. They gave the brothers plenty of money, loaded him up on a camel and took him far from his father’s home, from his homeland, from his family, from his beloved brothers and father and mother.
The brothers returned home to Jacob sorrowful, with fake tears. They told him: “Father! Forgive us! Such a grave sorrow has happened! Your son, the young Joseph, is no more. In the desert we saw only his blood-stained clothes and brought them to you.”
“Jacob bitterly and unconsolably wept,” as today’s sacred hymns tell us, “over the loss of Joseph,” that he would never see his beloved son again. This bitter and inconsolable sorrow struck the despairing heart of the aged Jacob as an arrow. This concludes the first part of the life of the Righteous Joseph.
Distant Egypt. A bustling slave market. Egyptians would go there to choose young slaves to serve their homes. The merchants brought the young Joseph to this slave market and put him in the row. One Egyptian named Potiphar found him to his liking and bought him for a great price, for handsome young slaves were especially expensive at the slave market.
He took the youth to his house and he became a slave. Potiphar loved Joseph and trusted him, for he was very smart and wisely handled Egyptian agriculture, administering it with his servants. Joseph was simple, obedient, never arguing with anyone, and did not insist on his own way. He had complete obedience and humility in his life, why is why he conquered the heart of the Egyptian, who made Joseph the manager of his house.
But the enemy does not sleep—Potiphar’s wife fell in love with Joseph. She burned for him with lustful passion, for this handsome young slave. Everyone knows how terrible a woman’s lustful passion can be. It turns a woman into a beast, the most terrible, insidious creature! (Many have read the life of St. Moses the Hungarian—how he, also handsome, was messed with by a woman.) This Egyptian’s wife felt the same irrepressible, unsatisfiable passion. She tried to possess Joseph in every way possible: She flirted, she touched him. It even got to the point where she undressed in front of him.
But Joseph had fear of God; he feared God and knew that fornication is a grave sin and leads to destruction. He committed no sin, but fled from this woman’s furious lustful burning. She accosted and raged against Joseph even more. She ran to embrace him, desiring to satisfy her lustful passion. Joseph did not touch her. Then she left her clothes in the room, jumped out naked and starting screaming that a slave wanted to rape her. This crime was punishable by death in Egypt, when a slave tried to commit violence against his master or mistress. The scream, the noise—everyone came running. The master was informed that a slave wanted to violate his wife. Anger, prison, and the inevitable expectation of the Egyptian court and execution. Joseph was innocently languishing in prison. He couldn’t prove his uprightness, his innocence.
But his father and the law of God taught meekness: to endure all trials humbly, not to justify yourself, knowing that the time would come when God would justify him, and that God would exalt he who suffers innocently. Pharaoh’s baker and cupbearer were with him in the prison for their infractions. And they had interesting, mysterious dreams that Joseph fully interpreted for them. He told one he would die, and the other that he would be forgiven, justified, and spend many years in Pharaoh’s court, and so it happened. Joseph only asked him: “When the time of your glory comes, put in a good word for me, for I am languishing in this prison cell completely innocently.”
The Lord works wonders in the life of every man. One day, Pharaoh had a strange dream: Seven fattened cows were grazing on the banks of the Nile River. Suddenly, skinny cows came up out of the river, pounced on the others, devoured them, but they did not become fat. What does that mean? You can see anything in a dream. He dreamed again the next night: Seven leans ears of corn attacked seven fat ears. “What does it mean?” Pharaoh wondered. “Seven—a symbolic number: Seven fat, seven lean and then again fat… What does it mean?” He called all the wise men to divine and asked them all what these dreams could mean. No one could guess. They all shrugged their shoulders in bewilderment. Then Pharaoh said: “If someone can interpret, I will reward him handsomely: I will make him a statesman and bring him close to me.” All of Egypt began to wonder: “What’s with Pharaoh, our king?” Then the cupbearer, who had been in prison with Joseph, remembered him and told the king: “King! You have an innocent man suffering in prison, a young man by the name of Joseph. He foretold everything to us exactly: One of us died, and I am with you in rays of glory. Would you like to send for him? He will explain everything for you.”
The courtiers went and opened the prison. They washed Joseph, dressed him in presentable clothes, led him by the hand to the royal court and placed him before the eyes of the king, the Pharaoh of Egypt. They explained to Joseph why they had brought him. He prayed to God Almighty to enlighten and instruct him, for without prayer it’s impossible to do or explain anything intelligently. Joseph prayed and told the king: “This is what these dreams tell us: The country will have the most abundant harvest for seven years; everyone will be satiated by the harvest. But after that, after these seven years, there will be seven difficult years of crop failure, and then again seven years will be good. This is my good advice to you: When there will be nowhere to put the harvest, collect it in the royal granaries and keep it, and you will not allow your country and people to die in the years of famine.”
The king listened and believed the Righteous Joseph and made him chief over the country’s granaries. The crops were bountiful for seven years. They ate, they were satiated, and the cattle were all fat. And Joseph built stone storehouses and gathered the surplus harvest for nothing. They mocked him: “We’re not going to eat all that. It’s just going to go to waste.” Silently, wisely, praying to the Almighty God, Joseph gathered the harvest in the granaries.
The seven years of harvest came to end, the famine began—seven years of crop failure. For the first year, the old stockpile somehow held out, but the second year they felt hunger—the people began to murmur and reproached the king: “He has storehouse there!” And the wicked people began to plunder the royal reserves. Pharaoh, struck by the sagacity of the Righteous Joseph, elevated him to Great Minister and adorned him in expensive gold-woven clothes. It was no longer possible to recognize the young Joseph—his skin turned black under the rays of the Egyptian sun; an important dignitary arrayed in radiant golden clothing…
The famine reached the land of Israel, where Jacob lived with his sons. Jacob still had joy after Joseph—his youngest son Benjamin. Jacob watched over Benjamin as the apple of his eye, so as not to lose him prematurely as he lost Joseph. He didn’t let him go anywhere on his own, fearing to be separated from him. But Jacob still remembered Joseph daily and hugged his blood-stained clothes—they were always in his room, by the bed. Jacob mourned the loss of his son, wiping his fatherly tears with the clothes, as he thought (he believed what they told him), of his untimely-departed son.
The famine reached them too—there was nothing to eat. They heard that they were selling cheap grain in Egypt, and Jacob decided to send his sons to Egypt: “Go buy some grain to get us through the famine.” So the brothers headed out on the road. Only Benjamin, his most beloved son, remained with Jacob.
And how wonderfully the Bible then narrates for us the meeting of Joseph with his brothers, who at first did not recognize in the lofty courtier, their brother whom they had sold into slavery; about how Joseph tested his brothers, how in the end he revealed himself to them, did not take revenge, did not rebuke them; how he met with his father, the elderly Jacob, and how the family of Jacob settled in Egypt! In Rus’ they especially loved to read the life of this holy, great, Righteous Joseph.
Why does the Church remember this innocent Old Testament sufferer on Holy Monday? He was a prototype of the innocent suffering of Christ the Savior. Just as Joseph had twelve brothers, Christ the Savior had twelve disciples, and the traitor Judas among them. Christ was innocently sold for the pieces of silver, as Joseph was once sold by his brothers for silver. And as Joseph overcame all temptations, preserving his purity, submission to the will of the Heavenly Father preserving him in everything, not murmuring against God, in exactly the same way the Son of God meekly endured the onerous defamatio, reproaches and castigations, scourging, and spitting. He did not murmur against the will of the Heavenly Father.
Not as I will, but as Thou wilt, Father, Christ says in the Holy Gospels. Here the Old Testament corresponds with the New Testament. And what do these great images of innocent suffering teach us? How the Righteous Joseph innocently suffered and how the God-Man Christ the Savior, our Lord, innocently suffered.
The Lord also gives us suffering in life, and trials and innocent persecutions, so we might not murmur, not take offense, but bear everything patiently with submission to the will of God: “Not as we will, but as Thou wilt, Father.” The image of the Old Testament Righteous Joseph teaches us this submission to the will of God.
Enlighten us, O Lord, to endure everything in life meekly, humbly, and not be proud of our virtues. How proud we are, just like the Pharisee: “I fast! I pray! I am not like this publican! I give alms to the church! I help the poor!”—and all the rest. It’s all a lie before God. The poor sinner the publican beat himself on the breast, saying: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” And the Lord justified him, pardoned him, and forgave him!
And teach us, O Lord, to fast humbly, not boasting that we are keeping the fast, to humbly pray, to not be puffed up about being men of prayer, to labor humbly, so we wouldn’t say that had I not worked then nothing would have happened, and to serve humbly; to not be proud, neither in thoughts nor in knowledge—in nothing. Humbly, like the Son of God, the Savior bore His cross and commanded us to humbly bear our cross, as the Righteous Joseph bore his. By our humility and modesty, we will overcome vanity and we will overcome the devil and become witnesses to the glory of God.
By the prayers of the Righteous Noble Joseph, whose memory we celebrate on Holy Monday, with the help of God and of all the saints of God, who courageously and calmly carried their crosses, defeating the enemy, help us O Lord to overcome the main enemy—pride and vanity—and to humbly bear our crosses, meekly, accusing none. Lies are all sinful before God. Everything is in God’s hands: “Not as we want, but as Thou, our Heavenly Father, grant us, may Thy will might be done in us.”
Teach us, O Lord, by the wondrous examples from the books of the Old Testament to learn this meekness, this purity of life. Hardly could anyone standing here resist the temptation when a beautiful woman throws herself at you. What fear of God Joseph had in his soul, though he innocently suffered from the demon of lust of a rampaging woman! This is what purity is—the fear of God. Had his father not brought up his son in the fear of God, he would have committed a serious sin, and his memory would have died with a great noise, like other sinners who perished before him. This is why the Church forever remembers the Old Testament words from the Psalm: Come, ye children, hearken unto me: I will teach you the fear of the Lord (Ps. 33:12). The fear of God is not an animal fear—fearing something, a beast of some kind—but a reverent fear before the majesty of God.
When we see a great man, we have not animal fear, but reverence: What a great, virtuous life! May this majestic fear of God and the fear of sinning in our sinful abomination accompany us in our spiritual life. Let us all reflect on the life of the righteous one. And whoever wants to replenish it, read the Bible, understand the beauty of the podvig of the Righteous Joseph. And if difficulties, some kind of temptations or depression attacks—pray, ask for help, that he would help you overcome these lustful temptations, to defeat the devil, so the devil wouldn’t control us like a puppet in a puppet theater, and so we might overcome the devil and drive him away from ourselves. More than anything, the devil fears meekness and humility. Humility is the most terrible weapon. Tell enemies to reconcile, to those at enmity with one another say: “Make peace.” They’ll do anything they want! Even look at the example of a child—he gets into trouble, so you say to him: “Ask forgiveness,” and he will lock himself up, the devil will clamp his mouth, becoming like a stone. This is how the devil binds you, so you never say from a pure heart: I am guilty, this temptation befell you through me, forgive me! May all of us, praying in the church of God, strive for this forgiveness, this victory over the devil! And in humility and meekness help us, O Lord, to overcome all the power of the enemy. Amen.
I often tell you: When you make trouble against the enemy, you will never defeat him, only you yourself will be defeated. Meekness and humility! Today you yielded in something, kept silent, gritting your teeth, and tomorrow God will help you, and the enemy himself will retreat. And if you still haven’t given up, from your whole heart entreat forgiveness: “Forgive me.” “God will forgive you, and I forgive.” The enemy is completely defeated, dispersed, burst like a soap bubble. What have you heard from the life of the saints of the Caves, how the devil burnt two monks! How he burned St. Titus and Deacon Evagrius, how they hated one another! At first they were inseparable friends! Then the devil gave them such hatred that they couldn’t stomach one another, couldn’t even look at one another. Evagrius would go to cense—Titus would turn away from him; Titus would come to cense—Evagrius would turn away. Such hatred!
Titus became seriously ill, lying on his death bed. Monks came to him and he would say: “Forgive me, brothers. Bring Deacon Evagrius to me, I want to say goodbye to him before I die.” They went and said to Evagrius: “Go, Titus is dying and calling for you. Go, he’s asking for you to come, he wants to ask forgiveness from you.” “I will never forgive him.” They forcibly took him. Titus fell upon his knees and asked with tears: “Brother, forgive me, a sinner. I don’t want to leave this life with a stone of anger.” “I will never forgive you, neither in this life, nor in the future,” answered Evagrius, and suddenly stricken, he fell at Titus’ bedside. His whole body writhed, his tongue fell out, foam on his lips—he instantly died. The brothers watched in horror, not understanding anything. Everything was filled with such a stench! And what happened? Titus began to weep over him and said: “Brothers, when Deacon Evagrius said: ‘I will never forgive you, neither in this life, nor in the future life,” a fiery angel suddenly appeared, struck with him a fiery spear, and he fell.”
The custom then was to bury all the brothers in the caves. But they couldn’t bury Evagrius because of his stench. So they buried him somewhere farther away.
Teach us, O Lord, to have a good, soft, and meek heart. Joseph did not take revenge on his brothers. He could have thrown them in prison, he could have mocked them. He forgave them all from a pure heart. And grant us, O Lord, a kind heart to forgive everyone. We overcome the enemy by forgiveness. But if we hold onto anger, we will not be servants of God, but of the devil. May God save us all from this! Learn from the good examples of a holy life. Amen.