Just after Christmas, the day of the Synaxis of the Most Holy Theotokos, the Gospel of Matthew was read in church about the flight of the Holy Family to Egypt:
And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young Child and His mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him. When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night, and departed into Egypt (Mt. 2:13-14).
I had an unexpected question: couldn’t the omnipotent Father have simply carried His Son and His Mother together with Joseph to a safe place?.. Or another option: couldn’t He have made the Divine Infant invulnerable to the swords of Herod’s servants or invisible to murderers?
Why instead of this did the angel have to rouse the already aged Joseph and send him with the priceless Treasure, still in swaddling clothes, and his young Betrothed on a long, difficult and dangerous journey to a foreign, foreign-speaking and pagan country?...
Joseph did not ask such questions. As you know, he was righteous and had already learned to trust God completely. So he immediately put Mary and Her Son on a donkey, and they moved to Egypt.
Sacred history is silent about where and how they lived in Egypt (the apocrypha apart). One thing is clear: It was not easy for Joseph, who had the greatest responsibility in the universe, to live in the pagan land. But he managed, he saved the Child entrusted to him. Of course, God did not abandon him, helping and protecting him. But God helps only those who take on work and responsibility themselves, and who do not run away from the voice of God, as the Prophet Jonah once fled to Tarshish.
Could God Himself have carried the Child and His Mother to Egypt or somewhere else? Beyond all doubt He could have, but who is Joseph then? What is his human significance and his role, as it were?
And it's not just about Joseph. This is about each of us—imperfect, sinful, and prone to despondency as we are.
The Almighty created us as rational, free and responsible beings, individuals, in His own image and likeness. He wants to see in us not just servants, for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth (Jn. 15:15), but His friends, co-workers and teammates. Therefore, everything on earth is decided not only by the will of God, but also by the will of the person who accepts and fulfills it. In order for the great and saving deed of God to be accomplished, each time a person is needed. In order for God’s chosen people—the people of the future Messiah—to be originated, Abraham was needed. In order for the Jews to come out of Egyptian bondage so they could receive the Law from the hands of God, Moses was needed. In order for the Israelites to hear the word of truth in the dark ages of their apostasy and idolatry, so that in the years of sorrows and retribution for their sins the people could hear the word of hope, the prophets were needed...
For the Incarnation to take place, a Virgin was needed Who would say: Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to Thy word (Lk. 1:38). St. John the Baptist was needed in order to prepare the way for the Lord, so Jesus Christ could be baptized in the Jordan, taking upon Himself the sins of people and arranging the baptismal font for all subsequent generations. The apostles were needed so the Good Tidings could be spread around the globe...
Holy Scripture is not only a chronicle of God’s deeds; it is also the history of people— thousands of personalities, each making a choice, salvific or pernicious, confessional or apostate. Catastrophes, beginning from Adam’s fall, certainly occur for human reasons. And God does not prevent them by binding the will of man; rather, He leaves His creation free and responsible for the consequences.
If nothing depended on a person, if a person were a grain of sand and a nonentity, this would not be Christianity. Christianity is a dialogue between God and man, a covenant with him, a union. The God Whom Christians know respects those He created in His own image and likeness.
This is what I slowly realized, starting with the question of saving the Infant Jesus from Herod. But it turns out that that’s not all. The book called the New Testament ends, but the history of the Church continues.
For the Church to endure—and just endure but grow—during years of severe persecution it needed people whose faith and love for Christ was stronger than fear: martyrs and confessors. In order for the Church not to be poisoned and destroyed by endless heresies it needed Christians of the highest spirit, enlightened mind, and genuine inner freedom, ready to defend the Truth to the end regardless of others, and not frightened by any threats. And who was needed for the Church to stand forever, so that the gates of hell could not prevail over it in any country or in any era, so that the Son of Man could find faith on earth on His Second Coming (cf. Lk. 18:8)? Again, the saints?... Yes, but not only them. We are also needed—imperfect, sinful and small, but consciously choosing Christ. He needs each one of us, He counts on each one of us until the earthly history ends.
Joseph was entrusted with the greatest Treasure in earthly history—a helpless Infant, the living God Incarnate. What is entrusted to us?... His truth, His Church, His love for people.
And the realization of this became an eye-opener for me. It changed my attitude towards my own Christianity and towards my presence in the Church. Previously, this seemed to be my own business in many respects—or simply a matter of my personal salvation. Perhaps it was the pressure of the world that dictates such an attitude towards faith. “This is your personal, internal matter, nothing and no one but you should be concerned.” Now I see that my faith is my work on earth, my mission. Not only mine, of course, but the common mission. Together with many other people, with those who are now living and those who have already passed into eternity, with ordinary people and saints… And, above all, of course, with Christ.
True, when one says or writes such things there is shyness and embarrassment: “Am I taking too much about myself?” But no, we should not be afraid. Neither should we be embarrassed and wave our hands: “Oh, it’s out of my reach… I’m so weak, so small and full of sins… I’d better just work out my salvation...” This is false humility. The words of Christ, Ye have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit (Jn. 15:16), do not apply only to the apostles. What power in these words of Christ: He ordained them to go and bring forth fruit!...
Christmas time was not yet over when during the Vespers in the old Holy Trinity Cathedral of Saratov [an industrial city on the Volga River in southern Russia.—Trans.] I heard, for nearly the thousandth time, the song of the Mother of God: My soul doth magnify the Lord, And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour (Lk. 1:46–47). And for the first time I thought about what an incredible, uncontainable joy overwhelmed the heart of young Mariam in those days: God Himself was doing His will through Her...
What happened to the Virgin happened only once in earth's history and will never occur again. But the joy in the fact that the Lord Himself performs His will through you—an imperfect person—that He needs you, that He counts on you, is available and necessary to each of us. Therefore, let the path of Joseph be the path of our lives.