St. Mary Orthodox Church

Cambridge, MA

The Sunday of All Saints

by Fr. Antony Hughes

Sermon Preached by Father Antony Hughes on the Sunday of All Saints (June 22nd, 2003)

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.

Glory to Jesus Christ!

We are surrounded by a "great cloud of witnesses" – the great saints of the Old and New Testaments and all those who came after them. One of these holy witnesses is pictured on the deisis behind the Holy Altar on the far right. His name is Joseph. He was a priest of the Church of Antioch who lived and served in the city of Damascus.

He was born in 1793 in Damascus. His father’s name was George Moses; he was a weaver. Poverty made Joseph’s goal of receiving an education difficult, but he managed to study by hook and by crook becoming a Biblical Scholar and a master of Greek, Hebrew, history and theology. He married the young Mariam Al-Kurshi at the tender age of nineteen. Along with his academic erudition he developed a high level of piety which drew the attention of then Patriarch Serapheim and of many in the Church. At the age of twenty-four Joseph was ordained to the diaconate and one week later to the priesthood.

The successor of Patriarch Serapheim also took note of this extraordinary young priest assigning him as the preacher at the Patriarchal Cathedral, Al-Marianeih, and giving him the title of Grand Oikonomos. His sermons were so impressive that many dubbed him the new Chrysostom.

During the yellow fever epidemic of 1848, Fr. Joseph worked selflessly and tirelessly bringing aid and comfort to the suffering even after the loss of one of his own children.

His service to the Church of Antioch extended to the education of young men for the priesthood. He assumed directorship of the Patriarchal School of Damascus raising its standards considerably and adding a high-level department of theology. He was personally responsible for the training of more than fifty outstanding leaders of the Antiochian Church including the first indigenous Patriarch since 1724, Meletios Al-Doumani and the founder of the Balamand Seminary Archimandrite Athanasios Kaseer. Fr. Joseph was known as kind, patient and humble, a masterful pastor and educator, a remarkable theologian, a true man of God.

On July 10, 1860 Fr. Joseph would be called upon to render his greatest and final service to Christ. He became a martyr and a leader among martyrs. On July 9 riots broke out in Lebanon and Damascus among muslims against Orthodox Christians. Many made their way for shelter to the Cathedral from all over the region. Fr. Jospeh went himself there to offer consolation and encouragement giving communion to all who were there. It is also reported that out of concern for those Christians trapped in their homes, Fr. Joseph went through the roof of the Cathedral armed with the Sacrament moving from housetop to housetop to take communion to anyone he could reach. After returning to the Cathedral from his daring journey Fr. Jospeh encouraged the many Christians gathered there to prepare for martyrdom as the muslim crowds attacked and began to burn the church. Some, including Fr. Joseph made their way out into the streets where they were attacked and killed. Fr. Joseph’s body was dragged through the streets mercilessly until there was nothing left to bury.

Sanctity in our time has demanded such courage from countless thousands of our brothers and sisters in Christ. But whether or not any of us are ever called to this kind of martyrdom we are all called day after day to stand up for our Lord Jesus Christ, to lift up and glorify his name through our thoughts, words and deeds. We must never be ashamed to testify to our Faith wherever we are and whoever we are with