All that we know for certain of Joseph, the foster father of Jesus and the husband of the Mary, the mother of Jesus, is written in the Gospel accounts of Matthew and Luke. He is called just, or righteous; that is, deeply concerned for living rightly according to the Law of God. He was of Davidic descent, but was not of noble or royal birth. He worked as a carpenter or builder. At the time of Jesus’ virginal conception and his birth, Joseph was betrothed to Mary. His doubts about her conception and the decisions to go to and to return from Egypt were the occasions for angelic admonitions that came to him through dreams. In the face of humiliation and scandal, he accepted the vocation of protecting Mary and being a foster father to Jesus. He provided care and protection for the infant Jesus and his mother in taking them to Egypt to escape Herod’s paranoiac slaughter of the children at Bethlehem, and he reared Jesus as a faithful Jew in their home at Nazareth. Joseph led his family to Jerusalem for the celebration of the Passover when Jesus was twelve years old, according to contemporary Jewish custom; and “in great distress” he and Mary sought out Jesus when on the return journey they had traveled a day from Jerusalem and could not locate Jesus among the home-going crowd of relatives and acquaintances, finally finding him in the precincts of the Temple, where he was sitting among the rabbis who were amazed at his understanding. Thereafter Joseph disappears from the Gospel accounts, save for a few references to Jesus as Joseph’s son, and later Christian tradition presumes that he died before Jesus began his public ministry.
The pseudepigraphal Protevangelium of James makes him elderly at the time of his betrothal to Mary, and almost all Christian art has depicted him so, but the demands implied in his protection of Mary and Jesus and in the upbringing of Jesus make this unlikely. A fifth or sixth century document known as the History of Joseph the Carpenter was influential in creating a liturgical devotion to Saint Joseph, which probably began in the East but which reached its full development much later in the West. It appears that liturgical devotion in Ireland and Britain preceded a general devotion to the saint, as there are martyrology entries for Joseph from the eighth century in Wales and slightly later in Irish sources, and the feast of Saint Joseph was celebrated at Winchester, Worcester, Ely, and other centers before 1100.
Saint Joseph is the patron of fathers, of laborers (especially carpenters), and of all who desire a holy death. In medieval art he seldom appears alone, but is nearly always depicted with Mary or Jesus. Many churches, hospitals, religious congregations, colleges and towns bears Saint Joseph’s name, and the frequent use of Joseph as a Christian name is some evidence of his widespread popularity.
The little that we know of him for certain is a testimony to a righteous man’s trust in God in the midst of perplexing and distressing circumstances.
prepared from material in Lesser Feasts and Fasts
and The Oxford Dictionary of Saints
O God, who from the family of your servant David raised up Joseph to be the guardian of your incarnate Son and the spouse of his virgin mother: Give us grace to imitate his uprightness of life and his obedience to your commands; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
2 Samuel 7:4,8-16
But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan, “Now, therefore, thus you shall say to my servant David, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be prince over my people Israel. And I have been with you wherever you went and have cut off all your enemies from before you. And I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more. And violent men shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel. And I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.’”
Psalm 89:1-4, 26-29
Your love, O LORD, for ever will I sing; *
from age to age my mouth will proclaim your faithfulness.
For I am persuaded that your love is established for ever; *
you have set your faithfulness firmly in the heavens.
“I have made a covenant with my chosen one; *
I have sworn an oath to David my servant:
‘I will establish your line for ever, *
and preserve your throne for all generations.'”
He will say to me, ‘You are my Father, *
my God, and the rock of my salvation.’
I will make him my firstborn *
and higher than the kings of the earth.
I will keep my love for him for ever, *
and my covenant will stand firm for him.
I will establish his line for ever *
and his throne as the days of heaven.”
For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.
That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.”
Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom. And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, but supposing him to be in the group they went a day’s journey, but then they began to search for him among their relatives and acquaintances, and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, searching for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. And when his parents saw him, they were astonished. And his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them. And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart.
And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.
The scripture texts for the Lesson, the Epistle, and Gospel are taken from the English Standard Version Bible. The Collect and Psalm are taken from the Book of Common Prayer (1979).
The icon of Saint Joseph is taken from the Holy Transfiguration Monastery icon store website.