Friday, January 5, 2007

Patron Saint

This morning I attended the Royal Hours of Theophany at Holy Cross. Afterwards I spoke briefly with Fr. Gregory about two matters that need to be resolved before my admission as a catechumen – my sponsor and my patron saint. For the latter, I proposed St. Joseph of Arimathea.

In explaining my choice, I offered both a frivolous reason and a serious one. As a fan of the Arthurian legends, I often encounter passing mentions of the Holy Grail’s connection to St. Joseph and his descendants. His name is even mentioned in Monty Python and the Holy Grail!

More seriously . . . In the parable of the Prodigal Son, I have always identified more with the older brother than with the prodigal himself. I am literally an older brother, with siblings two and three years younger, but it’s more than that. Like the older brother in the parable, I am the dutiful, thrifty sort that stays at home and plods along with his life instead of going off in search of thrills, squandering his inheritance, and hitting bottom before coming to his senses. Christianity often seems like a religion designed with the younger brother in mind – Jesus came to call the sinners, not the righteous; the outcasts, not the privileged. But those who tend to think of ourselves as righteous and privileged face other sorts of difficulties, and ultimately we need God’s grace as much as our younger brothers. I take comfort in the fact that when Joseph and Nicodemus, older brothers if ever there were, came to Jesus, he did not turn them away.

Fr. Gregory directed my attention to the epitaphios, the large cloth icon of Great Friday, which depicts St. Joseph preparing Christ’s body for burial. It is inscribed with the words of the troparion, "The noble Joseph, taking down thy most pure body from the tree, did wrap it in clean linen with sweet spices, and he laid it in a new tomb." Perhaps coincidentally – or perhaps not! – the Epitaphios service (technically Matins of Holy Saturday, but normally observed the preceding evening) has always been my favorite Byzantine service, from the first time I experienced it with the Melkites.

I have informally regarded St. Joseph of Arimathea as my patron for at least a decade, and I am happy to have an opportunity to make it official. The epitaphios icon is displayed on a shelf in my bedroom, flanked by a print of Rembrandt’s Descent from the Cross and a photo of Jan de Rosen’s mural of the procession to Christ's tomb.

May St. Joseph of Arimathea pray for me and for all of the older brothers who read this.


Roland said...

The picture, which for now is also my official Blogger photo, is a mosaic of St. Joseph of Arimathea from Ravenna, Italy.

fishcracker said...

Hello, got here through Father Stephen's blog. Was just going to lurk, except that what you wrote reminded me of something I wrote previously. (though not as well written, but anyway)

Roland said...

Fishcracker - I just read your angel dialog with Fr. Stephen a few minutes ago, and then I come home to find you waiting for me in my own blog!

Thanks for directing me to your essay, "The Good Sons." You start with the same basic idea that I wrote about, but your development of it is more complete than mine - and much funnier!

fishcracker said...

I'm glad you found it funny. :-D

How long is the catechumenate (is that the term?) in your church?

And now I want a patron saint too. :-)

Roland said...

In our initial conversation, Fr. Gregory told me there are both an informal stage and a formal stage in becoming Orthodox. Since I've already been visiting the parish every month or two for eight years, he said that would suffice for the informal stage. He said the formal catechumenate would last six to twelve months.