St. Joseph of Arimathea: Enlightener of Britain?

Anyone who knows me knows that I am an Anglophile. I love the history of Britain, both ancient and present day, and any correlation that can be shown between Britain and the Orthodox Church’s roots is a great find. This vitae is one of those finds.

The Feast of St. Joseph of Arimathea is celebrated on July 31st, along with the Feast that the Church holds on April 18th with the holy Myyrhbearers after the resurrection of Christ. We all know the story from the Scriptures of how St. Joseph was a secret disciple of the Lord throughout his ministry because, as a member of the Sanhedrin he did not participate in the “counsel and deed” of the Jews in passing a death sentence for Jesus Christ. After the Crucifixion and Death of the Savior he made bold to go to Pilate and ask him for the Body of the Lord, to Which he gave burial with the help of Righteous Nicodemus, who was also a secret disciple of the Lord.

They took down the Body of the Savior from the Cross, wrapped it in a winding-cloth, and placed it in a new tomb, in which no one had ever been buried, in the Garden of Gethsemane, in the presence of the Mother of God and the holy Myrrh-Bearing Women (St Joseph had prepared this tomb for himself). Having rolled a heavy stone before the entrance of the tomb, they departed (John. 19: 37-42; Mt. 27: 57-61; Mark 15: 43-47; Luke. 24: 50-56).

The OCA website, where his life is written, ends their commemoration by saying that at the end of his life Saint Joseph reposed peacefully in Britain.. but on another (warning: not Orthodox) website there is more info listed:

After the Resurrection, our Lord appeared to him and revealed to him the mystery of His Resurrection. It was after Christ’s ascension that Saint Joseph gave up all fear and boldly confessed his faith in our Lord. Even though his former friends and loved ones opposed him, he could not bear to keep silent and openly preached the mystery of the Resurrection. Finally, he was driven from his home, but he was not grieved. Instead, he took this as a sign that he should travel and enlighten those who had never heard the Holy Faith. The Holy Apostle Philip sent him with twelve followers to the Isles of Briton.
The history of the enlightenment of Britain was well known in the early Church. Tertullian (AD 155-222) wrote that Britain had already received and accepted the Gospel in his life time:

All the limits of the Spains, and the diverse nations of the Gauls, and the haunts of the Britons–inaccessible to the Romans, but subjugated to Christ.

Hippolytus (AD 170-236), considered to have been one of the most learned Christian historians, identifies the seventy whom Jesus sent in the Gospel of Saint Luke, and includes Saint Aristobulus listed in Romans 16:10 with Saint Joseph and states that he ended up becoming a Shepherd in Britain.

Eusebius, (AD 260-340) Bishop of Caesarea and father of ecclesiastical history wrote:

The Apostles passed beyond the ocean to the isles called the Britannic Isles.

Saint Hilary of Poitiers (AD 300-376) also wrote that the Apostles had built churches and that the Gospel had passed into Britain. The same is said by Saint John Chrysostom (AD 347-407):

The British Isles which are beyond the sea, and which lie in the ocean, have received virtue of the Word. Churches are there found and altars erected … Though thou shouldst go to the ocean, to the British Isles, there though shouldst hear all men everywhere discoursing matters out of the scriptures, with another voice indeed, but not another faith, with a different tongue, but the same judgment.

Traveling across the perilous marshes of Somerset, the thirteen holy companions crossed the water to Glastonbury, coming at last to a hill which tradition still shows today, called Weary-All. As was the custom, the saint carried a pastoral staff of dry hawthorn. When he stopped to rest, he stuck the staff into the ground where it blossomed as a sign of God’s favour. The miraculous staff soon grew into a great tree, which continues to blossom to this day during Holy Nativity. In fact, official records show that after England adopted the Gregorian Calendar the Glastonbury Thorn continued to blossom on the Church Calendar date for Nativity.

Here at Weary-All Hill the saint’s party was met by a local chieftain, Arviragus, who, being impressed by the piety, gentleness, and meekness of Saint Joseph, donated twelve ‘hides’ of land to the group (approximately 160 acres). Here, on the Twelve Hides of Glastonbury, our holy patron sank the firm roots of Orthodox Christianity, building a church which he dedicated to the Most Holy Theotokos. St. Joseph and his companions enlightened many of the Tritons and baptized large numbers of them into the Holy Church. It was here that Saint Joseph of Arimathea, gave up his soul into the hands of our Saviour. Much later in 183 A.D. another group of missionaries came to the holy site where Saint Joseph had reposed, and there occurred many miraculous deeds and mysteries of healings. Christians lived at this site as hermits until the fifth century when our holy father among the saints, Patrick of Ireland, visited Glastonbury and formed a monastery on the site. Shortly after this St. David of Wales also visited this venerable place and began the building of a larger Church on the site. Glastonbury became a great place of pilgrimage for the Orthodox people of Britain. Many other saints came and dwelt on the lands where the Holy Apostolic Faith was first preached to the natives of Britain, the lands of Glastonbury, sanctified by Saint Joseph.

Glory to God for all things.

This is a really great account of the ending of the life of St. Joseph. Seeing as how we really only recall the life of St Joseph when we think of the Passion of Christ, t is always good to remember this great saint on his other Feast as well (31 July) and commemorate his deeeds as an apostolic preacher and Enlightener.

St. Joseph of Arimathea, pray unto God for us!

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2 Responses to St. Joseph of Arimathea: Enlightener of Britain?

  1. Juvenaly says:

    Yes, I am thinking of starting a small icon portion for the saints of Britain, Scottland, etc. And maybe a spot for all the monarchs canonized by the Church. šŸ™‚

    Glad you enjoyed. This last post was totally for you my friend

  2. Justinian says:

    St. Joseph has always been dear to me, long, long before I was Orthodox. And it is true that he was also dear to the Celts in Britain. I really do need to get an icon of him to go with St. Aristobulus…they really should be commemorated together as the first-establishers of the Christian faith in Britain.

    Good posts, Juvenaly. I’ve enjoyed!

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