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Sermons Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Revelation to Joseph

Sermon / Homily on St. Matthew 1: 18-25

Was St. Joseph a Tzadik?

by Teˇfilo

Scripture: St. Matthew 1: 18-25

Brethren, may the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

Whereupon Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing publicly to expose her, was minded to put her away privately. Matthew 1:19

I remembered that in Jewish tradition, the term for a "just man" is tzadik, and that this term carries a specialized meaning in classical Judaism. The title is given to personalities in Jewish tradition considered righteous, such as Biblical figures and later spiritual masters. The root of the word ṣadiq, is ṣ-d-q (צדק Tzedek), which means "justice" or "righteousness", also the root of Tzedakah (Charity, lit. "righteousness"). The feminine term for a righteous person is Tzadeikas. (Source).

Later Judaic thinkers further developed the concept of tzadik. The Jewish medieval theologian and philosopher, Moses Maimonides, defined tzadik (based on Tractate Yevamot of the Babylonian Talmud 49b-50a) as "one whose merit surpasses his iniquity is a tzadik". This definition opened up, so-to-speak, this way of living according to the Law to the masses and not to a more restricted elite. (Source)

Furthermore, according to the Hasidic Tanya (based on passages in Tanach and the Talmud, and the tradition in Kabbalah), the true title of tzadik denotes a spiritual psychological description of the soul. Its true meaning can only be applied to one who has completely sublimated their natural "animal"-"vital" soul inclinations into holiness, so that they experience only love and awe of God, without material temptations. This select level elevates the "Intermediate" person ("Benoni") into one who never sins in thought, speech or action. Unlike the Tzadik, they only experience Divine communion during devoted moments of worship or study, while in mundane life they can be tempted by natural inclinations, but always choose to stay connected to holiness. In the Tanya the difference between the former Talmudic-Maimonidean and latter Kabbalistic-Hasidic conceptions is raised. (Source) Other teachers further elaborate upon these attributes but these expansions should not concern us here.

The definition of tzadik, as you can see, it's very near our definition of "saint and mystic." The term refers to someone whose observance of the commandments has become second nature and whose prayer life reached the unitive way of contemplative prayer:

The unitive way is the way of those who are in the state of the perfect, that is, those who have their minds so drawn away from all temporal things that they enjoy great peace, who are neither agitated by various desires nor moved by any great extent by passion, and who have their minds chiefly fixed on God and their attention turned, either always or very frequently, to Him. It is the union with God by love and the actual experience and exercise of that love. It is called the state of "perfect charity", because souls who have reached that state are ever prompt in the exercise of charity by loving God habitually and by frequent and efficacious acts of that Divine virtue. It is called the "unitive" way because it is by love that the soul is united to God, and the more perfect the charity, the closer and more intimate is the union. Union with God is the principal study and endeavor of this state. It is of this union St. Paul speaks when he says: "He who is joined to the Lord, is one spirit."[5]. Souls thus united to God are penetrated by the highest motives of the theological and moral virtues. In every circumstance of their lives the supernatural motive that ought to guide their actions is ever present to their mind, and the actions are performed under its inspiration with a force of will that makes their accomplishment easy and even delightful. These perfect souls are above all familiar with the doctrine and use of consolations and desolations. They are enlightened in the mysteries of the supernatural life, and they have experience of that truth proclaimed by St. Paul when he said: "We know that to them that love God, all things work together unto good, to such as, according to His purpose, are called to be saints." (Romans 8:28). The form of prayer suitable to persons in the unitive way is the contemplation of the glorious mysteries of Our Lord, His Resurrection, Appearances, and Ascension, until the coming of the Holy Ghost, and the preaching of the Gospel. These mysteries may also be the subject of meditation for beginners and for those in a state of progress, but in a peculiar manner, they belong to the perfect. Union with God belongs substantially to all souls in a state of grace, but it is in a special manner the distinguishing characteristic of those in the unitive way or in the state of the perfect. (Source)

I find it right and just that the Jewish definition of "just man" or tzadik and our definition of "saint and mystic" track so closely, for both originate from the same spring of living water. Furthermore, although the Jewish sages' full exploration and refinement of the term tzadik occurred after New Testament times, their refinement of the term may well include traditional insights gained during the intertestamental period.

Of course, for a Catholic, St. Joseph was a most special man. It is the common teaching of Catholic theologians that St. Joseph was comprised into the highest order of creation, that of the hypostatic union, and "in that family the highest representation which it is possible to conceive, inasmuch as he was made the very representative of the Divine Father, Who alone has the right to call Jesus His Son, having begotten Him from all eternity; and yet that same God, Who by the mouth of Isaias protested that He would never give His glory to another, that God Who, in communicating to the Word and to the Holy Spirit His Divine essence, does not in any wise communicate to them His Divine paternity, was so generous to Joseph as to concede to him His glory, and communicate to him His name and His paternity; not actually, for that was impossible, but so that he should be in His place and stead, and should be called the father of Him who was the Divine Word, and that the Word Himself should call Joseph by the sweet name of father, so that he might with true joy appropriate to himself that passage in Holy Scripture: 'I will be to Him a father and He shall be to me a son!' (Source)

We then get a glimpse of St. Joseph's participation in the divine nature (theosis) through grace and in the faithful practice of the Law. St. Joseph is a pivotal, transition figure in which both observance of the Law and belief in the promise of salvation coalesced into a singular figure, close to God, head of the Holy Family, and an example to emulate during our pilgrimage on earth.

St. Joseph of Nazareth, father, spouse, saint, mystic and tzadik: pray for us!

Source: Vivificat - From Contemplation to Action; http://vivificat1.blogspot.com/2012/03/was-st-joseph-tzadik.html

See Also:

Sermons, Bible Commentaries and Bible Analyses for the Sunday of the Revelation to Joseph

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