On February 4, we commemorate St. Joseph of Aleppo (in northern Syria), who lived in dangerous times. Syria had been invaded by Arab Muslims in the 7th century, followed by Turkish Muslims, who for centuries attempted to wipe out the Christian religion in the Middle East. The Ottoman Turks had ruled Syria since the early 16th century and, while Christianity was officially tolerated under this rule, individual Christians were often harassed and persecuted.
Born in the mid-17th century, Joseph tried to lead a quiet, peaceful life, treating his Muslim neighbors with Christian charity. But his kindness was met with animosity and some of his neighbors decided to slander him by reporting abroad that he wished to convert to Islam.
Joseph could not allow this untruth to be told, so he began to argue with the men and deny this rumor they had started. The men beat Joseph and accused him of rejecting Islam. They brought him before the local authorities for questioning. Recognizing Joseph’s intelligence and an opportunity for advancing the cause of Islam over Christianity, the judge offered Joseph high position if he would simply go along with the original rumor and deny Christianity in favor of Islam.
Joseph’s faith was too strong to do such a thing. He began debating with the judge, accusing the Muslims of corrupting the holy Scriptures and believing in myths. He pointed out that they even had to rely on seeing a full moon to announce the dates of their holy days and that, if the moon were shadowed by clouds, their observances would be off-schedule and they would be ridiculed by other nations.
The reaction was swift and harsh. Joseph was tortured and carried away to be executed by beheading. St. Joseph received the martyr’s crown on February 4, 1686.
Today, in most countries dominated by the Muslim religion, Christians suffer from some sort of persecution – from simple harassment or extra taxation and restrictions to outright condemnation and execution. And in countries with no established religion, heresy and anti-Christian sentiment are rampant, making the practice of Orthodox Christianity still difficult. May we, with St. Joseph, pray for all suffering Christians.