Kassia vs. Joseph of Arimathea

Happy Monday! We begin a full week of Saintly Sixteen action as Kassia squares off against Joseph of Arimathea. Who will come out smelling like…myrrh? That’s up to the Lent Madness voting public.

On Friday, Andrew the Fisherman advanced to the Elate Eight by defeating Hyacinth 55% to 45%.

Vote now!


The views and feelings of Kassia, the patron saint of feminism and gender justice, continue through the ages and through her works. She was a remarkable writer, composer, and poet.

A staunch defender of the Orthodox faith, she expressed her views whenever she thought appropriate. "I hate silence when it is time to speak," she proclaimed,

She had no time for non-thinkers. “There is absolutely no cure for stupidity,” Kassia said. And in a rather descriptive turn, she commented, “Knowledge in a stupid person is a bell on a pig’s snout.”

Kassia is the only woman whose works are featured in Byzantine liturgy. Of significance, and lasting to today, is the Hymn of Kassia, sometimes called the Hymn of the Fallen Woman, or Troparion of Kassiani. Based on Matthew’s gospel, the Hymn is presented during Holy Week in the Orthodox Church. The Hymn of Kassia, composed for choir and soloists, is a lament, evoking sadness.

"Woe is me, for the love of adultery and sin hath given me a dark and lightless night; accept the fountains of my tears O Thou Who drawest the waters of the sea by the clouds incline Thou to the sigh of my heart O Thou Who didst bend the heavens by Thine inapprehensible condescension; I will kiss Thy pure feet and I will wipe them with my tresses. I will kiss Thy feet Whose tread when it fell on the ears of Eve in Paradise dismayed her so that she did hide herself because of fear. Who then shall examine the multitude of my sin and the depth of Thy judgment? Wherefore, O my Saviour and the Deliverer of my soul turn not away from Thy handmaiden O Thou of boundless mercy".

Not all of her works were religious in nature. Her poetry, with 261 still in circulation, presents themes that echo through the ages. In one of her poignant poems, Kassia skews the society of her day, which remains relevant for our current century.

I hate a murderer condemning the hot-tempered.
I hate the adulterer when he judges the fornicator.
I hate the leper who drives out the leprous.

 I hate a rich man complaining as a poor man.
I hate the poor man boasting as in wealth.
I hate a debtor who sleeps unconcernedly.

I hate the verbose in an unsuitable time.
I hate silence when it is a time for speaking.
I hate the one who conforms to all ways.

I hate the one who does not encourage everyone with words.
I hate one who speaks before examining.

Neva Rae Fox

Joseph of Arimathea

Our canonical gospels tell us so little about Joseph of Arimathea, so let's turn to non-canonical gospels.

Joseph of Arimathea was a high-ranking member of the Sanhedrin, yet he disagreed with what happened to Jesus. In asking to bury Jesus, he revealed himself as one of Jesus's followers. One tradition of Jewish burial is that a body cannot be left unburied overnight. Other customs included the family of the deceased carrying the body to the burial place. It was not something you would do for a stranger because handling the dead was considered unclean.

The non-canonical gospels of Peter and Nicodemus teach us more about Joseph of Arimathea. In Peter's gospel, Joseph of Arimathea takes Jesus down from the cross. When they lay his body on the ground, the earth shook, similar to the splitting of the temple curtain, which showed people that Jesus was the Son of God.

The Gospel of Nicodemus offers a similar account to the gospels, in which Joseph asks Pilate for Jesus's body, and Pilate grants Joseph's request. Nicodemus adds that when the Jews heard about this, they looked for him and Joseph of Arimathea. They argued with Nicodemus and Joseph about burying Jesus, and Joseph said: "I have acted rightly towards him; but ye have acted unjustly aghast that just person, in crucifying him, giving him vinegar to drink, crowning him with thorns, tearing his body with whips, and prayed down the guilt of his blood upon you." The group took Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus into custody. It was the Sabbath, so they couldn't do anything to Nicodemus and Joseph until it ended. The Jewish elders said that although they were worthy of burial, they would not allow it, and they would "give thy flesh to the birds of the air, and the beasts of the earth." See above about not leaving people unburied.

Joseph of Arimathea responded: "That speech is like the speech of proud Goliath, who reproached the living God in speaking against David. But ye scribes and doctors know that God saith by the prophet, Vengeance is mine, and I will repay you evil equal to that which ye have threatened me. The God you have hanged upon the cross can deliver me out of your hands. All your wickedness will return upon you. For the governor, when he washed his hands, said, I am clear from the blood of this just person. But ye answered and cried out, His blood be upon us and our children. According as ye have said, may ye perish forever." When they came back to Joseph of Arimathea's cell after the Sabbath, he was gone.

Miriam McKenney

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57 comments on “Kassia vs. Joseph of Arimathea”

  1. My heart goes to Joseph of Arimathea, although I thought Neva Rae Fox did an excellent write up for Kassia.

  2. Joseph of Arimathea has my vote, he stood up for Jesus and put himself in danger.

    Although Kassia was a remarkable woman, writer, and poet, she sounds very judgmental, and her poem that begins each line with, “I hate” really turned me off. God is Love. His understanding surpasses all human understanding.

    1. I read the poem as a condemnation of hypocrisy rather than of people. It sounds like a variation on the theme of removals a speck from someone else's eye, whilst ignoring the log in your own.

    2. The first two words of Kassia's poem, I hate, was a huge turn off for me. Hate is one word I try to never use. Love is my offering to all. Joseph got my vote, hands down.

  3. I'm in for Kassia, especially her poem with all too familiar contemporary resonance. Also, not thrilled with the quote attributed to Joseph in the Gospel of Nicodemus, repeating what's been called the "blood libel" from Matthew, one of the persistent sources of Christian anti-Semitism over the centuries.

    1. Also would highly recommend reading Amy-Jill Levine for a more complete understanding of what being ritually "unclean" really means. Caring for the dead is also considered one of the most selfless acts, because there is clearly no quid pro quo.

      With a nod to Kassia, "I hate it when well-meaning Christians misunderstand the faith of their Jewish neighbours."

    2. Must we repeat the “blood libel?” It really is the longest hatred and darkens the season.

  4. Joseph was a brave man. He risked personal safety and social shunning by his embrace of Jesus. What did other members of the Sanhedrin think of his open support of a condemned criminal? He was braver than Peter and other followers. He was generous in donating his spacious tomb. Where might Jesus have been buried if Joseph had not provided?

  5. I voted for Joseph of Arimathea despite the write up, not because of it. The echoes of antisemitic blood libel were beyond unfortunate, especially at a time when antisemitism is on the rise.

    1. I don’t see Joseph’s comments as antisemitic but against the current Jewish leaders interpretation of the Jewish writings. Jesus brought a different perspective that anyone could understand - love god and your neighbor and all else follows. The Sanhedrin definitely did not follow that. The crowd I look at as a mob that follows without thinking but the Jewish leaders knew what they were doing.

  6. Wow! Today is super tough! I'm a big fan of Joseph, however, re-reading about Kassia is making me think. I guess this is where the "madness" comes in. I find myself thinking in the way she does. No time for non-thinkers-BRILLIANT! I'm still deciding my vote! Painful today!

  7. Hard choice. Kassia was in my lead and then I thought I owed the respect due to Joseph. Both stood up to power in love. I am happy with either choice

  8. Kassia's words don't sound very Jesus-like. Jesus of course, hated some actions, but he did not hate leperers, the poor, and adulterers.

  9. This choice is really difficult! On the one hand, it is never easy to listen to the words of a prophet so I am tempted to vote for Kassia. She clearly spoke her convictions without mincing words. On the other hand, how difficult it is to act, as Joseph did, in the face of disapproval and threats from your community. Joseph makes me wonder what I would have done then, challenges me to think about what actions are required of me today. Joseph it is.

  10. I voted for Kassia, because her writing reminded me of The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagan, a tenth- and eleventh-century Japanese court lady, whose diary includes a section on "things I detest." I hate a dreary guest who prattles on and on; I hate it when a hair gets into the inkwell; I hate it when a dog barks at a clandestine lover trying to enter a lady's bedroom. (Kassia might or might not have included that latest detestation in her poetry, but certainly her image of kissing a deity's feet and wiping them with her hair is highly sensuous.) Kassia would be the patron saint for the character Tilda Swinton plays in "Problemista," a dragon woman / hydra who rages her way through the film and even 300 years after her death, awakened in the next life cannot stop hating on databases. That is a powerful life force.

  11. The word "hate" in Kassia's poem jarred me, too -- enough to do some googling. "kataphroneó" is the word she may well have used. Often translated as "despise," which connotes not just contempt but also disgust and disdain, it is a compound word that literally means "think against." What did Kassia mean? That she disagrees with the folks she lists and their behaviors? Begs to differ? Is at odds with? (And what, for that matter, did Jesus mean where English translations have him saying that those who don't "hate" mother and father, sister and brother etc. cannot be his disciples? Hmmm.)
    ...Whatever details are lost in translation, I still feel great solidarity toward this gifted poet and outspoken woman -- definitely not one of those well-behaved women who seldom make history!
    ....However, Joseph of Arimathea's gift of a tomb and an honorable burial for Jesus was an incredible act of love and respect, and done at great personal risk. He should win this round and very likely will, so maybe I'll honor Kassia with my vote even though she won't advance. I'm very glad to have learned about her.

    1. Thank you for your research and for sharing it. I voted for Kassia and am going to find her music and listen to it. Her compassion for fallen women touches my heart.

  12. Tough choice today. I finally went with Kassia for "I hate silence when it is time to speak."

  13. There are two legends about Joseph that center around Glastonbury, England. 1. He brought the child Jesus with him to Glastonbury on a sales trip (cf the English patriotic hymn "Jerusalem.")
    2. After the resurrection, he came to Glastonbury as a missionary, bringing the holy grail with him. The cynics about us may suspect that both legends were touted by the cathedral staff at Glastonbury in order to encourage income from pilgrims to the place.

  14. Hmmmm. A strident classist who doesn’t believe education will help “the stupid” vs parroting the root of much antisemitism. No thank you.

  15. I am delighted that we can read the words of a woman who lived in the ninth century. And what a voice! 'There is absolutely no cute for stupidity', is born out daily in our media. My vote goes to Kassia in thanksgiving for strong minded, intelligent and gifted women who overcome great odds everywhere.

  16. I love Joseph of Arimathea. But in these times, especially living in the State of Missouri where only a few days ago one of our State legislators proposed a bill that would make it a class E felony for teachers--potentially heavily fining them, placing them on the State's sexual offender list, and sending them to prison--to use a transgender student's choice of pronouns, there is no way I cannot vote for Kassia.


  17. I'm not fond of the extra-canonical gospels' underscoring the supposed innocence of Rome and Pilate and the eternal guilt of the Jews, and I'm distressed that the excerpts above reproduce them uncritically.

    I'm voting for Kassia's attested contributions to the life and worship of the church, much as I love some of the legends surrounding Joseph, and the courage and love he showed -- and his own place in the breathtakingly beautiful Orthodox chant for Great and Holy Saturday:

    When the noble Joseph had taken thy spotless body down from the tree, he wrapped it in fine linen and laid it in a new tomb.
    Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and to the ages of ages, Amen.
    When thou didst descend to death, O Life Immortal, thou didst slay hell with the splendor of thy Godhead;
    And when from the depth thou didst raise the dead, all the powers of heaven cried out:
    O Giver of Life, Christ our God, glory to thee!

  18. I had expected to vote for Joseph, but was hooked at the mention of the Troparion which was sung during Easter season after the Gospel at my church.

  19. I saw Kassia'a poem as a "hate the sin, love the sinner." Seems like Jesus loving the Pharisees and scribes back to the truth while pointing out their hypocrisy.

  20. Thank you for keeping the tradition of Lent Madness. Your work is greatly appreciated. MaryJane of Solvang

  21. I have had great respect for Joseph of Arimathea for decades, since a coworker and close friend died unexpectedly (and far too young) leaving no known family, no emergency contact, and no written instructions about what he wanted in the event of his death. We his friends wound up petitioning the county public administrator for permission to have his body cremated and to scatter the ashes, as he'd indicated verbally he wanted. I truly felt like Joseph of Arimathea, coming to Pilate for permission to take charge of the body of my friend and mentor.

    And without Joseph's intervention and the offer of a tomb in which to inter Jesus's body, would we truly have the Resurrection story? Part of the impact of the Gospels is the telling that the stone covering the entry to the tomb was moved to allow Him to come forth. We read of the women coming to the grave, finding the stone rolled away, and discovering that Jesus's body is no longer there; then the angels say "He is not here, he has risen!" and the followers believe. In John's Gospel Mary Magdalene then encounters Jesus standing in the garden, recognizes him as her Teacher, and goes to tell the disciples that she has seen the Lord and He is risen. Joseph's actions make this possible.

    I will vote to advance Joseph of Arimathea as a worthy candidate for the Golden Halo. Without Joseph's brave actions, speaking out when he risked his position, his wealth, and even his life, the Resurrection story might have been told in a very different way.

  22. I'm distressed that Joseph appears to be on track to win. The non-canonical references are antisemitic, and Kassia's poetry and example are so relevant for today's world.

  23. Just got introduced to Lent Madness. Such a fun way to travel through these 40 days.

    1. I gave up on that two years ago. I just get the post on Facebook. An email is not the only way to do this.

  24. "Kassia, the patron saint of feminism and gender justice..."--that's irresistible for me. We need her intercessions in our own day! Besides, I love the idea of advancing an Orthodox saint. I have immense admiration for Joseph and with another opponent, I would almost certainly be voting for him, but I cannot den Kassia, with whom I was heretofore unfamiliar.

    1. Amen to that!Every year ond contender always stays with me. This year Kassia may be the saint that travels with me further.