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November 12

St Josaphat - November 12

Saint Josaphat

Bishop, Martyr

(Around 1580-1623)

“Please God I will give my life for the holy union, for the supremacy of Peter and of the Holy Father, his successor.”

Saint Josaphat

His Early Life

Ivan Kuntsevych was born around 1580 in Volodymyr, Lithuania (modern Ukraine). He was baptized as John into the Eastern Orthodox Church. Both of his parents encouraged religious participation and Christian piety. John was raised in the Orthodox Ruthenian Church which, on November 23, 1595 in the Union of Brest, united with the Church of Rome.  With great zeal to his religious studies and to his prayer life, John learned the breviary and recited it from a young age.

Trained as a merchant‘s apprentice at Vilna, Lithuania, John was offered partnership in the business and marriage to his partner’s daughter. However feeling the call to religious life, he declined both.

Brother Josaphat

In 1604, John persuaded his friend Joseph Benjamin Rutsky (a convert from Calvinism who had been induced by Pope Clement VIII to join the Byzantine rite against his personal wishes) to enter with him the Order of Saint Basil at Holy Trinity monastery in Vilna. At this time, John took the name Brother Josaphat. His favorite pious habit was to make a poklony – a reverence, in which the head touches the ground – accompanied by the prayer: “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a poor sinner.”

Ordained Byzantine Rite Priest

In 1609, Josaphat was ordained a Byzantine rite priest by a Greek Catholic bishop. Soon, he had a reputation as a compelling preacher and a leading advocate for the union of the Ukrainian Church with Rome. Together, the two young monks devised schemes for promoting union and reforming Ruthenian monastic observance. He voluntarily practiced penance. Josaphat never ate meat, fasted frequently, wore a hair shirt, and slept on the floor.

Josaphat lived simply and engaged in such extreme mortifications that he was chastised by even the most austere monks. Josaphat’s superior, Samuel, held separatist views.  Samuel looked for a way to fight against Roman Catholicism and the Uniats, the name given those who brought about and accepted the union of the Churches.  So, Josaphat’s studies were cut short and he was sent to found new houses in Poland at Byten and Zyrowice.  He subsequently became the hegumen (prior) of these monasteries.

In 1614, Josaphat returned to Holy Trinity as abbot of the monastery. Josaphat accompanied his friend to his new cathedral and visited the monastery of The Caves at Kiev. The monks threatened to throw Josaphat, a reformer, into the river, because they were content under their relaxed rule.

Archbishop of Vitebsk

In 1617, Josaphat was elected first bishop of Vitebsk, Belarus, with the right of succession to Polotsk (in modern Lithuania). A few months later at the age of 39, he became archbishop when Archbishop Brolnitsky (who favored the dissident Greeks) died.

Josaphat found the diocese in deplorable condition. There was widespread opposition to Rome, married clergy, lax discipline, and churches in a rundown state. The more religious people were inclined to schism through fear of arbitrary Roman interference with their worship and customs. To put into effect his reforms, Josaphat sent for some of his brethren from Vilna to help him. He called synods, wrote a catechism, set down rules for his clergy, fought the interference of laymen in ecclesiastical affairs, and preached and tended his flock as personally as he could. By 1620, the reforms had some effect. Josaphat’s virtues and reasonableness gained him much support.

Around 1620, Metetius Smotritsky was appointed archbishop of Polotsk by a group of dissident bishops. He began to sow the seeds of dissension, claiming that Josaphat was really a Latin priest. Metetius declared that his people would be forced to become Latins, too, and that Roman Catholicism was not the traditional Christianity of the Ruthenian people.

Accusations and Opposition

Returning from Warsaw, Poland, Josaphat found that some of his support was becoming shaky. The monk, Silvester, had persuaded Vitebsk, Mogilev, and Orcha to the side of Metetius. The nobility and many of the people, especially those of the episcopal city who knew Josaphat well, adhered strongly to the union. But Josaphat could do little with these three cities.

Riots broke out and people chose sides, when the king of Poland proclaimed that Josaphat was the legitimate archbishop of Polotsk. Josaphat was falsely accused of fomenting trouble and using force against the dissidents by the chancellor of Lithuania, Leon Sapieha, a Roman Catholic, thus stirring up further dissent. Leon was afraid of the potential for political unrest due to these disturbances. He lent to willing an ear to the heated charges of the dissidents outside of Poland. In 1622, Leon wrote that Josaphat had caused the violence in the maintenance of the union and put the kingdom in peril from the Zaporozhsky Cossacks by stirring up discord among the people. The accusations were made in general terms and demonstrated to be false by contemporary testimony from both sides. Josaphat was, however, guilty of invoking civil power to recover the church at Mogilev from the dissidents.

Thus, Josaphat met opposition and misunderstanding on both sides. He was not given the support he should have received from the Latin bishops of Poland because of his insistence on maintaining Byzantine rites and customs and accused by the Orthodox of being Roman. He stoically held firm and determined to appear personally in Vitebsk, the hotbed of opposition in 1623 to meet it head on despite threats of violence against him.

His Death

Josaphat declined a proffered military escort. Instead, he strove to bring order knowing that some of his opponents hated him enough to kill him if they could do so. Once, he addressed an angry mob with the words, “I, your shepherd, am happy to die for you.”  This is precisely what happened.

A priest named Elias, who had harassed Josaphat several times previously, was locked up by one of Josaphat’s deacons when Elias again abused Josaphat. A mob assembled demanding Elias’s release. Although Josaphat released Elias with a warning, they broke into his home and beat Josaphat’s attendants.

Josaphat went outside to beg them not to harm his servants and was murdered by the mob crying ‘Kill the papist!’ So on November 12, 1623, Josaphat was beaten over the head with a halberd and shot to death by the mob. Then, his body was thrown into the Dvina River at Vitebsk, Russia. Josaphat wanted to make his contemporaries see a world in which there were no longer Ruthenians, Poles, Russians, Greeks, Latins, Schismatics, or Uniates, but only Christians, children of the same Father, belonging to the same faith.

Saint Josaphat was the first saint of the Eastern church to be formally canonized by Rome.

Born :                   Around 1580 in Volodymyr, Lithuania (modern Ukraine)

Died:                    November 12, 1623 in Vitebsk, Belarus

Beatified:            May 16, 1643 by Pope Urban VIII

Canonized:         June 29, 1867 by Pope Pius IX

Feast Day:           November 12

Patron Saint:      Ukraine

Source:

Reflection 

As an archbishop, Saint Josaphat demonstrated faithful leadership. He upheld the principles of the Catholic faith, defended the rights of the Church, and worked to foster spiritual growth among the people he served. His life serves as a model for Christian leaders who seek to lead by example and with devotion.

What kind acts will you do today as model of your Christian devotion to lead others by your example?

Prayers

Saint Josaphat,

Champion of unity and reconciliation, we turn to you in prayer.
You worked tirelessly to promote unity between the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches, seeking to bridge divides and foster harmony.

Pray for us, O holy servant of God, that we may be inspired by your dedication to the cause of Christian unity.

Guide us in our efforts to reconcile differences, to heal divisions, and to work toward greater harmony within the Church and the Christian community. May your example of faithful leadership, commitment to social justice, and willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice inspire us to live our faith with courage and devotion, bringing us closer to God’s desire for a united and peaceful Catholic Church.

Saint Josaphat, pray for us. Amen.

Saint Links 

Aleteia – The key to unity can be found in St. Josaphat’s life

All Saints & Martyrs – Saint Josaphat

AnaStpaul – Saint of the Day – 12 November – St Josaphat Kuncewicz (1584-1623)

Business Mirror – Saint Josaphat Kunseyvc, bishop and martyr

Catholic Ireland – Nov 12 – St Josaphat of Polotsk (1580-1623) bishop and martyr

Catholic News Agency – St. Josaphat Feast day: Nov 12

Franciscan Media – Saint Josaphat

Independent Catholic News – St Josaphat

Loyola Press – Saint Josaphat Feast day November 12

My Catholic Life – November 12: Saint Josaphat, Bishop and Martyr

New Advent – Markevyc, J. (1910). St. Josaphat Kuncevyc. In The Catholic Encyclopedia

Newman Ministry – Saint Josaphat

RC Spirituality (Uncle Eddy) – St Josaphat

Saint Mary’s Press – Saint Josaphat (c.1580-1623)

Saints, Feast, Family – Saint Josaphat of Polotsk’s Story (Josaphat Kuntsevych)

Sanctoral – Saint Josaphat Archbishop and Martyr (1584-1623)

The Basilica of St Josaphat –  Who is Saint Josaphat?

uCatholic – Saint Josaphat of Polotsk

 

Video Link

Cradio Saint of the Day: Saint Josaphat Kuntsevych – YouTube (CatholicSaints.Info)

St. Josaphat – YouTube (Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network – USA)

St Josephat Kunsevich – Saint of the Day with Fr Lindsay – YouTube (St Francis Xavier – SPRING of FAITH)