Wednesday, August 17, 2022

St Josaphat, Bishop and Martyr – Feast Day – November 12

St Josaphat’s name at birth was John (Ivan) Kuntsevych. He was a monk and the archbishop of the Archeparchy (archdiocese) of Polotsk, the Ruthenian Catholic Church. He was born in 1580 in Volodymyr Ukraine and killed by an angry mob on November 12 1623 in Vitebsk, Belarus, and died as a martyr. We celebrate his feast day on November 12 every year in the Catholic Church.

St Josaphat is the Patron Saint of

St Josaphat is the Patron Saint of Ukraine

St Josaphat, Bishop and Martyr Biography
St Josaphat, Bishop and Martyr - Feast Day - November 12
St Josaphat, Bishop and Martyr – Feast Day – November 12
Date of Birth 1580
Place of Birth Volodymyr Ukraine
Profession Polish-Lithuanian monk and archbishop of the Ruthenian Catholic Church
Place of Work Archeparchy of Polotsk
Date of Death November 12 1623
Place of Death Vitebsk, Belarus
St. Josaphat Feast Day November 12
Beatification By Pope Urban VIII on May 16 1643 in Rome, Italy
Canonization By Pope Pius IX on June 29 1867 in Rome, Italy
Patron Saint of Ukraine

St Josaphat Life History

St Josaphat’s family worshiped in the Eastern Orthodox Church where he was baptized. His family hailed from the Ruthenian (Ukrainian and Belarusian) nobility but his father was not rich. 

His parents encouraged him to live a pious life. At school, he was an avid learner of the Church Slavonic liturgical language and memorized the Book of hours used by the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Because St Josaphat’s father was not rich, he sent him to Vilnius, Lithuania as an apprentice to a successful merchant called Papovič. While in Vilnius, Josaphat met Josyf Veliamyn Rutsky who greatly influenced him to convert to Catholicism.

Initially, Rutsky practiced Calvinism but later joined the Byzantine Rite after instructions by Pope Clement VIII. He shared with Josaphat his vision and passion of working towards enhancing the reunion with Rome.

St Josaphat was very prayerful to an extent that Papovič, his boss was very displeased with him but as time progressed he became very fond of him. He offered much of his fortune and even her daughter’s hand in marriage to him but Josaphat did not accept any due to his love for the religious life.

In 1604, When St Josaphat was 24 years, he entered the Church and monastery of the Holy Trinity in Vilnius, which belonged to the Order of Saint Basil the Great. This is the time and place where he acquired the religious name Josaphat.

His piety at the monastery became known all over the region where all and sundry came to see this young monk. The monastery started receiving more and more novices due to Josaphat’s growing influence.

He never ate meat and fasted a lot. He slept on the floor and practiced self-flagellation until blood flowed from his body, a practice that his fellow Jesuits urged him to moderate.

He was ordained as a Catholic priest in 1609 and thereafter became the hegumen (abbot) of several monasteries.

St Josaphat became the assistant bishop of the Archeparchy (archdiocese) of Polotsk on November 12 1617 and in March 1618, he became the archeparch and began rebuilding the Saint Sophia Cathedral in Polotsk.

During this time, In 1596, there was this call by the Orthodox Metropolitan of Kiev and five other Orthodox bishops representing the majority of the Ruthenians, for the unity of non-Catholics (both Protestant and Orthodox) and the Roman Catholic Church. The Union of Brest was formulated and the Eastern Orthodox Church was persuaded to ascend to the union. 

The Pope in Rome accepted this historic conversion from Orthodox to Catholic but under the condition that they continue to practice their Byzantine liturgical rites and traditions.

There emerged two factions in the Eastern Orthodox Church of those who agreed to the unity and those who declined. Those who agreed became the Eastern Catholic and were referred to as the “Uniates” while those who delined remained as Eastern Orthodox and were referred to as “Disuniates”. 

St Josaphat had an uphill task of convincing the population in his see to embrace the communion with the Pope in Rome but he faced stiff opposition from monks and other clergy who feared that their Byzantine Rite would be diluted by the Latin Rite.

Bishop Josaphat continued restoring the Churches by instructing the clergy on how the catechism will be taught, how to live a pious priestly life, and how the deacons will help in their service.

He also held numerous meetings (synods) in various places to strengthen the Church within his diocese. He continued living his life in piety as a monk and succeeded in winning many souls to Christ.

A time came when those who had assented to the Union of Brest started to resent the union of the Eastern Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Church. They started changing the names of the clergy in the Liturgy from those in Uniate to those in Disuniate. That is, replacing the name of Pope Paul V with that of Timothy II, patriarch of Constantinople, and that of Sigismund III Vasa, King of Poland with that of Osman II, sultan of the Ottoman Empire.

This dissension was met with a heavy hand from the civil government who condemned the Disuniate leadership to death and changed the ownership of their Eastern Orthodox Church buildings and property to the Eastern Catholic Archeparchy of Polotsk.

However, the Disuniates did not fade away but they organized a synod in Kiev, Ukraine in 1620 and secretly elected and consecrated new Eastern Orthodox Church bishops to rival those of the existing eastern Catholic Church. 

Death

Tension and violence arose and the fight over the Church property escalated. In October 1623, Bishop Josaphat went to his residence in Vitebsk, and ordered the arrest of a priest who was creating a public disturbance outside the residence and also holding Orthodox services in secret. 

When the residents heard of this, they were enraged and stormed St Josaphat’s residence. They hit him in the head with sticks and an axe, dragged his body across the streets, tied heavy stones on his dead body, and sank it on the deepest part of river Dvina.

St Josaphat’s body was retrieved from the river and preserved in the cathedral of Polatsk. Later the body was taken to Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome and placed under the altar of Saint Basil the Great.

Beatification

St Josaphat was beatified by Pope Urban VIII on May 16 1643 in Rome, Italy

Canonization

St Josaphat was canonized by Pope Pius IX on June 29 1867 in Rome, Italy.

St Josaphat Feast Day

We celebrate his feast day on November 12 every year in the Catholic Church.

Churches Named After St Josaphat

  • St Josaphat’s Ukrainian Catholic Church in Rochester, NY, United States
  • St Josaphat’s Roman Catholic Church in Detroit, United States
  • St Josaphat’s Parish of Bayside, Queens, New York, United States
  • St Josaphat’s Cathedral and Ukrainian elementary school in Toronto, Ontario, Canada
  • St Josaphat Ukrainian Catholic Church of Trenton, NJ, United States
  • St Josaphat Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral, Parma, Ohio, United States
  • St Josaphat Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral in the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
  • St Josaphat Roman Catholic Church, Chicago, Illinois, United States
  • St Josaphat Parish in Cheektowaga, New York, United States
  • St Josaphat Basilica, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States

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