St. Josaphat

NOV 12

John Kuncevyc was born at Vladimir in Volhynia about the year 1580. His Catholic father came from a good family and sent John to school in Vladimir. He was then made an apprentice to a merchant in Vilna. During this time he made the acquaintance of two Jesuits and Peter Arcudius, rector of the Oriental college at Vilna. They encouraged John in his studies of Church Slavonic and Byzantine Liturgy.

John's employer didn't like his preoccupation with religion, but he was such a good worker that the merchant offered him a partnership in the business and marriage to one of his daughters. John refused his offer and taking the name Josaphat, he became a monk at the Holy Trinity Monastery in Vilna in 1604. His friend Joseph Rutsky had been ordered against his wishes to join the Byzantine rite by Pope Clement VIII. Josaphat convinced Joseph to join him in the monastery and together these young monks worked to bring about union and reform in the Ruthenian monastic observance.

Josaphat was ordained to the priesthood in 1609. His reputation for living a very holy life and being an excellent preacher soon became known. In 1614 he succeeded his friend Joseph as abbot of Vilna. Josaphat worked to bring about reform also in the monastery at the Caves of Kiev which had became very lax. He had no success in bringing them to a belief in union, but he did bring about a changed attitude and greater good-will.

In 1617 he was made bishop of Vitebsk with right of succession to the archbishopric of Polotsk. He found his diocese in a shambles with churches in ruins, decadent clergy and monks and much chaos. While at Vitebsk he was able to win a large part of the Orthodox of Lithuania to the idea of Union. By 1620 order had been restored and the people seriously looked at their Christian life. However a new hierarchy was established in the Orthodox Church of Lithuania and they mounted a more effective opposition to Josaphat's efforts.

Due to betrayal, false accusations and violence, Josaphat's efforts were seriously opposed among the Catholic as well as Byzantine people. Because he maintained the right of the Byzantine clergy to equal rights with the Roman clergy he did not get the support of many of the Latin Bishops. In spite of death threats and confrontations with angry mobs he continued to work for unity.

Josaphat was attacked by an angry mob and after pleading that his servants remain unharmed he was murdered and his body dumped in the Dnieper River. His remains were recovered and buried at Biala in Podlesie. He was canonized in 1867.

Today his body rests in the Basilica of St. Peter in Rome, where every year on his feastday Byzantine Catholics, especially Ukranian Catholic, celebrate the Divine Liturgy (Mass) at his tomb. Josaphat is a great example to us today. When confronted with anger, hostility and rejection he remained steadfast in his struggle to attain equality, unity and peace.

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