Javascript is currently disabled. This site requires Javascript to function correctly. Please enable Javascript in your browser!

Saint Josaphat

Saint Josaphat
  • Century: 16th & 17th Century
  • Patronage: -
  • Feast Day: November 12th

St. Josaphat was an Eastern Rite Bishop.  He is a martyr to Church unity, because he died trying to bring the Orthodox Church into union with Rome.  There was a schism between the western Church centered in Rome, and the Eastern Church centered in Constantinople in 1054.  There were several issues in dispute; insistence on the Byzantine Rite, Married Clergy, and disagreement on whether the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father and Son.  Finally, it grew into whether or not to except the authority of the Pope in Rome. 

Nearly five centuries later in the Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania, and an Orthodox metropolitan of Kiev, five Orthodox Bishops decided to commit the millions of Christians under their pastoral care to reunion with Rome.  Josaphat Kunsevich was still a young boy when this took place, but he witnessed the results both positive and negative.  Millions didn’t agree with the Bishops decision to return to communion with the Catholic Church and both sides tried to resolve this, not only with words, but also with violence.  Martyrs died on both sides, and Josaphat was a voice of Christian peace in this dissent.   

Josaphat turned down an opportunity in business, as well as marriage, to enter the Monastery.  He found encouragement in his vocation from two Jesuits and a rector who understood his heart.  He also found a dear friend in Joseph Benjamin Rutsky.  Rutsky joined the Byzantine Rite under orders of Pope Clement VIII, and shared Josaphat’s passion to work for reunion with Rome.  The two friends spent long hours making plans on how to bring about communion and reform monastic life. As they both were appointed to leadership roles, they put into practice their plans for reform. 

Josaphat became the first Bishop of Vitebsk, and then Polotsk.  The Church was literally in ruins; the buildings falling apart, clergy marrying two or three times, and monks and Clergy not interested in pastoral care or model Christian living.  Within three years, Josaphat had rebuilt the church by holding synods, publishing a catechism to be used all over, and enforced the rules of conduct for clergy.  His most profound teaching was his example, he spent his time preaching and catechizing others in the faith, often visiting the local towns. 

Orthodox seperatists set up their own Bishop in the same area.  Riots broke out when the King of Poland declared Josaphat the only legitimate archbishop.  His former diocese of Vitebsk turned completely against the reunion and him along with two other cities.  Even the very Catholics that once supported him, turned against him.  The turmoil was wide spread, and after finally leaving the area, Josaphat decided to return and calm the troubles himself.  He knew of the dangers, but stated, “If I am counted worthy of martyrdom, then I am not afraid to die”.  He told the people, “You people want ot kill me.  You wait in ambush for me in the streets, on the bridges, on the highways, in the marketplace, everywhere.  Here I am; I came to you as a Shepherd.  You know I would be happy to give my life for you.  I am ready to die for union of the Church under St. Peter and his successor, the Pope”. 

The works form Josaphat did not set well with the separatists.  They did all they could to anger him.  He knew of their plot against him, and spent his day in prayer.  In the evening he had a long conversation with a beggar he had invited in off the streets.  Elias was a priest that was plotting against Josaphat.  On the morning of November 12th, the servants were angered, and asked Josaphat’s permission to lock Elias away, if he caused trouble again.  When he returned he found they did just that – locked up Elias.  He was let out of his room unharmed.  But it was too late, they had the reason they had been looking for, and a mob wanted blood, the blood they had been denied for so long. 

Josaphat came into the courtyard to see the mob beating his friends and servants.  He yelled, “My children, what are you doing with my servants?  If you have anything against me, here I am, but leave them alone”!  They attacked him, hit him with a stick, then an axe, and finally shot through his head.  His bloody body was dragged to the river and thrown in, along with the body of a dog who had vigantly tried to protect him. 

The Jewish people of the city tried their best to rescue Josaphat and his friends.  Through their courage, they saved many lives.  They were the only ones to publicly accuse the killers and mourn the death of Josaphat, while the Catholics of the city hid in fear for their lives.  The violence had the opposite affect, and when reality set in with the loss of their Archbishop, the public opinion swung towards the Catholics and Unity.  His rival ultimately reconciled with Rome, and in 1867 Josaphat became the first saint of the Eastern Church to be formally canonized by Rome. 

Practical Take Away

St. Josaphat is remembered for trying to unite the Eastern Rite Church with the Roman Rite Church, under the authority of the Pope in Rome.  He tried all in his power to unite the two Rites after a schism, even having had to flee for his life at one point.  He eventually returned and faced the mobs that wanted to destroy him for his position.  As Archbishop, he was hit by a mob in the courtyard, beaten, and shot in the head.  He was thrown in the river with a dog that tried to defend him.  His successor ultimately reconciled with Rome, and he became the first saint of the Eastern Rite Church to be formally canonized in Rome.  His dedication to our Church was truly heroic.