Continuing my series on eastern saints, I thought I should share the life of Saint Josaphat.
Josaphat was born in 1580, in Vladimir, Poland. Originally, he was given the name John Kuncevic by a noble family of Ruthenian ethnicity. Ever since he was a child he was described as holy and was especially devoted to our Lord’s crucifixion.
As a young teen, he was sent out to Vilno, Poland, to begin an apprenticeship set up by his father. While there, the Union of Brest was signed by the majority of orthodox bishops within Poland at the time. Vilno mostly refused the union; however, young John immediately embraced the union and joined his local Basilian monastery, taking the name Josaphat.
While there he was disappointed by the lack of discipline from the monastery and was seeking a spiritual father to guide him. He eventually met the future bishop of Kiev, Josyf Rutsky, who was a convert from Calvinism. Not much is known about the specific influence Josyf had on Josaphat but after meeting him, he decided to become ordained.
Once St Josaphat was a priest he began an active ministry of feeding the poor and preaching in the streets to whoever would listen. The main emphasis of his preaching was upholding the union with Rome as well as convincing fellow Ruthenians who refused the union to return to the church.
Soon after, he was made the archimandrite (Abbot) of a monastery in Byten. While there he attracted over sixty new monks and he began to reform the Basilian rule to be more strictly followed. He also began to write defenses for the union by compiling text from early eastern saints and using their writings to defend the place of the papacy.
Because of his holiness and popularity with the faithful, he was chosen as the new Archbishop of Plock. As Archbishop he wrote a new rule for his parish priest to follow as well as continuing his preaching for the total union of his fellow Ruthenians to the church.
As you can imagine, this constant preaching for unity angered a lot of orthodox clerics who encouraged their followers to actively and with force resist union.
While Josaphat was visiting Vitebsk, an orthodox mob broke through the estate he was staying at and began to cause violence and chaos. Josaphat heard the commotion between the house servants and the mob, so he went outside and pleaded with them to attack him instead and spare the servants.
The schismatic mob stopped. Two men from the mob split Josaphat's head open with an axe and shot him. He was then stripped of his bishop’s rope and was torn apart by savage dogs.
After the mob was tired of committing heinous crimes, they tied rocks around his body and threw him in the local river.
His last words before being martyred were “I rejoice to offer my life for my holy Catholic faith.”
His body was recovered and now rests at Saint Peter’s Basilica. Pope Pius IX canonized him a saint in 1862. He is one of the most venerated saints in the Byzantine Catholic world, with the Romanian, Ruthenian, and Ukrainian churches especially revering him, the Ukrainian diocese in America has its namesake from this Holy Marty.
I ask all of you to pray for Saint Josaphat’s intercession for the reunion of all churches.