Josaphat Kuntsevych

Josaphat Kuntsevych

Infobox Saint
name=Saint Josaphat Kuntsevych
birth_date=1580 or 1584
death_date=12 November, 1623
feast_day=Roman Catholic: November 12
November 14 (General Roman Calendar, 1882-1969)
Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church: November 25

caption=St. Josaphat depicted wearing the pallium and holding the palm of martyrdom
birth_place=Volodymyr, Volhynia, Grand Duchy of Lithuania
death_place=Vitebsk, Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (present day Belarus)
titles=Bishop, Martyr

Saint Josaphat Kuntsevich ( _be. Язафат Кунцэвіч, "Jazafat Kuncevič", _pl. Jozafat Kuncewicz, _uk. Йосафат Кунцевич, "Josafat Kuntsevych") is a martyr and saint of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, born in the little town of Volodymyr in the region of Volhynia, then part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, in 1580 or — according to some writers — 1584; died at Vitebsk in Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (now in Belarus), 12 November, 1623.

Josaphat's birth occurred in a gloomy period for the then-unified Ruthenian Church. Even as early as the beginning of the sixteenth century the Florentine Union had become a dead-letter; in the case of the Ruthenian Church, complete demoralization followed in the wake of its severance from the Roman see, and the whole body of its clergy had been accused by the Catholic Church of ignorance and viciousness. After the Union of Bierascie in 1596, the Ruthenian Church was divided by schism into two contending parties — the Greek-Catholic party, and those rejecting the Union — each with its own hierarchy. Among the leaders of the anti-union party, Meletius Smotrytsky was conspicuous, and the most celebrated of his opponents was Josaphat, who promoted Catholic unity with Rome.

Although of a noble Belarusian stock (szlachta), Josaphat's father had devoted himself to commercial pursuits, and held the office of town-councilor. Both parents encouraged religiosity and Christian piety in the young Josaphat. In the school at Volodymyr Josaphat — "Ioann" (John) was his baptismal name — gave evidence of unusual talent; he applied himself with the greatest zeal to the study of the Church Slavonic language, and learned almost the entire horologion by heart, which from this period he began to read daily. From this source he drew his early religious education, for the clergy seldom preached or gave catechetical instruction. Owing to the straitened circumstances of his parents, he was apprenticed to the merchant Papovič at Vilnius. In this Polish-Lithuanian city, remarkable for the contentions of the various religious sects, he became acquainted with certain men (e.g. Benjamin Rutski), under whose direction he furthered his interest in the Church.

In 1604, at the age of twenty-four, he entered the Monastery of the Trinity of the Basilian Fathers, at Vilnius. The fame of his religious devotion, charity and sanctity rapidly spread, and distinguished people began to visit him. After a notable life as a layman, Rutski also joined the order. When Josaphat reached the diaconate, regular services and labor for the Church had been already begun; the number of novices steadily increased, and under Rutski — who had meanwhile been ordained priest — there began the regeneration of Eastern Catholic religious life among the Ruthenians (Belarusians and Ukrainians). In 1609, after private study under Fabricius, a Jesuit priest, Josaphat was ordained priest by a Catholic bishop. He subsequently became the superior of several monasteries, and on 12 November, 1617, was reluctantly consecrated Bishop of Vitsebsk, with right of succession to the Archbishopric of Polotsk. He became archbishop in 1618.

Each succeeding year witnessed the steady growth of the conflict with the anti-union Eastern Orthodox party. Finally on 12 November, 1623, an axe-stroke and a bullet fired from an Orthodox mob ended Josaphat's life. After numerous miracles were claimed and reported, a commission was appointed by Pope Urban VIII in 1628 to inquire into the cause of Josaphat, and examined on oath 116 witnesses. Although five years had elapsed since Josaphat's death, his body was claimed to still be incorrupt. In 1637, a second commission investigated his life, and in 1643, twenty years after his death, Josaphat was beatified. His canonization took place in 1867 by Pope Pius IX.

As a boy he shunned the usual games of childhood, prayed much, and lost no opportunity of assisting at the Church services. Children especially regarded him with affection. As an apprentice, he devoted every leisure hour to prayer and study. At first Papovič viewed this behavior with displeasure, but Josaphat gradually won such a position in his esteem, that Papovič offered him his entire fortune and his daughter's hand. But Josaphat's love for the religious life never wavered.

His favourite devotional exercise was to make prostrations in which the head touches the ground, saying: 'Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.' Never eating meat, he fasted much, wore a hair shirt and an angular chain, slept on the bare floor, and chastised his body until the blood flowed. The Jesuits frequently urged him to set some bounds to his austerities.

From his zealous study of the Slavonic-Byzantine liturgical books he drew many proofs of Catholic doctrine, using his knowledge in the composition of several original works — "On the Baptism of St. Volodymyr"; "On the Falsification of the Slavic Books by the Enemies of the Metropolitan"; "On Monks and their Vows". As deacon, priest, and bishop, he was distinguished by his extraordinary zeal in performing the Church services and by extraordinary devotion during the Divine Liturgy. Not only in the church did he preach and hear confessions, but likewise in the fields, hospitals, prisons, and even on his personal journeys. This zeal, united with his kindness for the poor, won great numbers of Orthodox Ruthenians for the Catholic faith and Catholic unity. Among his converts were included many important personages such as Ignatius, former Patriarch of Moscow, and Emmanuel Cantacuzenus, who belonged to the imperial family of the Byzantine Emperor Palaeologus.

As archbishop he restored the Byzantine churches; issued a catechism to the clergy with instructions that it should be learned by heart; composed rules for the priestly life, entrusting to the deacons the task of superintending their observance; assembled synods in various towns in the dioceses, and firmly opposed the Polish Imperial Chancellor Sapieha, when he wished to make many concessions in favour of the Eastern Orthodox. Throughout all his strivings and all his occupations, he continued his religious devotion as a monk, and never abated his zeal for self-mortification and prayer.

During the schismatic conflict, he refused to avail himself of the opportunity of flight afforded him. After his death during it, his influence was still greater: conversions to Catholic unity were numerous, and veneration for him continued to extend, also among the Latins.

The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church keeps his feast day on the first Sunday after 12 November. (This Church uses the Julian Calendar, whose 12 November now corresponds to the Gregorian Calendar 25 November.) When, in 1867, Pope Pius IX inserted his feast into the Roman Catholic calendar of saints, it was assigned to 14 November, which was the first free day after 12 November, which was then occupied by the feast of Pope Saint Martin I. In Pope Paul VI's 1969 revision of the calendar, this latter feast was moved to Pope Saint Martin's "dies natalis" (birthday to heaven), and Saint Josaphat's feast was moved to his own "dies natalis", 12 November. ["Calendarium Romanum" (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1969), p. 149]

Josaphat Kuntsevich is the patron saint of a number of Polish parishes in the United States, most notably the Basilica of St. Josaphat, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and St Josaphat's parish in Chicago, Illinois. A relic is on display in the 'catacombs' of Holy Trinity Polish Mission in Chicago.

He is also patron of the controversial Priestly Society of Saint Josaphat from Lviv, Ukraine.



ee also

*Blessed Josaphata Hordashevska - Foundress and Missionary under patronage of St. Josaphat

External links

* [ "Catholic Encyclopedia": St. Josaphat Kuncevyc]
* [ Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of St. Josaphat]

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