Neither are the souls of the pious dead separated from the Church which even now is the kingdom of Christ. Otherwise there would be no remembrance of them at the altar of God in the communication of the Body of Christ. -- Saint Augustine of Hippo from “The City of God

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Saint Josaphat Kuncevyc, Bishop and Martyr

Saint Josaphat Kuncevyc (also known as John Kunsevich; Josaphat of Polotsk; Jozofat Kuncewicz) was born in 1580 at Volodymyr, Lithuania as John Kuncevyc. His father was a municipal counselor and his mother was known for her piety. John was raised in the Orthodox Ruthenian Church. On November 23, 1595, in the Union of Brest, the Ruthenian Orthodox Church united with the Church of Rome. John trained as a merchant's apprentice at Vilna, was offered partnership in the business, and marriage to his partner's daughter. He felt a call to the religious life, and declined both. He became a monk in the Ukrainian Order of Saint Basil (Basilians) in Vilna at the age of 20 in 1604, taking the name brother Josaphat. He was a deacon and then was ordained a Byzantine rite priest in 1609.

Josaphat's superior never accepted unity with Rome, and looked for a way to fight against Roman Catholicism and the Uniats, the name given to those who brought about and accepted the union of the Churches. Learning of his superior's work, and fearing the physical and spiritual damage it could cause, Josaphat brought it to the attention of his archbishop. The archbishop of Kiev removed the superior from his post, replacing him with Josaphat.

Josaphat was a famous preacher who worked to bring unity among the faithful, and bring strayed Christians back to the Church. He was appointed Bishop of Vitebsk in 1617. Most religious fearing interference with the natively developed liturgy and customs, did not want union with Rome. Josaphat believed unity to be in the best interests of the Church. By his teaching, clerical reform, and personal example he won the greater part of the Orthodox in Lithuania to the union. His actions were never suitable to either side, and Roman authorities sometimes raised objection to Josaphat's Orthodox actions. He was still made Archbishop of Polotsk, Lithuania in 1618.

While attending the Diet of Warsaw in 1620, a dissident group, supported by Cossacks, set up an anti-Uniat bishop for each Uniat one. They spread the accusation that Josaphat had "gone Latin," and that his followers would be forced to do the same. Then they placed a usurper on the archbishop's chair. Despite warnings, John went to Vitebsk to try to correct the misunderstandings, and settle disturbances. The army was loyal to the king, who was loyal to the Union, and so the army tried to protect Josaphat and his clergy.

Saint Josaphat went to Vitebsk, Belarus, where an anti-Uniat priest shouted insults at Josaphat from his own courtyard, and tried to force his way into the residence. When he was removed, a mob assembled and forced his release. The mob then invaded the residence. Josaphat tried to insure the safety of his servants before fleeing himself, but did not get out in time.

Saint Josaphat Kuncevyc died when he was struck in the head with an axe, shot and beaten with staves on November 12, 1623 at Vitebsk, Belarus. His body was thrown into the Dvina River but later recovered. He is buried at Biala, Poland, and his body found incorrupt five years after his death.

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