Saint of the Day – 12 November – St Josaphat Kuncewicz O.S.B.M. (1580-1623) Archbishop and Martyr. Born 1580 at Volodymyr, Lithuania (modern Ukraine) as John Kunsevyc – St Josaphat was struck in the head with a halberd, shot and beaten with staves on 12 November 1623 at Vitebsk, Belarus. His body thrown into the Dvina River but later recovered and buried at Biala, Poland. His body was found incorrupt five years after his death. He was Beatified on 16 May 1643 by Pope Urban VIII and Canonised on 29 June 1867 by Pope Blessed Pius IX. St Josaphat, a contemporary of St Francis de Sales and St Vincent de Paul was the first Eastern saint canonised by Rome. Patronages – Ukraine, Edmonton, Alberta, eparchy of, Toronto, Ontario, eparchy of. Attributes – • chalice,• crown,• winged deacon.
Josaphat Kuncewicz was born of noble Catholic parents at Vladimir in Volhynia. When a child, as he was listening to his mother telling him about the Passion of Christ, a dart issued from the image of Jesus Crucified and wounded him in the heart. Set on fire with the love of God, he began to devote himself with such zeal to prayer and other works of piety, that he was the admiration and the model of his older companions. At the age of twenty he became a monk under the Rule of St. Basil and made wonderful progress in evangelical perfection. He went barefoot even in the severe winter of that country; he never ate meat, drank wine only when obliged by obedience and wore a rough hair-shirt until his death. The flower of his chastity, which he had vowed in early youth to the Virgin Mother of God, he preserved unspotted. He soon became so renowned for virtue and learning, that in spite of his youth he was made superior of the monastery of Byten; soon afterwards he became Archimandrite of Vilna; and lastly, much against his will, but to the great joy of Catholics, he was chosen Archbishop of Polotsk.
Although a Bishop, he relaxed nothing of his former manner of life and had nothing so much at heart as the divine service and the salvation of the sheep entrusted to him. He energetically defended the Catholic Faith and Unity and laboured to bring back schismatics and heretics to communion with the See of Saint Peter. He never ceased to defend the Sovereign Pontiff, both by preaching and by writings full of piety and learning, against the shameless calumnies and errors of the wicked. He vindicated episcopal rights and restored ecclesiastical possessions which had been seized by laymen. Incredible was the number of heretics he won back to the bosom of Holy Mother Church; and the words of the Popes bear witness how greatly he promoted the union of the Greek schismatic with the true Latin Church. His revenues were entirely expended in restoring the beauty of God’s house, in building dwellings for consecrated virgins and in other pious works. So bountiful was he to the poor, that, on one occasion, having nothing wherewith to supply the needs of a certain widow, he ordered his Omophorion, or episcopal pallium, to be pawned.
The great progress made by the Catholic Faith so stirred up the hatred of wicked men against the soldier of Christ, that they determined to put him to death. He knew what was threatening him and foretold it when preaching to the people. As he was making his pastoral visitation at Vitebsk, the murderers broke into his house, striking and wounding all whom they found. St Josaphat meekly went to meet them and accosted them kindly, saying: “My little children, why do you strike my servants? If you have any complaint against me, here I am.” Thereupon they rushed at him, overwhelmed him with blows, pierced him with their spears and at length killed him with an axe and threw his body into the river. This took place on the 12 November 1623, in the 43rd year of his age. His body, surrounded with a miraculous light, was rescued from the waters.
The martyr’s blood won a blessing first of all for his murderers-for being condemned to death, they nearly all abjured their schism and repented of their crime. As the death of this great Bishop was followed by many miracles, Pope Urban VIII granted him the honour of beatification. On June 29th, 1867, when celebrating the centenary of the Princes of the Apostles, Pope Pius IX, in the Vatican Basilica, in the presence of the College of Cardinals and of about 500 Patriarchs, Metropolitans and Bishops of every Uniate Rite, assembled from all parts of the world, solemnly enrolled among the Saints this great defender of the Church’s Unity, who was the first of the Oriental Rites to be thus honoured. Pope Leo XIII extended his Mass and Office to the universal Church.
St Josaphat will always be the patron and model of future apostles for the conversion of Russia and the whole Greco-Slavonic world. By his birth, education and studies, by the beauty of his piety and all his habits of life, he resembled far more the Russian monks of later times than the Latin prelates of his own time. He always desired the ancient liturgy of his Rite to be preserved entire and even to his last breath he carried it out lovingly, without the least alteration or diminution, just as the first apostles of the Christian Faith had brought it from Constantinople to Kiev. May prejudices born of ignorance be someday obliterated and then, despised though his name now is in Russia, St Josaphat will soon be known and loved and invoked by the Russians themselves. Below is the The Basilica of St. Josaphat in Milwaukee.
(The Bull of Pius IX declaring Josaphat Kuntsevych a Saint: 29/6/1867)