Thought for the Day – 12 November – The Memorial of St Josaphat Kuncewicz (1584-1623) Martyr of Holy Unity
As deacon, priest and bishop, St Josaphat 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. His favourite devotional exercise was to make prostrations in which the head touches the ground, saying, the Jesus prayer: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
When Archbishop St Josaphat went to Vitebsk to calm the tumult in 1623, he knew well that his hour had come. “Grant that I be found worthy, Lord, to shed my blood for the union and obedience to the Apostolic See”, he had prayed and his prayer was answered on 12 November as an enraged mob cruelly butchered him and profaned his body. He was in his 44th year.
After five days his mortal remains were recovered from the waters of a river and taken to Polotsk to be exposed to the veneration of the faithful. For nine days they constantly emitted a fragrance of roses and lilies and a councillor of the city abandoned the schism merely at the sight of the Saint’s beautiful countenance. Many of the murderers struck their breasts and did likewise. The martyr had gone gladly to his death, offering his life that the schism might end; he had said as much beforehand and amongst the many miracles consequent to his murder was the conversion of his assassins. Four years later the author of the troubles, the dissident bishop Meletius Smotrytsky, was himself struck with remorse and consecrated his life to penance, prayer and the defence of the Union. Such changes of heart are indeed the greatest of miracles, won by the sanctity of the true servants of God.
Some years after St Josaphat’s martyrdom his body was found to be incorrupt, though the clothing had rotted away. Again in 1637 and 1767 it was found to be still white and supple. It was eventually taken to the Basilica of St Peter in Rome where it reposes today.
Today, let us offer our prayers, our devotions, our Sunday Mass for unity between ourselves and most especially our Orthodox brethren, our closest family in Christ. St Josaphat, please pray with us and for us all!