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Remembering the Life of St. Josaphat Kuntsevych

Articles | November 10, 2023 | by Catholics for Catholics

On November 12, Roman Catholics and some Eastern Catholics commemorate the martyrdom of St. Josaphat Kuntsevych, a bishop and monk who inspired many Eastern Orthodox Christians to return to full communion with the Holy See. Other Eastern Catholics, including the Ukrainian Catholic Church, celebrate his feast day on November 25.

Born in 1580 in the western Ukrainian region of Volhynia, John Kuntsevych was born to Orthodox Christian parents whose church had fallen out of communion with the Pope. Although the Eastern churches began to separate from the Holy See in 1054, a union existed for a period of time after the 15th century Ecumenical Council of Florence. However, social, political, and theological disputes caused the union to begin dissolving even before the Turkish conquest of Byzantium in 1453. By John’s time, many Slavic Orthodox Christians had become strongly anti-Catholic.

Josaphat was trained as a merchant’s apprentice and could have opted for marriage. But he felt drawn to the rigors and spiritual depth of traditional Byzantine monasticism. After taking the monastic name of Josaphat, he entered a Ukrainian monastery in 1604. As a priest, followed by an archbishop, and ultimately a martyr, he would live and die for the union of the churches.

Josaphat’s exemplary life and zeal for the care of souls won the trust of many Orthodox Christians, who saw the value of the churches’ union reflected in the archbishop’s life and works. Nevertheless, his mission was essentially controversial, and others were led to believe lurid stories and malicious suggestions made about him. In 1620, opponents arranged for the consecration of a rival archbishop.

As tensions between supporters and opponents began to escalate, Josaphat lamented the onset of attacks that would lead to his death. He finally did so, on a fall day in 1623, after an Orthodox priest shouted insults outside the archbishop’s residence and assembled a mob in the town. Josaphat died praying for the men who shot and then beheaded him before dumping his body in a river.

Josaphat’s body was found incorrupt five years later. Remarkably, the saint’s onetime rival, the Orthodox Archbishop Meletius, was reconciled with the Catholic Church in later years. St. Josaphat was canonized in 1867 and is remembered as a symbol of faith and unity.

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