Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Traditional Feast of St. Josaphat, Bishop and Martyr

Icon of St. Josaphat, taken from St. Josaphat's Ukrainian Catholic Church

(The following is taken from the "legend" for St. Josaphat from the traditional Roman Breviary, as excerpted in the 14 November entry in Volume XV of the 1983 Marian House edition of the English translation of Dom Prosper Guéranger's 'The Liturgical Year' by the Benedictines of Stanbrook.)

"Josaphat Kuncewicz was born of noble Catholic parents at Vladimir in Volhynia [part of present-day western Ukraine]. 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 progression....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 [in present-day Belarus]"

"...He energetically defended Catholic faith and unity, and laboured to the utmost of his power to bring back schismatics and heretics to communion with the See of blessed Peter. The Sovereign Pontiff and the plenitude of his power he never ceased to defend, both by preaching and by writings full of piety and learning, against the most shameless calumnies and errors of the wicked....Incredible was the number of heretics he won back to the bosom of mother Church; and the words of the Popes bear witness how greatly he promoted the union of the Greek and Latin churches...."

"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 [in present-day Belarus], the murderers broke into his house, striking and wounding all whom they wound. 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. Hereupon they rushed on him, overwhelmed him with blows, pierced him with their spears, and at length dispatched him with an axe and threw his body into the river. This took place on the twelfth of November, 1623, in his forty-third year of his age. His body, surrounded with 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 honours of beatification...[In July 1867, now Blessed] Pius IX in the Vatican basilica, in [the] presence of the College of Cardinals, and of about five hundred patriarchs, metropolitans, and bishops of every 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 Oriental to be thus honoured. Pope Leo XIII extended his Mass and Office to the universal Church."


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