Nov 12 – Memorial for St. Josaphat, bishop, religious, martyr
John (1580-1623) had a father who was a municipal counsellor, and a mother who was known for her piety. He was raised in the Orthodox Ruthenian Church which, on 23 Nov 1595, in the Union of Brest, united with the Church of Rome. He was trained as a merchant’s apprentice in Vilna, and was offered partnership in the business and marriage to his partner’s daughter.
Feeling the call to religious life, he declined both and became a monk in the Ukrainian Order of St. Basil in Vilna at the age of 20 in 1604, taking the name Brother Josaphat. He was ordained a Byzantine rite priest in 1609.
His superior, Samuel, 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 Samuel’s work and fearing the physical and spiritual damage it could cause, Josaphat brought it to the attention of his superiors. The archbishop of Kiev removed Samuel from his post, replacing him with Josaphat.
He was a famous preacher, worked to bring unity among the faithful and bring strayed Christians back to the Church. He became Bishop of Vitebsk. Most religious, fearing interference with the natively developed liturgy and customs, did not want union with Rome. Bishop Josaphat believed unity to be in the best interests of the Church and, by teaching, clerical reform, and personal example, Josaphat won the greater part of the Orthodox in Lithuania to the union. Never completely suitable to either side, Roman authorities sometimes raised objection to Josaphat’s Orthodox actions. He became Archbishop of Polotsk, Lithuania in 1617.
While Josaphat attended the Diet of Warsaw in 1620, a dissident group supported by Cossacks set up anti-Uniat bishops for each Uniat one, spread the accusation that Josaphat had ‘gone Latin’ and that his followers would be forced to do the same, and place an usurper on the archbishop’s chair. Despite warnings, Josaphat went to Vitebsk, a hotbed of trouble, to try to correct the misunderstandings and settle disturbances. The army remained loyal to the king who remained loyal to the Union, and so the army tried to protect Josaphat and his clergy.
Late in 1623, an anti-Uniat priest named Elias 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. Mob mentality took over, and they invaded the residence. Josaphat tried to insure the safety of his servants before fleeing himself, but did not get out in time, and was martyred by the mob. His death was a shock to both sides of the dispute, brought some sanity and a cooling off period to both sides of the conflict.
“You people of Vitebsk want to put me to death. You make ambushes for me everywhere, in the streets, on the bridges, on the highways, and in the marketplace. I am here among you as a shepherd, and you ought to know that I would be happy to give my life for you. I am ready to die for the holy union, for the supremacy of Saint Peter, and of his successor the Supreme Pontiff.” – St. Josaphat
– Patron Saint Index
“Therefore, although I have the full right in Christ to order you to do what is proper, I rather urge you out of love…”
I read an article recently about how politics in the US has divided and torn apart families and friendships. The division has also created tension amongst colleagues, making it difficult to work together on projects due to differing political opinions. As I read, I found it awfully sad as some of the people interviewed spoke about the breakdown of friendships going back 25 years, or siblings who refuse to speak to each other now because of differences in political opinions.
St Josaphat grew up in such an environment of discord, where the Orthodox church and the Catholic church in Rome were at odds with each other. Efforts to reconcile the Orthodox church with Rome were met with fierce, and sometimes violent, opposition. As much as St Josaphat tried to resolve the issues calmly, things looked rather bleak. Instead of receiving support from fellow Catholics whom he had helped, they turned their backs on him. There were plots to get rid of him, but despite the threats and insults, St Josaphat urged his followers not to retaliate with force, but to remain calm and patient. Sadly, the mob eventually killed St Josaphat when he tried to save his followers from being beaten up. His death, however, seemed to be the turning point in the turmoil, as subsequently, public opinion swung towards reconciliation with Rome.
And what of Onesimus and Philemon? Onesimus was a former slave of Philemon who had run away after being accused of theft. He converted to Christianity after meeting St Paul during his incarceration and hearing him preach. St Paul then wrote to Philemon, whom he had earlier converted, and asked that he reconcile with Onesimus, not as master and slave, but as brother to brother in Christ. In the Gospel reading, he stated that he wanted Philemon to accept Onesimus out of his own free will and not because St Paul had asked him to. St Paul understood that had he ordered Philemon to do it, while Philemon would have done it, the reconciliation would be tenuous at best. But done in a spirit of love, there would be no room for discord in their kinship and he knew that Philemon and Onesimus could achieve more for Christ working together this way.
As human beings, God gives us free will to decide and act on what we believe to be true. We are given the tools and the mind to discern for ourselves right from wrong. While we are entitled to our own opinions, it does not mean that we must force others to have the same opinions too. If we loved and respected someone, we would accept that they have their own views even if it differs from ours. Love does not mean forcing others to bend to our views, but to love them for who they are and listening to them. We ought to try and talk about it, or come to a resolution not to play it up. Violence and discord should not be our ‘go-to’. Agree what is at stake – are we willing to risk our family and relationships that we have nurtured for years and years? Do we want to throw that away?
We need to heal our rifts, and healing comes from a place of love. If both sides want to be healed or believe that what they have is worth healing and saving, that is half the battle won. Let us follow the way of St Josaphat, who opted for patience and believed in reconciliation. And let us do it from a place of love, as St Paul urged.
(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)
Prayer: Lord, we may not understand each other or disagree with our fellow friends and family. But whatever differing opinions and values we may have, we pray that we will never ever give in to bullying or violence or anger. We pray for healing in our families and communities, we pray for healing in our world. Help us to forgive as we are forgiven.
Thanksgiving: Lord, we thank you for our family and friends. We pray that peace and love will always reign in our relationships.