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
…since through the grandeur and beauty of the creatures we may, by analogy, contemplate their Author.”
I remember when I first saw the night sky. Like truly saw it for all its majesty. It wasn’t too long ago actually, probably five years ago. I was on holiday in a remote place in Queensland and had just hopped out of the car. It was a clear, cool night and I had happened to look upwards. Lo and behold, in the infinite blackness of the night sky, there were hundreds upon thousands of glittering stars. The wonder of it took my breath away and for that moment, it seemed like time – and everything else – stopped. It was as though that moment was mine and mine alone, a very private and intimate moment, and I marveled with rapture.
It is not to say that I’ve never seen the night sky before; I have, but not like this. I’ve always been a city kid and being in the city means light pollution. I would be lucky if I ever saw more than a couple of dozen stars in one glance, even though I am aware that there are billions of stars out there.
Then I grew up and got so busy living my brick-and-mortar life that I barely looked up. So focused on myself, my insecurities, my life and all its obligations, I forgot to live. I forgot that there was a world out there bigger than me. I would see flowers but looked past the blooms and focused on the wilted ones. I would see babies but got stressed when they cried instead of appreciating their fragility. As for the night sky, I was probably looking at puddles to see the stars.
Then God gently reminded me to slow down, and that was when I saw the stars. And I remembered the promise that God made to Abraham: “I will surely bless you and multiply your descendants like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore…” (Gen 22:17). I remembered that Abraham held on to his faith in God despite that he and his wife Sarah were too old by then to have children. “Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may rest on grace…” (Rm 4:16). And I realised that in living my life, I forgot who gave me that life in the first place. I was so busy hustling and bustling, I let my problems and worries take over my being, and I forgot to just be. “Be still and know that I am God” (Ps 46:10). He has placed such wonders and beauty in our midst as gentle reminders of how much greater He is as Creator. The vast sky that to us has no beginning or end echoes His being as the Alpha and Omega – everything begins with God and ends with God. God, the Original Creator who hung the stars in the sky also wrought the mighty crash of the ocean waves. He who made the expanse of the barren desert also painted each petal in the field of flowers. From the mighty lion to the tiny child, the towering mountains to the fine grains of sand – all are His creations. Let the beauty of His creations lead us back to God, so that we can understand His might and majesty and how much more He has planned for us.
And so, I will hold on to God’s promise of His plans for me with faith, as Abraham did so many years ago. I will lift my problems to Him like the early morning mist, so that I can sit silently for a moment with Him, just to be, for it is a moment that is His and mine alone, private and intimate.
(Today’s OXYGEN by Annette Soo)
Prayer: My Lord my God, Your might is boundless, Your grace is endless. We pray that we will never be too busy with life to forget that. May we always be in awe of Your majesty.
Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for all the beauty that You have placed in our midst. As we have one body to live in, so do we have one Earth to live on. We pray that we will not fail to take care of it.