St. Josaphat, Patron Saint of the Ukraine
By Jean M. Heimann
On November 12, the Church celebrates the memorial of St. Josaphat, a Ukrainian Basilian monk. The saint’s birth occurred during a grim period for the Ruthenian Church. At the beginning of the sixteenth century the Ruthenian Church, suffered greatly following its severance from Rome, and the entire body of its clergy became notorious for their ignorance and brutality. After the Union of Berest in 1596, the Ruthenian Church was divided into two opposing parties – the Uniates and those who persisted in schism – each with its own hierarchy. Josaphat is known for being one of the victims of this schism.
St. Josaphat was born in the Ukraine of Ruthenian Orthodox parents about the year 1580 and was given the name John at baptism. His parents raised him to live a holy life. He applied himself with great zeal to his religious studies and to his prayer life – learning the breviary and reciting it from a young age. He also developed relationships with men of character and high morals.
He entered the Basilian monastery of the Trinity at Vilna at the age of 24, taking the name Josaphat. His favorite pious habit was to make a poklony – a reverence, in which the head touches the ground – accompanied by the prayer: “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a poor sinner.” He voluntarily practiced penance. He never ate meat, fasted frequently, wore a hair shirt, and slept on the floor.
In 1609, he was ordained as a Byzantine priest in 1614, he was elected Bishop of Polotsk. Josaphat was a famous preacher who worked to bring unity among the faithful, and bring the fallen away back to the Church. He also fought vigorously in support of the primacy of the Pope. In a sermon he cried out, “Please God I will give my life for the holy union, for the supremacy of Peter and of the Holy Father, his successor.”
When he visited Vitebsk (now in Russia) on November 12, 1623, his enemies attacked his lodging and murdered many of his companions. Meekly the man of God hurried toward the mob and, full of love, cried, “My children, what are you doing? If you have something against me, see, here I am.” With furious cries of “Kill the papist!” they rushed upon him with weapons. A bullet ended his life. Josaphat’s body was then thrown into the river, but later emerged, surrounded by rays of light. His murderers, when sentenced to death, repented of their crime and became Catholics.
In 1867, Josaphat was canonized by Pope Pius IX, becoming the first saint of the Eastern Church to be formally canonized by Rome. St. Josaphat is the patron saint of the Ukraine.
“Lord, grant me the grace to shed my blood for the unity of the church and in behalf of obedience to the Holy See.” — St. Josaphat