Holy Priest-Martyr Josaphat Kuntsevych, Archbishop of Polotsk
We celebrate Josaphat Kunsevych, an Eastern Bishop and martyr, on November 12th, which commemorates his deathday and day of canonization (in 1867). The BadgerDad and I married on this feast day, to honour this martyr who died for Christ and the goal of Christian unity.
So what do we know about this saint? Well, first of all, St. Josaphat was born in what is now western Ukraine (then Poland), around the year 1580. His Orthodox parents named him John Kuntsevych. The 16th century saw a rise in anti-Catholic sentiments in many Slavic countries. It was in these difficult socio-political-theological times that St. Josaphat grew up.
Faith and Conversion of St. Josaphat
From his early years, his parents and educators encouraged his natural inclination for the faith. St. Josephat studied church slavonic, and apprenticed under a merchant. During this time he encountered both Latin rite and Eastern rite Catholics. At the age of ~24, he entered an Orthodox monastery, where he took on the name Josaphat. In the coming years he was raised to the level of Bishop. St. Josaphat worked to bring his parishes in union with Rome. However, there were many priests and laymen under his jurisdiction that were upset by these advancements towards unity. Particularly when it came to dividing the churches and land between the uniate churches and those remaining Orthodox.
There is a recorded tradition that St. Jospahat knew he would be killed for the sake of the unity of Rome. He spoke to the faithful, saying he was aware that the people wanted to kill him, and set ambushes for him. Then he reminded the faithful that he was their shepherd, and that he would gladly lay down his life for them, his sheep.
On November 12th of 1623, a dissenting priest was removed from St. Josephat’s residence. Some records suggest that St. Josaphat called for the arrest of that priest based on his behaviour at the time. Whatever the case, the priest went out and gathered a mob together. These men returned to the residence and shot and then beheaded St. Josaphat.
The mob then dumped St. Josephat’s body into the river. Even so, the saint’s body was found, incorruptible, five years later.
When St. Josaphat was martyred, his last words were prayers for the people who had come to kill him. God answered these prayers, as one of the rival Orthodox bishops later converted to Catholicism (Meletius Smotrytsky).
Feast Day Prayers and Tropars
Troparion: (tone 4)
You appeared as a radiant light, O priest-martyr Josaphat. Like the Good Shephard, you lay your life down for your sheep. After your death by those who loved division, you entered the holy of holies to dwell with the bodiless powers. Therefore we pray you, O long suffering saint, beg Christ, the prince of shepherds to number us among the sheep at His right hand. And to save our souls.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. Now and forever and ever, amen.
Kontakion: (tone 4)
Enlightened in childhood by a flame from the crucified Christ, you resembled the angels in your life as a monk. As a bishop you lived in godliness. In your life you preached unity. And with your martyrs blood you calmed hearts inflamed by love for dispute. You received from Christ, the crown. And so, remember us as we cry to you: Rejoice! O unshakeable pillar of unity.
Prokeimenon: (tone 7)
Precious in the sight of the Lord, is the death of His venerable ones
Verse: What shall I give to the Lord for all that He has given to me?
Ways to Celebrate
- Say prayers in your icon corner or in church for Christian unity
- Think about people who irritate you, treat you poorly, or are a rival to you. Then say a prayer of forgiveness for them, and ask God to save their souls.
The Byzantine Life
Thank you for checking out this week’s article. And if you haven’t already, you can read our article about Celebrating the Nativity Fast, which begins in just a few short days! Or prep for the fast with our Advent Music playlist!
Don’t forget to follow us on social media. On our Pinterest we have boards full icons and faith activities! New posts are always shared to Facebook, and my husband runs our Twitter (@LifeByzantine) and Instagram accounts (username: thebyzantinelife)! And if you want to support our work at TheByzantineLife.com, consider joining us on Patreon. For as little as $5 a month you can get exclusive access to special posts, photos, and updates from our family! https://www.patreon.com/thebyzantinelife