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FEAST NOVEMBER 12

Patron Saint of Ukraine

John Kunsevich was born in Lithuania around the year 1580. His father, a burgess for a wealthy family, raised his son as a Catholic and instilled in him a great love for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

As a young man John spent much of his time learning Church Slavonic as he desired to assist and participate more fully in the divine worship that he loved so much.

In 1604, he entered the Monastery of the Holy Trinity at Vilna taking the name Josaphat, and dedicated his life to uniting the Ruthenians with the Roman Church.

Josaphat was ordained a deacon and soon after, a priest, becoming widely known as a Catholic reformer. While retaining unity with Rome, Josaphat opposed the total Latinization of the Ruthenian peoples and the suppression of Byzantine traditions. He was beloved for his great sermons and preaching, eventually becoming abbot of the monastery in Vilna.

By 1617, he was consecrated Bishop of Vitebsk, and after the death of the archbishop a year later, succeeded him. He immediately sought unity with Rome, and began to reinstate Catholic practices that had fallen into disuse. By 1620, he succeeded in the endeavour.

Soon after Josaphat’s great victory, however, his work began to unravel. Meletius Smotritsky, the Archbishop of Polotsk, claimed that Josaphat’s goal was to completely eliminate Byzantine traditions in the name of Catholic unity, and Latinize all Ruthenians.

Meletius gained a number of followers and so frenzied was the agitation against him that a plan was contrived to kill Josaphat. As he walked to church for morning prayers, he was attacked by the group of Meletius’ followers.

He was beaten and shot as his attackers cried, “Kill the papist!” His mutilated body was dragged to the river Dvina and carelessly thrown into the water.

St. Josaphat was canonized in 1867, the first saint of the Eastern churches to be officially canonized.