Today, with the feast of Saint Josaphat (c. 1580-1623), we ought to mourn the sad division of the Church that exists between East and West.
The Church prays,
Stir up in your Church, we pray, O Lord, the Spirit that filled Saint Josaphat as he laid down his life for the sheep, so that through his intercession we, too, may be strengthened by the same Spirit and not be afraid to lay down our life for others.
Notice that the prayer calls to our attention that we too, are called to be witnesses to the work of unity, even to the point of laying down our lives for others. Here the use of the word ‘witness’ is used in two ways: giving testimony by word and deed and dying, if need be, with our own lives. Here’s the dual meaning of the martyr (witness).
Saint Josaphat was from a convert family in what at the time was Lithuania and is now within the boarder of Belarus. He was a monk in the Order of Saint Basil and ordained a priest in 1609. He was a popular preacher. He was ordained on this date in 1617? In time, he became the superior of his monastery when the superior actively resisted the desired efforts for unity between Rome and the Orthodox Church.
Josaphat’s work was not well respected by some members of the Church of East and West. It stirred within the hearts of clergy and laity great questions of faith and unity. But his death was mourned by both. It as a mob mentality that consumed churchmen and laity alike striking at the heart of conversion (or lack thereof) with the attack on the holy bishop. Matters of unity are hotly debated and neuralgic to say the least. Most often I think it is a lack of intellectual and affective charity on both sides of Church unity that prevents a real, visible unity among the Orthodox and Catholic. So, a death like Josaphat’s is striking because it is a colorful sign of sin in the clergy that spreads like cancer to the laity. This sign of sin needs to be converted to Christ: the way, the truth and the life.
Josaphat was canonized by Pope Urban VIII in 1643 and in 1876 he was canonized by Pope Pius IX. He was the first saint of the Eastern Church canonized by the Church of Rome.