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Saint Josaphat Kuntsevych

Saint Josaphat was born in the town of Volodymyr, a province of the Polish Crown (Modern day Ukraine) in 1580 and was born into an Eastern Orthodox family that descended from Ruthenian nobility. From an early age, Saint Josaphat studied Christianity, reading daily and when he began his apprenticeship under a local merchant he became interested in the Catholic Church.

He entered the Monastery of the Trinity (the Order of Saint Basil the Great) in Vilnius and took upon the religious name of Josaphat. His fame as a holy man spread quickly and began to study under a Jesuit in 1609. Soon afterwards, the Catholic church ordained him a Priest and became the prior of several monasteries. He was consecrated as the coadjutor archeparch in the Archeparchy of Polotsk in 1617. During his time as archeparch, he lead the effort to rebuild the Saint Sophia Cathedral in Polotsk.

He dedicated his life to holiness and bringing the local population into communion and union with Rome. The monks and clergy put up stiff opposition who feared the Roman liturgies would take over their Eastern Orthodox practices. Though initially successful in converting many of the populace, a group of Orthodox bishops moved in opposition. He now faced opposition from the Orthodox Bishops angry at his attempts to reunite with Rome and locals who were upset that his services still used the Byzantine liturgy instead of the Roman.

In October of 1632, Saint Josaphat wrote the following, fully aware of the dangerous situation brewing in his town:

"If I am counted worthy of martyrdom, then I am not afraid to die."

In a following homily, he preached

"You people want to kill me. You wait in ambush for me in the streets, on the bridges, on the highways, in the marketplace, everywhere. Here I am; I came to you as a shepherd. You know I would be happy to give my life for you. I am ready to die for union of the Church under St. Peter and his successor the Pope."

An eyewitness of the fateful day in November is recorded as such:

The ringing of cathedral bells and the bells of other churches spread. This was the signal and call to insurrection. From all sides of town masses of people – men, women, and children – gathered with stones and attacked the archbishop's residence. The masses attacked and injured the servants and assistants of the archbishop, and broke into the room where he was alone. One hit him on the head with a stick, another split it with an axe, and when Kuntsevych fell, they started beating him. They looted his house, dragged his body to the plaza, cursed him – even women and children. ...They dragged him naked through the streets of the city all the way to the hill overlooking the river Dvina. Finally, after tying stones to the dead body, they threw him into the Dvina at its deepest.

Pope Urban VIII appointed a commission to study his possible canonization after several miracles were recorded and his body to be found incorrupt. He was officially beatified in 1643 and canonized on June 29th, 1867 by Pope Pius IX. His feast day is celebrated on November 12th.

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