His leaving the Orthodox Church followed by his proselytizing led to great unrest, rioting, and his eventual bloody murder by an axe that split his head. Far from being, as the article heading states, "St. Josaphat’s quest for unity between Catholic, Orthodox Churches continues," his efforts to push the Union of Brest to tear Orthodox from their Church and into union with Rome did great harm both in its leading to apostasy and Latinizations.
Vancouver, BC (Catholic Register) – Four hundred years after he was killed with an axe while trying to unify the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, St. Josaphat’s goal of church unity remains as important as ever, say priests of the religious order that resulted from his reforms.
Today St. Josaphat is known as a martyr for unity and his goal of reconciliation between the two churches is still badly needed, Fr. Joseph Pidskalny, OSBM, told a celebration last month at St. Mary’s Ukrainian Catholic Church. The event marked 400 years since the founding of the Basilian Order of St. Josaphat.
“Whether we be Eastern-rite Catholics or Roman Catholic, or something else, if we could be unified in our lives and in our praise of the Lord, we can become stronger, both as an individual and as the Church,” said Pidskalny, the superior of the attached Basilian monastery at St. Mary’s.
Fr. Gabriel Haber, OSBM, the order’s provincial superior visiting from Winnipeg, said St. Josaphat “was able with his holiness to focus on Christ and had a constant mission for unity.”
The 400th anniversary of the order is the perfect time to renew that mission, said Pidskalny.
St. Josaphat Kuncevic was born in 1580 in what is modern-day Ukraine, where he was baptized into the Eastern Orthodox Church. His religious piety and drive for Christian union soon found him directed toward the monasteries of the area, where, alongside Metropolitan Joseph Benjamin Rutsky, he joined the Order of St. Basil the Great.
The two men would play a vital role in organizing five independent monasteries into a single monastic order in 1617. “In such a way, out of the independent monasteries under the authority of the local bishops, there was created an order as we understand it now,” Haber said. “Thus, Metropolitan Rutsky and St. Josaphat can be considered the real founders of the present day Basilian Order.”
“St. Josaphat himself was (Eastern) Orthodox so when he entered the Order of St. Basil the Great, he was entering a Catholic order,” said Pidskalny. “For him, unity was very important because he understood we as Christians should be one.
“He wanted us to come together, to be one unified Catholic Church with Rome and the Vatican. Those who followed him during his time were called the uniates because St. Josaphat was trying to work for unification.”
The divisions between Orthodox and Catholic were deep and St. Josaphat had opponents in both camps for his unification efforts. In November 1623, he was killed with an axe by a mob in his archdiocese of Vitebsk.
Pope Pius IX declared him a saint in 1867.
“St. Josaphat was a key person to our order,” said Haber. “He renewed our order by making substantial reforms to the monastic life of that time, giving the monastic life a structure similar to the modern Orders and centralizing the monasteries.”
Haber brought with him relics of the saint — a finger bone of St. Josaphat as well as a scrap of his clothing. “We were wondering how we could celebrate our 400th year here in Canada,” he said. The relics were proposed as an idea to allow attendees of the celebration to be physically closer to the saint and understand his message.
St. Josaphat “did so much to try to bring the Orthodox and Catholic Churches together,” said Pidskalny.
The anniversary offered the order a chance for “renewal,” added Haber.
“Like our Father and St. Josaphat, we welcome everybody with open arms and a smile” to the faith and celebration surrounding the order, he said. “We welcome them, love them, and pray for them.”