12 November – Memorial for St. Josaphat, Bishop, Religious, Martyr
John (1580-1623) had a father who was a municipal counsellor, and a mother who was known for her piety. He was raised in the Orthodox Ruthenian Church which, on 23 Nov 1595, in the Union of Brest, united with the Church of Rome. He was trained as a merchant’s apprentice in Vilna, and was offered partnership in the business and marriage to his partner’s daughter.
Feeling the call to religious life, he declined both and became a monk in the Ukrainian Order of St. Basil in Vilna at the age of 20 in 1604, taking the name Brother Josaphat. He was ordained a Byzantine rite priest in 1609.
His superior, Samuel, never accepted unity with Rome, and looked for a way to fight against Roman Catholicism and the Uniats, the name given to those who brought about and accepted the union of the churches. Learning of Samuel’s work and fearing the physical and spiritual damage it could cause, Josaphat brought it to the attention of his superiors. The archbishop of Kiev removed Samuel from his post, replacing him with Josaphat.
He was a famous preacher, worked to bring unity among the faithful and bring strayed Christians back to the Church. He became Bishop of Vitebsk. Most religious, fearing interference with the natively developed liturgy and customs, did not want union with Rome. Bishop Josaphat believed unity to be in the best interests of the Church and, by teaching, clerical reform, and personal example, Josaphat won the greater part of the Orthodox in Lithuania to the union. Never completely suitable to either side, Roman authorities sometimes raised objection to Josaphat’s Orthodox actions. He became Archbishop of Polotsk, Lithuania in 1617.
While Josaphat attended the Diet of Warsaw in 1620, a dissident group supported by Cossacks set up anti-Uniat bishops for each Uniat one, spread the accusation that Josaphat had “gone Latin” and that his followers would be forced to do the same, and place an usurper on the archbishop’s chair. Despite warnings, Josaphat went to Vitebsk, a hotbed of trouble, to try to correct the misunderstandings and settle disturbances. The army remained loyal to the king who remained loyal to the Union, and so the army tried to protect Josaphat and his clergy.
Late in 1623, an anti-Uniat priest named Elias shouted insults at Josaphat from his own courtyard, and tried to force his way into the residence. When he was removed, a mob assembled and forced his release. Mob mentality took over, and they invaded the residence. Josaphat tried to insure the safety of his servants before fleeing himself, but did not get out in time, and was martyred by the mob. His death was a shock to both sides of the dispute, brought some sanity and a cooling off period to both sides of the conflict.
“You people of Vitebsk want to put me to death. You make ambushes for me everywhere, in the streets, on the bridges, on the highways, and in the marketplace. I am here among you as a shepherd, and you ought to know that I would be happy to give my life for you. I am ready to die for the holy union, for the supremacy of Saint Peter, and of his successor the Supreme Pontiff.” – St. Josaphat
– Patron Saint Index
3 John 1:5-8
My friend, you have done faithful work in looking after these brothers, even though they were complete strangers to you. They are a proof to the whole Church of your charity and it would be a very good thing if you could help them on their journey in a way that God would approve. It was entirely for the sake of the name that they set out, without depending on the pagans for anything; it is our duty to welcome men of this sort and contribute our share to their work for the truth.
Jesus told his disciples a parable about the need to pray continually and never lose heart. ‘There was a judge in a certain town’ he said ‘who had neither fear of God nor respect for man. In the same town there was a widow who kept on coming to him and saying, “I want justice from you against my enemy!” For a long time he refused, but at last he said to himself, “Maybe I have neither fear of God nor respect for man, but since she keeps pestering me I must give this widow her just rights, or she will persist in coming and worry me to death.”’
And the Lord said ‘You notice what the unjust judge has to say? Now will not God see justice done to his chosen who cry to him day and night even when he delays to help them? I promise you, he will see justice done to them, and done speedily. But when the Son of Man comes, will he find any faith on earth?’
“Pray continually and never lose heart”
My prayer life has experienced extreme highs and lows over the years. In the past, when I seldom or never prayed, I found myself dropping to my knees only when there was something I needed to ask our Lord for. Over time, I began to feel that God become somewhat like my ATM — that I would only pray if there was something I needed from Him. I began to feel like a hypocrite and even started to pray even less.
Thanks to various programmes that I attended, and also to a strong Christian community, I began to pray more regularly, having conversations with our Lord. As I spent more time with Him, I began to lose my aversion to prayer, and began to be able to pray and petition Him. More importantly, I began to lose the feeling that I only turned to God only in times of need. God became more like a close confidant.
Jesus exhorts us to pray continually and He tells us about a poor widow who comes before an unjust judge persistently, in order to seek justice against an enemy. Initially rejecting her, the judge finally accedes to her. I have always likened us to be the widow.
However, I heard another interesting view. What if we were the judge and God was the widow… and that God continually is the one reaching out to us continually? Will we ever accede to God and allow Him to touch us?
(Today’s Oxygen by Paul Wee)
Prayer: Lord, help us to have the desire to always reach out to You. Help us to be unafraid to speak with you and to let you know our deepest thoughts and desires.
Thanksgiving: Thank you Father, for always being there for us, whether we are aware of it or not. Thank you for listening to us and touching us in our hearts.