Wednesday, November 12th, 2008
The life and death of St. Josaphat recall two tales of Christian history that still today remain in strict tension: 1) the tragedy of sin and division in the Church, and 2) the efficacy of Christ’s prayer that the Church be one.
From the Catholic Encyclopedia:
The saint’s birth occurred in a gloomy period for the Ruthenian Church. Even as early as the beginning of the sixteenth century the Florentine Union had become a dead-letter; in the case of the Ruthenian Church, complete demoralization followed in the wake of its severance from Rome, and the whole body of its clergy became notorious alike for their gross ignorance and the viciousness of their lives. After the Union of Berest’ in 1596 the Ruthenian Church was divided into two contending parties — the Uniates and those who persevered in schism — each with its own hierarchy. Among the leaders of the schismatic party, who laboured to enkindle popular hatred against the Uniates, Meletius Smotryckyj was conspicuous, and the most celebrated of his victims was Josaphat.
Although of a noble Ruthenian stock, Josaphat’s father had devoted himself to commercial pursuits, and held the office of town-councilor. Both parents contributed to implant the seeds of piety in the heart of their child. In the school at Volodymyr Josaphat — Johannes was the saint’s baptismal name — gave evidence of unusual talent; he applied himself with the greatest zeal to the study of ecclesiastical Slav, and learned almost the entire casoslov (breviary), which from this period he began to read daily. From this source he drew his early religious education, for the unlettered clergy seldom preached or gave catechetical instruction. Owing to the straitened circumstances of his parents, he was apprenticed to the merchant Popovyc at Vilna. In this town, remarkable for the corruption of its morals and the contentions of the various religious sects, he seemed specially guarded by Providence, and became acquainted with certain excellent men (e.g. Benjamin Rutski), under whose direction he advanced in learning and in virtue.