My last post here also happens to have been about a martyr, and a Byzantine one at that. Again, here I’d like to talk about a martyr (and a Byzantine one!), but less about his life and story, and more about what he has represented for others, and now might represent for us. The man I have in mind is St. Josaphat Kuntsevych, whose feast on many Byzantine and current Latin calendars is November 12th while it is November 14th on that of the old Roman Rite.
St. Josaphat came of age in the aftermath of the Union of Brest, the agreement that brought many former Eastern Orthodox in Poland and Ukraine into union with Rome. He was a monk, and eventually an archbishop. What matters for us here though is the complex situation surrounding his death. A zealous priest, some say he was too much so in trying to coerce Orthodox into conversion; as a result, when he ordered the breaking up of an Orthodox liturgy, some townspeople were enraged, lynching him on November 12, 1623.
Now, I find myself thinking about St. Josaphat right now because of the unity in disunity his life embodied, his complicated tactics that may have fanned the flames of discontent, and, more than anything, his sacrifice, murdered for his commitment to peace in a time of (ecclesiastical) war. After the election, we find ourselves in a time of unrest, of difficulty: protests, riots, threats, and Klan rallies. Our country is hurting; something that America’s Catholic Bishops have specifically noted, asking us to pray:
Heal us from our differences and unite us, O Lord,
with a common purpose, dedication, and commitment to achieve liberty and justice
in the years ahead for all people,
and especially those who are most vulnerable in our midst. Amen.
It seems to me that unity will be difficult, nigh impossible in typical, human terms, at least for a time. On the one hand, some people are clearly concerned about Trump’s rhetoric and past statements; others found a voice in this election to express their discontent with the political establishment. For both sides, then, emotions run high; both victor and loser, so to speak, believe there to be more than usual on the line.
And so, it occurred to me to seek the intercession of St. Josaphat, a martyr for unity, a complicated figure whose devotion to Christ is not in question. It is my hope that in this time our devotion to peace—our devotion to Christ, most truly—may be beyond question, as we hope and pray for a unity that may well take a long time to come. But even as it seems impossible, there must remain hope; there must remain a prayerful desire for love between brethren.
It is easy to point fingers, to lack faith in hope, no matter your “side.” This is understandable, but, as Christians, we are called beyond that, called beyond mere affirmation of personal views to the unity of the kingdom. And so, may we declare (and find hope) with Pope Pius XI: “The blood of St. Josaphat even today, as it was three hundred years ago, is a very special pledge of peace, the seal of unity.
(Photo by Yana Paskova/Getty Images)