November 26th, 2013

Patriarch SVIATOSLAV in Rome

On Nov 25, 2013, Patriarch SVIATOSLAV led a solemn Pontifical Divine Liturgy at the altar of the Vatican Basilica of St. Peter on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the transfer of the relics of St. Josaphat, martyr for Church unity.

Speaking fluently in the pope’s native Portuguese, Patriarch Sviatoslav greeted Pope Francis by saying, “Vostra Santità, vi presento la Chiesa Ucraina Greco-Cattolica, una Chiesa Patriarcale.” “Your Holiness, I present to You the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church, a Patriarchal Church.”

St. Josaphat (Kuncevych) was a Basilian monk and archeparch (archbishop) of Polotsk who lived from 1580 to 1623, which meant he faced the daunting task of bringing the local populace to accept the Union of Brest which declared the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church’s union with Rome. St. Josaphat faced stiff opposition from the monks, who feared a Latinization of the liturgy of the Church. As archeparch, he restored the churches: he issued a catechism to the clergy, with instructions that it should be learned by heart; composed rules for the priestly life, entrusting to the deacons the task of superintending their observance; assembled synods in various towns in the dioceses, and firmly opposed the Polish Imperial Chancellor Sapieha who wished to make too many concessions to the Eastern Orthodox. Throughout all his strivings and all his occupations, he continued his religious devotion as a monk, and never abated his desire for self-mortification. Through all this he was successful in winning over a large portion of the people.

St. Josaphat’s activity provoked a strong reaction. A rival hierarchy was set up by the Orthodox Church, with a monk being appointed the Orthodox Archeparch of Polotsk. Smotrytsky publicly claimed that St. Josaphat was preparing a total Latinization of the Church and its rituals. The inhabitants of Mogilev revolted against the saint in October 1618 and chased him out of the city. St. Josaphat then complained to King Sigismund who brutally suppressed the Orthodox revolt—all leaders of the revolt were executed by the king and the rival Orthodox churches were taken away and given to the Greek-Catholics.

The suppression caused the saint to be even more fiercely resisted by the Orthodox. During November 1623, despite warnings, he went to Vitebsk. There, on November 12th, the Orthodox sent to his residence a priest who stood in the courtyard of his house shouting insults like “uniate” at him. The archbishop had the priest taken away and confined to his house. In response, the town bell was rung, which summoned a mob of Orthodox Christians who rejected union with Rome. The mob attacked the archbishop’s residence, and in the course of the attack an axe-stroke and a bullet ended his life. His body was tossed into the river. It was recovered and honored, eventually transported to Rome and given the honor of burial within St. Peter’s Basilica. It was on the 50th anniversary of this transfer that Patriarch SVIATOSLAV visited Rome and held a solemn pontifical liturgy at the altar where St. Josaphat is buried. Over 3,000 pilgrims from Ukraine and Belarus were in attendance.

Pope Francis addressed the pilgrims by saying, “The memory of this martyred saint speaks to us about the communion of saints, of the communion of life between all of the people who belong to Christ.”

“Dear brothers and sisters, the best way to celebrate St. Josaphat is to love among each other and to love and serve the unity of the Church. We are supported in this also by the courageous witness of so many martyrs of recent times, which constitute a great wealth and a great comfort for your Church.”

“I hope that the deep communion that you wish to strengthen each day within the Catholic Church, will help you build bridges of fraternity also with other Churches and ecclesiastical communities in Ukrainian land, and wherever your communities are present,” the pope concluded.

Patriarch Sviatoslav St Josaphat Transfer Rome Nov 2013

Some text adapted from Wikipedia’s article on St. Josaphat under it’s creative commons license.