Saint Josaphat was born in Lithuania sometime between the years 1580 and 1584. His baptismal name was John Kuntcevych. Although his father was highly respected and quite rich, John was not interested in worldly things. He spent nearly all his time learning a liturgical language known as the Church Slavonic and, since there weren’t any priests available for religious instruction, he taught himself about spiritual matters.
Both John’s parents were very religious and did not object when he joined the Basilian Fathers in 1604. He then took the name of Josaphat. He was ordained in 1609 and was consecrated Archbishop of Polotsk in 1618. Benjamin Rutsky, one of Josaphat’s early friends, eventually joined him in the monastery.
In order to understand the rest of Saint Josaphat’s life, one must have an understanding of what was going on in the Eastern Church during this period. In 1054, the East-West Schism or “Great Schism” created the first major division Christianity had ever seen. The details of what led to the break would be enough to fill several large books. However, part of the problem was that the Eastern Christians considered the Patriarch of Constantinople their spiritual leader instead of the Roman Pontiff. After the schism, the Church of the East was known as the Eastern Orthodox or “Greek” Church and the Church of the West was known as the Roman Catholic or “Latin” Church.
When Saint Josaphat was a young child, the “Union of Brest” took place and brought the geographical area he lived in into communion with the Holy Father. However, he and Benjamin Rustky greatly desired to bring the entire Eastern Church into communion with Rome.
Josaphat’s desire to follow the Pope caused problems very early on. His monastic superior had been against the Union of Brest and he became rather violent about his views. Eventually, he was removed from his office and replaced by Rustky.
The moment Josaphat became the Archbishop of Polotsk, he was confronted by people both for and against communion with Rome. Although he did all he could to assure them that the transition would not be difficult, many felt that the traditions of the East would be destroyed by “papist” dictates.
A man named Meletius Smotrytsky (c. 1577-1633) began spreading rumors that Josaphat would force the Latin Rite upon them all. It was then, falsely, suggested that the Archbishop was sanctioning violence. During autumn of 1623, some of Smotrytsky’s followers began plotting against Josaphat. It should be noted that Smotrytsky was not aware of their violent plans.
During early November, an Eastern Orthodox priest named Elias began harassing Josaphat’s household servants. The plan was for the Archbishop to get angry enough to do violence against Elias. On November 12, 1623, Elias confronted Josaphat while the latter was preparing for the Morning Office. Josaphat asked his servants to keep him contained until after the Office. This was all his enemies needed.
By the time Josaphat had finished his prayers and released Elias with a warning, a mob shouting “Kill the papist!” broke into his house. Saint Josaphat was violently murdered and his body was thrown into the Dvina River.
Saint Josaphat was the first Eastern Rite Christian to be canonized. He is considered the patron saint of the Ukraine. His feast day is November 12.
Source: Butler’s Lives of the Saints