November 12, 2016

The Miraculous Presaging of St. Josaphat’s Martyrdom

Detail, Martyrdom of Josaphat Kuntsevych,
Józef Simmler, c. 1861.

When Saint Josaphat was a child, his mother explained the icons in church. Years later, he confided to a friend that he felt a spark of fire leave the wounded side of Christ Crucified and enter his own heart, which was instantly filled with joy. This experience influenced the rest of his life. He memorized the Church’s rituals and prayers. His desire to suffer poverty and death for the Lord grew within him.

In October 1623, St. Josaphat ordered the arrest of the last priest who was secretly holding Orthodox services at Vitebsk, where Josaphat had a residence. Enraged at this, some Orthodox townspeople (along with Lithuanian Protestants) lynched Josaphat on November 12. Witnesses described the event as follows:

The ringing of cathedral bells and the bells of other churches spread. This was the signal and call to insurrection. From all sides of town masses of people – men, women, and children – gathered with stones and attacked the archbishop's residence. The masses attacked and injured the servants and assistants of the archbishop, and broke into the room where he was alone. As the mob moved in to assassinate him, Josaphat addressed them with these words:
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 your shepherd and you ought to know that I should 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.
One attacker hit him on the head with a stick, another split it with an axe, and when Josaphat fell, they started beating him. They looted his house, dragged his body to the plaza, cursed him – even women and children. ... They dragged him naked through the streets of the city all the way to the hill overlooking the river Dvina. Finally, after tying stones to the dead body, they threw him into the Dvina at its deepest. Despite being weighted down, his corpse emerged from the water, emitting rays of light. (His earthly remains now rest in St. Peter's Basilica.) His murderers, when sentenced to death, repented their crime and became Catholics.

No comments :