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“Who on earth is Saint Josaphat?” I asked. I pride myself on knowing the stories of many saints, but of this one I had not heard. In the Roman Lectionary it’s listed as “Josaphat’s day”, so I thought I’d do a bit of research.

It turns out he was a fine and courageous person of principle. I am saddened to discover what happened to this fine-intentioned man, who stood-up for what Jesus would have wanted in the situation in which he found himself.

This week focuses on the remembrance of conflicts and their resolution, the people involved, and whether the consequences for those involved were good or not.

The outcome for Josaphat was bad, but good came out of it for others. Read on.....

Ephesians 4:1-7 - Today’s First Reading at Mass. “I, the prisoner in the Lord, implore you to lead a life worthy of your vocation. Bear with one another charitably, in complete selflessness, gentleness and patience. Do all you can to preserve the unity of the Spirit by the peace that binds you together. There is one Body, one Spirit, just as you were all called into one and the same hope when you were called. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God who is Father of all, over all, through all and within all.”

In 1054, a formal split took place between the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Western (Roman) Church, because of cultural, political, and theological differences.

Centuries later, there was a movement among many Orthodox Christians to resolve this disunity. Josaphat, an Orthodox Christian in communion with Rome, was the first bishop of Vitebsk (appointed 1617), now in Belarus. Josaphat was known as an excellent teacher and preacher, and for spending time visiting the sick and needy of the city. Orthodox Christians who were against reunification with Rome set up their own bishops in the same area. To try to resolve the tensions this created, the King of Poland named Josaphat the only legitimate Bishop. Sadly, this led to riots in Vitebsk.

Josaphat tried to stop the fighting,

but on November 12,1623 an Orthodox priest named Elias stirred up a mob and went to the Josaphat’s house, displaying threatening behaviour. Josaphat came out into the courtyard, and was shocked to see the mob beating and trampling his friends and servants. He cried out, " If you have anything against me, here I am, but leave these others alone!" With shouts of "Kill the papist" Josaphat was hit with a stick, then an axe, and finally shot through the head. His body was dragged to the river and thrown in.

The heroes that day were the Jewish people of Vitebsk, who risked their lives to rush into the courtyard and rescue Josaphat's friends and servants from the bloodthirsty mob. Through their courage, lives were saved. These same Jewish people were the only ones to publicly accuse the killers and mourn the death of Josaphat, whilst the Catholics of the city hid in fear of their lives.

This violence had the opposite effect that Elias intended. Instead of destroying support for reunification with Rome by eliminating Josaphat, regret and horror at how far the violence had gone and the loss of their Archbishop swung public opinion over, and encouraged Orthodoxy in that area to seek reunification with Rome.

Let us pray through the intercession

of St. Josaphat that peace and unity will be restored in Belarus,

between The Ukraine and Russia,

and that Orthodox Christians and Catholic Christians would continue

to seek for and grow in unity.

May we also follow St. Josaphat's example and work towards greater unity and peace within our own communities and amongst our families and friends.

O God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, our only Saviour, the Prince of Peace: Give us grace seriously to lay to heart the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions.

Take away all hatred and prejudice, and whatsoever else may hinder us from godly union and concord: that, as there is but one Body, and one Spirit, and one hope of our calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all; so we may henceforth be all of one heart, and of one soul, united in one holy bond of truth and peace, of faith and charity, and with one mind and one mouth glorify thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

The Book of Common Prayer

The Catholic Church has expressed a desire to heal the schism in order that the Church may "breathe with her two lungs", (Pope John Paul II, in the encyclical

“UT UNUM SINT- On commitment to Ecumenism” proclaimed in 1995).

The Orthodox have engaged with the Vatican on several occasions over recent decades, significantly Patriarch Bartholomew, I, the spiritual leader of approximately 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide. Most recently the Patriarch participated in last month’s interfaith ceremony and prayers with Pope Francis and other Christians as part of an international Prayer for Peace initiative entitled

“No One Is Saved Alone – Peace and Fraternity.”

Pope Francis, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, and other Orthodox

and Protestant representatives prayed together in the Basilica of Saint Mary

in Aracoeli; Jews prayed in the Synagogue of Rome; and Muslims, Buddhists and representatives of other Eastern religions prayed in Rome’s Capitoline Museums.

This particular ceremony included many international figures; - Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission, and President Sergio Mattarella

of Italy.

Heavenly Father, you have called us

in the Body of your Son Jesus Christ

to continue his work of reconciliation

and reveal you to the world: forgive us the sins which tear us apart; give us the courage to overcome our fears

and to seek that unity which is your gift and your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Common Worship

Jesus said…

May they all be one.

Father, may they be one in us,

as you are in me and I am in you,

so that the world may believe

that it was you who sent me.

John 17: 20 – 21

May the Risen Lord

strengthen our efforts

to mend the ruptures of the past

and to meet the challenges

of the present

with hope in the future

which, in his providence,

he holds out to us

and to our world."

Pope Benedict XVI,

Evening Prayer,

Westminster Abbey,

17 Sept 2010

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