Saint Josaphat and Church Unity

With the Holy Father getting ready to meet Patriarch Bartholomew in Turkey, there is much talk of Catholic-Orthodox unity (e.g., Meeting between Benedict XVI and Patriarch Bartholomew will not be a meeting of heads of two universal Churches – Moscow Patriarchate). Ecumenism, at least as it is generally practiced, can never produce the real unity that was originally given the Church in the Holy Ghost and that the Roman pontiffs have long worked to restore among schismatics and heretics.

I write on November 14, the feast of St. Josaphat Kuncewicz (1582-1623). In 1923, in honor of the third centenary of this great bishop’s martyrdom, Pope Pius XI published the Encyclical, Ecclesiam Dei. In it, he recalls the life and virtues of the beloved Basilian monk and expresses his fatherly desire for the eastern dissidents to return to the unity of the Church. Those whose reading is limited to recent works on Church unity will not recognize the language of this encyclical. The ambiguities of the modern documents are absent from it. We are thinking, among other things, of the infamous and shameful “Balamand Declaration,” a product of the Joint International Commission for the Theological Dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church. This declaration (which is summarized toward the end of Gary Potter’s article, The Conversion of Russia) is a betrayal of St. Josaphat inasmuch as it speaks pejoratively of “uniatism,” i.e., union with the Church through the Uniate Eastern Rites. St. Josaphat died because of his fidelity to the Union of Brest, which gave us the uniate Ukrainian Eastern Rite.

It is a pleasure to share some excerpts from this wonderful encyclical, but before doing so, I will bring our readers attention to our website’s offerings on St. Josaphat:

First is the brief entry in our Saint of the Day feature: “He was a Basilian monk of the Ruthenian rite who became Archbishop of Polotsk, after the Orthodox Ruthenian Church was officially united to Rome. He fought vigorously in support of the primacy of the Pope. In a sermon he cried out, ‘Please God I will give my life for the holy union, for the supremacy of Peter and of the Holy Father, his successor.’ Soon after a mob of Orthodox invaded Saint Josaphat’s episcopal residence and killed him.”

Next is an article written by Brother Francis, Two Patrons for True Ecumenism. This article commemorates St. Josaphat and St. Andrew Bobola (1591-1657).

Now, we present the passages from Ecclesiam Dei. Italics represent my emphasis. In general, the italicized passages will show the contrast between the traditional concepts of Church unity and the modernist notions of ecumenism.

“It is quite true that the enemy has never, and never will, prevail against the Church. He has, however, succeeded in wresting from her bosom many of her children, and in some cases, even whole nations. These great losses were brought about in many instances by the wars which divided nations, by the enactment of laws inimical to the interests of religion and of virtue, or by an unbridled love for the passing goods of this world.” (#3)

The greatest and most deplorable defection of all was the separation of the Greeks from the unity of the Church Universal. The Councils of Lyons and Florence held out hopes of healing this breach; these hopes were illusory. The schism was renewed and has lasted to the present day, with enormous injury to souls. By this great schism the Eastern Slavs, together with other nations, were also led astray and lost to the Faith, although it must be acknowledged that they remained longer in communion with the Church than many of their neighbors. As is well known, they maintained relations of one kind or another with this Apostolic See even after the schism of Michael Caerularius [the schismatic Greek Patriarch who broke with the Holy See in 1054] — relations which, despite the fact that they were interrupted by the invasions of the Tartars and Mongols, were resumed afterward and continued until they were brought to an end by the rebellious hard-headedness of their rulers.” (#4)

“In order that this unity and concord might be perpetuated forever [the Union of Brest], God, in His supreme providence consecrated it, so to speak, by the seal of sanctity and of martyrdom. The great privilege of being both a saint and martyr belongs to Josaphat, Archbishop of Polotsk, of the Eastern Slavic Rite, who is rightly looked upon as the glory and support of the Eastern Slavs. Certainly it would be difficult to discover another man who has brought greater luster to his people or who has done more for their eternal welfare than he, their pastor and apostle. This is particularly evidenced by the fact that he shed his very blood in order to preserve the unity of Holy Church.”

[A quote from St. Josaphat:] “Lord, grant me the grace to shed my blood for the unity of the church and in behalf of obedience to the Holy See.” (#13)

We invite most sincerely the Schismatics to join with Us in this unity of the Church, and We desire also that all the faithful, following the teachings and in the footsteps of St. Josaphat, may strive, each according to his ability, to cooperate with Us towards the achievement of this purpose…” (#18)

While he knew them to be severed from the unity of the Church, Pope Pius XI knew that the eastern dissidents have more in common with us and sought to use those things in order to seal a true unity. He has spoken of the Eucharist and the Mass. Now, he speaks of Our Lady: “Another bond which should serve to unite us with the Eastern Slavs is their truly singular devotion for the Blessed Virgin, Mother of God. This love for Mary at one and the same time cuts them off from many heretics and brings them closer to us. Our Saint, too, was conspicuous for his devotion to the Blessed Virgin and with childlike confidence trusted in her favor in his work for unity. He was accustomed to venerate with a special love, after the manner of Easterners, a small icon of the Blessed Virgin, Mother of God, a picture which is also held in great veneration by the Basilian monks and by the faithful of every rite, here in Rome where in the Church of SS. Sergius and Bacchus it is honored under the title of “Queen of the Pasture.” Let us therefore pray to her, our most loving Mother, and especially under this same title, that she may guide the steps of our Schismatic brethren toward the pastures of salvation, toward those pastures where Peter, living always in his successors, the Vicar of the Eternal pastor, feeds and rules the lambs and sheep of the Fold of Christ.” (#25)

Saint Josaphat (source)

Saint Josaphat (source)