Blessed Feast of St. Josaphat

by modestinus

According to the 1962 Roman Calendar (the “Extraordinary Form”), today is the feastday of St. Josaphat Kuntsevych. Depending on which party you ask, he was either a heroic martyr for the cause of Eastern Christian unification with Rome (Catholic!) or a tyrannical monster who got what he deserved (Orthodox!). The truth, as is usually the case with these sorts of things, likely lies somewhere inbetween. There’s no doubt St. Josaphat had a “Jesuitical streak” to him when it came to dealing with those troublesome schismatics, but if the ends do indeed justify the means, perhaps his Sainthood shouldn’t be questioned. A few centuries later the Orthodox would get their own variant of St. Josaphat in Maxim Sandovich.

It’s interesting to note that the (unofficial) Church group which bears his name, the Priestly Society of St. Josaphat (affiliated with the Society of St. Pius X), is dedicated to preserving a “Latinized” iteration of Slavic Christianity in the face of an overwhelming push among the Eastern churches to “purify” their rites. At the same time, however, the Society endorses the full use of Church Slavonic in an effort — so they say — to eradicate national divides among the Slavs while preserving their ecclesial-cultural heritage. (Here the justification for Slavonic runs roughly parallel to the somewhat shopworn arguments for Latin among traditionalist Western Catholics.) Given its relatively small size, it’s doubtful the Society will ever be more than a blip on the Eastern Christian radar and, to the best of my knowledge, they have no presence outside of Poland and Ukraine. On substantive matters, the Society shares close ties with the SSPX insofar as it rejects liberalism, ecumenism, and modernism. Ironically this puts the Society in the same company as many hardcore Russian Orthodox (albeit on different sides of the ecclesial divide).

I have confessed before that I have always had an affinity for “Latinized” Eastern Christianity. It was the Christianity which most affected me when I was growing up. Even during my sojourn in Orthodoxy, I never shook the Latin out of my soul, which is perhaps why I was fascinated with the so-called “Latin captivity” of the (mostly Russian, though sometimes Greek) Orthodox up until the 20th C. (or thereabouts). The ironic fallout from that period of history is that some of the most staunch anti-ecumenists/Latins in the Orthodox Church are traditionalists who defend the “Latin captivity” from so-called “renovationists” (like Fr. Alexander Schmemann!). The writings of Seraphim Rose, for instance, contain a number of defenses of the “Latin captivity,” with the most typical argument being that the importation of certain Latin idioms, concepts, and liturgical rites did nothing to impair the “pure” Orthodox faith. Maybe, or maybe not — you’d have to ask an Orthodox Christian that question. There is a further irony added to this mess insofar as most traditionalist Orthodox reject as heretical (or quasi-heretical) many elements of conventional Latin Christianity which were revered by some of their own Saints and theologians. St. Seraphim of Sarov prayed the Rosary; St. Dimitri of Rostov was devoted to the Immaculate Conception; and Fr. Georges Florovsky tacitly endorsed the existence of Purgatory. More recently, Archbishop Hilarion Alfayev has come out with a reimagined Orthodox concept of hell which is roughly tantamount to the Catholic view of Purgatory. Needless to say, this has irked Orthodox and Catholics alike (so it must be true).

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