Basilian Order of St. Josaphat turns 400, ‘perfect time to renew mission,’ says priest
By Josh Tng
Photo caption: Father Joseph Pidskalny, OSBM, (left) and Father Gabriel Haber, OSBM, stand beside St. Josaphat's relics during the 400th anniversary celebration of the saint's order at St. Mary's Ukrainian Church in Vancouver.
Four hundred years after he was killed with an axe while trying to unify the Catholic and Orthodox churches, St. Josaphat’s goal of church unity remains as important as ever, say priests of the religious order that resulted from his reforms.
Today St. Josaphat is known as a martyr for unity, and his goal of reconciliation between the two churches is still badly needed, Father Joseph Pidskalny, OSBM, told a March 24-26 celebration at St. Mary’s Ukrainian Catholic Church. The event marked 400 years since the founding of the Basilian Order of St. Josaphat.
Father Joseph Pidskalny, OSBM, the superior of the attached Basilian monastery at St. Mary’s, said, “Whether we be Eastern-rite Catholics or Roman Catholic, or something else, if we could be unified in our lives and in our praise of the Lord, we can become stronger, both as an individual and as the Church.”
Father Gabriel Haber, OSBM, the order’s provincial superior visiting from Winnipeg, said St. Josaphat “was able with his holiness to focus on Christ, and had a constant mission for unity.”
The 400th anniversary of the order is the perfect time to renew that mission, said Father Pidskalny.
St. Josaphat Kuncevic was born in 1580 in what is modern-day Ukraine, where he was baptized into the Eastern Orthodox Church. His religious piety and drive for Christian union soon found him directed toward the monasteries of the area, where, alongside Metropolitan Joseph Benjamin Rutsky, he joined the Order of St. Basil the Great.
The two men would play a vital role in organizing five independent monasteries into a single monastic order. “In such a way, out of the independent monasteries under the authority of the local bishops, there was created an order as we understand it now,” Father Haber said. “Thus, Metropolitan Rutsky and St. Josaphat can be considered the real founders of the present day Basilian Order.”
“St. Josaphat himself was (Eastern) Orthodox, so when he entered the Order of St. Basil the Great, he was entering a Catholic order,” said Father Pidskalny. “For him, unity was very important because he understood we as Christians should be one.”
“He wanted us to come together, to be one unified Catholic Church with Rome and the Vatican. Those who followed him during his time were called the uniates, because St. Josaphat was trying to work for unification.”
“St. Josephat was a key person to our order,” said Father Haber. “He renewed our order by making substantial reforms to the monastic life of that time, giving the monastic life a structure similar to the modern Orders and centralizing the monasteries.”
Father Haber brought with him relics of the saint – a finger bone of St. Josaphat, as well as a scrap of his clothing. “We were wondering how we could celebrate our 400th year here in Canada,” he said. The relics were proposed as an idea to allow attendees of the celebration to be physically closer to the saint and understand his message.
St. Josaphat “did so much to try to bring the Orthodox and Catholic churches together,” said Father Pidskalny. “In fact, he was killed by the Orthodox through an axe to the head.”
The anniversary offered the order a chance for “renewal,” added Father Haber. Priests in the Basilian order often live in small groups of two or three and in a monastic fashion. “Hopefully we can reorganize ourselves to be involved and live with the local community.”
To begin the mission of unity, Father Haber and Father Pidskalny extended an invitation to interested Catholics to visit St. Mary’s Church to take advantage of an indulgence bestowed by Pope Francis.
“We have this wonderful gift from the Holy Father,” explained Father Haber. “If people come here (to St. Mary’s) to pray, they can have an indulgence for themselves or for someone who’s passed away. This gift should not be wasted!”
“Like our Father and St. Josaphat, we welcome everybody with open arms and a smile” to the faith and celebration surrounding the order,” he said. “We welcome them, love them, and pray for them.