An Anniversary of Mourning

Josaphat the Malevolent

by Nicholas Maas

The year 1996 will mark the four-hundredth anniversary of the shameful "Union" of Brest-Litovsk, in which political, economic, and military pressure was brought to bear on millions of Orthodox Christians living along the Western borders of Russia, Byelorussia, and Ukraine, in order to force them to accept a false union with the Roman Catholic Church. One of the principal participants in this violently depraved movement was an apostate Orthodox Bishop (one of many, unfortunately) by the name of Josaphat Kontzevich.

One need not resort to polemics to speak ill of Josaphat Kontzevich. His vile tongue, his foul epithets, his disloyalty, his love of glory and worldly power and recognition, and his violent campaigns of terror against the Orthodox—these things allow history to speak for us. It is thus astonishing that the Roman Catholic Church elected to "canonize" this 'Hitler" of the Eastern religious world, as one Western historian has called him, and to elevate to the status of sainthood a man who fomented and fostered violence-indeed, even murdering the name of Church unity. Considering the magnitude of Josaphat's brutality and insane intolerance, it is perhaps prudent for us, on the eve of the sorrowful anniversary of the forced union of Brest-Litovsk, to look at this pivotal figure in Eastern European history.

Josaphat, Uniate Bishop of Polotsky and founder of the Uniate Basilian order, was more than an apostate. He was a master practitioner of the "psychology of terror." He was not the first to employ psychological terror tactics. Nor was he the last. The ancient Assyrians, it is said, used systematic psychological intimidation to subdue the inhabitants of their empire [1] their own final demise having been celebrated in the Old Testament by the Prophet Nahum (Nahum 3:18-19). And in modern times, communist regimes in Eastern Europe (some now happily defunct) and China are well known for their psychological terror tactics. But Josaphat is unique, in that he is the only terrorist in history to have gained the crown of beatification for what has earned other such despots unending vilification.

Josaphat's campaign of terror was designed and executed with one purpose in mind: to discourage and prevent Orthodox Christians from practicing their ancestral Faith. Since the Orthodox masses would not willingly follow their Bishops, a handful of priests, and the nobility into apostasy, Josaphat and his fellow apostates consciously chose to achieve their ends by violent means. They did this by trying to create, among the Orthodox faithful, a feeling of utter despair and powerlessness, so that, like Marshal Petain centuries later, Josaphat could impose on them an artificial religion, a Vichy theocracy, over which he would be the administrator. Worshippers were forced out of their Churches, many leaving only on the end of a bloody sword. When the Orthodox, in one instance, set up tents in which to worship, Josaphat encouraged his brigands to disrupt their services, set fire to the tents, and attack the clergy and believers. And with the help of the Latin civil authorities, Josaphat saw to it that Orthodox priests were exiled and that no new Orthodox Bishops were Consecrated. [2] His pogrom violently put down any resistance to the Brest "Union" and left the Orthodox ostensibly powerless to protest the loss of their Faith to Papal domination.

In the final analysis, Josaphat's terror tactics were no more successful than those of other deranged despots. For his crimes against humanity, this most virulent apostate and pervert was beaten and stoned to death by outraged believers and dispatched to his just reward in 1623. His inhumane brutality earned him even the disdain of the Roman Catholic Chancellor of Lithuanian. [3] Moreover, Orthodox believers never really accepted the Unia or Josaphat's fellow apostate Bishops, who, despite their cowardly efforts to win such recognition, were also never accorded the political rights of their Latin counterparts. [4] In the end, millions of Orthodox returned to the Faith when border changes occurred in the nineteenth century, just as many Greek Catholics in America later embraced Orthodoxy with the help of the New Martyr Tikhon, then Administrator of the Russian Churches in the New World.

The idea of the Unia as a bridge between Orthodoxy and Rome died with Josaphat and his violent, vulgar witness. His spirit may live on in the efforts of Latin ecumenists to reduce Orthodoxy to an "Eastern branch" of the Latin Church, or of Orthodox ecumenists to defile their Faith by another false union with Rome; but among those of an Orthodox conscience, Josaphat's sad memory is but clear evidence that "something is rotten in ecumenism" and that unions of compromise that render the faithful masses powerless will not ultimately succeed—even if their advocates are given a crown of supposed sanctity dripping with the blood of martyrs. modern Orthodox ecumenists should look at this awful and despicable man and his fate. Polish and Lithuanian military force could not help his betrayal to survive. The Herculean efforts of today's ecumenists to carry on his legacy will likewise end in the ignominy and shame that fell upon him. And if blood drips from his crown, hypocrisy will flow from the ill-conceived garlands that they hope to gain by courting, in the name of the Faith, those who have been its enemies.


1. M. Healy, The Ancient Assyrians (London: Osprey, 1991), pp. 8-9.

2. N. Zernov, Eastern Christendom (New York. G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1961), pp. 147-148.

3. Deacon H. Ivanov-Treenadzaty, "The Vatican and Russia," Orthodox Life, March-April 1990, pp. 8-24.

4. N. Zernov, The Russians and their Church (London: S.P.C.K, 19,54), p. 87.

Mr. Maas is a Uniate convert to the Orthodox Faith. From Orthodox Tradition, Vol. XI, No. 3, pp. 48-50.