St. Josaphat was born in the year 1580, in the city of Volodymyr (Belarus). His parents, Gabriel and Maryna Kuntsevych, named him John. When he was four or five years old, while his mother was explaining the icon of Jesus crucified, he felt a spark of divine love fall into his heart. It never went away. From that day, he always remembered going to church with joy, to read and to sing, to pray and to meditate upon God.
In the year 1604, at the age of twenty-four, John entered the Monastery of the Holy Trinity in Vilna, which was in communion with Rome. At his tonsure, he took the name Josaphat. As a monk, he followed the monastic rule faithfully, singing the full cycle of liturgical services and unceasingly praying the Jesus Prayer: “Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” To all he became an example of a perfect monk.
Josaphat was ordained a priest in 1609 and dedicated himself to the cause of church unity. Many of the faithful would come to the monastery to hear him preach. His sermons were intelligent, full of spirit, convincing and effective. With zeal, Josaphat spoke about the importance of unity; and celebrating the Divine Liturgy, he took on the appearance of an angel. Eventually he became the hegumen (superior) of the monastery, and with time, the archimandrite overseeing the life of several monasteries.
Consecrated as archbishop of Polotsk (Belarus) in the year 1617, Josaphat worked diligently to bring about renewal within the church, to promote catechesis, education, good preaching, charity and service to the poor. Despite all his duties as a bishop, he remained faithful to his monastic rule.
In his zeal to promote unity, St. Josaphat made friends and enemies. On November 12, 1623, at the age of forty-four, he died a martyr’s death at the hands of those who opposed him.
After numerous miracles attributed to Kuntsevych were claimed and reported to Church officials, a commission was appointed by Pope Urban VIII in 1628 to start inquire for his possible canonization, for which they examined under oath 116 witnesses. Although five years had elapsed since Josaphat’s death, his body was claimed to still be incorrupt. In 1637, a second commission investigated his life and, in 1643, twenty years after his death, Josaphat was beatified. He was canonized on June 29, 1867 by Pope Pius IX. The relics of St. Josaphat are interred at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.