In the two previous parts of this look into the particular Churches of the Byzantine Rite, we learned more about the history of each of the Churches, where they stand today, and what these Churches do in terms of their liturgical worship and traditions. Now, we take a look at the holy men and women that have been canonized or beatified by the Catholic Church, in order that they may be venerated and imitated, helping us on our way to a more fruitful relationship with Jesus Christ.
Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church
There have been several people recently beatified among the Ukrainians, but probably the most famous, is of course St. Josaphat Kuntsevych. St. Josaphat led the charge in helping Ukrainian Catholics hold onto their authentic Byzantine traditions following the Union of Brest, ensuring that Ukrainians would not be simply absorbed into the Latin Rite. He was made Bishop of Vitebsk at the young age of 37, and a year later was elevated to Archbishop of Polotsk. Following his martyrdom at the hands of Orthodox townspeople, St. Josaphat was quickly beatified, and was canonized by Blessed Pope Pius IX in 1867. His feast day is kept on November 12th in both the Latin and Byzantine rites,
Another great saint from more modern times would be Blessed Vasyl (Basil) Velychkovsky. Bl. Vasyl was born in 1903, and was ordained a priest of the Redemptorist order in 1925. During the persecution of Ukrainian Catholics, the Soviet government arrested Bl. Vasyl in 1945, and after condemning him to death, commuted his sentence to ten years hard labor in Kiev. Two of those years were spent being tortured and interrogated by the KGB, after refusing an offer of freedom if he only converted to Orthodoxy. He flatly refused to give up his Catholic faith. After his release, he continued his evangelization and was appointed to the episcopacy by the Holy See in 1959. However, with no free Ukrainian bishops able to ordain him, he had to wait until 1963. A few years later he was arrested yet again, and this time was subjected to mental, physical, and chemical torture. Upon his release in 1972 he was exiled and went to Winnipeg, Canada, where he died soon after in June of 1973. He was declared a martyr, and was beatified by St. John Paul in 2001. When his body was exhumed the following year, his body was found to be incorrupt, and is now enshrined at St. Joseph’s Ukrainian Catholic Church in Winnipeg. His feast day is celebrated on June 27th.
Bl. Roman Lysko, a young priest, was also beatified the same day as Bl. Vasyl. He and his wife were active in the youth communities throughout the underground Church before his capture. He was arrested by the Russian authorities in September of 1949, and imprisoned in Lviv. During his tortures, he was known to sing the psalms loudly, leading his torturers to think he had gone insane. After being immured in the prison’s walls, he starved to death and died on October 14, 1949. His feast day is also celebrated on this day.
Belarusian Catholic Church
There are not many canonized or beatified people from this particular Church, save for one group of martyrs. However, the witness of these martyrs should not be overlooked, and their intercession should be assuredly relied on. Blessed Vincent Lewoniuk and his twelve companions, also known as the Martyrs of Pratulin, were a group of ordinary laymen who banded together to defend their parish church which was to be handed over to the Russian Orthodox Church, following the fall of the Eparchy of Chelm in 1874. Bl. Vincent himself was only 25 years old, newly married, and the first to be killed by the Russian soldiers after the group made it apparent they would not let their parish be handed over. Bl. Bartholomew Osypiuk was a 30-year old, married father of two who died from the wounds he suffered in his home. He prayed for his persecutors before he died. And then there was Bl. Ignatius Franczuk, a married father of seven, who picked up the crucifix held by one of his slain comrades, and continued fight for Christ’s Church. At their beatification in October of 1996, Pope St. John Paul II praised these holy men for their brave actions and witness:
“They witnessed to an unshakeable fidelity to the Lord of the vineyard. They did not disappoint him, but staying united to Christ as branches to the vine they brought forth the desired fruits of conversion and holiness. They persevered, even at the cost of the supreme sacrifice. As faithful 'servants' of the Lord, trusting in his grace, they bore witness to their membership of the Catholic Church in fidelity to their Eastern tradition. With a gesture so generous, the Martyrs of Pratulin defended not only the holy place of worship in front of which they were slaughtered but also the Church of Christ entrusted to the Apostle Peter, of which they felt themselves to be living stones.”
The feast of Bl. Vincent and his companions is celebrated on January 24th.
Križevci Catholic Church
There does not appear to be any beatified or canonized people who explicitly belonged to the Byzantine Rite, however one person Križevci Catholics do especially venerate today would be Blessed Aloysius Stepinac, the Latin archbishop of Zabreg. He was tried by the Communist Yugoslav government following World War II, and was put on trial in September of 1946, charged with collaboration with the occupation forces, forced conversions of Serbian Orthodox locals to Catholicism and high treason against the Yugoslav government, among other things. Bl. Aloysius maintained his innocence saying that he was being subjected to a “show trial” and that his conscience was clear. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison. His sentence was commuted and he died under house arrest. St. John Paul declared him a martyr in 1997, and beatified him in Croatia on October 3rd, 1998. Bl. Aloysius’ feast is celebrated on February 10th.
Albanian Catholic Church
Although there are many saints of the Latin rite who are canonized or beatified, information on those who may have been of the Byzantine Rite in the region is scarce. Not to mention, the population of this sui iuris Church has always been pretty miniscule.
Ruthenian (or Byzantine) Catholic Church
Many Byzantine Catholics throughout Eastern Europe were persecuted and even martyred during the reign of Communism. Those in the Ruthenian Catholic Church were not exempt from such sufferings. One martyr who Ruthenian Catholics especially venerate is Blessed Theodore Romzha, Bishop of Mukacevo. He was ordained a priest on Christmas Day in 1936, and began teaching philosophy a few years later at the Eparchial Seminary in Uzhhorod. At the young age of 33, he was consecrated bishop in 1944, and immediately had to face the growing problem that was the Soviet Army. He resisted attempts to leave the faith for Orthodoxy, and led his flock faithfully, organizing pilgrimages and celebrating holy days in a way that made the Soviets notice. In October of 1947, his carriage was rammed by a Soviet truck. He was hospitalized and was recovering, until his nurses were switched on October 31st. He died that night, and it was later revealed that he was poisoned by one of the nurses under the direct orders of Nikita Khrushchev. He was declared a martyr and was beatified by St. John Paul in 2001. Bl. Theodore’s feast day is commemorated on October 31st.
Another great saint from this Church lived in America, and also died young. Her name was Blessed Miriam Teresa Demjanovich, and is the first person to have either their beatification or canonization ceremony take place in the United States. She was born in 1901 to Ruthenian Catholic parents in New Jersey, and following graduation from high school, felt the call to religious life. After graduating from the College of Saint Elizabeth at Convent Station, New Jersey, she decided after a period of discernment to join the Sisters of Charity of St. Elizabeth, and was admitted to the novitiate in May of 1925. She was known to have been granted mystical visions, and was responsible for writing spiritual conferences for her fellow sisters. Her spiritual director was not the best at writing, and secretly had Bl. Miriam write the conferences that he would present to those at the convent. It was not revealed that Bl. Miriam was the true author of these spiritual conferences until after her death. They are now collected in a book entitled “Greater Perfection”. She died from acute appendicitis at the age of 26 in 1927. Her cause for sainthood progressed rapidly, and she was finally beatified in Newark, New Jersey in 2014. Her feast day is celebrated on May 8th.
Hungarian Catholic Church
While there are many saints that are of Hungarian heritage in the Latin Church, information on those that were specifically of Byzanine heritage is scant. However, several of these Hungarian saints, such as King St. Stephen of Hungary, are still venerated by Byzantine Hungarian Catholics as well.
Slovak Catholic Church
Two of the most famous people venerated among the Slovaks come from recent times, and both were bishops who served in Archeparchy of Prešov. The first of those, as mentioned in the Church’s history, was Blessed Pavel Peter Gojdic. Born of a Byzantine priest in 1888, Blessed Peter seemed destined for the priesthood, and started studying theology immediately when he started college. At the age of 23, he and his brother Cornelius were ordained, and worked for a short time as an assistant priest at his father’s parish. He was consecrated bishop in 1927, and appointed bishop of Prešov in 1940. He worked diligently to defend Byzantine Catholics with the growth of communism, and also helped rescue many Jewish people from concentration camps during World War II. In 1950, when the Communist government banned the Slovak Catholic Church from operating. Bl. Peter and his auxillary bishop, Blessed Basil Hopko, were captured and jailed. He was given a life sentence in prison for “high treason” in 1951, and was subjected to harsh conditions, being moved from one prison to another. He would often say the Divine Liturgy in secret. When his freedom offered to him by one government official, on the condition that Bl. Peter convert and become the Orthodox patriarch of Czechoslovakia, he refused, saying he wished to remain faithful to the Pope and his own flock. He died of cancer in 1960, and was beatified as a martyr by St. John Paul II in 2001. His feast day is celebrated on July 17th.
Bl. Basil Hopko, who was imprisoned with Bl. Peter, was ordained a priest at the age of 24 in 1929. His ordination came from none other than Bl. Peter, and the two would be reunited again. Bl. Basil had originally planned to go to serve in Pittsburgh, in order to reunite with his mother, but before his ordination he had become sick, and spent virtually all his travel money on doctors and treatment. He later said that “At that time I did not realize that it was God's holy will to keep me in my native land." He organized a new parish in Prague, and became a monsignor at Prešov's Eparchial Seminary in 1936. With rumblings of a massive political shift following World War II, Bl. Peter petitioned the Holy See to send Bl. Basil to him as his auxiliary bishop. The request was granted, and starting in 1947, the two saintly men prepared their flock for the imminent Communist takeover of Czechoslovakia. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison following his capture in 1950, and was released to a nursing home in 1964 as his mental and physical health deteriorated. He never fully recovered his health, and died in 1976. He was beatified by St. John Paul II in 2003 during his Apostolic Journey to the Slovak Republic. His feast day is celebrated on May 11th, the date of his episcopal consecration.
Romanian Catholic Church
There are currently a few causes for canonization that are ongoing for those that belonged to this particular Church. Currently, one person venerated by Romanian Catholics is Blessed Vladimir Ghika. Bl. Vladimir was a bi-ritual priest (he had faculties to say Mass in both the Latin Rite and the Byzantine Rite) who was born Romanian Orthodox, but converted to Catholicism in 1902 at the age of 29. After completing his doctorate of theology in 1905, he dedicated himself to serving the sick at the behest of Pope St. Pius X. He was responsible for opening the first free clinic in Bucharest. Finally, after years of contemplation, he was ordained to the priesthood in 1923 in Paris, almost immediately granted bi-ritual faculties and served in France until 1939. During this time, he also traveled across the world, visiting Buenos Aries, Congo, Tokyo, after being appointed an Apostolic Protonotary by Pope Pius XI. He returned to Romania in 1939, and refused to leave after the Communists came to power. He strongly supported the Romanian Catholic Church, and would not recognize the government’s attempt to force Catholics to convert to Orthodoxy. He was arrested in 1952, charged with high treason, and was then subsequently imprisoned, tortured. As a result of these harsh conditions, he died on May 16, 1954, and was declared a martyr by Pope Francis. On August 31, 2013, he was beatified by Cardinal Angelo Amato, on behalf of Pope Francis, in Bucharest. Bl. Vladimir’s feast day is celebrated on May 16th.
Melkite Catholic Church
This Church has seen only the second Byzantine Catholic to be canonized a saint, the first being St. Josaphat. This saint is also relatively new, as she was just canonized by Pope Francis in May of 2015. Her name is St. Mariam Baouardy, also known as St. Mary of Jesus Crucified, as this holy woman received the stigmata. St. Mariam was born in 1846 in present day Israel, which was then under the control of the Ottoman Empire. Throughout her life she was known to have been a mystic, receiving visions of Our Lady, and also experienced religious ecstasies. In 1863, with the help of a patron, she was able to move to France where she worked as another Arab family’s cook. She felt the call to religious life while living there, she became a postulant with the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Apparition, but she was ultimately rejected admittance to the congregation. Undeterred, St. Mariam entered and was accepted into the Sisters of the Apostolic Carmel in 1867. She served in India, and eventually helped to found a new monastery in Bethlehem. She died there of cancer on August 26th, 1878, which is also kept as her feast day each year.
Greek Catholic Church
Since this particular Church is so small, and was only formed in the 19th century, there are no known men or women who have been canonized or beatified specifically from the Greek Catholic Church.
Bulgarian Catholic Church
While several people were martyred during the years Communism reigned in Bulgaria, one priest in particular is especially venerated, Blessed Kamen Vitchev. He was born in Thrace in 1893 and began his novitiate with the Assumptionists in Gemp when he was only 17. Following his ordination in 1921, Bl. Kamen traveled to Rome where he obtained a doctorate in theology. He traveled back to Bulgaria in 1930 and began teaching at the College of St Augustine in Plovidiv until the school was shuttered by the Communist government after World War II. He was arrested in July of 1952 for supposedly heading a Catholic conspiracy “to foment an imperialist war against the USSR, Bulgaria and the Popular Democracies”. He and 40 other Bulgarian Catholics, both Byzantine and Latin, were put on trial in September, and was found guilty of conspiracy and condemned to death in front of a firing squad. Bl. Kamen was martyred alongside two priests of the Latin Rite, Bl. Pavel Djidjov and Bl. Josaphat Chichkov, on November 11th, 1952. All three were beatified by St. John Paul on May 26th, 2002. Bl. Kamen’s feast day is celebrated on November 11th.
Russian Catholic Church
As this particular Church has technically existed for just over 100 years, there are most likely several Russians who have been declared saints, but only a few had any connection with the actual Russian Catholic Church. One of those men, is Blessed Leonid Feodorov. Bl. Leonid was the first Exarch of the Russian Catholic Church, following his conversion from Orthodoxy in 1902. Shortly following his conversion, he traveled to Vatican City where he began studying at a Jesuit seminary. He originally intended to embrace the Latin Rite, but after more studying, he realized that he should remain committed to the Byzantine Rite, and received Pope St. Pius X’s encouragement to do so. He transferred to the Russian Catholic Church, and was finally ordained a priest in 1911.
Upon his return to Russia, Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytsky of the Ukrainian Catholic Church appointed Bl. Leonid Feodorov as Exarch, and may have also secretly ordained Bl. Leonid as bishop. After the Bolsheviks had forced all Catholic parishes to close in 1922, Bl. Leonid and 16 other members of the clergy (and one lay man) were brought to trial in Moscow for “counter-revolutionary activities”. Bl. Leonid acted as his own attorney during the proceedings, and following this show trial, he was sentenced to ten years labor in the GULAG. He was later released, in 1929 to a small town where he was forced to make charcoal. Here, Bl. Leonid continued to teach the children of the village the catechism, but was transferred again after this was discovered. After suffering many years of harsh treatment, he died in 1935. He was later beatified by St. John Paul II in 2001. Bl. Leonid’s feast day is celebrated each year on March 7th.
Another saint who can be said to be related to the Russian Catholic Church, although he was canonically Ukrainian Catholic, would be. Bl. Clement Sheptytsky. He was the brother of Metropolitan (and Servant of God) Andrei Sheptytsky, and was named the exarch of the Russian Catholic Church following Bl. Leonid’s imprisonment. He was arrested by authorities from the Soviet Union in 1947, and was interrogated and tortured while being asked to renounce his Catholic faith and to submit to the Moscow Orthodox Patriarchate. He adamantly refused to abandon his Catholic faith and died in prison in 1951 due to the inhospitable conditions he lived through. He was beatified in 2001 by St. John Paul II, and his feast day is celebrated in the Universal Church, but especially in the various Churches of the Byzantine Rite, on May 1st.
Macedonian Catholic Church
As this particular Church was formed only in the beginning of the 20th century, we have to go farther back into Macedonia’s history to find a saint who is venerated often by the laity of this Church. St. Clement of Ohrid is one such saint, and is known as the patron saint of the entire Republic of Macedonia today. His origin, according to Butler’s Lives of the Saints, was that he was probably a Slav from southern Macedonia. He was born in the ninth century, and was a disciple of Ss. Cyril and Methodius. As the first bishop of Velitsa, he is regarded as one of the “seven apostles” of the Bulgarian Empire, and is typically credited for helping to create the Glagolitic and Cyrillic alphabets in order to bring ethnic Bulgarians and Macedonians to the Catholic faith. His feast is celebrated on July 27th.
Italo-Albanian Catholic Church
As this Church never broke communion with Rome, we can go back pretty far to find a saint that is widely venerated. That man would be St. Nilus of Rossano, the founder of monasticism for Italian Byzantine Catholics. St. Nilus lived in the 10th century and was born in present day Calabria. In his younger days, St. Nilus was described as lukewarm in his faith; the woman who bore him a daughter may not have been married to him. However, at the age of 30, both she and his daughter died, and he came to a great conversion which led him to live the life of a hermit before becoming abbot at St. Adrian’s Abbey. He was also known to write liturgical poetry. Near the end of his life, he set out to establish a new monastic community in the Alban hills, following a vision from the Blessed Mother. He fell ill soon after arriving there and died, but his successors carried on his vision and created the monastery of Grottaferrata. He is credited as the monastery’s first abbot and founder. The monastery still stands to this day as a territorial abbey. His feast day is celebrated on September 26th.
Another man, who was only just beatified a few months ago, venerated by Italo-Albanian Catholics is Blessed Josif Mihali. He was one of 38 Martyrs of Albania killed during the Communist regime in Albania from the end of World War II up until 1974. Bl. Josif was born in central Albania in 1912 to an Orthodox family. He later converted to Catholicism and studied for the priesthood at the same abbey founded by St. Nilus, and later at the Pontifical Greek College of St. Athanasius in Rome. He was ordained at the age of 23 in 1935 and returned to minister to those in Albania the following year. He was arrested by the Communist government in 1945 and was sentenced to 10 years of hard labor in a swampland. On October 26, 1948, after collapsing under the weight of the load he was carrying and from exhaustion, he was not allowed to be helped up by his fellow prisoners. The guards instead forced the other prisoners to bury him alive, and he died of suffocation. His beatification was approved by Pope Francis, and the ceremony took place on November 5th, 2016 with Cardinal Angelo Amato presiding. Bl. Josef’s feast day, along with the other 37 Martyrs of Albania, is celebrated on November 5th.