This calendar of saints is drawn from several denominations, sects, and traditions. Although it will no longer be updated daily, the index on the right will guide visitors to a saint celebrated on any day they choose. Additional saints will be added as they present themselves to Major.

Monday, March 25, 2013

March 25 -- Feast of Blessed Emilian Kovch

Blessed Emilian, whose last name is also transliterated Kowcz, was born in Kosmach, Ukraine, in 1894.  A Greek Catholic priest from a family of priests, he married in 1911, was ordained in 1912, and eventually had six children.  [The Greek Catholic Church is in full communion with Rome but has its own rites and rules, including no celibacy requirement for clergy.] 

Father Emilian served as a front-line in the Ukrainian Army during the Polish-Ukrainian War of 1919-1921.  When asked about the danger, he replied, "You know, lads, that I am consecrated, and  a bullet does not easily take a consecrated man."  Perhaps not; he was not shot, but he was captured and imprisoned.  After the war, he worked as a parish priest, organizing for the poor, educating the children, and all those good things parish priests do.  He also ran afoul of the Polish authorities by advocating Ukrainian independence.  This landed him back in prison for a spell. 

When the Soviets rolled through the Ukraine into eastern Poland (following the Molotov-Ribbentrop Non-Aggression Pact), lots of Ukrainians started in on their Polish neighbors.  Father Emilian took it to them, reminding them about turned cheeks and loving neighbors and all that.  Between '39 and '41, the Soviets combined deportations and murders in the Ukraine topped 300,000.  Emilian and two of his daughters were taken prisoner but escaped just as the invading German army arrived in 1941.  The retreating Red Army murdered all the prisoners before leaving, aware that many Ukrainians saw the Nazis as liberators. 

Father Emilian did not perceive the Nazis that way.   He interrupted the fire-bombing of a local synagogue (oddly, the Nazis involved stood down when he ordered them to desist in German), saving many of the folks trapped inside.  He arranged baptisms, singly at first and then en masse, so that Jews could be recorded as Christians and not deported.  He had covered and then sheltered at least 1000 Jews before he got busted by the Gestapo.  When questioned about this by a Nazi officer, he readily admitted that he performed these baptisms with full knowledge that it was illegal, and further declared that he would continue the baptisms if he remained free. 

In the Majdanek Concentration Camp (surely you knew he would be sent to a camp), he ministered to all prisoners as much as he could.  In a letter he posted to his family, he wrote of the equality of all groups -- Poles, Jews, Ukrainians, Russians, Latvians.  He wrote at length about his mission to bring comfort and absolution to those who were suffering and would die. 

In 1943, with his own health failing, Father Emilian was transferred to the hospital ward.  If you've read much about the camps, you know that lethal injections were common in camp infirmaries.  Although the death certificate for Emilian Kovch was not issued until 1972, the records indicate that he died of an infection on March 24, 1944 and his body was cremated in the ovens. 

Much has been said about the simplicity of choosing sides in WWII.  Evil was evil and good was good.  Maybe, but courage (and the faith that nourished it) do not change in the face of ambiguous evil.  We may be less certain of the morality in a situation, but we must not be less courageous when the evil is manifest. 

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