Recently in Lithuania, the war on religious believers has greatly escalated. The government has begun warring against even the aged, the invalid and the infirm. The KGB is looking for the sick little old man, Vladas Lapienis, and they have arrested the seriously ill Father Jonas Matulionis. Even more strangely — the saints too have drawn the ire of the government.
In celebrating the 500-year Jubilee of Saint Casimir, the government atheists did everything possible to play down the solemnity of the jubilee. For propaganda purposes, a jubilee medal was struck. But who got one? Even active church-goers had to be satisfied with merely seeing it. It was the same with the Saint Casimir Jubilee Catholic Calendar and the Catholic Calendar-Directory. In all ways and on all occasions, pompous announcements were made about these jubilee publications, only no one dared to tell how many of them were obtained by the faithful. Most of the faithful did not even see them, but propaganda was well served: — See how much religious liberty — the government publishes the Catholic Calendar!
May 4, 1985, marks the 500th anniversary of the death of Blessed Mykolas Giedraitis, but the government is not allowing this jubilee to be observed. The Commissioner of the Council for Religious Affairs, Petras Anilionis, forbade even a brief item about Blessed Mykolas Giedraitis to be included in the Catholic Calendar-Directory, lest the Church get the idea of arranging a celebration.
In spite of the difficulties, the Catholics of Lithuania are enthusiastically preparing to celebrate the 500th Jubilee of Blessed Mykolas Giedraitis' death.
We submit a biography of our fellow countryman, Blessed Mykolas Giedraitis, which Commissioner Petras Anilionis did not allow to be included in the "Catholic Calendar-Directory:
Lithuanian Christianity in its infancy quickly flowered into the fruits of holiness. The grandchildren of former pagan magnates, Kazimieras (Casimir) and Mykolas (Michael), merited the honor of being raised to the altar.
Mykolas, the descendent of the noble Giedraitis family, was born not far from Vilnius in Giedraičiai (according to other sources, in Videniškiai), in 1425. His health was frail and he was often alone, passing his days whittling.
While still a young man, Mykolas, feeling a calling to die religious life, applied to the monastery of the Canons Regular in Bistričiai (40 km northeast of Vilnius), and was accepted.
Not much later, the superior of the monastery took him to the Monastery of Saint Mark in Cracow. Here Mykolas completed his novitiate and was professed. He was assisted in familiarizing himself with the spiritual life by his confessor, Jonas.
The new religious lived in a small room right near the church. He was persevering in prayer, strictly faithful to the rule, and thorough in his spiritual exercises. In his room were a few sticks of furniture, and a few necessities. He ate the bare minimum, observing all fasts. From his entrance into religious life, he did not eat meat.
Physical imperfection resulted in an inclination to an introverted life, and a preference for solitude. Finding it difficult to adapt to the other brethren and to his environment, Mykolas disciplined himself to mingle, and to suffer in silence, and resolutely aspire to Christian perfection. The ascetic life of the monastery molded Mykolas' character and lifestyle. His order observed a strict rule. The religious practiced self-denial, and prayed the liturgical hours, not only by day, but also at night. Asceticism and strict observance of the rule were reinforced by the Provincial, Jonas Praniškis.
The driving force in Mykolas' interior life was devotion to the Cross standing in the center of the church. (Recently it has been transferred to a place near the main altar.) Meditating on the Crucified, he deepened his love of God and man. Constant meditation brought him to the prayer of comtemplation which was for him a source of unforgettable joy. By the richness of his interior life, Mykolas Giedraitis approached the frontier reached by the great mystics of the Middle Ages. Prior to his death, he told his brothers that while at prayer, he had heard these words of Christ, "Persevere patiently till death, and you will receive the crown of glory."
In the writings of the historian Albertas Kojalavičius, we find entries from the proceedings of the Academy of Cracow. From them we learn that Mykolas Giedraitis finished this academy in 1460: "At the University of General Studies of Cracow, the degree of
Bachelor of* Liberal Arts and Philosophy was conferred on Mykolas Giedraitis, Duke of Lithuania."
It should be noted that he was the first student in the fifteenth century from Lithuania to study at Jogaila's university.
Mykolas popularized the Order of Canons Regular most widely, even though there was no lack of other holy religious there. Bažnytinė enciklopedia (The Church Encyclopedia) calls him "the most precious pearl of the order".
The spiritual climate of the order was nurtured by the Franciscan preacher John Capistrano (later proclaimed a saint). The latter's ideas used to reach the minds of the young and inflame their hearts. Mykolas Giedraitis used to visit men of Cracow known for their learning and holiness. His friends were John Kanty (Saint), Isaiah Boneris (Blessed), Simon of Lipnica (Blessed), Stanislaw Kazmierczyk (Blessed) and Sventoslav the Quiet.
Spiritually perceptive individuals are especially sensitive to the proximity of holy people. For Mykolas, such an individual was another Lithuanian — Kazimieras Jogailaitis (Saint Casimir), with whom he used to meet. The devout prince, Saint Casimir, was at that time already considered the leader of the young nobles. Often in Cracow, he was well known to the intellectuals of the religious orders in the capital, for his education and his exemplary life.
Prince Casimir and Duke Mykolas Giedraitis were two personalities on the line of demarcation between the Middle Ages and modern times. Both of them in their youth drew strength of spirit from Lithuanian customs. They matured intellectually in the big-city climate of Cracow, under the obvious influence of Western culture. Both of them had a good educational foundation, which was available only in a monastic setting. Whether at the Jogailian university or at the royal court, both of them practiced penance and fasting, and lived lives of chastity and asceticism. Both of these noble Lithuanians were representative of Lithuania.
As personalities, they also demonstrate marked differences. Mykolas represents the ideal of medieval monastic holiness with its mystical way of life, its immersion in God and the secrets of the soul, withdrawn from the ways of the world. Casimir, thirty years younger, was a prince with a humanitarian renaissance education. He was the heir apparent to the throne known throughout Europe and participating in affairs of state, with the fate of many in his hands.
These two ascetical personalities, complementing each other, give us a composite of holiness. Mykolas Giedraitis died May 4, 1485, and was interred in the Church of Saint Mark in Cracow. Soon after, a biography of him was written which has not survived. A second biography was written by Professor Jonas Točintietis of the University of Cracow in 1545. From the middle of the 16th Century, Mykolas has been considered Blessed. Devotion to him flourished especially at the beginning of the seventeenth century, when the Diocese of Cracow was headed by the Lithuanian Cardinal, Jurgis Radvila. The remains of the blessed were transferred in 1624 to a sarcophagus at the Gospel side of the main altar in Saint Mark's Church. Over the sarcophagus hangs a portrait of the blessed, at the bottom of which are portrayed the Saints and Blessed of Cracow who were Mykolas' contemporaries. Also portrayed in the picture are eleven miracles which have taken place through the intercession of Mykolas. The favors and miracles granted are attested to by numerous votive gifts. Prayers to the blessed, approved by the bishop, were published in 1979.
Detailed information about the miracles can be learned from the biography written in the 17th Century. These are mostly cases of miraculous healing — children, women, laymen and fellow religious. Reports of the miracles testify that pilgrims used to come to the tomb of Mykolas from distant lands: the recovery of four soldiers wounded during the Siege of Moscow in 1614, the revival of a victim of drowning whose body had been in the waters of the Danube River at Budapest for three days. Contemporary written sources help us to realize how widely the fame of Mykolas Giedraitis had spread, and how strong was the devotion to the blessed. The sources testify that Mykolas experienced visions, and was known for the gift of prophecy and of charismatic healing.
In Lithuania, the reputation of the Blessed was spread by two brothers, the Headman Martynas Giedraitis (before 1621) and the bishop of the Samogitians, Merkelis Giedraitis (circa 1536-1609). In 1907, the Lithuanians petitioned the Vatican to declare Bishop Merkelis Giedraitis and Father Andrius Rudamina (a Jesuit missionary in China) saints. Also born in Giedraičiai was the later Bishop of the Samogitians, Jozefas Arnulfas Giedraitis (1754-1838), a participant in the Lithuanian movement among the Samogitians.
Headman Martynas Giedraitis built the church in Videniškiai and a monastery for the "White Augustinians". Here he outfitted the shrine of the Blessed Mykolas, with his portrait. In the church in the Town of Giedraičiai also is an altar with a portrait of the blessed. In it the youth Mykolas is portrayed prior to his entrance into religious life. (Several years ago the altar and painting were restored by the efforts of Zigmas Komaras.)
Also decorated with a portrait of Mykolas was the church in Tverečius. The Order of Canons Regular, or the "White'Augus-tinians, were installed by Feliksas Pacas in 1662. The proliferation of the Canons Regular in our country is connected with devotion to the Blessed Mykolas. They were engaged extensively in education in Vilnius (Užupis), Medininkai, Smalviai, Kvetkai, Suvainiškis, Salakas, Jūžintai, Kurkliai, Panemunė and Papilis, Mikailiškės, Marosas Mūriai (Byelorussian SSR) and elsewhere. In Poland there were five monasteries — in Cracow, Bogatynia, Pilzno, Tengobozh and Limanowa. (According to tradition, the Augustinians were invited to Lithuania by Vytautas the Great, circa 1410, and belonged to their Polish province. Their work included parish and mission work, education and the press. Suppressed by the Czarist Russian government, the order was never re-established in Lithuania. — Trans, note)
Today, devotion to the Blessed Mykolas Giedraitis continues as in earlier times at his tomb in Cracow. Devotion to him is also gradually reviving in his homeland, Lithuania. The case of the beatification of Mykolas has remained unfinished to this day. (Sic. The Encyclopedia Lituanica states, "He was beatified in 1544", Vol. 2, p. 329 — Trans. Note). On May 4, 1985, a great jubilee celebration will take place in Cracow. On May 4, 1984, a symposium took place there on the person of the Lithuanian religious and his era. It was organized by the faculty of the Liturgical Institute under the Faculty of Theology of Cracow. The proceedings of the symposium are being edited for publication. They will deal with such themes as the era of the Canons Regular, the cult, ascetics and iconography of Mykolas, the 15th Century crucifix, the Giedraičiai Madonna (15th Century) and votive pictures portraying miracles.
About twenty works have been written on Mykolas Giedraitis. The most important is a doctoral dissertation defended in Cracow in 1981 by the Reverend A. G. Dylys, entitled, "Blessed Mykolas Giedraitis, His Life and Cult" — a five hundred-page work.
Of old Lithuanian authors, worthy of mention is Visvainis Buke-vičius and his book, Ornament of the Divine Cross — The Rose of the Giedraitis Dynasty, (Cracow, 1682). The pages of the book are redolent with love of the native land, and the spiritual beauty of the blessed is extolled. The author rejoices that the young man coming from the land of flowering meadows and forests to the capital of the kingdom brought with him a high level of culture and brightness of soul.
May it become traditional for Lithuanians to draw close to the noble spiritual treasures of their fellow countrymen.