Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Studium Carpatho-Ruthenorum 2012

Want to learn Rusyn Language, Rusyn History and Rusyn Folklore? If so consider attending this years Studium Carpatho-Ruthenorum 2012 at the Prešov University in Prešov, Slovakia from June 10th to July 1st, 2012.

More information on the Studium Carpatho-Ruthenorum 2012 go to the C-RS website at: www.c-rs.org
But hurry...Registration must be sent by March 1st, 2012!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Carpatho-Rusyn ‘Big Supper’ Is Still Our Christmas Eve Celebration

Carpatho-Rusyn ‘Big Supper’ Is Still Our Christmas Eve Celebration 

We could have a turkey or ham, tasty side dishes and elaborate desserts to celebrate, but this simple, meatless one reminds us of our heritage.

When my grandmother came to the United States in 1907, she brought a steamer trunk with all her worldly possessions.

She also brought traditions steeped in the Byzantine Catholic heritage that formed the center of life for the peasant farmers and herders in her small village in the Carpathian Mountains, along what is now the Slovakian border with Poland.

One of those traditions is what our family calls “Big Supper,” the Christmas Eve Holy Supper celebrated by Carpatho-Rusyns (Ruthenians) and other eastern European nationalities.

We don’t follow most of the feast’s religious customs today—fasting before the meal, wheat at the table, clean white tablecloth, holy water and garlic. Nor do we drink the shots of whiskey before the meal (even children supposedly were given a few drops) or the legendary shots between each course (which, according to my dad, made for interesting singing at midnight Mass in the ethnic church).

My fondest memories of the supper are as a child, when the extended family—maybe 20 people at the peak— would crowd around a plywood table made with sawhorses in the living room of my grandmother’s one-room-wide house in Clairton. Steamed formed on the windows as the heat and aromas from cooking cabbage, percolating coffee, boiling potatoes and the gas stove filled the air.  
Adding to the atmosphere was the fact that my dad, aunts and uncles carried on most of the evening’s conversation with my grandmother in her native tongue, except for the occasional words like “A&P” or “income tax.” I only wish that more of her younger great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren, who never got to know her, could have had that tie to her past.

After the prayer came the food—bobalky (bread balls drenched in honey and poppy seed), mushroom soup, prunes, peas, mashed potatoes, cabbage and sauerkraut, pirohi (pierogies) and nut/apricot/poppy seed rolls.  Other families have such dishes as lentils, nuts and meatless holubski (cabbage stuffed with rice) on their tables, as the meal varied family to family and village to village.

Tradition holds that to honor the Christ child, everyone has to eat at least a small sampling of each course. The family tradition among the children, which continues today, was to see how microscopic a mushroom sliver can be. My Aunt Ann always made sure there was something more palatable for the children to look forward to after the meal, usually a Christmas ice cream treat for dessert.

The meal is supposed to have 12 courses, one for each of Christ’s disciples, but I never really counted as a child. My mom, after taking over the meal for our immediate family when my grandmother died, added fish as the fifth course after doing some research on the origins of the meal. She traded stewed prunes for ones soaked in port wine. And my mom also counted cookies, dessert and coffee to make sure there were 12 offerings.

Today, we have a little more elbow room as my brother’s and sister’s families, and mine, gather around the table. As is the tradition, my nephew (the oldest son of the oldest son) has the honor of lighting the candles on the same wooden altar that hung in my grandmother’s home.

After my mom died, my brother, sister and I took over the task of preparing the dishes. Because we just don’t have the time or talent to roll out the dough for homemade pirohis, we buy them instead (but never the supermarket varieties).

My daughter, who has great respect for family traditions, is likely to continue the meal for her own family someday, even though she isn’t fond of some of the courses. But if my son, a Food Network junkie, decides to continue it at all, I have no doubt he’ll spice it up to make it more gourmet and less “peasanty,” taking a more daring step than my mother did by adding port wine to the prunes.

As an 18-year-old, my grandmother bravely left her small rural village and ventured across the ocean—first to Braddock as a hotel maid, then to Clairton, where she raised her family after marrying my grandfather, who came from a village near hers to work in the mines and the mills here.

We really don’t know how much she changed “Big Supper” from the way her family observed it. And I guess, in the end, it’s less about changing the recipes and the observance, and more about preserving the spirit of a family gathering my grandmother held dear.

Vesele Vianoce, Baba! (Merry Christmas, Grandma!)

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Molody Rusyny

Tim Cuprisin January 14, 1958-November 23, 2011 - Vicnija Pamjat. Eternal Memory.

Tim Cuprisin, president and founding father of the Lake Michigan Chapter of the Carpatho-Rusyn Society and creator of its blog, passed away Wednesday, November 23 at home.
At the age of 20, the Chicago native graduated from the University of Central Michigan in 1978. He started his career as a police reporter at Chicago’s City News Bureau then moved on to the Green Bay Press-Gazette and USA Today before going to the Milwaukee Journal in 1986.   Included in his assignments were covering the impact of the fall of the Berlin Wall and communism on six Eastern European countries.  His long-time fascination with television programs led to a daily TV and radio column in the Milwaukee Journal (now the Journal Sentinel).  In 2009, he took his writing talents to OnMilwaukee.com.

On March 13, 2010, Tim met with 15 people from Northwest Indiana, the Greater Chicago area and Wisconsin at the Polish Museum in Chicago to create the Lake Michigan Chapter of the Carpatho-Rusyn Society.  With his vast knowledge of his Carpatho-Rusyn heritage, Tim was unanimously elected president.  The first event of the new chapter in June 2010 drew 104 people to hear National C-RS President John Righetti’s talk “Who are the Rusyns?”.  According to Righetti, it was a record number for a first-time event held by any of its chapters.  

In the year and a half since that first public meeting, more than 300 people have attended at least one event sponsored by the chapter.  Those events include hosting the author of The Linden and the Oak Mark Wansa for the first celebration of Carpatho-Rusyn Day, newly instituted by the World Council of Rusyns in 2010.  Other undertakings of the organization include a genealogy workshop focusing on Eastern European resources and a pysanky workshop where attendees learned how to turn eggs in works of art using wax, a stylus and dye just as their ancestors had done in “The Old Country”.   Conversations at the Rusyn New Year’s potluck luncheon focused what was or wasn’t on the attendees' Christmas Eve Holy Supper table now or when they were growing up.  Pagach and pirohi were a big hit and quickly disappeared.
Tim's last appearance
Tim’s last public appearance was at the Lake Michigan Chapter’s Carpatho-Rusyn Day luncheon in October which celebrated 100 plus years of Rusyns in Northwest Indiana and recognition of the 100th anniversaries of St. Michael Byzantine Catholic Church and Protection of the Virgin Mary Orthodox Church.  An avid collector of all things related to his ethnic background, his presentation featured early 20th century photographs of Rusyn immigrant life, the six churches they founded around the tip of Lake Michigan and a Pepsi Cola ad with the sales pitch in Rusyn.  History Professor Jim Lane of Indiana University Northwest and the Northwest Indiana Archives explained what brought the immigrants to northwest Indiana, far from their arrival ports on the east coast.

Tim’s determination to preserve his ethnic identity and his access to media resources led him to create the chapter’s blog which features news about Rusyns here and abroad. The hunger of Carpatho-Rusyns for information about their heritage and what was happening to other Rusyns brought hits from across the globe.  The Lake Michigan Chapter board will continue the blog.
At the time of his death, Tim was also working on a book about Andy Warhol, a world-renowned Rusyn artist, as well as a murder mystery set in Chicago.

Tim is survived by his brothers John, Ken and Dave, a sister Elaine Black and his partner Sharon Boeldt as well as numerous nieces and nephews.  He was preceded in death by his parents John and Helen (Cordak) Cuprisin and niece Leslie Cuprisin.

A celebration of his life held Saturday, December 3 brought about 200 people to the Schmidt and Bartelt Funeral Home in Mequon, Wisconsin.  Speakers included his brother Ken, Fr. Thomas Mueller of St. Cyrill and Methodius Orthodox Church in Milwaukee, friends Jim Rowan, Andy Tarnoff and Meg Kissinger and his god daughter, Molly Boynton.  Carpatho-Rusyn Society Lake Michigan Chapter members Fr. William Conjelko and Fr. John Lucas closed the memorial with leading the singing of the traditional Rusyn funeral hymn Vicnija Pamjat/Eternal Memory.
Donations to a media scholarship in Tim’s name may be directed to the Hoffman York Foundation, 1000 N. Water St., Suite 1600, Milwaukee, WI, 53202.  Donations in his name may also be made to Mayo Clinic's Melanoma Research Program at www.mayoclinic.org/development or mailed to Department of Development, Mayo Clinic, 200 First St. SW, Rochester, MN 55905.
On January 14, 2012, the Lake Michigan Chapter will pay tribute to its first president at its annual Rusyn New Year Potluck.


by Nancy Revak (nsrevak@aol.com)

IT'S FINALLY HERE!!  The first edition of Introduction to Rusyn Language and Culture will be
available shortly after the first of the year.  It was a long time in the making, but it was well worth the wait.  English speakers will now have an easy way to start learning to read, write and speak the Rusyn language on their own.   
What Took So Long? 
In case you're wondering, this is how it happened.  For more than 10 years, I had been working on behalf of C-RS to find ways to provide Rusyn language instruction—consistently a top request of C-RS members.  I researched endless possibilities—from providing classes locally, to conducting webinars, to developing a sophisticated, computer-based course through Rosetta Stone.  But all had obstacles that made them unfeasible—the major ones being cost and finding a native Rusyn language speaker who could also teach Rusyn to English speakers.  
In 2007, I met with Halina Malecka, a native Lemko Rusyn and high school Russian-language teacher who had been successfully teaching the Rusyn language to young schoolchildren and teens in Gorlice, Poland, for several years.  Halina agreed to develop a similar course for C-RS.  And in June 2008, she conducted the Rusyn Language Study Abroad program at the Ruska Bursa in Gorlice.  Student feedback about the course and Halina's teaching was overwhelmingly positive.  
With Halina's permission, I presented her 45-page student workbook and accompanying CD
demonstrating correct pronunciation to C-RS, proposing that we use them as the basis for developing our own elementary self-study course.  

After careful consideration, C-RS agreed.   Attorney Jim Kaminski (C-RS Vice President) and I  worked out a licensing agreement with Halina giving C-RS permission to use her work to develop a course for English speakers in North America.  Being a professional writer and instructional designer with many years experience developing self-study courses in the corporate world, I volunteered to develop the course for C-RS. 
Jim Murray, a retired language professor and linguist with a flair for the Rusyn language, volunteered to be the Rusyn-language subject-matter expert.  He and I were both educators.  And we both had attended Halina's class in Gorlice (and would later attend the 2010 Rusyn summer school in Presov, Slovakia).  So we had first-hand knowledge of the difficulties beginners had learning the Rusyn language. 

Instead of a scholarly work, the self-study course would be aimed at ordinary people who simply wanted an easy way to begin learning the basics of the Rusyn language without the need for an instructor.  Since Rusyns write in the Cyrillic alphabet, not the transliterated Latin alphabet found in some publications, the focus would be on teaching Rusyn Cyrillic—both printed and handwritten (cursive).  The course also had to be applicable for anyone wanting to learn the Rusyn language, regardless of the variant (Lemko, Presov, Transcarpathian, or Vojvodinian/Pannonian).  

The first thing Jim and I did was try to recall the things Halina had taught in class beyond what was in her workbook.  Then I set about redesigning the workbook, reorganizing some of the original content, creating a new layout and formatting to make it appropriate for self-study, and designing a new cover.
To set the stage, I decided to write a section about the Carpatho-Rusyns, their history and culture.  But first, I researched numerous books, articles and websites to collect information and interesting details not often addressed. 

Most beginners struggle with learning the Rusyn language simply because they don't know the Rusyn alphabet well enough.  So I developed a section devoted entirely to learning the Rusyn alphabet first, before embarking on the language lessons.  This foundation would enable learners to more easily recognize the Rusyn Cyrillic letters and sound them out so they could focus on learning words and their meanings instead of getting hung up on the alphabet. 
Next, I worked on expanding the language lessons by adding more topics, more information about the Rusyn language, many more words, more practice exercises, and important instructional material.  Jim provided the Rusyn grammar; verified the accuracy of all the Rusyn words, their spellings and meanings; and translated the reading passages from Rusyn into English.  To build the vocabulary, I sometimes gave Jim Rusyn words to verify.  Other times, I just gave him a list of English words, and he supplied the Rusyn words.  Every time, he referred to his various Rusyn language dictionaries, grammars and other resources to make sure everything was correct. 
Unfortunately, developing the course presented some unanticipated technical difficulties.  For instance: 
  • To develop the new workbook, I had to work from the electronic version of the original workbook.  But the original had been created in a Polish language version of Microsoft Word and contained Rusyn fonts and styles not available in my English version of Word.  
  •  We received the original workbook in PDF format, which had to be converted to be used.  But the conversion presented other problems.  The document retained its original formatting, fonts and macros, which could not be deleted and conflicted with what I had set up.  Many of the Cyrillic printed and written examples didn't convert and were lost.  So they had to be recreated.  For some unknown reason, big blocks of text would suddenly drop off and the formatting would go crazy.  As a result, I lost a lot of valuable time repeatedly re-entering lost text. fixing formatting and font errors, and cutting and pasting.     
  •  Not having access to the original software, keyboard and fonts, I was unable to enter Rusyn text as words and sentences.  Instead, I had to look up all the Cyrillic letters as symbols and insert them individually—one symbol at a time.  Not a speedy way to type.
  •  The Rusyn words pronounced on the CD referred to the unit and exercise numbers in the original workbook.  Since I couldn't change the CD or exercise numbers, I had to figure out how to add new topics, exercises, grammar and vocabulary without messing up the numbers on the CD. 
Development took a long time and many drafts. There was a lot of pressure to get the course completed faster.  But Jim and I were not willing to compromise quality for expedience—especially after all the time and effort we had expended trying to get things right.  We refused to put out something we wouldn't be proud of. 

Finally, in October 2011, I sent a complete mock-up of the course to John Righetti (C-RS President) to review and present at the C-RS Annual Meeting.  Even though the workbook was not yet perfect, the response was terrific.  John has since edited the workbook (with Mrs. Michalina Mihalasky verifying the Rusyn words), and I am starting to make the necessary revisions.  With time off for the holidays, I expect to have the final course ready to go in the beginning of 2012. 

What's So Special About The C-RS Course?
Introduction to Rusyn Language and Culture is the first Rusyn language course of its kind.  In addition to being a self-study, it has a CD recorded by native Rusyn speakers that demonstrates correct pronunciation.  So you can easily start learning to read, write and speak the Rusyn language and building a sizeable Rusyn vocabulary. 
  • Here are some of the other course highlights.    Significantly Expanded Workbook.  The new workbook has more than six times the learning content of the original workbook, including a much larger vocabulary.
  •  Carpatho-Rusyn Background.  The information about the Rusyn people, their history and culture paints a colorful backdrop that makes the language lessons more meaningful.  It covers Rusyn life from early times, under serfdom, during World Wars I and II, under communist rule, to the present day. It also addresses the Lemko resettlements to Ukraine and Akcja Wisla.  
  •  Easy-to-Follow Language Lessons.  The language lessons are organized into eight units, and each unit contains a number of exercises with easy-to-follow instructions.  The exercises are like building blocks. They not only introduce you to something new, but they also reinforce things you learned previously.   Just as importantly, you can progress at your own pace, studying as few or as many lessons at a time as you like.   
  • Learning to Read, Write and Pronounce Rusyn Cyrillic.   A lot of attention is paid up front to learning to read, write and pronounce each letter of the Rusyn Cyrllic alphabet correctly.  The objective is to help you link each letter to its sound automatically.  Before you know it, reading, writing and pronouncing Rusyn starts to become second nature.  
  •  Words in Cyrillic, Transliterated and English.  Even though the course focuses on teaching you to read, write and pronounce Rusyn Cyrillic—both printed and handwritten (cursive) —their transliterated spellings are also shown for pronunciation reference.  So when new Rusyn words are introduced, they are shown in Cyrillic, transliterated Latin, and English.
  •  Repetition, Repetition, Repetition.  A considerable amount of repetition is purposely given to writing and pronouncing the Rusyn letters and words.  This repetition is extremely important.  It's what helps you learn to recognize and pronounce the letters without thinking and memorize the words.     
  •  Rusyn Language Bookmark.  This specially designed learning aid has the Rusyn alphabet printed on one side.  Each Cyrillic letter is shown in its printed and written forms (both upper and lower case) along with its pronunciation.  So you can use it to mark your place as you progress through the course as well as a quick alphabet reference if you get stuck.
  •  Audio CD.  The CD lets you hear the correct pronunciation of Rusyn words found in some of the exercises.  Hearing the words and repeating them helps you perfect your own pronunciation.  You can get more practice pronouncing the words you've learned by listening to the CD in your car or on your CD player or iPod. The CD also includes some traditional Rusyn songs whose lyrics are in the workbook.  So you can have fun learning the songs as you sing along. 
  •  Extensive Rusyn Vocabulary.  Approximately 1,000 Rusyn words are taught in the course.  They include words for people, places, and things (objects, foods, plants, animals, etc.), as well as greetings, expressions, emotions, attitudes, personal characteristics and more.  There are even examples of typical Rusyn first names (male and female) and surnames.  
  •  Grammar Where Needed.  The information on Rusyn grammar helps you understand Rusyn syntax (word order) and gives you examples of the declension patterns of nouns and conjugation patterns of verbs.  To make learning easier for beginners, the course focuses on Rusyn in the nominative (dictionary) case and present tense.  
  •  Rusyn Traditions.  Rusyn traditions, such as Easter and the Christmas Eve Holy Supper, are described in detail in the language lessons.  This makes the language come alive.  Besides learning the appropriate greetings for these important Rusyn celebrations, you learn the names of the various foods, their descriptions and significance.    
  •  Reading Passages.  Sample dialogs, poems and sayings give you practice reading, writing and speaking Rusyn in sentences, phrases and paragraphs.  Their English translations help you understand their general meanings.   
  •  Self-Checks.  These are sprinkled throughout the exercises so you can periodically check to see how you're doing.  They also help you identify any trouble spots you may need to go back and study again later.
  •  Answer Key.  This contains the correct answers to exercises so you can check your own answers against them.   
  •  Traditional Rusyn Songs and Prose.  There are more than a dozen of them.  The Rusyn lyrics are also shown in English, thanks to Jerry Jumba.  A number of the songs are on the CD so you can learn to sing them.    
  •  Bibliography.  All the books, articles, and websites used to research content for the course and information about the Rusyn language are listed here.  The list also serves as suggested reading if you want to learn more about the Carpatho-Rusyns and their language.  
What's next?
Depending on the success of Introduction to Rusyn Language and Culture, C-RS will consider developing one or more follow-on options.  One idea is to produce a glossary/dictionary of the Rusyn words found in Introduction to Rusyn Language and Culture and their meanings.  Another is to develop an intermediate self-study course that builds on Introduction to Rusyn Language and Culture, focuses on Rusyn conversation, and covers the other cases and tenses.   

There is a questionnaire at the back of Introduction to Rusyn Language and Culture workbook.  Learners are asked to complete and return it to C-RS with their feedback about the course and suggestions for additional language instruction.  So we will have to wait and see. 

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Eternal Memory To Our Father in Christ His Eminence, Metropolitan Nicholas

 Metropolitan Nicholas
Reposes In The Lord

JOHNSTOWN, PA - His Eminence, Metropolitan Nicholas, 75, spiritual leader of the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese of the U.S.A., reposed in the Lord today, March 13, 2011 after waging a courageous battle with cancer. 

All Diocesan Clergy and Faithful are asked at this time to remember the Newly Reposed +Metropolitan Nicholas as well as his brothers George and Michael and the entire Smisko Family in their prayers.
May Almighty God rest His Newly Departed Servant, Our God-Loving Metropolitan Nicholas in the Heavenly Mansions, where there is neither sickness, sorrow or pain, but Life Everlasting!
May His Memory Be Eternal!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Carpatho-Rusyn Greek Catholic Churches

The Carpatho-Rusyn Greek Catholic Churches

For more than a millennium, Central Europe’s Carpatho-Rusyns have been engulfed in a violent whirl of Magyar, Germanic and Slavic antagonism. Always subjugated, Rusyn peasants toiled the soil, kept the livestock or cut the timber of their Hungarian, Austrian or Polish masters. Such conditions, coupled with centuries of serfdom and forced assimilation, hardly favored the development of a distinct Rusyn identity. Nevertheless, among the Rusyns such an identity did develop, sowed by their distinct Slavic language, nurtured by their Byzantine Christianity — which they received from Sts. Cyril and Methodius in the late ninth century — and reinforced by their full communion, or unia, with the church of Rome.

Today, fewer than 900,000 Rusyn Greek Catholics are scattered throughout Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, North America, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia and Ukraine. A unified church, gathering them all under one mantle, does not exist. Rusyn Greek Catholics — also called Ruthenians — make up three distinct churches that, while sharing the same origins, traditions and culture, remain independent of each other.

• In the United States, the Metropolitan Byzantine Archeparchy of Pittsburgh, with its three dependent eparchies of Parma, Passaic and Phoenix, is a particular or sui iuris church. It includes about 93,000 members.
• The Eparchy of Mukacevo in Subcarpathian Ukraine, which numbers about 375,000 people, is dependent directly on the Holy See.
• The Apostolic Exarchate for Byzantine Catholics in the Czech Republic is also dependent on the Holy See and counts 178,000 members.

Rusyn Greek Catholics also belong to various jurisdictions of the Greek Catholic churches of Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, Ukraine and the former Yugoslavia. Complicating matters further, substantial numbers of Rusyns, all formerly Greek Catholic, have created communities within various Orthodox churches in North America, Poland and the Czech and Slovak republics. However, with the exception of the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church — an eparchy formed in Pittsburgh in 1939 under the jurisdiction of the ecumenical patriarchate in Constantinople — their Rusyn identity has largely eroded.
Origins. As the churches of the East and the church of Rome parted company — particularly after the Great Schism in 1054 — Rusyn peasants scattered throughout the Carpathian Mountains of Central Europe remained attached to their Orthodox Byzantine Christian faith.

Though they shared the same customs and rites as their northeastern neighbors (modern Ukrainians), Rusyns adapted these rites, making them their own. Fortified by the monks of St. Nicholas Monastery, an ancient foundation located near Mukacevo (a town in modern Ukraine), Rusyns built their unique wooden churches, wrote their icons and sang their plainchant, or prostopinije, all contributing to the creation of a distinctive Subcarpathian Rusyn Orthodox church.

Though held in contempt by the Hungarian ruling class, Rusyn bishops served as both secular and spiritual shepherds. Bishops came from the local community and were elected by a council of monks from St. Nicholas Monastery.

Cataclysmic events in the 16th and early 17th centuries — the Protestant Reformation, the Ottoman Turkish invasion of Central Europe, the decline of the Hungarian kingdom and the rise of the Austrian Hapsburg dynasty — altered the fortunes of the Rusyns and the confessional dynamics of the region.

In April 1646, in the chapel of the castle in the city of Užhorod, 63 Rusyn Orthodox priests entered into full communion with Rome. Supported by his priests’ profession in Užhorod and fueled by the zeal of the monks of St. Nicholas Monastery, Parfenii Petrovych, Orthodox bishop of Mukacevo, led his entire church into full communion with Rome less than 20 years later.

Until Pope Clement XIV erected the Greek Catholic Eparchy of Mukacevo in 1771, however, Rusyn Greek Catholic bishops functioned as vicars of the Hungarian Roman Catholic bishops of Eger. And Rusyn priests — most of whom were married — were subordinate to Hungarian Roman Catholic pastors. In 1780, the seat of the Rusyn Greek Catholic bishop, while retaining its ancient name, moved from Mukacevo to nearby Užhorod, where a seminary had been established a few years earlier.

Rusyn awakening. The 19th century, particularly after the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte, ushered in an intellectual movement that sparked the rise of national movements throughout Europe, including one among the Rusyns.
Led largely by Rusyn Greek Catholic priests from the eparchies of Mukacevo and Prešov (erected in 1818), this stirring of Rusyn consciousness inspired the publication of the first Rusyn-language primer, the documentation of ancient folk songs and hymns and the creation of lyric poems and stories. Works such as “The Song of the Evil Landlord” and “Life of a Rusyn” give some understanding of the lives of the Rusyns under their Hungarian rulers. With the creation of the Austro-Hungarian Dual Monarchy in 1867, a rejuvenated Hungarian government unleashed an aggressive campaign to wipe out a national movement among its Rusyn citizens — ironically, the same sort of movement that had inspired a Hungarian uprising against Austrian Hapsburg rule less than 20 years earlier.

Though most Rusyn Greek Catholic leaders opposed this campaign of assimilation, several bishops (particularly those in Prešov) went along with it, suppressing the use of Rusyn in schools and asserting a Hungarian identity.

Distressed by this assimilation policy, the self-appointed “Godfather of all Slavs,” Tsar Nicholas I of Russia, encouraged Greek Catholic Rusyns to return to Orthodoxy, which he claimed would uphold Rusyn traditions. The move also destabilized the multinational Austro-Hungarian Empire, Russia’s rival.

This “back to the old faith” movement outlived the Dual Monarchy, Hungarian sovereignty of the Rusyn Subcarpathian homeland and the tsar. It reached a climax in the 1920’s, when tens of thousands of Greek Catholic Rusyns — citizens of the newly created Czechoslovakia — embraced Orthodoxy.

Emigration. Beginning in the late 19th century, an estimated 200,000 Rusyns immigrated to the United States, settling in the industrialized areas of Connecticut, Indiana, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Lured by employment agents of the mines and mills, they quarried coal and forged steel, enriching their employers and building a nation. And though working conditions were wretched, many Rusyn immigrants believed they lacked nothing except a church in which they could worship God in keeping with the traditions of their ancestors.

Fueled by faith and freed from the oppression choking the old country, Rusyn immigrants banded together. They formed associations and, from the collected dues, donations and interest-free personal loans, they built their churches, modest reminders of home.

The Greek Catholic Union, a fraternal organization founded in 1892 in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, provided economic, legal and moral support to many emerging Rusyn Greek Catholic parishes. Contrary to the usual Roman Catholic practice in the United States, however, the Rusyn laity, with the backing of the Greek Catholic Union, not only built but owned their churches. And the priests who celebrated the sacred mysteries, while sent by their bishops, were solicited, retained and supported by the trustees of the parish. Also contrary to usual U.S. Roman Catholic practice, most of these priests were, in keeping with the norms of the Greek Catholic tradition, married.

Crisis and schism. Wounded by cries of “Americanism” and “Modernism” hurled by critics in Europe — and unfamiliar with Greek Catholic traditions — some U.S. Roman Catholic bishops (who had oversight of Greek Catholic parishes) denied married or widowed priests the faculties necessary to carry out their ministries.

Father Alexis Toth (1853-1909), the son of a Greek Catholic priest, a former seminary professor and a widower from the Rusyn Greek Catholic Eparchy of Prešov, sought the jurisdiction of a Russian Orthodox bishop in San Francisco. He did so after Roman Catholic Archbishop John Ireland of St. Paul denied him the faculties to guide a Rusyn Greek Catholic parish in Minneapolis.

In 1891, the parish embraced Orthodoxy, launching a pro-Orthodox movement among American Rusyn Greek Catholics. By the time of Father Toth’s death, more than 25,000 Rusyn Greek Catholics in the United States entered the Russian Orthodox Church. Ironically, their acceptance of Russian Orthodoxy subsequently contributed to the loss of their Rusyn traditions and the acceptance of a more dominant Russian identity.
This movement prompted the U.S. Greek Catholic community (which in addition to Rusyns included Croats, Hungarians, Slovaks and Ukrainians) to petition the Holy See for a Greek Catholic bishop, which, they hoped, would be able to represent their church with equanimity and defend their rights and prerogatives.
Bishop Soter Ortynsky’s arrival in the United States in August 1907 coincided with the publication of “Ea Semper.” This apostolic letter delineated the new bishop’s duties (an auxiliary to Roman Catholic bishops) and modified several Greek Catholic customs and practices, calling for withholding confirmation from infants at baptism (the sacrament was to be conferred on persons of suitable age by bishops, not priests, as in the Roman Catholic tradition) and stipulating that married priests were not to be ordained in the United States or sent from abroad.

Sensing the erosion of their Greek Catholic identity, Rusyn-Americans protested the appointment. Bolstered by their fraternal societies, Rusyn-Americans also identified the bishop as an advocate of the apostolic letter, a friend of the Ukrainian nationalist movement and, therefore, their foe.

Following the bishop’s death in 1916, the Holy See established two separate Greek Catholic administrations (in 1924 these were elevated to apostolic exarchates). One was erected in Philadelphia for Ukrainians and a second in Pittsburgh for Greek Catholic Rusyns, Croatians, Hungarians and Slovaks. By 1929, there were some 150 Rusyn Greek Catholic parishes throughout the United States, embracing almost 300,000 members.
The calm that followed the erection of the exarchates, however, did not last. In 1929, a new decree from the Holy See, “Cum Data Fuerit,” enforced not only clerical celibacy, but called for the legal transfer of all church properties to the respective Greek Catholic bishops. The decree shook the entire Greek Catholic community, regardless of ethnic background.

The desire of Rusyn-Americans to maintain their Eastern Christian faith, or stara vira (old faith), and the privileges and rites associated with it, would eventually split the community. Though the Rusyn Greek Catholic Exarch of Pittsburgh, Bishop Basil Takach, requested that Rome reconsider its stand on the ordination of married clergy in the United States, some 37 Rusyn Greek Catholic parishes rebelled and eventually sought union with the Orthodox ecumenical patriarchate of Constantinople. Today, 75 parishes and missions, numbering more than 50,000 people, make up the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church.
New World stability. Despite these bewildering conflicts, the Rusyn Greek Catholic Church in the United States flourished. Perhaps in response to its earlier ethnic trials, its bishops encouraged an “American” character after World War II.

This Americanization of the Rusyn Greek Catholic Church, however, tended toward Latinization. An abbreviated Divine Liturgy was now recited in English; use of the church’s lovely plainchant in Church Slavonic all but disappeared. And in many churches, the iconostasis, or wall of icons separating sanctuary and nave, was reduced, simplified or removed; side altars with Byzantine-style images, resembling the ordering of Roman Catholic sanctuaries, were erected in their place. Nevertheless, participation in church activities was highly enthusiastic and vocations to the priesthood and religious life increased.

In 1963, Pope Paul VI divided the Apostolic Exarchate of Pittsburgh into two eparchial sees. One eparchy was established in Pittsburgh and a second in Passaic, New Jersey. A third was created in 1969 in Parma, Ohio. That same year, Paul VI established the Eparchy of Pittsburgh as a metropolitan see, with Passaic and Parma as suffragan sees. In 1981, Pope John Paul II created a third eparchy in Van Nuys, California, which has since moved to Phoenix.

European revival. After World War I, communities that made up the Rusyn Greek Catholic eparchies of Mukacevo and Prešov were incorporated into the newly created republic of Czechoslovakia. But trouble surfaced in 1939 when Hitler dismembered the republic, absorbed Czech lands and created a fascist Slovak puppet state that ruthlessly suppressed ethnic minorities, including the Rusyn Greek Catholics of Mukacevo and Prešov.

At the conclusion of World War II, the Soviets annexed parts of the Subcarpathian basin — including Mukacevo and neighboring Užhorod — and incorporated these Rusyn areas into the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. Prešov remained in Soviet-controlled Czechoslovakia.

The Soviets ruthlessly persecuted the Rusyn Greek Catholic Church. They shut the doors of the seminary in Užhorod in 1946, murdered Bishop Theodore Romža of Mukacevo a year later and forced Rusyn Greek Catholics into the Orthodox Church in 1949.

The Soviets and their allies squashed any lingering remains of a Rusyn Greek Catholic identity, driving such sentiments underground. The church, nevertheless, survived. The Greek Catholic Eparchy of Prešov in Czechoslovakia was restored after the liberal government reforms of 1968; however, the Rusyn Greek Catholic eparchy assumed a Slovak identity, which it retains to this day.

In Soviet Ukraine, the Eparchy of Mukacevo resurfaced in 1989, but its Rusyn identity was questioned and tried. In 1993, the Holy See reaffirmed the eparchy’s unique relationship to the Holy See, declining to incorporate it into the much larger Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.

In 1996, Pope John Paul II erected an exarchate for Greek Catholics in the Czech Republic, officially classifying it as a “Ruthenian” jurisdiction. The exarchate was created, not only to care for the pastoral needs of Greek Catholic Rusyns and Slovaks living in the Czech Republic, but to regularize the orders of married Latin priests ordained secretly during the Communist era.

While a unified church may not yet exist, European and North American Rusyn Greek Catholics work together, assisting one another with financial and personnel support. This support is not limited to Greek Catholics alone. Guided by the ecumenical movement and encouraged by the foundation of nonpartisan societies dedicated to the study of Carpatho-Rusyn genealogy, history, literature and religion, relations among Rusyns of all faiths press forward. On the occasion of the centennial anniversary of the printing of the first official compilation and manual of the prostopinije (late June 2006), the then apostolic administrator of the Greek Catholic Eparchy of Mukacevo, Bishop Milan Sasik, C.M., invited all eparchies rooted in the church of Mukacevo, Greek Catholic and Orthodox, to a conference in Užhorod.

“Our liturgical plainchant tradition identifies us, unites us and distinguishes us as one church in the Byzantine tradition,” he said. “The testimony of this common usage is an important reason to celebrate together.”

Michael La Civita is CNEWA’s Assistant Secretary for Communications.