09 July 2006

A church view on the history of the Carpatho-Rusin people

This article was taken from the byzcath website and it describes the church's view of the history of the Carpatho-Rusin people. I note here that this is the church view because it is important to realize that historically the faith was not under Rome. In fact the form of faith was orthodox and later when joined with the 'See of Rome' it maintained the eastern traditions of orthodoxy but there are other distinct differences that distinguish catholicism and orthodoxy.

beginning of article -

The most striking feature of the Carpatho-Rusin homeland is its mountainous terrain. Located just south of the crests of the Carpathian Mountains, the land, which averages 2,000 feet in elevation, is covered with forests and lined with narrow, arable valleys. The rugged landscape obviously restricted the choices of livelihoods of the people dwelling in the region. Given the rugged topography, industrialization never took place. Instead, the people of this region, who for the most part lived in small, scattered villages numbering no more than a few hundred residents, scratched out a minimal, subsistence-level existence as shepherds, loggers or small-scale farmers.

Living in the center of Europe had profound consequences on the development of the Carpatho-Rusin people. By straddling the border between the East and the West, the Carpatho-Rusin people were strongly influenced by a complex set of cultural, political and religious forces from both areas.

The area of Central Europe was initially settled by tribal peoples from territories immediately to the north and east beyond the Carpathian Mountains in what is the present day Ukraine. Thus, the very name of the Carpatho-Rusin people is of Eastern origin. It is derived from the word "Rus," which is the name given to the early Slavic peoples who migrated to and eventually inhabited this area of the European continent.

The language of the Carpatho-Rusin people also reflected its Eastern orientation. The language is an East-Slavic dialect and is written in the Cyrillic alphabet which was developed by St. Cyril, the missionary monk, who with his brother, Methodius, brought Christianity to the Slavs in the ninth century. Thus, the Carpatho-Rusin language is grammatically and etymologically related to other East-Slavic languages--Russian, Byelorussian and, in particular, Ukrainian.

The eastern ethnic, linguistic and religious origins and orientation of the Carpatho-Rusin people, however, were opposed by strong influences from the West. By the end of the first millennium, the Rusins of the Carpathians had been joined to the political, religious and cultural world of Kievan Rus', which included the area of the future "Kingdom of Galicia." Gradually, with the decline of these states, first the Carpatho-Rusin lowlands and then the highlands were annexed to the neighboring Kingdom of Hungary, a domination that would last, ultimately, until 1918.

Living as part of a country which was officially Roman Catholic had a lasting socioeconomic and cultural impact on the Carpatho-Rusins. By the late 16th and 17th centuries, the steady increase of feudal duties owed to the Hungarian lords reduced the Carpatho-Rusin people to the status of mere serfs, individuals legally bound to the land and subject to the whims of the landlord for goods and services. In addition, the conquest, first of the center of Byzantine Orthodoxy --the City of Constantinople, and later, large portions of the territory of the Hungarian kingdom, by the Islamic Ottoman Turks lead to an increasing political and religious isolation of the Carpatho-Rusin people and their only effective leadership, the clergy.

During the period of the Counter-Reformation, the Jesuit order established academies in Central Europe. These schools and the Catholic baroque culture they disseminated, as well as varied political, social and economic pressures, influenced part of the Carpatho-Rusin clergy in the Kingdom of Hungary to unite with the See of Rome. These were the same conditions that had been accepted in 1595/1596 at the Union of Brest in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The Union of Užhorod was celebrated in 1646 when sixty-three Carpatho-Rusin priests assembled in the garrison chapel of Užhorod Castle and swore allegiance to the successor of Peter.

At first, the official acts of union were not universally accepted by the Carpatho-Rusin populace. But gradually over time, the Union of Užhorod took hold; so much so that by the mid-eighteenth century, Greek Catholicism had become the traditional religion of most Carpatho-Rusins.

The Greek Catholic faith not only provided a spiritual dimension for the lives of the Carpatho-Rusin people, but a social focus as well. The whole cycle of life in the small Carpatho-Rusin villages was governed first and foremost by the demands of the Church. The traditional life style of the Carpatho-Rusin peasant, determined by the rhythms of the agricultural seasons, was intertwined with numerous religious observances and obligations, including a mandatory day of rest on Sunday, the fasts and feasts of the Church calendar, baptisms, weddings and funerals, all in accordance with traditional Church dictates. Thus, for the Carpatho-Rusin people, participation in the activities surrounding the Church was as natural as the daily pursuit of the necessities of life itself.

In addition, adherence to their Greek Catholic faith provided the Carpatho-Rusin people with a cultural identity. The Carpatho-Rusins' close relationship with their Church became a kind of cultural attribute which was used to distinguish them from other nationalities within the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

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