Christianity in Transcarpathia — Y. Dymynych

According to historical sources, Eastern Orthodoxy spread in Transcarpathia between the X-XIII centuries. It should be noted, however, that in the X century, and until the reign of Grand Duke Yaroslav the Wise, there was no formal breakup between the Eastern Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Church. The so-called Ecumenical Church prevailed at that time.

The earliest traces of Christianity, dating back to the XI-ХII centuries, are found in the burial sites unearthed in the neighboring southern regions of Eastern Slovakia. Scientists believe that both Slavs and Hungarians (Magyars) were buried there.

The Eastern Orthodox faith was brought to the western Slavic lands — to Moravia and beyond the Danube — by the two sanctified enlighteners, Cyril and Methodius. A. Galaga, a Slovak researcher, carried out a linguistic analysis of some church books and suggested that Cyril and Methodius had also visited an area known as Verkhne Potissva (Upstream Tisza). There is also information to the effect that Christianity extended to that territory even earlier. It is a letter written by a pilgrim to Pope Benedict VII (975-984 A.D.), in which he mentioned the existence of seven Christian parishes in Potissya...This data subsequently prompted several Transcarpathian historians to assume that the Mukachevo Bishopric had been one of the seven Pannonia Episcopates, or that it had emerged while St. Methodius was still at work. A. Petrov and a Transcarpathian scholar, A. Hodinka, came out against this assumption. Hodinka pointed out that although Greek Orthodox adherents are often mentioned as residing in the Hungarian Monarchy, in late XV century Hungarian sources, there is no mention of Greek (Eastern) Orthodox bishoprics.

Duke Vladimir
Monument to Duke Vladimir, Equal to the Apostles, in Kiev, Special religious service was conducted here in connection with the Millennium of the Baptism of Old Rus. June 16, 1988.

The Orthodox Episcopate of Mukachevo, after the Magyar feudal lords nad seized Transcarpathia at the turn of the XIII century was first mentioned in some of the messages signed by Hungarian King Ladislas II, starting in 1491. The first such scroll commanded the Ukrainians and Wallachians to abide by the orders of the Episcopate and pay church dues. A second scroll makes it clear that the local feudal lords and authorities did their best to interfere with the collection of such eparchial taxes.

Before the Eastern Orthodox see was founded in Mukachevo, the Eastern Slavic adherents and clergymen of Transcarpathia had been subordinated, in all religious matters, to the Orthodox eparchy of Przemysl. Evidence of this is found in a message to Pope Alexander VII, signed by Bishop Stanislaw Sarnowski of Przemysl, dated 1660, and in the one sent in 1665 and signed by Yakov Susha the Uniate Bishop of Chelm.

There is yet another historical document entitled “On the Origin, Multiplication and Settlement of the Ruthenian People in Hungary.” The Mukachevo Eparchy (by then totally converted to Greek Orthodoxy) had it published in Rome in 1749. Among other things, it reads that the Old Rus population of Transcarpathia “has for centuries remained Christian, adhering to the Eastern Orthodox doctrine...”

This affiliation to the Eastern Slavic eparchy helped develop cultural, spiritual and ethnic contacts between the populace of Transcarpathia and Prykarpattya (sub-Carpathia). It should be stressed that the culture of Zakarpattya’s old Rus, Ukrainian, residents at all times remained an intrinsic component of the entire culture of all the Eastern Slavic peoples. Alexander Dukhnovych wrote:

“All those living across the mountains
Aren’t strangers-they’re part of us.
Our Rus is one land, and we think and act as one.”

Although the presence of Eastern Orthodoxy was officially recognized in Transcarpathia in the XIII-XIV centuries, this religion was actually outlawed as one professed by the Eastern Slavs who had been conquered by a Roman Catholic power. This, of course, couldn’t but give an impetus to the Catholic Church in tightening her grip on the downtrodden areas.

In the XIII-XIV centuries, Romans Catholic cathedrals, monasteries and fortresses started being built on a massive scale in all the Magyar and German settlements in Transcarpathia. These constructions not only served the interests of “national defense” but also eased the process of exploiting and further economically and socially enslaving the peasantry, while remaining strongholds of Catholic missionary endeavors. 

There is not a single relic remaining from the XIII-XIV century in Transcarpathia of Eastern Orthodox structures. Eastern Orthodox churches did exist in the local Ukrainian and other ethnically mixed communities. There is valid information to the effect that there were seven Eastern Orthodox monasteries in the town of Maramures (XIV- XV centuries). Archival documents of the XV century testify that Eastern Orthodox churches and belltowers were traditionally built of wood with cemeteries located nearby. This construction was helped by the abundance of forest in the vicinity. In other words, building and architectural techniques were quite advanced, even at that remote period. The basic technical elements were developed before the appearance of the Eastern Orthodox churches.

Scholars discovered handwritten excerpts from the Holy Scriptures and the Mineon (collection of stories of the saints for each day of the month), dating to the 12th century. These were literary translations meant to satisfy the needs of the local Orthodox churches and monasteries. Here one finds evidence that literacy was indeed present in Transcarpathia that long ago, and that Christian parishes had existed before the territory was seized by the Magyar feudal lords.

Under Hungary, with the ruling classes doing their best to Catholicize and make Hungarian the Eastern Slavic and Ukrainian population of Transcarpathia, the Gospel appeared to be the only book that was not taken from the common folk by the authorities. It served as a Primer, Grammar, and Textbook. The local Eastern Slavic residents resisted the policy of Catholicization and Hungarianization in every means possible because Latin was an altogether alien language to them. They did not understand it and it did not fit m with their lifestyle. The propertied strata of the autonomous Ukrainian population turned traitor to their people in the latter’s struggle for Orthodoxy and national identity, because they wanted to keep their privileges. That particular group of Ukrainians converted to Catholicism and accepted the language of the Magyar conquerors.

For many centuries the sense of that inherent affiliation to the Eastern Orthodox Church served as an important moral stimulus in the continuing fight against Hungarianization. 

This age-old ethnic and religious struggle claimed the lives of a considerable part of the Lemko and Ukrainian population.

Y. Dymynych