7 December 2015
At the Greek Catholic Church of the Dormition in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia, a couple hold candles during their wedding ceremony. (photo: Sean Sprague)
Self-determination as a basic human right for nations and peoples to pursue their cultural, economic, political or social destinies is of recent origin. Rooted in Europe’s 18th-century Age of Enlightenment and nurtured in the Romanticism of 19th century Europe, self-determination brought about conflicting results when realized in the last century. Self-determination has destroyed empires and built nations, advanced nationalism and patriotism and furthered extremism and ethnic cleansing.
What does the Bulgarian Greek Catholic Church have to do with the right of self-determination?
In the 19th century, a sense of “self” emerged among the assorted peoples of Europe’s Balkan Peninsula, despite centuries of suppression and forced assimilation. Strategically located at Europe’s frontier with Asia, the Balkans had for millennia lured settlers seeking access to and control of the peninsula’s ports and trade routes.
Bulgarian Orthodox Christians, descendants of a central Asian tribe that migrated to the Balkans in the seventh century and intermarried with the Slav population, were just one of the Balkan peoples inspired by calls of self-determination and independence. As with their neighbors, Bulgarians longed to wrest control of their homeland from their Ottoman Turkish Muslim masters.
The Bulgarian Greek Catholic Church runs the Annunciation Center in Sofia, which provides care for people with severe mental and physical disabilities. (photo: Sean Sprague)
This 19th-century Bulgarian search for self-determination — not unlike the quest of Boris I, Bulgaria’s first Christian leader — led an influential circle of Orthodox monks to explore full communion with the church of Rome in order to secure privileges and traditions, obtain aid and further their national aspirations.
In 1861, an elderly archimandrite, Joseph Sokolsky, led a delegation of Bulgarian Orthodox activists to Rome, where they were received by Pope Pius IX. The pontiff ordained Sokolsky bishop, naming him archbishop for Bulgari an Catholics of the Byzantine rite. Although clearly associated with the Bulgarian nationalist cause, the archbishop was recognized in his new capacity by the Ottoman government — largely to undermine the powerful Greek-dominated ecumenical patriarchate.
This Bulgarian Greek Catholic Church grew rapidly and within a decade more than 60,000 Bulgarian Orthodox Christians embraced it. To stem the tide, the Russian tsar (who protected the interests of Orthodox Christians in the Ottoman world) pressured the Ottoman government to recognize an autonomous Bulgarian Orthodox Church, which was created in 1870. Though the ecumenical patriarch declared this church schismatic, it commandeered the nascent Bulgarian Greek Catholic movement. By the end of the 19th century, three quarters of those Bulgarians who joined the Greek Catholic community returned to Orthodoxy. Those who remained lived in the environs of Constantinople or in a few isolated villages in what are now modern Greece and Macedonia.
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3 December 2015
Parishioners from the Mon Valley of Pittsburgh light candles at Homestead’s
Church of St. Nicholas. (photo: Lisa Kyle)
An Eastern Slavic people akin to Belarussians, Russians and Ukrainians, the Rusyns — whose homeland lies south of the Carpathian Mountains in the heart of central Europe — have always lived under the governance of another people. They toiled the soil, kept livestock or cut timber, usually as serfs or tenant laborers of their Hungarian, German or Polish masters, landholders who eagerly imposed their identity on their subjects.
An estimated 200,000 Rusyns immigrated to the United States, beginning in the late 19th century, settling in the industrialized areas of Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, New Jersey, Connecticut, West Virginia and Indiana. Lured by employment agents of the mines and mills, they quarried coal and forged steel, enriching their employers while building a nation. And though working conditions were wretched, many Rusyn immigrants, once married, believed they lacked nothing except a church in which they could worship God in keeping with the traditions of their forebears.
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. Yet this resolve would also hinder its assimilation. The American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church, an eparchy (diocese) of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, echoes this Rusyn-American fidelity to faith and forebears.
Father Matthias blesses the congregation with incense at Sts. Cyril and Methodios Church in Mercer, Pennsylvania. (photo: Lisa Kyle)
Concerned for the erosion of their traditions and identity, after decades of conflict with Roman Catholic ordinaries in the United States, an assembly of priests and laity, led by Father Orestes Chornock (1883-1977), met in Pittsburgh in November 1937. After repealing the union with the bishop of Rome that bound their ancestral church of Mukačevo to Rome made nearly 300 years earlier, the assembly elected Father Chornock bishop.
Fearing further loss of identity should they enter the Russian Orthodox Church, the group established itself as an eparchy, petitioned the ecumenical patriarch based in Constantinople, Benjamin I, to receive it into the Orthodox Church and requested Father Chornock’s ordination to the episcopacy. Nearly a year later, in September, the ecumenical patriarch consecrated Father Chornock bishop and formally erected the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Eparchy as a diocese of the ecumenical patriarchate.
Soon after, Bishop Orestes set up a seminary in New York City, but he eventually moved it to Johnstown, Pennsylvania, where in 1950 the Cathedral of Christ the Savior was founded. Johnstown remains the seat of the eparchy.
Of the estimated 75 parishes and missions that make up the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Church (numbering some 50,000 people), nearly half are located in Pennsylvania. Most of the remaining parishes are scattered throughout the rest of the Rust Belt. The churches of these parishes, many of them simple structures garnished with onion domes and three-bar crosses, stand as relics of a bygone age when Slavs carved coal from the earth or fueled furnaces that belched soot and fashioned steel.
Following waves of north-to-south migration, which has emptied once-thriving communities throughout the Northeast, the now deceased Metropolitan Nicholas of Amissos (elected in 1985) erected parishes and missions in Florida, Georgia, Maryland and Virginia. While Rusyn-Americans make up the majority of these communities, they are not ethnically homogeneous.
Read a full account of the churches development here.
1 December 2015
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew Constantinople receives Pope Francis, Bishop of Rome, at the Phanar, Istanbul, in November 2014. (photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP/Getty Images)
The Patriarchal Church of Constantinople — the Ecumenical Patriarchate — ranks as primus inter pares, “first among equals,” in the worldwide Orthodox communion of churches. The present incumbent, Bartholomew I, Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch, exercises no authority over other Orthodox churches or patriarchs. Yet his prerogatives include second in honor after Rome among the ancient sees of the church; the right to hear appeals between clergy if invited; and the right to ordain bishops outside defined canonical boundaries.
Not all accept this status. Some canonists, particularly those associated with the powerful Orthodox Patriarchate of Moscow, challenge the ecumenical patriarch’s leadership. They assert the medieval claim that “Two Romes have fallen. A third — Moscow — yet stands. A fourth there shall not be.” The Turkish government rejects any global role of the ecumenical patriarch, citing only his leadership for the few thousand Orthodox Christians who remain in Turkey; most live in the city that is today called Istanbul.
The Great Church dedicated to the Holy Wisdom of God, Hagia Sophia, was the seat of the ecumenical patriarch until its conversion to a mosque in 1453. Today it serves as a museum. (photo: Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images)
Bartholomew I, nevertheless, enjoys international stature. He exercises varying degrees of authority over some 3.5 million Orthodox Christians in Turkey, northern Greece and those scattered beyond the traditional canonical boundaries of the ancient patriarchates, including the Americas, Oceania and Western Europe. And environmentalists have nicknamed him the “Green Pope” for his advocacy of and commitment to environmental conservation.
Tradition attributes the apostle Andrew as the founder of the church of Constantinople, which is commemorated every 30 November, the feast of St. Andrew, with liturgies in the humble patriarchal church of St. George in the Phanar neighborhood of Istanbul. But the see’s eventual link to the Roman caesar would catapult it to prominence within Christendom, rivaling even Rome.
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24 November 2015
Archbishop Leo, head of the Orthodox Church of Finland, speaks during the opening of an ice church in Juuka, Finland, on 24 January 2015. (photo: Timo Hartikainen/AFP/Getty Images)
Thoughts of Finland conjure up images of fir trees blanketed with snow, crisp cold Arctic air, fresh water lakes, lingonberry preserves and reindeer. Golden icons, clouds of incense, beeswax candles and polyphonic chants do not figure in these musings. Yet, the world of Byzantium exists even in this land of Scandinavian simplicity.
The Orthodox Church of Finland includes an estimated 62,000 Finns, about 1 percent of the population. The church, however, plays a disproportionate role in modern Finland. The Finnish constitution establishes the Orthodox Church as a national church. The government collects taxes for the church while the Orthodox clergy (together with their Evangelical Lutheran peers) preside at affairs of state. In recent decades, the church has been energized by an increase of converts, an influx of Orthodox Greek, Romanian and Russian immigrants and renewed public interest in iconography, Orthodox theology and monastic spirituality.
Firmly rooted in the culture of the Byzantine East, the Orthodox Church of Finland is no stranger to the ethos of the West. Similar to the nation’s dominant Lutheran Church, Orthodox leaders emphasize the frequent reception of the Eucharist, encourage lay leadership and utilize the Gregorian calendar even for the celebration of Easter.
Once tied to the Russian Empire, a nascent Finnish state severed its ties with the abdication of the tsar in 1917, and the turmoil that followed. In 1921, Patriarch Tikhon of Moscow and All Russia granted autonomy to Finland’s Orthodox Christians as well. Despite the protestations of the Moscow patriarchate, the ecumenical patriarchate declared the Orthodox Church of Finland an autonomous church under Constantinople in 1923.
While some Orthodox parishes could be found scattered throughout the new country, the center of the Orthodox Church of Finland remained in its eastern province of Karelia.
The Winter War (1939-40) between Finland and the Soviet Union, and the subsequent Soviet annexation of Karelia, however, soon changed that. About 90 percent of the parishes and properties of the church were lost, including its historic seminary and monasteries in Lake Ladoga. Rather than submit to Soviet oppression, Orthodox Karelian families, monks, priests, seminarians and sisters fled for the security of central Finland.
The Finnish government quickly resettled the refugees. Throughout the 1950’s, new parishes were founded, churches built, a seminary set up and eparchies erected. Monks reestablished the historic Valamo monastery in central Finland and, shortly thereafter, a convent for women religious was built nearby. Today, the centers receive hundreds of thousands of pilgrims and visitors each year and host an ever-growing number of academic workshops and spiritual retreats. Icon conservation studios also flourish.
In 1988, the Orthodox Church of Finland closed its independent seminary and moved its students to the state-run University of Joensuu, where an Orthodox theological faculty was established. Cantors, catechists and seminarians live in a separate residence near the campus, where they focus on liturgy and spirituality and study with other students at the university, which also offers degree programs for seminarians in the Lutheran tradition.
While the Orthodox Church of Finland includes some 150 churches and chapels scattered across Finland, its influence reaches far beyond Scandinavia. Orthodox Finns support the apostolic endeavors of the Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria in Kenya and Uganda. They participate in international ecumenical forums with the Anglican Communion and the Catholic Church. And they have partnered with their Russian colleagues, providing moral support and financial assistance to reconstitute the original Valamo Monastery in Russian Karelia.
Though small, the Orthodox Church of Finland is unique in the Orthodox world, fusing in a creative way the contributions of Orthodox and non-Orthodox clergy and laity — regardless of gender — and in fostering ecumenism in an atmosphere of mutual trust.
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19 November 2015
Serbian Orthodox worshipers hold candles outside the Cathedral of St. Sava as part of an Easter celebration in Belgrade. (photo: Alexa Stankovic/AFP/Getty Images)
The 20th century in Europe closed the same way it opened — war in the Balkan Peninsula. The world witnessed snipers terrorize Sarajevo, soldiers torch churches and mosques, refugees frozen with fear and bulldozers uncover mass graves. “Balkan” is now synonymous with disintegration and bloodshed.
The Balkans, a complex web of mountains and valleys, plains and streams, lies at the crossroads of Asia and Europe. More than a quarter of those who inhabit the peninsula — Bosniaks, Bulgarians, Croats, Macedonian Slavs, Montenegrins, Serbs and Slovenians — descend from Central European Slavic tribes who migrated south in the seventh century. These tribes have evolved into a number of nationalities, their distinctiveness buttressed by the natural barriers of the peninsula, proximity to more powerful neighbors and a variety of religious expressions. Not unlike the narratives of other Balkan states, Serbia’s saga is one of chronic crisis and conflict. The Orthodox Church of Serbia, which has played a leading role in the development of a distinct Serbian identity, has served as a cultural repository and a bastion of faith when the Serbian nation had appeared imperiled.
Orthodoxy is the predominant faith of the Bulgarians, Greeks, Macedonian Slavs, Montenegrins, Romanians and Serbs. But the individual national Orthodox churches in each of these nations failed to prevent their governments from warring with one another in the first decades of the 20th century. Eager to reclaim what they perceived as their patrimony after centuries of Ottoman Turkish occupation, these nations created rival alliances with more powerful nations, which often had conflicting economic and political agendas. These alliances unsettled the peoples of the peninsula, especially during the world wars.
The Serbian Orthodox Decani Monastery in Kosovo dates to the 14th century. (photo: Armend Nimani/AFP/Getty Images)
The emergence in 1918 of Yugoslavia, a united Southern Slav kingdom of Croats, Macedonians, Montenegrins, Slovenes and Serbs — though the Serbs culturally and politically dominated the state — facilitated the unification of assorted Orthodox eparchies into a cohesive unit, which the Ottomans had dispersed with their suppression of a Serbian Orthodox Patriarchate of Pec in 1766.
The ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople, “first among equals” in the Orthodox communion, granted the Serbian Orthodox Church its independence in 1920, raising it to the rank of patriarchate with its seat in the capital of Belgrade.
In 1941, the Nazis dismembered Yugoslavia, dividing the nation among its Albanian, Bulgarian and Hungarian allies. Serbia — the target of the Nazis’ wrath — ceased to exist.
Today, the Orthodox Church of Serbia commemorates the lives, and deaths, of more than 800,000 people, martyrs who died for their identity as Serbs and their loyalty to the Orthodox faith. Many of these “New Martyrs,” which include bishops, priests, monks, nuns and lay people, were murdered in concentration camps.
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17 November 2015
Tags: Eastern Churches Serbian Orthodox Church Serbia Serbian Orthodox Orthodox Church of Serbia
Byzantine traditions remain strong among Greek Catholics in the former Yugoslavia. Fresco from the church of St. Clement, Ohrid, Macedonia. (photo: Sean Sprague)
Yugoslavia, the “land of the Southern Slavs,” was the fruit of an intellectual concept born in Europe in the 19th century. Members of the intelligentsia speculated that a union of the Balkans’ Southern Slavs — Catholic Croats and Slovenes, Muslim Bosniaks and Orthodox Macedonians, Montenegrins and Serbs — would free them from the yoke of the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires, which had competed for control of the Balkan Peninsula for centuries.
In December 1918, after the collapse of the two empires, an uneasy union was achieved, and the king of Serbia proclaimed its head. The Yugoslav experiment proved defective as rival groups jostled one another for supremacy, particularly after the death in 1980 of its longtime strongman, Josip Tito.
The Yugoslav state collapsed in 1991 and its former constituents turned on one another in a bloodletting that did not abate until the new millennium. Bosniaks, Croats, Kosovar Albanians and Serbs were all complicit in mass murder, ethnic cleansing, rape and other acts of wanton violence.
Lost in the confusion were Yugoslav minorities — Greek Catholics, Jews and Protestants. The Greek Catholics of Yugoslavia were particularly vulnerable; perceived by both Croat and Serb extremists as neither Catholic nor Orthodox, they included six distinct groups: Macedonians and Serbs who accepted papal authority and followed the rites of the Orthodox tradition; Greek Catholic Croats from the village of Žumberak; Greek Catholic Rusyns who left the Carpathians in the 18th century; Ukrainian Greek Catholics who left Galicia at the turn of the 20th century; and Romanian Greek Catholics living in the Serbian province of Vojvodina.
After the Yugoslav kingdom was created in 1918, the Holy See extended the jurisdiction of the Eparchy of Križevci, (erected in 1777) to embrace all Yugoslavian Greek Catholics. Since the disintegration of the Southern Slav state, the Holy See has regrouped them into three separate jurisdictions: The Eparchy of Križevci, near the Croatian capital city of Zagreb, includes about 18,260 people living in Croatia, Slovenia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. In 2001, the Holy See established an exarchate for Greek Catholics living in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Led by the Latin bishop of Skopje, it includes some 11,300 faithful. In 2003, the Holy See set up an exarchate for Greek Catholics in Serbia and Montenegro and includes about 22,000 members, most of whom are ethnic Rusyns living in the Serbian region of Vojvodina.
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12 November 2015
Slovak Greek Catholic parishioners worshiping inside the church in
Ladomirová, Slovakia. (photo: Andrej Ban)
What divides the Greek Catholic and Orthodox churches of Central and Eastern Europe usually reflects the complex history and geopolitical realities of the continent more than any particular theological nuances, even papal primacy.
The Slovak Greek Catholic Church is a sui iuris (or self-governing) community in Slovakia — Byzantine in character and Catholic in faith — raised to the rank of a metropolitan church by Pope Benedict XVI in January 2008. It includes some 211,000 Greek Catholics from a number of ethnic groups living in the landlocked country, including Carpatho-Rusyns, Hungarians, Roma, Slovaks and Ukrainians.
Led by Metropolitan Archbishop Jan Babjak of Presov, the dynamic Jesuit has bolstered ties between the Slovak church and her daughter church in Canada, where some 2,500 Slovak Greek Catholics form the Eparchy of Sts. Cyril and Methodius.
Additionally, the metropolitan archbishop — installed in 2002 — has deepened ties to Greek Catholics in other worldwide jurisdictions. These include the Metropolitan Archeparchy of Pittsburgh and its three dependent eparchies in the United States; the Apostolic Exarchate for Byzantine Catholics in the Czech Republic; and the Eparchy of Mukacevo, now in Subcarpathian Ukraine, or Transcarpathia.
Girls wearing traditional dress participate in an Easter celebration in Jakubany, a village in northern Slovakia. (photo: Father Damian Saraka)
In the celebration of the sacraments, Slovak Greek Catholic parish communities use Slovak and its Latin alphabet as well as Church Slavonic and its Cyrillic alphabet. And its territory is restricted to parish communities in the Slovak Republic.
Yet the church’s origins and development are synonymous with the various Carpatho-Rusyn Greek Catholic churches of Central Europe. Together, the ancestors of these Catholics received the Christian faith from Sts. Cyril and Methodius in the late ninth century. And they professed their full communion with the bishop of Rome in the chapel of the castle of Uzhorod in April 1646, centuries after the Western (Catholic) and Eastern (Orthodox) churches had drifted apart.
According to the Slovak Republic’s 2011 census, only 0.6 percent of the population of nearly 5.5 million identify as Carpatho-Rusyn, proof of the decline of a Carpatho-Rusyn identity among Slovakia’s Greek Catholics. Nevertheless, sustaining solidarity among other jurisdictions of Carpatho-Rusyn origin — Greek Catholic and Orthodox — remains a concern of the Slovak Greek Catholic leadership.
Reviving parishes of all ethnic communities; forming a new generation of priests, religious and lay leaders; instilling proper catechesis, especially among the urbanized youth; and restoring parish churches and other parish facilities take precedence for this new yet ancient church.
Read a full account of the Slovak Greek Catholic Churches here.
10 November 2015
Orthodox believers hold an icon of Saints Cyril and Methodius during a service in
Mikulcice, Czech Republic. (photo: Vova Pomortzeff/Alamy)
The fortunes of the Orthodox Church in the Czech Republic and Slovakia mirror those of these Central European states, which once formed a united Czechoslovakia. Both the church and state were born after the collapse of the multiethnic empire of Austria-Hungary in 1918. Both were controlled by Nazi occupiers during World War II and then by the Soviets, who commandeered leadership after the war. Both were revived after the Velvet Revolution in 1989 and have since been affected by the dissolution of Czechoslovakia — the so-called Velvet Divorce — in 1993.
Though a relatively young community, and numbering only about 100,000 people, the Orthodox Church in the Czech lands of Bohemia and Moravia and the independent republic of Slovakia dates back more than a thousand years.
In Europe’s Middle Ages, Latin missionaries worked among the Slavic peoples of the principality of Great Moravia — which covered much of the territory of the contemporary states of the Czech Republic and Slovakia. These missionaries (most of whom were Germanic) introduced the Latin rites of the Roman church in the ninth century and advocated closer ties with Moravia’s Germanic enemies. To counter these efforts, Moravia’s reigning prince, Rastislav, petitioned the emperor in the great Byzantine city of Constantinople to provide Slav-speaking missionaries to work among the prince’s subjects.
In 862, the emperor sent two Greek brothers, Cyril and Methodius, who devised an alphabet for the Slavonic vernacular, translated Scripture and the liturgies of the church into Slavonic (it remains unclear whether these liturgies were Byzantine or Latin in rite), and transcribed the first Slavic code of civil law. Despite support from the papacy, the brothers’ work generated hostility among the Latin Germanic bishops. They later drove Cyril and Methodius from Moravia, engineered Rastislav’s removal and, in 886, banished their followers.
Greater Moravia collapsed after 893. Its successor state, the Latin Catholic Kingdom of Bohemia, retained its Slavic “Czech” identity despite profound antagonisms and influences from neighboring Germanic principalities — a state of affairs that survived until the decades following World War II.
Orthodox Easter night service in front of the Dormition Church at the Olsany Cemetery in Prague, Czech Republic. (photo: Vova Pomortzeff/Alamy)
With the breakup of the Hapsburg realm of Austria-Hungary in 1918, and the birth of the Czechoslovak state, a group of Latin Catholic priests called for the use of the vernacular in the celebration of the Mass, optional clerical celibacy and the reception of the Eucharist under both species. Influenced by the work of Sts. Cyril and Methodius, Jan Hus and Martin Luther, these priests eventually formed the Czechoslovak Hussite Church, a national church that grew quickly, especially in the Czech heartland of Bohemia.
While this church retained elements of its Catholic heritage, some priests were sympathetic to the 15th-century Hussite scholar and diplomat, Peter Payne, and his interest in Orthodoxy. Heeding appeals from the Serbian Orthodox patriarchate, one priest, Father Matej Pavlik, was received into the Orthodox Church and consecrated a bishop in 1921.
Taking the name Gorazd, the new bishop erected two eparchies, one in the Bohemian capital of Prague and another in the Slovak town of Mukacevo, the historical center of Carpatho-Rusyn Greek Catholics. While he was bishop, a large number of these Greek Catholics accepted Orthodoxy after the Holy See imposed restrictions (for example, barring the use of married priests) on their parish communities in North America.
A prolific writer and a zealous pastor, Bishop Gorazd established parishes for all of the diverse ethnic communities that made up the Orthodox Church of Czechoslovakia, including Bohemian Czechs, Carpatho-Rusyns, Russian exiles, Serbs and Slovaks.
Today, this Orthodox Church is strongest in Slovakia, especially in the Carpatho-Rusyn areas of the northeast near Poland and Ukraine, numbering some 50,000 people. In the Czech lands of Bohemia and Moravia, the church is weak. This reflects the status of religious identity in the modern Czech Republic — a majority of Czechs identify themselves as atheists. Most Orthodox Christians who fill the churches in both republics are guest workers from Greece, Russia and Ukraine and may include up to 500,000 people.
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5 November 2015
Parishioners process for the feast of the Virgin Mary in Kondolpoga, northern Russia.
(photo: George Martin)
Almost 25 years since the unraveling of the Soviet Union, the concerns that once plagued its Communist leaders — apathy, corruption, crime, cynicism, depopulation and underemployment, as well as the deterioration of industry — continue to scourge its political and spiritual heirs.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, having consolidated his hold on Russia’s central government, has enlisted the assistance of the Orthodox Church to address some of these issues. This alliance of church and state — which except for a violent gap of some 70 years dates to the origins of the Russian state — has been cemented as Russian patriotism surges in defiance of sanctions imposed by the West for Putin’s involvement in Ukraine. So intimate is this link between state and church, it is difficult to determine which came first.
Russians, Belarussians, Rusyns and Ukrainians claim descent from the Eastern Slavs of Central Europe and the Varangians of Scandinavia. Collectively known as the Rus’, these peoples intermarried and, from their center in Kiev (now the capital of Ukraine) on the banks of the Dnieper River, they asserted control of the trade routes from the Baltic to the Black seas, establishing Kievan Rus’ as a regional force by the ninth century.
A Russian Orthodox believer marks Epiphany by bathing in the icy water of Saint Petersburg’s Neva River. (photo: Alexander Koryakov/Kommersant/Getty Images)
The rapid development of Byzantine Christianity among the Rus’ — which Grand Prince Vladimir of Kiev pursued with vigor throughout his reign — coincided with the rise of the Kievan state. Vladimir and his successors consolidated their authority and augmented their dominion. They built important churches; promulgated the first code of law of the Eastern Slavs; supported monasticism, theological learning and the arts. Using Bulgaria’s church as a model, Yaroslav the Wise (978-1054) achieved some independence from Constantinople for the church of Kiev, overseeing the installation of a metropolitan archbishop in 1037.
Eventually, Rus’ natives dominated the episcopacy, whose sees were centered in various regional centers governed by the family of the grand prince, such as Chernigov, Novgorod and Smolensk.
Very little remains from this period. The Mongols, a nomadic people from central Asia, swept through the dominions of the Rus’ in the early 13th century, burning and sacking its cities, including Kiev. They killed much of the population and enslaved most of the rest.
The Mongol invasions merely accelerated the demise of Kievan Rus’, which began to disintegrate when the family of the grand prince challenged his authority. Without a communications network, rival cities — Novgorod, Vladimir and Suzdal in the northeast, Polotsk and Smolensk in the northwest, Halych in the southwest and even nearby Chernigov — grew more autonomous, fracturing the unity of Kievan Rus’, making it susceptible to invasion and subjugation. For over two centuries these communities lived as vassals under the Mongols.
With the decline of princes, church leaders quickly filled their roles, patronizing the building of churches and monasteries far removed from the centers of Mongol power. The Rus’ of Kiev sought refuge in the north, migrating in succession to Rostov, Suzdal and, finally, Vladimir. The effective leader of all the Rus’, the metropolitan archbishop of Kiev, left the devastated city for Vladimir in 1300. Eventually, Rostov, Suzdal and Vladimir all fell under the influence of Moscow, a minor principality led by ambitious princes. Just eight years after the move to Vladimir, the metropolitan archbishop of Kiev-Vladimir moved his court to the city of Moscow. Bolstered by a “golden ring” of fortified monasteries and towns, Moscow grew wealthy.
Click here to read more about church and state in Moscow, and the forging of a modern Russian alliance.
3 November 2015
Tags: Russia Russian Orthodox Church Eastern Churches
A Greek Catholic priest hears confession at Protection of the Virgin Mary Church
in Nyíracsád, Hungary. (photo: Balazs Gardi)
For centuries, Hungary dominated the culture, geography and socioeconomic life of Central Europe. Its defeat in World War I, however, cost the nation three-quarters of its territory, all of its coastline, a third of its population and much of its diverse demography. Today, Hungary is a landlocked and largely homogeneous country — a shadow of its former self.
In Hungary’s rural northeast — near its borders with Slovakia, Ukraine and Romania — one small community of faith offers a glimpse of Hungary’s multiethnic past. Sheltered by the Carpathian Mountains, some 290,000 people — ethnic Hungarians (Magyars), Gypsies (Roma), Romanians, Rusyns and Slovaks — make up the Hungarian Greek Catholic Church.
While each of these ethnic groups maintains its own proud history and traditions, they together have forged a dynamic church authentically Hungarian, Byzantine and Catholic.
Hungary’s Greek Catholics were spared the persecutions suffered by Greek Catholics in Romania and Ukraine during the Soviet-dominated era. Though religious communities were closed, priests and religious dispersed, schools shuttered, catechesis limited and non-liturgical activities monitored, the church survived. In 1950, Bishop Miklós Dudás, O.S.B.M., established a seminary within the walls of his residence in the town of Nyíregyháza. While youth programs and sodalities were prohibited, parish pilgrimages to Máriapócs, a little Greek Catholic village famous for its miraculous icon of the Virgin Mary, continued with great enthusiasm.
Crucifix in front of the Protection of the Virgin Marcy Church in Nyíracsád, Hungary. (photo: Balazs Gardi)
With the collapse of the Iron Curtain, Hungary’s Greek Catholic Church surged to fill the void left after a half-century of despotic rule. Led by Bishop Szilárd Keresztes, Hungary’s Greek Catholic community collected icons, liturgical books, vestments and other sacramentals. These the bishop immediately offered to the once banned Greek Catholic churches in Romania and Ukraine.
Because of its central location, Bishop Keresztes suggested that his seminary — dedicated to St. Athanasius — should play a key role in the revival of Europe’s Greek Catholic churches. In 1990, he opened it to Romanians, Rusyns, Slovaks and Ukrainians interested in the priesthood. To improve the quality of the education offered there, the bishop invited an impressive number of foreign educated professors. As a result, the theological faculty became an affiliate of the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome in 1995.
Formation of lay catechists also figured prominently in the life of the church and in 1992 the bishop signed an agreement with the Teachers Training College in Nyíregyháza and set up a corresponding department at the seminary for the formation of teachers.
The Hungarian Greek Catholic Church, which Pope Francis reorganized in March as a metropolitan church led by an archbishop, shares in the socioeconomic challenges affecting the country. Even as birthrates continue to fall, driving down the number of men and women entering priesthood and religious, the demands placed upon the church grow. Increasingly, Greek Catholic priests are working to diffuse tensions between Hungary’s growing Roma minority and ethnic Magyars. And the depopulation of Hungary’s eastern rural villages, the traditional center of the Greek Catholic Church, is affecting family and parish life.
Read a full account of the Hungarian Greek Catholic Church here.