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Poor Rusyn shepherds and farmers first settled there, clearing the surrounding forests for pastures and fields. For centuries, this distinct ethnic Slavic group has lived in scattered communities throughout the mountainous Carpathian region.

While Jakubany remains overwhelmingly Rusyn, historical circumstances have often blurred the villagers’ ethnic identity. “In the First Republic [1918-39], people were Rusyn, then Slovak, then Ukrainian. Then they got scared and chose to be Slovak, but spoke Rusyn,” explained Mr. Kundl’a.

Most of Jakubany’s residents speak Rusyn, even if they have a mixed ethnic heritage. Though his father was Slovak, Mr. Kundl’a speaks Rusyn. The son of a priest, Father Saraka is also ethnic Slovak, but he grew up in a Rusyn village. As do most Greek Catholic priests in Slovakia, he celebrates the Divine Liturgy in Church Slavonic and Slovak. He hears confessions, however, in Rusyn.

When iron was discovered in the nearby mountains in the early 19th century, Jakubany experienced a population boom, peaking at 2,800 villagers in 1825. But when the iron ran out, the village gradually declined. Most of those who remained worked in the forests. Economic depression in the first half of the 20th century — particularly during the World War II era — hit Jakubany hard, driving many villagers to emigrate to the United States or Ukraine.

In the 1950’s, Communist authorities imposed collective farming and seized nearby forests, restricting access only to the military. Dramatically, these measures changed Jakubany’s way of life. By the 1970’s, large contemporary residential buildings designed for multigenerational use replaced many of the village’s traditional small log houses. Most of the remaining relics now lie uninhabited. Ironically, during much of this period, Jakubany enjoyed its highest level of prosperity and stability.

“Jakubany is a very Greek Catholic village,” said Father Saraka. “And traditions are very strong here. Their faith and traditions help the villagers keep their Rusyn identity.”

While Jakubany had always been Greek Catholic, Czechoslovakia’s post–World War II Communist government suppressed the church and forced its members to enter the Orthodox Church, whose Byzantine rites and traditions they shared. When Jakubany’s Greek Catholic pastor refused to comply, he was imprisoned and replaced by an Orthodox priest, who was largely ignored by the villagers. Many clung to their Greek Catholic faith at home, only attending church services during special occasions, such as weddings.

In 1968, amid a period of liberalization known as the Prague Spring, a Greek Catholic priest returned to Jakubany. When he tried to reclaim the parish, his Orthodox counterpart refused to leave. For four weeks, the Greek Catholic cleric celebrated liturgies outside the parish church. Taking matters into their own hands, villagers eventually removed the Orthodox priest from the church. The police arrested 10 people, sentencing each of them to two years in prison. For a time, authorities again banned the celebration of the Greek Catholic liturgy.

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