Hungary’s Greek Catholics

A brief profile of the Hungarian Greek Catholic Church.

text by Dr. Janka György
photographs by Miklós Erdös

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According to Byzantine chronicles, missionaries met Hungarian tribes in the course of their wanderings throughout Central Europe and, in the middle of the 10th century, baptized a number of Hungarian noblemen in Constantinople.

Hungary’s first king, the fervent Saint Stephen (997-1037) received his crown from Pope Sylvester II. Crowned on Christmas Eve of the year 1000, Stephen eventually founded 10 Latin dioceses; two of them, Esztergom and Kalocsa, developed into metropolitan archdioceses. Although Byzantine eparchies were not established, monasteries following the Byzantine tradition flourished. The 11th-century coronation robe, for example, used for the kings of Hungary and now exhibited in the National Museum in Budapest, is the handiwork of Byzantine nuns living in the Hungarian realm at that time.

Hungary’s Byzantine Christians were almost completely destroyed during the Mongol invasion of 1241 to 1242. Byzantine Christian Vlachs and Ruthenians migrated to the border regions of the country (Subcarpathia, Transylvania and northern Hungary), replacing the native population.

Following the Great Schism of 1054, Hungary’s Byzantine Christians retained full communion with the Church of Constantinople, not with the Church of Rome. Attempts to heal the schism failed until the Council of Brest in 1596 achieved the union of Orthodox churches under the Polish-Lithuanian crown with the Church of Rome. Subsequent local councils succeeded in re-establishing full communion between the Orthodox churches and the Church of Rome in present-day Hungary, Romania, Slovakia and Ukraine.

Beginning in the late 18th century, Hungarian Greek Catholics began their quest to celebrate the Divine Liturgy in their native tongue – most did not understand the Church Slavonic used by the Greek Catholic Slavs, who also lived in the Hungarian domains of the Austrian Empire.

This quest was finally achieved two centuries later: on 19 November 1965, Bishop Miklós Dudás of Hajdúdorog celebrated the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom in Hungarian in Rome during Vatican II. The celebration of this liturgy is considered the ceremonial conclusion of the long struggle for a Hungarian liturgy.

In 1873 the Emperor Francis Joseph I founded a Hungarian Greek Catholic vicariate in Hajdúdorog. This vicariate was elevated to an eparchy with Pope Saint Pius X’s bull, Christifideles Graeci, on 8 June 1912. The Pope assigned 162 parishes into the new eparchy and established Old Greek as the language of the liturgy. He also appointed the Archbishop of Esztergom as the eparchial Metropolitan Archbishop.

István Miklóssy became the first bishop of the new eparchy. Instead of settling in Hajdúdorog, however, he settled in the country town of Debrecen. On 23 February 1913 a mail bomb, sent by anti-Hungarian nationalists, exploded and killed the vicar, the secretary and the eparchy’s lawyer. Bishop Miklóssy was spared and moved to Nyíregyháza, another town in eastern Hungary. Since then this town has been the center of the Eparchy of Hajdúdorog.

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Tags: Church history Hungary Central Europe Hungarian Greek Catholic