Byzantine-Ruthenian Catholic Church

What is the Byzantine-Ruthenian Catholic Church?

In the mountainous region of Carpatho-Rus, known also as Carpatho-Ruthenia, situated between present day Slovakia and Ukraine, there is a group of Eastern Christians. Evangelized in the ninth century by those equals-to-the-apostles, Saints Cyril and Methodius, this group received the Holy Gospel and Sacred Mysteries (Sacraments) from the Byzantine Church of Constantinople. Although Cyril and his brother, Methodius, were Greek (from Thessalonika), they promoted the use of the ancient Slavonic language in worship. This language, later known as Old Church Slavonic, would become the liturgical language of the Carpatho-Rusyns and all Slavonic Christians, both Orthodox and Catholic. In time, Cyril and Methodius brought their liturgical books to Rome to receive the blessings of Pope Hadrian, and he in turn blessed their mission of establishing the Greek (Byzantine) Catholic religion in the Carpathian mountains of Central Europe.

Over time, a rift grew between East and West; and, in 1054, estrangement was realized with the Great Schism of Constantinople and Rome. Being an Eastern Church, the Carpatho-Rusyns were eventually drawn into by this unfortunate break and became members of the Orthodox Church. This ecclesia sui iuris (self-governing church) of Mukachevo-Uzhorod in time sought reunion with the Church of Rome, re-establishing its Catholic faith while maintaining the spirituality, ceremonies, and discipline of the Eastern Church. On April 24, 1646, in Saint George Castle Garden in Uzhorod, a number of priests and faithful proclaimed vocally their reunion with the Catholic Church, re-establishing the unity that Christ so ardently prayed for. From this nucleus would grow a reborn church which the Empress Maria Theresa of Austro-Hungary would later call “The Greek Catholic Church”—“Greek” in its ritual, theology and art; “Catholic” in union with the Bishop of Rome. In time, the reunion would spread to other areas of Europe, and new eparchies (dioceses) would be created in such places as Prešov (Slovakia), Krizevci (Croatia), Hajdudorog and Miskolc (Hungary).

In the 1870’s, the first wave of Carpatho-Rusyn immigration brought significant numbers of Greek Catholics to the United States of America. The first parish they founded on these shores was Saint Michael's in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania followed by an establishment in Freeland, Pennsylvania. Others were established in places like Wilkes-barre and Kingston, Pennsylvania, and in Jersey City and Passaic, New Jersey. Unfortunately, the ignorance of most American Catholics of the Latin Church regarding Greek Catholic practices promised by Rome at Uzhorod—such as a married priesthood and other privileges and traditions—led the immigrant church into conflict with the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Minneapolis/St. Paul, John Ireland, which prompted one Greek Catholic priest, Father Alexis Toth, to take his small flock out of union with Rome and seek union with the Russian Orthodox Church, creating the nucleus of what would become known as the Orthodox Church of America (OCA). To this day, the OCA venerates Father Toth as the father of Orthodoxy in America.

But despite such idealogical struggles, the Greek Catholic Church in America continued to grow, and there was seen a growing need for hierarchial leadership. In 1905, Father Andrew Hodobay was sent by Rome as Apostolic Visitor to care for the immigrant church; but, being a Hungarian, he was not the proper leader for a predominantly Slavic church. Rome, then, in turn, sent two men to care for what would become two separate administrations for the American Greek Catholics: Father Peter Poniatishyn for the Ukrainians, and Father Gabriel Martyak for the Carpatho-Rusyns (Ruthenians). By this time parishes were springing up all over Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Ohio and the Northeast. In 1924 Rome raised the status of the American Greek Catholic Ruthenian community to that of an Exarchate (Apostolic Vicariate) with Bishop Basil Takach as its first exarch, establishing Saint John the Baptist Cathedral in Pittsburgh’s Homestead/Munhall neighborhood as its seat. Meanwhile, Greek Catholic immigration continued from Carpathia as well as Hungary and Croatia. Not only were parishes and priests being established and assigned, but the Sisters of Saint Basil the Great received a call from Bishop Takach to minister to the immigrant church, and they eventually settled in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, after a number of temporary locations.

The storm that had erupted over a married priesthood back in the 1890’s would continue to erupt sporadically during this period of growth, exasperated by a Vatican proclamation, Ea Semper, issued in 1905, which severely mitigated the rights of Greek Catholics in the United States; and, certain members of the Roman Catholic hierarchy in America sought both to prohibit the immigration of married Greek Catholic priests and to forbid their ordination in North America. Appeals to Rome from the American Greek Catholic community were futile; and, In 1929, another proclamation, Cum Data Fuerit, was issued by Pope Pius XI, forbidding the service of married Greek Catholic priests in the United States, requiring them to return to Europe. This decree became the rallying cry for another segment of American Greek Catholics, dedicated to safeguarding the Eastern heritage of their church, to once again fall into schism. A pastor in Bridgeport, Connecticut, Father Orestes Chornock, was elected Bishop of a new Independent Greek Catholic Church, and was consecrated a bishop by the Patriarch of Constantinople, eventually setting his See in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. This would, in time, be known as The American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Diocese. Despite this sad turn of events, the American Greek Catholics in union with Rome continued to grow and establish new parishes; and, in 1950, Saints Cyril and Methodius Byzantine Catholic Seminary was established by the second Bishop of Pittsburgh, Daniel Ivancho, for the spiritual and educational formation of a native clergy.

As the decades of the twentieth century progressed, missionary efforts led to the establishment of parishes in California, Florida and even in Alaska. The term “Greek Catholic” would change to “Byzantine Catholic,” stressing that the church was not Hellenic (Greek) in nationality, and that the spirituality and liturgical services were of the Byzantine Rite; also, English, now the vernacular, became the dominant liturgical language. The church was then honored in its growth and permanence by the elevation of Pittsburgh as an Eparchy (diocese) in 1963, with Bishop Nicholas T. Elko as first Eparch, after serving as Exarch since 1955. In addition, the East Coast was given their own Eparchy, Passaic, NJ, with Bishop Stephen J. Kocisko as first Eparch, and with the church of Saint Michael the Archangel designated as the Cathedral. The Eparchy of Passaic would encompass the entire eastern sea coast of the United States, from Maine to Florida. In 1968, Bishop Stephen Kocisko was transferred to the Eparchy of Pittsburgh, and subsequently Bishop Michael Dudick was consecrated and enthroned as the second Eparch of Passaic. The crowning achievement of this near century of ecclesiastical growth would be the creation, in 1969 by Pope Paul VI, of a Metropolian Church ecclesia sui uris based in Pittsburgh. This Metropolia would have as its suffragan sees the Eparchy of Passaic (covering the East) and the newly-created Eparchy of Parma, OH, (in the Midwest) governed by Bishop Emil Mihalik as its first eparch. The church of Saint John the Baptist in Parma, OH, would serve as Cathedral for the new eparchy. Bishop Mihalik endeavored to establish more churches in the outer-most parts of his eparchy in places such as Las Vegas, Nevada, Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Denver, Colorado. The growth of these Western missions and churches was acknowledged by Pope John Paul II through the erection of a fourth jurisdiction for Byzantine Catholics: the Eparchy of Van Nuys, California; and, through the selection of Bishop Thomas V. Dolinay (then Auxiliary Eparch of Passaic) as its first eparch. He shepherded the eparchy from his seat at Holy Protection of the Mother of God Cathedral in Van Nuys until he was chosen, in 1991, to be Metropolitan of Pittsburgh, succeeding the ailing former shepherd, Archbishop Stephen J. Kocisko. Consequently, the auxiliary eparch of Passaic, Bishop George Kuzma, was enthroned as the second Eparch of Van Nuys, and, in 1997, moved his seat of administration to Saint Stephen Protomartyr Pro-Cathedral in Phoenix, Arizona. In 1996, Bishop Michael J. Dudick retired after a long and pastorally beneficial ministry in the Eparchy of Passaic. Upon his retirement, the Holy Father appointed Bishop Andrew Pataki (formerly Eparch of Parma), as the third Eparch of Passaic.

The spiritual life of the Byzantine Catholic Church was and continues to grow with assistance not only from the Basilians of Uniontown, but also from Monasteries for men and women, such as The Basilian Fathers of Mariapoch, Matawan, New Jersey, as well as from Holy Dormition Franciscan Monastery, Sybertsville, Pennsylvania.

The Byzantine Catholic Church is an Eastern Church in union with Rome; Carpatho-Rusyn in background and flavor, but indeed an American Eastern Church celebrating the Gospel in words, symbols, and action. We are unique in our mystical theology, blending the colors of our many ikons with the congregational acapella chants; raising up our hands and our fragrant incense in prayer and inviting you to come and see who we are and what we are all about as part of the Eastern half of the Universal Church.

Source: Eparchy of Passaic

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Who are Byzantine (Greek) Catholics
The Carpathian Connection

Carpatho-Rusyn Research Center
Non-profit cultural research organization

Saints Cyril and Methodius, Apostles to the Slavs. Source
Carpathian Rus, the Rusyn homeland. Encyclopædia Britannica. Source
Iconostasis of the wooden Greek Catholic church of Archangel Michael in the village of Topoľa, north-eastern Slovakia. The village was home to Alexander Dukhnovych, a Ruthenian priest, poet, writer, pedagogue, and social activist who is considered as the awakener (Rusyn: Будитиль, Budytyl’) of the Rusyns. The church dates back as far as 1700. Source: Will Geiger
Greek Catholic priest vestments and liturgical items on display at the open-air museum of Lemko culture in the village of Zyndranowa, Subcarpathian Voivodeship, in south-eastern Poland, close to the border with Slovakia. Source: Will Geiger
Religious texts in the Rusyn language, including Liturgikon (bottom left), alphabet (center), and catechism (1836) (bottom right). On display at the Museum of Ukrainian Culture in ‎⁨Svidník⁩, ⁨Prešovský kraj⁩, ⁨Slovakia⁩. Source: Will Geiger
Bibles in the Rusyn language. On display at the Museum of Ukrainian Culture in ‎⁨Svidník⁩, ⁨Prešovský kraj⁩, ⁨Slovakia⁩. Source: Will Geiger
The Greek Catholic Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist in Prešov, Slovakia, the seat of Archbishop of Prešov. Former eparchy bishop-martyrs Pavol Gojdič and Vasiľ Hopko are buried here. The temple also hosts a copy of the Shroud of Turin (burial garment of Jesus Christ). Source: Will Geiger