Saturday, May 16, 2015

Sui Juris Churches XII: The Greek Catholic Church in Slovakia

(on sui juris churches in general)

Liturgical Family: Byzantine

Primary Liturgical Languages: Church Slavonic and Slovak

Juridical Status: Metropolitan

Approximate Population: Between 200,000 and 400,000 (Numbers seem to diverge quite a bit.)

Brief History: The Slovak Greek Catholic Church is the fourth of the particular churches arising from the Ruthenian Unions, and like all of the churches deriving from those Unions, its status as a particular church is due in part in part to the fracturing and isolating effect of first the Russian Imperial and then the Soviet persecutions that arose as Russian power grew. Like all of the particular churches of Central and Eastern Europe, Ruthenian in origin or not, its history also shows the features arising from the fact that its primary population lives in the unstable region between Christian East and Christian West.

The Union of Uzhhorod in 1649 included the bishops in what is now eastern Slovakia. When the Ruthenian eparchy of Mukacheve was removed from the authority of the Latin bishops of Hungary and given a certain measure of independence, so also was the eparchy of Prešov with it. These Ruthenian eparchies were split apart after World War II when the Soviet Union annexed Transcarpathia; Prešov was left on its own in Czechoslovakia. In 1950, however, a communist regime backed by the Soviet Union took over the Czechoslovakian government, and did what Communist regimes often did with the churches in nations they took over: forced everyone into a single church that could more easily be bullied by the state and whose hierarchy could be filled with collaborators. A puppet 'synod' was called. I put 'synod' in quotation marks because it had no bishops; it consisted of five priests and some laymen. The 'synod' signed a document declaring union with Rome at an end. All Ruthenian property was seized and transferred to the Orthodox Church. The bishop of Prešov, Pavel Gojdic, and his auxiliary, Basil Hopko, were imprisoned. Besides the Catholic community, the Jewish community protested his imprisonment (Gojdic had saved thousands of Jewish refugees in World War II, for which he has been honored by Yad Vashem as one of the Righteous Among Nations). The protests were ignored, and a trial gave him a life sentence for treason. Gojdic would die in prison in 1960 and Hopko would die in 1976 after years of extremely poor health due to his treatment in prison.

In 1968 the full influence of the Soviet Union was shaken off a bit in the Prague Spring, during which reformers in the Communist Party came to power. One of the reforms was that former Greek Catholic parishes were allowed to restore communion with Rome if they wished; more than two-thirds of the parishes chose to do so. The Prague Spring itself did not even last a full year, but as it happens, the Soviets did not regard this particular point as worth their time to undo, and thus it continued, although the Greek Catholic community operated under very serious limitations -- for instance, just because they restored communion with Rome did not mean that their property could go with them, because it as officially recognized as belonging to the Orthodox Church in Czechoslovakia.

In the Gentle Revolution of 1989 (called the Velvet Revolution in Czech portions of the country), Communist rule in Czechoslovakia came to an end in a surprisingly peaceful transition. One of the effects of this was the return of a considerable portion of the former Ruthenian property to the Greek Catholics of Czechoslovakia. In 1993, Czechoslovakia split into two nations, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The Greek Catholics in the Czech Republic were organized into an Apostolic Vicariate (later an Exarchate), which is currently regarded as part of the Ruthenian Catholic Church. The Slovak eparchy of Prešov continued, and another Apostolic Exarchate, later and Eparchy, was created, along with other eparchies. In 2008, Benedict XVI raised the eparchy of Prešov to the status of a Metropolitan Archeparchy.

Notable Monuments: The Greek Catholic Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist, in Preshov. There are also a number of Wooden Churches that are important cultural markers of religious life in the Carpathian regions of Europe; a number of these are in Slovakia, and several of these are Greek Catholic, of which the most important are those in Bodružal, Ruská Bystrá, and Ladomirová.

Notable Saints: As an offspring of the Ruthenian Unions, the Slovak Greek Catholic Church shares a number of saints with the Ruthenians, including saints on the Byzantine calendar. In addition, there are many beatified martyrs and confessors under the Communist regime, like Bl. Pavel Gojdic and Bl. Basil Hopko, who may end up canonized on the general calendar at some point.

Notable Religious Institutes: As with Ruthenian churches generally, Basilian orders have an important place in the life of the church.

Extent of Official Jurisdiction: The Archeparchy of Prešov, with two eparchies in Slovakia and one eparchy in Canada. (Sphere of influence always extends beyond the official jurisdiction due to members of the church living outside of any official jurisdiction of the church. In the United States, for instance, which is a nation with an unusually rich diversity of Eastern Catholics, there appear to be quite a few Slovak Greek Catholics, represented in part by the Slovak Catholic Federation and similar organizations, but they are under the care of the Byzantine Catholic Church, which is Ruthenian.)

Online Sources and Resources:

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