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Greek Catholic Eparchy of Presov

Greek Catholic Eparchy of Presov — eparchy serving Byzantine-rite Christians in union with Rome (primarily Rusyns and Slovaks) within the current boundaries of Slovakia. The eparchy traces its origins to 1787, when the Vicariate of Kosice was created as an administrative division of the Greek Catholic Eparchy of Mukachevo. The vicariate was headed by canons from the Mukachevo Eparchy: Ioann *Pastelii (1787-1788), Mykhail Bradach (1790-1812, consecrated bishop), and Hryhorii *Tarkovych (1813-1816). Although the vicariate was initially based in the city of Kosice, in 1790 its headquarters were moved to nearby Presov, where it was given the Minorite Monastery and church on the city’s main street.

In the wake of discussions and proposals regarding jurisdictional restructuring of the Greek Catholic church in Austria-Hungary, in early 1816 the Habsburg emperor raised the Kosice Vicariate to the status of an independent eparchy. The vicar Tarkovych was nominated as bishop (1816), approved by Rome (1818), and finally consecrated (1821). The new Eparchy of Presov consisted of 194 parishes with 158,000 faithful detached from the Eparchy of Mukachevo, most of which were in the counties of *Abov, *Spish, *Sharysh, and northern *Zemplyn, with smaller numbers in *Borshod, Turna, and Gemer (see Map 6). According to the eparchy’s first official statistics (1821), 65 percent of the parishes were comprised of Rusyns, 14 percent mixed Rusyns and Magyars, 1.7 Poles, and 1.2 Slovaks. By the end of the century (1891) the figures had changed somewhat: of the 166,000 faithful at that time, 59 percent were Rusyns, 26 percent “Slovjaks” (a transitional identity between Rusyns and Slovaks), 12 percent Magyars, and 3 percent Slovaks.

Bishop Tarkovych was best remembered for his scholarly activity, and with the assistance of a Hungarian benefactor, Janos Kovats (1764-1834), he created in Presov an eparchial library that became known as the Bibliotheca Kovacsiana. During the episcopate of his successor, Iosyf *Gaganets’ (r. 1843-1875), the eparchy’s cathedral church was restored and its interior redecorated in the Eastern style it more or less retains today, and a residence for needy students, the Alumneum (1864), was established. Subsequent eparchial institutions, all in Presov, included the Greek Catholic Seminary (1880) and the *Presov Greek Catholic Teachers’ College/Preparandium (1895).

During the period of Austro-Hungarian rule, which lasted until 1918, the bishops heading the Eparchy of Presov responded to the needs of the Hungarian government, which by the second half of the nineteenth century actively supported a policy of denationalization and magyarization of Rusyns. In contrast to Bishop Gaganets’, who had supported the first Rusyn cultural and educational institutions, such as the *Presov Literary Society (1850) founded by the eparchial canon, Aleksander *Dukhnovych, and the *St. John the Baptist Society (1862), led by the lay political leader Adol’f *Dobrians’kyi, subsequent bishops—Nikolai Tovt (r. 1876-1882), Ioann Valyi (r. 1883-1911), and Shtefan/Istvan Novak (r. 1913-1918)—assisted the magyarization process. By the 1890s an increasing number of Rusyn-language Greek Catholic elementary schools switched to Hungarian as the language of instruction, and during World War I the last Rusyn-language schools were closed as the Eparchy of Presov banned the use of the *Cyrillic alphabet and adopted the western, Gregorian calendar for liturgical use.

At the close of World War I the Eparchy of Presov together with Rusyn-inhabited lands farther east in *Subcarpathian Rus’ were incorporated into the new state of Czechoslovakia. In the new political circumstances the pressure to continue magyarization was alleviated, but the eparchy faced new problems. The pro-Hungarian Bishop Novak opposed Czechoslovak rule and left for Hungary; in the subsequent two decades the eparchy did not have its own ordinary (ruling bishop), but rather apostolic administrators: Nikolai Russnak (1918-1922), the Bishop of Krizevci Dionysii *Niaradii (1922-1926), and from September 1926 the soon-to-be Bishop Pavel *Goidych, who was not raised to the status of eparch (ordinary) bishop of Presov until 1940. Aside from administrative problems the eparchy was faced with a growing Orthodox movement: by 1935 an estimated 9,000 faithful left the Greek Catholic Church “to return” to Orthodoxy. Most of the converts were Rusyns, whose departure decreased the percentage of that nationality within the Presov Eparchy. Thanks to the policies of Bishops Niaradii and Goidych, the Greek Catholic elementary school system again offered instruction in Rusyn, and in 1936 the eparchy supported the establishment of the Russian-language gymnasium in Presov. The eparchy also sponsored the publication of an influential Rusyn newspaper, *Russkoe slovo (1924-38), and welcomed *Basilian Sisters from Galicia, who opened a convent and boarding school in Presov (1922) and later schools and/or orphanages in Medzilaborce (1938), Secovce, Stropkov, and Svidnik (1945).

The defense of Rusyn national interests, especially by Bishop Goidych, provoked displeasure on the part of Slovak national activists. During the period of the World War II government officials in the Slovak state hoped that Goidych would resign and be replaced by someone of Slovak nationality. This did not happen (Goidych submited his resignation but it was not accepted by the pope), and the eparchy was for a few more years able to continue to fulfill the cultural as well as spiritual needs of its parishioners, maintaining the traditional Church Slavonic language for the liturgy, Rusyn in homilies, and Rusyn or Russian-language instruction in its school system and publications.

The new Communist regime that came to power in Czechoslovakia in February 1948 was determined to follow the example of its protector, the Soviet Union. Just as the church union with Rome was abolished in western Ukraine (L’viv, 1946) and neighboring Subcarpathian Rus’/Transcarpathia (Mukachevo, 1949), the Czechoslovak Communist authorities, in cooperation with the local Orthodox church, organized the so-called Operation “P”/Akcia “P”, which at a sobor in Presov (April 1950) outlawed the Greek Catholic Eparchy of Presov. Of the 300 priests in the eparchy at the time, about one-third accepted the offer to join the Orthodox Church. On the other hand, Bishop Goidych and the 120 Greek Catholic priests who refused, were arrested. To justify their actions against the Greek Catholic Church the Czechoslovak government arranged a show trial (1951) at which Bishop Goidych was sentenced to life imprisonment on the false accusation that he and his clergy had assisted the Slovak “fascist” government during World War II and the anti-Soviet Ukrainian underground movement at the close of the war. All Greek Catholic Church property was confiscated by the state, while most of the churches were given to the Orthodox for their use.

During the period of political liberalization connected with the Prague Spring of 1968 legal status was restored to the Greek Catholic Church and many of its churches—including the cathedral in Presov, although not other property—were returned. Goidych’s auxiliary bishop and successor, Vasyl’ *Hopko (who survived imprisonment by the Communists), was not, however, given episcopal authority. Instead, in December 1968, the Vatican appointed an administrator, Jan Hirka (b. 1923). This was the first time the Eparchy of Presov was to be headed by someone of Slovak nationality, and under Hirka’s direction the church took on an increasingly Slovak hue. After the fall of Communist rule the Greek Catholic Church was fully restored in Slovakia: Hirka was consecrated bishop (1990), priests unjustly imprisoned after 1950 were legally rehabilitated, and the eparchy’s property (other than church buildings) was returned. Not unexpectedly, the property issue led to conflicts with the Orthodox Church. Whereas the Eparchy of Presov continued to in the last decades of the twentieth century—208,000 faithful in 259 parishes (1990)—this was also a period of increasing slovakization. Church Slavonic has increasingly been replaced by Slovak, homilies are generally given in Slovak (even in Rusyn villages), and church publications appear almost exclusively in Slovak. In essence, the Greek Catholic Church in the Eparchy of Presov presents itself as a Slovak institution.

The eparchy does, however, contain within its ranks a few priests who from the mid-1980s began to restore the Rusyn element in their pastoral work, at first clandestinely and later openly. This has taken the form of translations of catechisms and other religious texts into the Rusyn vernacular (mostly under the direction of Frantishek *Krainiak) and the publication of magazines and scholarly journals in a Rusyn spirit (mostly by the Basilian monks, Gorazd and Jozefat Timkovic). The Eparchy of Presov remains under the direct jurisdiction of the Holy See, and as part of the current discussions regarding jurisdictional change the idea of creating a new eparchy specifically for Rusyns has been discussed.

Bibliography: Aleksander V. Dukhnovich, Istoriia Priashevskoi eparkhii (St. Petersburg, 1877)—English trans.: Alexander Duchnovic, The History of the Eparchy of Prjasev (Rome, 1971); Volodymyr Hnatiuk, “Rusyny Priashivs’koi eparkhii i ikh hovory,” Zapysky Naukovoho tovarystva im. Shevchenka, XXXV (L’viv, 1900), pp. 1-70; Athanasius Pekar, Historic Background of the Eparchy of Prjashev (Pittsburgh, 1968); Julius Kubinyi, The History of Prjasiv Eparchy (Rome, 1970); The Tragedy of the Greek Catholic Church in Czechoslovakia (New York, 1971); Michael Lacko, “The Re-Establishment of the Greek Catholic Church in Czechoslovakia,” Slovak Studies, XI (Cleveland and Rome, 1976), pp. 159-189; Andrea Rebichini, “ I Greco-Cattolici della Slovachia Orientale: storia e attualita,” Slovak Studies, XXIII (Cleveland and Rome, 1983), pp. 75-111; Michal Fedor, Z dejin greckokatolickej cirkvi v Ceskoslovensku 1945-maj 1950 (Kosice, 1993); Marian Gajdos, “Political Aspects of ‘Action P’ in East Slovakia in the Year 1950,” Urbs—Provincia—Orbis: Contributiones . . . in honorem O.R. Halaga (Kosice, 1993), pp. 177-186; Paul Robert Magocsi, “Religion and Identity in the Carpathians,” in Boris Gasparov and Olga Raevsky-Hughes, eds., Christianity and the Eastern Slavs, Vol. I (Berkeley, Los Angeles, and Oxford, 1993), pp. 118-138; Robert Letz, “Postavenie greckokatolickej cirkvi v Cesko-Slovensku v rokoch 1945-1968,” Historicky casopis, XLIV, 2 (Bratislava, 1996), pp. 262-280; Jan Seman, A znova zijeme (Presov, 1997); Jozef Pavlovic, “The Byzantine Catholic Church in Slovakia,” Eastern Churches Journal, V, 3 (Fairfax, Virginian, 1998), pp. 61-84; Peter Sturak, Dejiny greckokatolickej cirkvi v Ceskoslovensku v rokoch 1945-1989 (Presov, 1999).

Paul Robert Magocsi

Entry courtesy of Encyclopedia of Rusyn History and Culture.
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