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Greek (Byzantine Ruthenian) Catholic Church in the USA

Greek (Byzantine Ruthenian) Catholic Church in the USA/Amerikanska greko-katoliceska russka cerkov vostocnoho obrjada — the oldest church serving Rusyn immigrants and their descendants in the United States. The first Greek Catholic parishes were established in the 1880s in eastern Pennsylvania; by World War I there were 152 parishes with about 500,000 members concentrated primarily in the northeast and northcentral United States. The churches not only provided a place of worship according to the Eastern Byzantine rite, they also became centers for Rusyn-American social, educational, and cultural activity.

All Greek Catholic East Slavic immigrants from Austria-Hungary were initially united in one jurisdiction under Bishop Soter *Ortynsky (reigned 1907-1916). In 1916, the Vatican established separate jurisdictions for Greek Catholics from Hungary (Rusyns, Magyars, Croats) and Greek Catholics from Galicia (Ukrainians as well as Lemkos). In 1924 Bishop Basil *Takach (r. 1924-1948) was appointed to head the newly established Ruthenian Catholic Exarchate of Pittsburgh under the jurisdiction of the Holy See in Rome. At the time it comprised 155 parishes with over 288,000 members. Subsequently, the exarchate became the Eparchy of Pittsburgh and new eparchies were established in Passaic, New Jersey, and Parma, Ohio (and later a third eparchy in Van Nuys, California), which in 1969 became part of an independent Metropolitan See of Munhall, later renamed the Metropolitan Province of Pittsburgh. By the late 1980s the four eparchies of the Pittsburgh Metropolitanate had about 284,000 members in 227 parishes.

Throughout its early history the Greek (Byzantine Ruthenian) Catholic Church suffered discrimination from the American Roman Catholic bishops and it was required by Vatican decrees (*Ea Semper, 1907; *Cum Data Fuerit, 1929) to adapt to American Catholic norms, including celibacy for priests and the transfer of legal ownership of church property to the bishop. Such restrictions provoked protests from both priests and the laity, many of whom abandoned Greek Catholicism for the *Russian Orthodox Church of America (especially before World War I) and subsequently for the newly established *American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church (especially during the 1930s). In the second half of the twentieth century the Byzantine Ruthenian Catholic Church, particularly during the espiscopates of Bishops Daniel Ivancho (1948-1954) and Nicholas Elko (1955-1967), embarked on a policy of americanization, which meant adoption of English in the liturgical services, acceptance of Americans of non-Rusyn background into the church, and abandonment of some Byzantine-rite traditions, including removal of iconostases.

Despite this trend toward de-ethnicization there were always priests and lay members who strove to preserve the Eastern traditions and the original Rusyn national character of the church. Among these have been priests such as Nicholas Chopey (1876-1961) and Valentine Gorzo (1869-1943), who after World War I took an active part in the *American National Council of Uhro-Rusyns. During the interwar years priest-writers, including Joseph *Hanulya, Emilij A. *Kubek, George/Jurion Thegze (1883-1962), and Stefan *Varzaly and laypersons Peter *Zeedick and Adalbert Smor promoted Rusyn cultural identity while defending the Eastern Christian traditions of the church. Even during the americanization period following World War II priest-historians such as Stephen Gulovich (1910-1957), John *Slivka, Basil *Shereghy, and Athanasius *Pekar published widely on Rusyn themes in the church’s official newspapers, the *Byzantine Catholic World and Eastern Catholic Life (1965- ). Efforts to restore the traditional Eastern practices and to revise an interest in the Rusyn heritage were particularly noticeable during the episcopates of Metropolitan Stephen *Kocisko of Pittsburgh (1969-1991) and Bishop Michael J.*Dudick of Passaic (1968-1995).

Aside from the establishment of heritage museums for the Archeparchy of Pittsburgh (1971) and the Eparchy of Passaic (1972), the Greek (Byzantine Ruthenian) Catholic Church in the USA has also provided assistance to Rusyn Greek Catholics in the eparchies of *Presov (Slovakia), *Nyiregyhaza (Hungary), and *Mukachevo (Ukraine). The Greek Catholic seminaries in each of those eparchies have received financial support from Rusyn American Greek Catholics both in the interwar years and in the post-Communist 1990s.

Bibliography: Stephen C. Gulovich, “The Rusin Exarchate in the United States,” Eastern Churches Quarterly, VI (London, 1946), pp. 459-485; Walter C. Warzeski, Byzantine Rite Rusins in Carpatho-Ruthenia and America (Pittsburgh, Pa., 1971); and John Slivka, Historical Mirror: Sources of the Rusin and Hungarian Greek Rite Catholics in the United States of America, 1884-1963 (Brooklyn, N.Y., 1978); Paul Robert Magocsi, “Rusyn Catholics in America,” in The Encyclopedia of American Catholic History (Collegeville, Minn., 1997), pp. 1221-1224.

Paul Robert Magocsi

Entry courtesy of Encyclopedia of Rusyn History and Culture.
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