Copyright 1995 by Paul Robert Magocsi and Carpatho-Rusyn American - Vol. XVIII, No. 2, Summer 1995 - all rights reserved

This is the first part of a general introductory article an all aspects of Carpatho-Rusyn life which we intend to run in the next several issues of the Carpatho-Rusyn American. We ran a similar series in the very first issues of our publication back in 1978. Considering the enormous changes that have taken place in the European homeland during the past few years, we feel it appropriate to provide our readers with new and updated information. This first part will deal with geography, the economy, and religion. Subsequent issues will cover language, identity, culture, and history.-Editor

Carpatho-Rusyns live in the very heart of Europe, along the northern and southern slopes of the Carpathian Mountains. Their homeland, known as Carpathian Rus', is situated at the crossroads where the borders of Ukraine, Slovakia, and Poland meet. Aside from those countries, there are smaller numbers of Carpatho-Rusyns in Romania, Hungary, Yugoslavia, and the Czech Republic. In no country do Carpatho-Rusyns have an administratively distinct territory.

Geography and economy

Three-quarters of the Carpatho-Rusyns in Europe are found within the borders of Ukraine, specifically in the Transcarpathian region (historic Subcarpathian Rus'). In Slovakia, Carpatho-Rusyns live in the northeastern part of the country which is popularly known as the Presov Region. On the northern slopes of the Carpathians, they had traditionally lived in southeastern Poland, in an area known as the Lemko Region. After World War II, the Lemko Rusyns were deported from their Carpathian homeland. Among those who remained in Poland, a few thousand have managed to return to the Carpathians, although most reside in scattered settlements in the western (Silesia) and northern regions of the country. Finally, there are several Carpatho- Rusyn villages just south of the Tisza River in the Maramures region of north central Romania, and a few scattered settlements in northeastern Hungary.

Beyond the Carpathian homeland, Rusyns live as immigrants in neighboring countries. The oldest immigrant community, dating back to the mid-eighteenth century, is in the Vojvodina (historic Backa) and Srem regions of former Yugoslavia, that is, present-day northern Serbia and far eastern Croatia. In the Czech Republic, Carpatho-Rusyns reside primarily in northern Moravia and the capital of Prague, where most immigrated just after World War II. The largest community outside the homeland is in the United States, where between the 1880s and 1914 about 225,000 Carpatho-Rusyns immigrated. They settled primarily in the industrial regions of the northeastern and north-central states where most of their descendants still live to this day. Smaller numbers of Carpatho-Rusyns immigrated to Canada and Argentina in the 1920s and to Australia in the 1970s and 1980s.

Carpatho-Rusyns do not have their own state. At best they function as a legally recognized national minority in some-but not all-of the European countries where they live. As has historically been the case with stateless minority groups, Carpatho-Rusyns have been reluctant to identify themselves as such or have simply not been recorded by the governments in the countries where they have lived. Therefore, it is impossible to know precisely the number of Carpatho-Rusyns in any country. A reasonable estimate would place their number at 1.5 million persons worldwide.

Country Official data Estimate
Ukraine 650,000
Slovakia 49,000 130,000
Poland 60,000
Yugoslavia 19,000 25 ,000
Romania 1,000 20,000
Czech Republic 1,700 12,000
Croatia 3,500 5,000
Hungary 3,000
United States 12,500 620,000
Canada 20,000
Australia 2,500
TOTAL 1,547,500

Until 1945, the vast majority of Rusyns in the Carpathian homeland inhabited about 1,000 small villages that averaged in size between 600 and 800 residents. Aside from Carpatho-Rusyns, each village also had a small percentage (usually 5 percent to 15 percent) of people belonging to other national groups. These generally included a few Jewish families (small shop and tavern keepers as well as farmers); Roma/Gypsies who often lived on the outskirts of the village; and a Magyar, Polish, Slovak, or Czech official (gendarme, notary,. schoolteacher).

The Carpatho-Rusyns were mostly employed as farmers, livestock herders (especially sheep), and in forest-related occupations. The mountainous landscape that characterized Carpathian Rus' never allowed for extensive agricultural production. As a result, Carpatho-Rusyns were usually poor and were often forced to survive by working in neighboring countries or by emigrating permanently abroad, most especially to the United States.

After World War II, industrial enterprises were established in or near the Carpathian homeland, and many Rusyn villagers moved to nearby cities. Those cities (Uzhorod, Mukacevo, Presov, Humenne, Kosice, Michalovce, Sanok, Nowy Sacz, Gorlice, Novi Sad) were most often located outside Carpatho-Rusyn ethnolinguistic territory. As a result, many Rusyns who migrated to cities intermarried, attended schools using the state language, and eventually gave up their identity as Carpatho-Rusyns.


Carpatho-Rusyn churches share elements from both the eastern (Slavia Orthodoxa) and western (Slavia Romana) Christian worlds. Religion has remained for Carpatho-Rusyns wherever they live the most important aspect of their lives. This is so much the case that in the popular mind Carpatho-Rusyn culture and identity have often been perceived as synonymous with one of the traditional Carpatho-Rusyn Eastern Christian churches.

The earliest ancestors of the Carpatho-Rusyns believed, like other Slavs, in several gods related to the forces of nature. The most powerful of these pagan gods was Perun, whose name is still preserved in the Carpatho-Rusyn language as a curse. Christianity first was brought to the Carpathians during the second half of the ninth century. Popular legends supported by scholarly writings suggest that Carpatho-Rusyns received Christianity in the early 860s from the "Apostles to the Slavs," Cyril and Methodius, two monks from the Byzantine Empire. As would be the case throughout the Slavic world, several pagan customs practised by Rusyns were easily adapted to the Christian holy days. Thus, the mid-winter festival of koljada was merged with Christmas and Epiphany; the festival of spring with Easter; and the harvest and summer solstice festival of Kupalo with the feast of John the Baptist.

Cyril and Methodius as well as their disciples were from the Byzantine Empire. Therefore, when the Christian church was divided after 1054, the Carpatho-Rusyns remained within the Eastern Orthodox sphere nominally under the authority of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. Religious affiliation helped to distinguish Carpatho-Rusyns from their Slovak, Hungarian, and Polish neighbors who were Roman Catholic or Protestant. As Eastern Christians, the Carpatho-Rusyns used Church Slavonic instead of Latin as the language in religious services; followed the liturgy of St. John Chrysostom; received both species (leavened bread and wine) at Communion; had married priests; and followed the old Julian calendar so that fixed feasts like Christmas eventually fell two weeks later than the western Gregorian calendar, on January 7. The Carpatho-Rusyns were distinguished as well from fellow Eastern Christians (Ukrainians, Belarusans, Russians) by certain practices and rituals borrowed from their Latin-rite neighbors, but in particular by their liturgical music. That music, still in use today, consists primarily of congregational and cantorial singing (no organ or other instrument is permitted). Based on traditional East Slavonic chants and influenced by local folk melodies, it is known as Carpathian plain chant (prostopinje).

In the wake of the Protestant Reformation (which affected neighboring Magyars and Slovaks) and the Catholic Counter Reformation, the government and local aristocracy began in the late sixteenth century to try to bring the Orthodox Carpatho-Rusyns closer to the official Roman Catholic state religion of the two countries in which they lived at the time- the Hungarian Kingdom and Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The result was the creation between 1596 and 1646 of a Uniate Church, that is an Eastern Christian Church in union with Rome. The Uniates were allowed to retain their Eastern-rite traditions, but they had to recognize the Pope in Rome, not the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople as the ultimate head of their church. Hence from the seventeenth century, Carpatho-Rusyns were either Orthodox or Uniates. In 1772, the Uniates were renamed Greek Catholics. Eventually, in the United States they became known as Byzantine Catholics.

Although in practice there is not much difference between the Orthodox and Greek Catholic religious service (Divine Liturgy), there has nonetheless been constant friction between adherents of the two churches from the seventeenth century to the present in both the European homeland and the United States. The situation was made worse by the intervention of European secular authorities who at certain times persecuted and even banned entirely either the Orthodox or Greek Catholic Church.

Today, many Carpatho-Rusyn villages and cities have both a Greek Catholic and Orthodox church. Also, in each country where Rusyns live there is at least one Greek Catholic and one Orthodox bishop. In general, among Carpatho-Rusyns worldwide, there are today equal numbers of Greek Catholic and Orthodox adherents. In Ukraine's Transcarpathia, the region with the largest number of Carpatho-Rusyns, the situation is more complex. Of the 1,210 parishes registered in 1993, 38% are Orthodox and 17% Greek Catholic. The rest are Roman Catholic (5%) and Reformed Calvinist (7.5%) - both primarily for Magyars- as well as a growing number of Jehovah's Witnesses (17%), evangelical sects (6.6%), and Baptists (4%), all of whom have become wide-spread among Carpatho-Rusyns, most especially during the last decade.

With regard to church jurisdiction, the Greek Catholic eparchies of Mukachevo (Ukraine), Presov (Slovakia), Hajdudorog (Hungary), and Krizevci (former Yugoslavia), as well as the Archdiocese/Metropolitan Province of Pittsburgh (United States) are each self-governing and under the direct authority of the Vatican. The Orthodox eparchy of Mukacevo-Uzhorod is part of the Ukrainian Orthodox (not Autocephalous) Church; the eparchy of Presov is within the Czechoslovak Autocephalous Orthodox Church; and the eparchy of Sanok-Przemysl is in the Polish Autocephalous Orthodox Church. In the United States, the Orthodox are either within the self-governing (autocephalous) Orthodox Church in America, or the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church under the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople.

Paul Robert Magocsi

Toronto, Ontario

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