Volodymyr Chyljak (1843-1893)

The following article, authored by Olena Duc', first appeared in Carpatho-Rusyn American, Volume 10 #3, 1987
Copyright © 1987 and is used here with permission

A salient characteristic of nineteenth-century Lemko culture was that its creators were from the clergy. The possibility to obtain an education and then to work within Lemko culture became synonymous with graduating from a theological seminary and either becoming a parish priest or continuing with university studies. An indication of the great need for scholarly activity among the Lemkos was the significant number of academics from the Lemko Region holding doctorates and professorial titles, whose contribution to the development of learning, especially theology, is significant.

Nonetheless, for many among this Lemko intelligentsia, the need for a wider range of Lemko activities -- social, literary, educational, and political -- became evident. In fact, the educated clergy was to play a key role in determining the ideological and political profile of the Lemko Region. Priests attempted to direct the development of Lemko national consciousness both through their pastoral activity and through the printed word. As a result, a political, historical, didactic, and moralizing literature arose. Besides such "practical" works, there were also examples of literary texts born out of an authentic aesthetic gift and creative need.

One of the best known and talented Lemko writers was Volodymyr Chyljak. He was born and worked in the Lemko Region, and his prolific pen left for posterity a large number of literary works. A four-volume edition of his complete works appeared already in L'viv between 1881 and 1881, and his writings even came to the attention of the leading Russian Slavist of the time, Aleksandr Pypin.

Volodymyr Chyljak was born on July 15, 1848 in Wirchomla Wielka (Virchovnja Velyka), a Lemko Rusyn village (Nowy Sacz district) in the former Habsburg Austrian province of Galicia, where his father Ignatyj was a Greek Catholic priest. The young Volodymyr finished primary school and six grades of gymnasium in the nearby town of Nowy Sacz, after which he was sent across the Carpathians to Presov, where he received his gymnasium diploma. He remained in Presov and completed his studies at the Greek Catholic Seminary there. In 1866 he married Angelika Durkot from the Lemko village of Izby and soon after was ordained a Greek Catholic priest. For the rest of his life, Chyljak served as a parish priest in the Lemko villages of Dolyny (Gorlice district), Izby (Grybow district), and Bartne/Bortne (Gorlice district); then he was sent farther east to Lityn (Drohobych district), where he remained until his death in 1893.

For most of his life -- 22 years - he lived in Bartne. It was in that Lemko village where Chyljak began his literary career and where he wrote almost all of his works, some of which were published under his own name, others under pseudonyms such as Jeronim Anonym, V. Neljach, Ja sam, Lemko Semko, Nikyj, and Quidam russkij. Chyljak's corpus consists of about fifty works -- novels, tales, short stories -- all of which are closely related to life in the Lemko Region. He quickly became popular among Lemko readers as well as among readers in the Russian Empire.

Among Chyljak's best works are the short stories and novels: "Shbenychnyj verch"(1883), "Pol'skij patriot"(1872), "Vlechenie serdec" (1874), "Supruzhestvo i chetyre fakultety" (1880), "Velykij perekinchyk v malom rozmiri" (1881), "Poslidnaja charka" (1888), "Shchastja ne v hroshach" (1889), "Persha ljubov" (1891), and "Ne sudyte i ne sudymy bud'te" (1893).

He also wrote humorous anecdotal tales that are full of life ("Ryba," "Poznal svoju zhenu"), satires ("Na shcho russkij ochy dyvljatsja," "O rosti chelovicheskom"), and feuilletons ("Ja I ona," "Kumedija i chudasja," "Pojedynok," "Vody v Vysovi").

Most of Chyljak's works first appeared in the Galician Rus' newspaper Slovo as well as in journals in the Russian Empire such as Slavjanskij vek and Russkij vestnik.

Chyljak's prose reveals his excellent familiarity with Lemko problems and it brings to light happy as well as difficult moments in the lives of individual Lemkos. Because they are marked by emotional engagement with their subject, Chyljak's writings are imbued throughout with expressiveness and authenticity. The narratives are clear, the plots are uncomplicated, and there are frequent references to Lemko customs. Chyljak's great sensitivity to the beauty of nature must also be mentioned. He often provided rich descriptions of the Lemko landscape that revealed a love of this native land and his closeness to it. As for philosophical and moralistic elements, they are introduced in the form of digressions and reflections about life and man's fate.

The Reverend Chyljak was a historian and ethnographer as well as a belletrist. Besides historical novels, often based on actual events in the Lemko past, he wrote scholarly articles on ethnography, in particular on Lemko wedding rites and related customs. Volodymyr Chyljak's contribution to Lemko cultural development is outstanding, and through his writings readers from many lands can gain an insight into Lemko life in a direct and all encompassing manner.

Olena Duc'
Uscie Gorlickie, Poland

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