Our Slavic Origins

Our people belong to the Slavic group of the Indo-European family of nations, which settled sown in its European cradle about 2,000 years before Christ. The primitive habitat of the Slavs can be roughly outlined in the North by the Baltic Sea, to the East by the River Bug, in the South by the Carpathian Mountains, and on the Western frontier by the River Elbe (cfr. the map, borrowed from F. Dvornik, The Slavs, Boston, Mass, 1959, p.4).

The archeological excavations prove that our Slavic ancestors possessed a very high culture. They were peace-loving people, dedicated to their soil, since agriculture was their main occupation. Some of the nomadic tribes, like the Scythians, Sarmathian Croats and Turkish Bulgarians, accepted the Slav culture and became assimilated by them, while retaining their tribal names.

The Greek historian Procopius of Caesarea, who came into contact with the Slavs during the military campaign of the Byzantine General Belisarius (538-552), in his memoirs praises the democratic way of life: "They are not ruled by one man, but since ancient times they have lived in a democracy. This is the reason why they discuss in common the pleasant events and the harassing troubles of importance, and the whole people decide upon these things" (cfr. his History of Wars, b. 7, ch. 14).

The primitive Slav culture, generally speaking, can be divided into two periods: 10 Lusatian and 20 Venedian. Lusatian culture, embracing the period of time from 2,000 - 500 B.C., was violently interrupted by the invasion of nomadic Scythians in about 500 B.C. It took the Slavs almost 400 years to restore their pristine culture as is witnessed by the Venedian period from 100 B.C. until about 400 A.D.

Believing in the life beyond the grave, the Slavs developed their religion under the influence of the Iranian belief as it was recently proved by comparative philology. To designate a deity, the Slavs used the term "Bog," "Boh," while the other Indo-European peoples used "Deus" or its derivatives. Slavic "Boh" (originally "Bogu") is closely related to the Iranian "Baga" meaning the source or giver of all good things. Thus man with plenty of good things is called by the Slavs "bogat", "Bohatyj" (same root - bog, boh).

The Iranian religion was dualistic, i.e. admitting two supreme principles-deities: " Baga" - the principle of good and "Dauva"-the principle of evil. The second left its traces in the Slavic "Div" - bad spirit, and "divyj"-wild, untamed. The Slavs, subjecting the evil spirits to the Supreme God, slowly discarded the dualistic philosophy of life. They believed also in the free will of man. The freedom of choice they called "vira" from the Iranian "var" meaning choice. After the conversion to Christianity they used the term "vira" to designate faith i.e. choice of good, adherence to God.

for many centuries the Slavic tribes used the same common language. It was only during the third and fourth centuries that some dialectical differences began to develop among the various tribes, but until the tenth century they were not too noticeable. Thus, at the time of SS. Cyril and Methodius we can still talk about a common language among the Slavic tribes.

The Slavs lived up to the third century in their original settlement, relatively speaking, in a compact mass. They were ruled by their ancients or tribal princes, called by various names. The most common were: kahan, kniaz, zhupan and ban. It was only under the pressure of nomadic hoards in the fourth century that some Slavic tribes crossed the Carpathian Mountains and pushed their way down to the Balkans. Others moved westward toward the upper Danube, and still others eastward toward the River Dniper and Black Sea. Thus, from the fourth through the eighth centuries, we have a definite tribal division among the Slavs, giving birth to the various Slavic peoples.

Generally, the linguists divide the Slavs into three main groups, called: 10 Western Slavs 20 Southern or Yugoslavs, and 30 Eastern Slavs. The Western Slavs embrace modern nations of Czechs, Slovaks, Lusitian Serbs and Poles. To the group of Southern Slavs belong Serbs, Croats, Slovenians, Macedonians and Bulgarians. The Eastern Slavs are subdivided into three separate branches, forming as many nationalities: Russians (originally Muscovites), White or Bielo-Russians and Rusyns, most of whom are commonly called Ukrainians today.

From the above classification one can see that our ancestors, who came to the United States mostly from the eparchies of Mukachevo, Prjashev and Przemyshyl, are known in history as "Rusyns" and in our language as "Rusiny." They belong to the group of the Eastern Slavs and, therefore, they should not be confused with any ethnic group of the Western Slavs or even with a non-Slavic nationality.

The slavic tribe, which during the eighth century settled on both slopes of the Carpathian mountains (north and south) bore the name of White Horvaths - "Bil'l Horvaty" (not to be confused with the Croats in Yugoslavia). They were ruled by their own princes, vassals of some stronger Slavic ruler of Bulgaria, Moravia, and later Kievan Rus'. It was only in the eleventh century that some of them became subjects of the king of Hungary. From the Kievan Rus' they adopted their national name of "Rusiny", "Rusi Syny," meaning - Sons of the Rus'. It became the common name of all southeastern Slavic tribes from the Poprad River in Prjashevschina all the way to the Caspian Sea and the River Don.

Since the Greek historians were the first to show their interest in our ancestors, they adapted our national name, making some phonetic changes according to the exigency of their language. Changing our dental sound "s" into their "th" and adding their own ending, the Greek historians called our people "Ruthenoi". In Latin our national name became "Rutheni:, from which it was adapted into the English language as "Rusyns."

Since many of our ancestors lived for many centuries under the Hungarian suzerainty, they were also called "Uhors'ki Rusiny," i.e. Rusyns of Hungary. After World War I, they were called from their habitat "Podkarpats'ki Rusiny," meaning Rusyns living under the Carpathians.

The majority of the Rusyns in order not to be confused with the Russians (known in history as Muscovites until 1713), began to call themselves Ukrainians and their land Ukraine. Under the influence of these changes and political tendencies, our people at home and abroad developed three various denominations; 10 Carpatho-Rusyns, 20 Carpatho-Russians, and 30 Carpatho-Ukrainians, each giving the opportunity to further alterations. In his recent inquiry, the Rev. John Slivka of Brooklyn NY enumerates 21 different names extracted from our various periodicals and publications (cfr. his Who Are We?, 1968 p. 4).

To avoid further confusion and to give our people here in the United States their badly needed national identity, our civic and religious leaders should adapt our historical name of "Rusiny" in English "Rusyns." It is high time to tell our people who they are and where they come from!

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