Slovakian Church

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The religious history of Greek Catholics in Slovakia is closely related to that of the Ruthenians. Indeed, for centuries their histories were intertwined, since the 1646 Union of Uzhorod was virtually unanimously accepted in the territory that is now eastern Slovakia.

At the end of World War I, most Greek Catholic Ruthenians and Slovaks were included within the territory of the new Czechoslovak republic, including the dioceses of Prešov and Mukačevo. During the interwar period a significant movement back towards Orthodoxy took place among these Greek Catholics. In 1937 the Byzantine diocese of Prešov, which had been created on September 22, 1818, was removed from the jurisdiction of the Hungarian primate and made immediately subject to the Holy See.

At the end of World War II, Transcarpathia with the diocese of Mukačevo was annexed by the Soviet Union. The diocese of Prešov then included all the Greek Catholics that remained in Czechoslovakia.

In April 1950, soon after the communist takeover of Czechoslovakia, a mock "synod" was convoked at Prešov at which five priests and a number of laymen signed a document declaring that the union with Rome was dissolved and asking to be received into the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate (later the Orthodox Church of Czechoslovakia). Greek Catholic Bishop Gojdic of Prešov and his auxiliary were imprisoned. Bishop Gojdic died in prison in 1960.

This situation persisted until 1968 when, under the influence of the "Prague Spring" presided over by Alexander Dubcek, former Greek Catholic parishes were allowed to return to Catholicism if they so desired. Of 292 parishes involved, 205 voted to return to communion with Rome. This was one of the few Dubcek reforms that survived the Soviet invasion of 1968. Most of their church buildings, however, remained in the hands of the Orthodox. Under the new non-communist independent Slovak government, most of these had been returned to the Slovak Greek Catholic Church by 1993. In 1997 Pope John Paul II created an Apostolic Exarchate of Kosice, Slovakia, from territory taken from the Prešov diocese.

A Greek Catholic Theological College was founded in Prešov in 1880. It was given to the Orthodox in 1950. In 1990, after the fall of communism, the Greek Catholic theological school was revived and incorporated into the Pavol Jozef Safarik University of Kosice. On January 1, 1997, the sections of Safarik University located in Prešov, including the Greek Catholic theological faculty, were separated and became the new University of Prešov. The Greek Catholic theological faculty trains priests for the two Byzantine jurisdictions in Slovakia, as well as laymen of both the Byzantine and Latin rites.

The Prešov diocese includes a significant number of ethnic Rusyn Greek Catholics. In recent times, however, they have been absorbed into Slovak culture to a certain extent, as very few religious books are available in Rusyn, and the liturgy is almost always celebrated in either Church Slavonic or Slovak. In the 1990 census, 17,000 people in Slovakia claimed Rusyn ethnicity.

In the United States and most other areas, the Slovaks are not distinguished from the Ruthenians. They have a separate diocese, however, in Canada, at present presided over by an Apostolic Administrator, Rev. John Fetsco (Diocese of Sts. Cyril and Methodius of Toronto, PO Box 70, 223 Carlton Road, Unionville, Ontario L3R 2L8). There are eight parishes for about 20,000 Slovak Catholics in Canada.

LOCATION: Slovakia, Canada
HEAD: Bishop Ján Hirka (born 1923, appointed 1989)
TITLE: Bishop of Prešov of Catholics of the Byzantine Rite
RESIDENCE: Prešov, Slovakia
MEMBERSHIP: 222,000

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