“Not all those who wander are lost”
Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory Forever! This is how Carpatho-Rusyns greet each other! Let us do the same!
Now, during this new time of troubles, we deeply require church education, especially concerning the events in Ukraine. Wherever there is disinformation and ignorance, this is where it’s easiest to spread heresy. It’s time to rediscover our history, and learn where we came from. Let’s bring back the great enlightening tradition of the Brotherhoods of Lviv, Ostrog, and Kiev until the light of Orthodox reason illuminates the darkness of ignorance that was spread across our lands, from the Carpathians to the sea, by the devil who would divide us all.
One of the most tragically overlooked of Orthodox histories is Carpathian Rus’, and the Carpatho-Russians. All those in the homeland and in diaspora cannot afford to let it fall into obscurity. The Carpathian mountains practically became a second Golgotha, and the blood of many new martyrs provided the seed for a new wave of young faithful Christians throughout Ukraine, Slovakia, Poland, Romania, and other places where Carpathian Orthodox people live. Likewise, Carpatho-Russians or Rusyns have played an indispensable role in the Orthodox mission in America and the new world.
If “Russia is the Motherland of Mammoths and Patriots,” as Orthodox historian Egor Kholmogorov would say in his excellent article on Rus’ statehood, Carpathian Rus’ is the homeland of the giants who shepherded them into the brave, new world.
One need only say the name Metropolitan Laurus—who literally reunited the Russian Church—or Saint Alexis Toth who brought thousands of Rusyns from the Unia back to Orthodoxy and practically helped build the OCA, to realize this affects us all. While there have been many detailed, great articles written about them, many available at the Orthodox England website, there is still not enough information available, especially in English, so I will try to bring to light things rarely spoken of in the English language, and events happening in Transcarpathia throughout history and today, omitting some of the information which was already well said.
From Whence Came the Rusyn People?
It is said, that they “came from nowhere”, and while such a cryptic and mysterious saying does befit this great nation, it's not true; they come from Rus' more specifically, Carpathian Rus'.
While the most historical term for their homeland is Subcarpathian Rus', and perhaps the most accurate is Transcarpathia, most poetically just would be a more literal translation of the Slavic term Zakarpattya—"Beyond the Carpathians”.
It was justly said that all we who are Orthodox have a little bit of Rusyn in us, because in a certain way, we all live beyond the lonesome Carpathian Mountains. I suppose wherever we go, Zakarpattya is our home!
At the very least, global Orthodoxy owes a great deal to these talented people, so where exactly do they live? In broad strokes, in the northern regions of the Carpathian Mountains in Eastern Europe.
As we can see, Rusyns essentially live almost at the direct center of Europe, in a strategically valuable location.
Although, “Beyond the Carpathians” is quite vague, isn’t it? The territory from which Rusyns come is now spread across several countries, including Slovakia, Ukraine, Poland, and Romania, with even a separate settlement of Rusyns as far as Serbia. Transcarpathia was located right at the crossroads of major powers, and as we can see from a map of Europe before and after WW1, it never gained independence, but was divided between the different nations which formed after the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
After WW2, Transcarpathia was forcefully incorporated into Soviet Ukraine, a state to which it had no prior relation, having spent most of its history either in Galician Rus’, later Poland-Lithuania, and then the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It is also important to note that during WW2, Nazi-allied Galician Ukrainian nationalists insurgents, especially those of the Carpatho-Ukrainian Sich’, occupied free Rusyn territory, which was then an autonomous part of the Czechoslovak Republic and forced it to join their “Ukrainian Carpathian” state.
Subcarpathia was only liberated by Soviet troops after 1944, but then forcibly incorporated into Ukraine by Stalin and the communists nonetheless. Stalin deported Carpatho-Russians from Czechoslovakia, and Lemkos from Poland, and effectively called them Ukrainians. Stalin actually added all of Galicia to Soviet Ukraine, which also had not been ruled from Kiev for many centuries.
Because there was never a Carpatho-Russian state, and the region from which they come was often traded back and forth between great powers in a series of traumatic wars, it’s hard to pinpoint on a map. Every Rusyn immigrant is familiar with the geographical gymnastics you have to play when someone asks you “So…where are you from?” Such a question usually triggers a response like this: (Sigh]) “Well…I am from Ukraine, but I’m not Ukrainian, I’m from Mukachevo, but I grew up in Uzhhorod. My mom is from Poland but she isn’t Polish, she’s a Lemko, but her great grandfather was actually born in the Austro-Hungarian Empire just before the war, and so they moved to Volhyn before ending up in Poland, and then were deported to Soviet Ukraine.”
If you can relate to that…you’re probably a Carpatho-Russian; it’s no wonder that Andy Warhol, who was in fact, Rusyn, simply found it easier to say “I come from nowhere.”
This is complicated by the fact that there simply is not an easy to find map that clearly displays the entire region in its complexities. Below is one map displaying Rusyn regions:
The most important centers of Rusyn Culture today are Uzhhorod and Mukachevo in Ukraine, and Prešov in Slovakia, however they were historically found throughout Galicia (Western Ukraine), as far as Pochaev Lavra in Volhynia, as well as Gorlice in Poland, and parts of Maramaras and Southern Bukovina in Romania.
Prior to the unification of Kievan Rus’, one of the Slavic tribes that lived in Transcarpathia, where Rusyns live today, was known as the White Croats or White Croatians; Rusyns are decedents both of the White Croats and also the ancient Rus’ from whom they take their name.
A Rusyn spiritual leader Father Dimitri Sydor, dean of the Uzhhorod deanery of the UOC explains there is evidence that Proto-Rusyns were part of these White Croats, who lived on the territory of great Moravia and the Bulgarian Empire prior to the formation of Kievan Rus’.1 According to Father Sydor, an expert on the Rusyn language, Rusyn language coincides almost seventy percent with Old Slavonic, and Proto-Rusyns in fact were some of the first people taught by Saints Cyril and Methodius.2
Tribes of Rusyns
The most important thing to understand is that Rusyns are a nation within the Rus’ or East Slavic family, inhabiting the Carpathian Mountains. They are decedents of the ancient Rus’ people, but also related to other tribes who lived in that cross roads between ancient Rus’, Poland, Bohemia, Moravia-Slovakia, and Bukovina.
Rusyns themselves are often divided into certain tribes. One of the most famous of them are the Lemkos, whose name is taken from their often-used word “лем” (lem), meaning “Only”, a cognate of the Ukrainian лише and the Russian лишь. Lemkos are mostly from the northern part of Carpathia, in Poland, as well as Prešov in Slovakia, and Uzhhorod in Ukraine. Lemkos are probably the most well-known group of Rusyns, together with Boikos and Hutsuls.
The differences between these tribes is quite arbitrary, as all peoples around here are to some degree interrelated, in all honesty, Slavs themselves are highly interrelated. The nuanced differences of architecture, dress, and dialect are too complex to enter into detail in this article.
Now it seems Rusyns have been scattered to the four corners of the world, and wandered a great deal around it, but as J.R.R. Tolkien once said, “not all those who wander are lost”. Rusyns will never be lost, so long as they remember their name, because in their name, they will find their home, and maybe a lot more than that.
Carpatho-Russians or Rusyns?
What is the proper name for these people? The most commonly used names for these people are: Carpatho-Russians and Rusyns. So, which is the correct name? I would argue both—and both should be equally used in context. It also highly depends on language.
The term Carpatho-Russian has its merits, however this is a term more prevalent among the English-speaking diaspora, especially in America. The benefit of this name is primarily two-fold: First of all, seeing as there is no specific Rusyn state, adding the geographical context of the Carpathian Mountains can help people understand where Rusyns come from.
Second of all, the term Russian helps solidify the relation of these people to Rus’, however it can also be confusing, as many Western people don’t perfectly understand what Rus’ is, or even how broad the identity of Russian is, as not all Russians currently live on the territory of the Russian Federation—modern Russia. In this we begin to understand why language, and not simply different languages, but the meaning and choice of words is hugely important here.
This is why in Russian we have two words for Russian(s): Russky—meaning an ethnic Russian, and Rossianin—a Russian citizen regardless where he lives or his ethnicity. An ethnic Russian in Ukraine is Russky, but unless he has a Russian passport, he is not a Rossianin. Likewise a Tatar born in Russia is Rossianin but not necessarily Russky.
If a modern Russian from Moscow, whose entire family comes from Moscow, were to move to the Carpathian Mountains, he would be a Russian who lives in Transcarpathia, but not a Carpatho-Russian. Carpatho-Russians are a very unique nation with their own language and folklore deeply related and interconnected to, but distinct from Russians and Ukrainians in the same way that Belarusians or “White Russians” are Rusian—i.e. from Rus’—but not necessarily Russian, in other words, from the modern state of Russia.
And this brings us to the very root of the name Rusyn—Rus’, and if we understand this, a great deal becomes clear to us, not only about Rusyns but also about Ukraine, and the entire conflict therein.
The Name of Rus’
One of the most important aspects of Rusyn people is actually their name; found in their name is a great deal of knowledge, which if examined closely, can make this entire issue in Ukraine understood in a whole new context. The word Rusyn is actually taken from the most ancient name for these peoples.
Rusyn is derived from Rus’, and Rus’ is the key to all of this, but what is Rus’?
Rus’ is the Ancient Eastern Slavic state and nation, the synthesis of all Eastern Slavic peoples—the ancestor of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus.
Rusyns should not at all feel bad that they often ask the question “Where do I come from?”
This is perhaps among the most Russian of questions. The Primary Chronicle, the first and greatest Russian history source even concludes its introduction with the famous words “From whence came the Rus’ lands”.
Just as Carpatho-Russians often have the Carpathian toponym added to their name, sometimes Rus’ is referred to specifically by its central region at a certain time, hence the most famous name of historical Rus’ is Kievan Rus’—referring to the period when Kiev was the capital of all Rus’.
This was the most united period of Russian (all Rusian) history, and the time when the Rus’ people received Christian baptism. If we look at a map of Kievan Rus’, we can see it overlaps almost equally Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus.
Rus’ is the nation to which they all belong. There have often been attempts to claim the legacy of Rus’ for a single nation, hence the term “Ukraine-Rus” popularized by Mykhailo Hrushevsky, and also used in the title of false patriarch Philaret. We will return to this later.
In short, Equal-to-the-Apostles Saint Olga of Kiev was born in the Pskov region (modern day Northern Russia), ruled from Kiev (the capital of modern Ukraine), and founded the city of Vitebsk (modern day Belarus), as a result it is clear if you love Saint Olga…you have to love Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus, as she was a part of each country.
It is important to understand that while Kievan Rus’ was the first Eastern Slavic Rus’ state, it is not the beginning of all Rus’ people, it was merely their first great union. As Father Dimitri Sydor notes, the ancient White Croats-Proto-Rusyn people, on the Danube-Tisa watershed live roughly were Saint Nestor the Chronicler in the Tale of the Bygone Years, describes possibly the original Slavic homeland. He notes that ancient Rusyn saints such as Moses the Hungarian actually participated in the Baptism of Kievan Rus’, and as a result, Carpathian Rus’ may pre-date Kievan Rus! It could be a Proto-Russia!
History in fact shows us there have been more than one Rus’—there are many Russias. This is why the title of Russian Tsars and Patriarchs typically ends in “And of All Rus”, and this is why the phrase: “Emperor of All the Russias” is not a typo.
There was Kievan Rus’, but there was also Novgorod Rus’; there was Vladimir Rus’, and also Galician-Volhynian Rus’; among the other Russias was Little Russia (north-central Ukraine), New Russia (southern Ukraine), White Russia or Ruthenia Alba in Latin (Belarus), Red Ruthenia (to the west of Lesser Poland), Chełm Rus’ in Poland, Hungarian Rus’ (near Zakarpattya), Prešov Rus’ (in Slovakia), Siberian Rus’…the list goes on.
In the sixteenth century, it became clear that only Moscow Rus’ and Polish-Lithuanian Rus’ remained as sovereign states.
Moscow Rus’—the eastern portion of Rus’ was still ruled by Orthodox Rurikids from the city of Moscow, and Western Rus’—what is now modern Ukraine and Belarus—had fallen under the control of Catholic Lithuania and Poland.
In Western Rus’, there was great persecution of the Church, but Rus’ still survived there, the people are still worthy of the name Rus’, not the least of which, Carpathian Rus’.
During the Polish-Lithuanian era, the Orthodox eastern Slavic peoples were called Ruthenians or Rutini, from the Latin word Ruthenia, meaning Russia. One should take note that while there are two words for Russia—Rus’ and Rossia—the latter is simply the Greek word for Rus’, which the Byzantines called the Rus’ people when they came to Constantinople.
After the marriage of Ivan the Great to Sophia Paleologos, to solidify his clear descent from the old Roman Emperors, he adapted the Greek name Rossia for the part of Rus’ ruled from Moscow, however those in Western Rus’ still kept the term Rus’.
It is important to understand whether you say Rus’, Rossia, Russky, Rusyn, or Ruthenian, you are expressing the same concept—Russia and Russian—only in different languages!
Eventually, the Cossacks living in what was called Malorossia, or Little Rus’ (Little Russia), rose up in rebellion against the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and reunited their state, which they often simply called “The Hetman’s Lands” or Hetmanshchina, with Moscow, however the proper term for this land at that time period, the central region which was the former nucleus of Kievan Rus’, is known as Little Russia (Malorossia).
This is why Ukrainians were historically called Malorossians, or Little Russians, before the spring of nations and the (at times forced) popularization of the term Ukrainian. It is important to note the term “Little Russia” and “Little Russian” is not in any way degrading or demeaning. “Little” in this context is comparable to the term Asian Minor, or the Polish term “Lesser Poland” (Małopolska). It essentially means southern, or lower in geography, as Lesser Poland is located at the southern half of Poland. The Latin term for Lesser Poland is Polonia Minor, just like Asia Minor, and thus Little Russia could be understood as Ruthenia Minor(a).
Saint Lavrenty of Chernigov, one of ancient cities in Kievan Rus’, which was later part of Little Russia, and was Soviet Ukraine during the time that he lived, explained that he felt the term Ukrainian—not little Russian—was degrading. According to Saint Lavrenty:
“The Jews hated the words 'Rus' and 'Russian,' so at first they called the Russian lands conquered by the Poles and rented out to them 'Malorossia' (Little Russia). Then they realized that it contained the word 'Ros,' and they named it Okraina. The word okraina is a disgraceful and humiliating word! What 'remote, outlying district'? What 'outback'?”3
What Saint Lavrenty is explaining is that technically speaking, the word Ukraine actually means “on the borderland”, and that by naming the Ruthenians (i.e. the people of Western Rus’, the Ukrainians) “Ukrainian”, it essentially removes their nationality.
It takes away the word Rus’ from the name, so they are no longer people of Rus… i.e. Rusians, but simply Ukrainians…borderlanders similar to how some Ukrainians refer to Rusyns Verkhovyntsi (highlanders).
While Ukrainian has now taken on a distinct meaning to refer to a people, historically the word Ukraine was even used in one of the first Ruthenian language (the predecessor to modern Ukrainian, Belarusian, and Rusyn) medieval bibles to refer to the border or edge of the coasts near Judea.
Peresopnytsia Gospel in the Old Ruthenian dialect of Slavonic language. The photo is taken from Matthew 19:1, in which the word Ukraine corresponds to the word coasts (of Judea) in the King James Bible
The it seems the term “Ukraine”, at that time, was not even a proper noun yet. The word also appears in the ancient Slavic Kievan Chronicle referring to an area somewhere roughly south of Kiev so this was never a fixed term.
Taras Shevchenko himself spoke only of Ukraine, for example, but not of Ukrainians. Likewise, in the 1710 Constitution of Phillip Orlyk, the Cossack colonel Orlyk who was a supporter of the idea of Ukrainian independence from Moscow used both the words “Ukraine” and “Little Russia”, however the word Ukraine was only ever used in a geographical and toponymical context (i.e. the land of Ukraine), whereas Little Russia was the only term he used both for his land, and his people (i.e. the Little Russian Nation).4
This is all to demonstrate the rather recent appearance of the name Ukrainian for the Ruthenian people. Saint Lavrenty continues:
“The Poles legitimatized the concepts of the Ukraine and Ukrainians to us, so that we would willingly forget our own name of 'Russian' forever, so that we would be torn away from Holy and Orthodox Rus' forever… As it is impossible to divide the Most Holy Trinity, Father and Son and Holy Spirit, for it is One God, so also it is impossible to divide Russia, the Ukraine and Belorussia, for these together are Holy Rus'. Know, remember, and do not forget.”
Of course, it is important to understand that in the modern world, there is now a Ukrainian state, and there is nothing wrong with an inhabitant of this state being called a Ukrainian. In this context, it is perfectly fine to call even a Rusyn a Ukrainian…as many Rusyns are Ukrainians…in fact…legally speaking…all citizens of Zakarpattya oblast are Ukrainians, and admitting this legal fact does not necessarily support the suppression of Rusyn identity.
After all, a Carpatho-Russian born in America can be both American and Carpatho-Russian, thus you can also be Ukrainian and Rusyn. The key boundary to remember is that Rusyn is NOT a dialect of Ukrainian, and Rusyns are NOT simply peculiar Ukrainian highlanders, but an equal member of the East Slavic group. A Boiko from Zakarpattya is first ethnically related to a Lemko from Poland or a Rusyn from Prešov, and then to other Ukrainians.
When Malorossia (Central and Southern Ukraine) reunited with Russia in 1654, the western portion of Ukraine—Galicia, Volhyn, and the Transcarpathian lands remained in the Polish Lithuanian commonwealth.
And while it’s true the Poles did not like the idea of all-Russian unity, Carpatho-Russians at the time were still known simply as Ruthenians. Carpathian Rus’ remained under the control of western empires until WW1, and even beyond.
Still, it was not until the dark days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire came, that the Uniates began to brutally persecute Orthodox Rusyns for their ethnicity. They ideologically forced the name Ukrainian on Carpatho-Russians, demanding they no longer identify as Rusyns, but as citizens of the empire, who are living in simply a cultural region of Galicia, Western Ukraine. Rusyn language was to be considered a strange mountainous dialect of Galician Ukrainian, and most of all, Greek Catholic Uniatism was to be promoted, whereas Orthodoxy was forbidden.
Today, many Rusyns are practically unaware of their identity in Ukraine, unlike in Hungary, Slovakia, Poland, America, and Russia where Rusyns are free to express their unique culture. This is truly tragic for those in Ukraine, who live right beside the center of Ukrainian nationalism. Interestingly enough, a noticeable difference can be noticed in both electoral votes in Ukraine.
While it’s clear Ukraine can be divided into two or three essentially regions, Transcarpathia remains an enclave with a unique voice and vision in an otherwise national west.
The Greek Catholic religion is still common among Rusyns both in the homeland and in diaspora. In fact, many simple Christian village folk in their innocence were not even aware of the differences between the Uniate and Orthodox churches, and the Uniates and ecumenists work hard to keep this difference obscured.
I recall the story of a particular Rusyn Church near where I was born (in North America), in which the people formed a parish not even realizing half of them were Orthodox and half Uniates! Many Orthodox Rusyns simply believe they are following the faith of their fathers, but when they realized they were tricked, they returned to Orthodoxy; this is the story of many Rusyn saints as well. The parish near my birthplace decided to rejoin canonical Orthodoxy over one hundred years ago.
Many Rusyns simply need to be made aware of how the Unia and its supporters committed genocide against Rusyns, and how the Roman Catholic Jesuits despised even the Greek Catholic Uniates.
In many ways, the Austro-Hungarian Empire committed what was the first modern ethnic genocide in Europe, predating the holocaust (which killed millions of ethnic Russians and Slavs, by the way), and a contemporary of the Armenian genocide. Some give estimates of up to a hundred of thousand Rusyns oppressed or killed.
The brutality with which the Austrian Catholics treated the Rusyn Orthodox is like something out of the sick dreams of the Austrian-German dictator Hitler. Just look at how the Austrians martyred Carpatho-Russian Saint Maxim Sandovich:
On Sunday, September 6th, like a lamb, he was led to the slaughter as his family was made to watch. A German officer lined him against a wall and tore off his cross throwing it on the ground, and in doing so, blasphemed the Lord. Though Father Maxim was bound, he had no intention to flee as he was scourged and mocked in a Christ-like way. His people looked on with tears in their eyes, salt and water falling down their cheeks as the Austrians beat the gentle lamb of their village. Every blow to his broken body was a blow to the freedom of the Slavic peoples, who were suffering from Serbia to Ukraine under this Austrian yoke. Then, this martyr for the Holy Trinity was shot three times. The first time he cried out loudly, “Long Live the Russian People!”, the second time “Long Live Holy Russia and all Slavs”, and finally, right before his death, he cried “Long Live the Holy Orthodox Faith.”
Saint Maxim Sandovich Therefore, I feel the name Carpatho-Russian should be used in conjunction with Rusyn because we need to raise awareness of both terms; but the word Rusyn is very special. The word Rusyn itself, as a variant of the old word Ruthenian, did not originally refer only to Carpatho-Russians.
Rusyn (or Ruthenian) actually was the original name of all Ukrainians collectively, before the period of Ukrainianization. Whereas those who would become or come to identify themselves as Ukrainians adapted this name, Ruthenian was the older term, which Carpatho-Russians simply preserved in their name Rusyn.
Those who say Rusyns are simply a peculiar version of Ukrainians have it backwards. It is the Ukrainians who are part of the Rusyn nation, and Carpatho-Rusyns are simply a peculiar part of the Rus’ people from the Carpathian Mountains.
Rusyns are Russians not from Great Russia (modern Russia), Little Russia (Ukraine), or White Russia (Ruthenia Alba—Belarus), but from Carpathian Russia. There were other regions of Ruthenia in fact, including Red Ruthenian (Red Rus’) now located in Poland, and Black Ruthenia…ironically mostly located in Belarus, which means White Rus’. Out of all these colors, it was only the Carpatho-Russians and Russians who remained just simply that—Rusians—people of Rus’.
Rusyn, especially the alternative spelling Rusin, preserves most closely the ancient word for Rus’, and emphasizes both the connection to Russia, as well as the unique status of this equal decedent of Holy Rus’. After all, no one says in Russian, “I am Russian” like this: “Ya Rashin”, but instead: “Ya Russky”. Rusyn is pronounced closer to the name Rus’ than the English pronunciation Russian.
In Saint Maxim’s martyrdom, linguistically speaking, both in Russian and Rusyn, we can see he would have almost certainly used two different words for Russia when he cried out in his martyrdom. First of all “The Russian people” would have likely been said Russky Narod, essentially indistinguishable from the proper Russian word.
When he said “Long Live Holy Russia…” however, here the word would have almost certainly been “Svyataya Rus” as it sounds very “un-orthodox” in Russian to say “Svyataya Rossia”.
We used the ancient Slavic word Rus’ here, just as it’s really quite improper to say Khristos Voskres (Christ is Risen in Russian), which sounds incredibly un-churched, but we instead say Khristos Voskrese (in Slavonic)!
What appropriate words with which to end our look on the origins of the Rusyn people. So long as they remember the name Rus’, and most importantly those two words, they will never be lost.