Rusyns, Part 1: The Lost Tribe of Carpathian Russia
Saint Nicholas Monastary, Mukachevo
These people may be the smallest Slavic nation, but their achievements are monumental. Among the achievements of great Rusyn churchmen have been the reunification of the entire Russian Church, the conversion of tens of thousands, practically building the OCA, possessing and taking care of myrrh-streaming icons; and many a Rusyn has been crowned with martyrdom. Let’s take a look at some of the greatest Rusyns. While this article won’t be able to go into great depth, it is my hope that what it can’t achieve in detail, it can achieve in scope, bringing to light some of the greatest Rusyns and perhaps encouraging you, dear reader, to learn more.
Carpatho-Russians in Diaspora
Archbishop Adam (Filipovsky)
In keeping with the theme of bringing to light what was shrouded in obscurity, let’s take the time to honor Archbishop Adam, a true missionary and defender of Orthodoxy in “Canadian Rus’” and America.
A Rusyn, born in Galicia, Vladyka Adam received Orthodoxy having previously been a Catholic, in a story similar to many Rusyns. After immigration to America, Father Adam became an Archimandrite, and rector of the famous Russian Orthodox Holy Trinity Cathedral in Winnipeg Canada.
As Bishop Job Smakouz explains, groups of Ukrainians in Canada, influenced by nationalist revolutions in Ukraine, wanted to break off from the Russian Church there, and form their own church on an ethnic basis—in a similar way to how the current schismatics in Ukraine demand that there be a “Ukrainian church” rather than a Church on the territory of Ukraine, serving all ethnic groups therein. For the nationalists, the ethnophyletists, their nation must have their own church, rather than having a single bishop and church for a single territory regardless of which ethnic groups live there.
Then-Archimandrite Adam fervently resisted the creation of a nationalist church, which brought upon him a great deal of slander and suffering; Fr. Adam was successful in his arguments at the Cleveland Council, even perhaps against the desire of his own Bishop Alexander, however Fr. Adam successfully assuaged the bishop from participating in the schismatic conference of Ukrainian nationalists.12
Fr. Adam, being a Rusyn, understood this nationalism to be the psychological result of centuries of divide and conquer tactics employed against his people and his fellow neighbors in Western Ukraine, and he would not allow the church to fall into this mess again, which he so aptly called “the Austro-Galician Swamp”.
As a Bishop, Vladyka Adam also wrote a play3 about the Rusyn Hieromartyr Maxim Sandovich.
Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko
Father Thomas Hopko requires no introduction for those familiar with the Russian missions abroad and the OCA. He was born into an Orthodox family and baptized at St. Mary's Orthodox Church in Endicott, NY, a parish of the American Carpatho-Russian Diocese (ACROD), as his family had conquered the Uniate trap the Vatican laid for his people along ago. His biography can be read here, but where you really get to know him is his invaluable series of over 400 podcasts available at Ancient Faith Radio. With over 52 years of spiritual care for his people, countless Orthodox Christians in the new world credit Fr. Hopko for bringing them closer to Christ. On March 18, 2015, Rusyn-Americans lost one of their finest.
Bishop Luke (Murianka) of Syracuse
Vladyka Luke is the Sixth Abbot of Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, New York, which is not only the spiritual heart of the Russian Orthodox Diaspora in the new world, it’s also the literal continuation of a medieval Slavic tradition.
Jordanville carries on the tradition of the Saint Job of Pochaev Press, which was started by Saint Job himself—one of the Four Evangelists of Eastern Slavic Printing. Saint Job was a legendary defender of Orthodoxy against the Union of Brest and Uniate heresy which ensnared so many Rusyns and Western Ukrainians. Together with Ivan Fyodorov of Moscow and with the help of Prince Konstantine Ostrogski, Saint Job of Pochaev Lavra printed the first Slavonic bible on a printing press.
That printing press continued its tradition in Carpathian Rus’, until the brothers were forced to flee to America, bringing their printing press with them.
Among them was the Ever-Memorable Metropolitan Laurus, then a monk, who would later become First Hierarch of the Church Abroad. Metropolitan Laurus was not only the dedicated primate of ROCOR who we will later laud, he was also the long time rector and abbot of Holy Trinity Seminary and Monastery respectively.
When he reposed, then-Archimandrite Luke succeeded him, becoming the sixth abbot of Holy Trinity Monastery, and the second successive Carpatho-Russian abbot there. Vladyka Luke worked tirelessly as a professor, later rector, and now just as tirelessly as a Bishop. He carried on the legacy of Saint Job of Pochaev with distinction, and Jordanville brought forth some of the finest clergy of the Russian Church Abroad under his wise guidance. I dare say Saint Job himself may just smile over Holy Trinity Monastery. To better get to know Vladyka Luke, you can listen to his speech upon being nominated to the episcopacy.
Bishop Luke blesses while Metropolitans Luke of Zaporozhye and Hilarion of New York look on
Of note, during his priestly ministry, Fr. Luke was the priest of the mission of what would become Christ the Savior Parish in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania4. Perhaps it’s even rather providential that the main church in Uzhhorod, the capital of Zakarpattya Oblast is also the Cathedral of Christ the Savior.
The Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Uzhhorod
This is certainly not the only connection between Carpatho-Russians and the city of Wilkes-Barre…it is connected to one of the greatest modern Rusyn Saints, and one of the greatest in the OCA…
Saint Alexis of Wilkes-Barre
Saint Alexis (Toth) was born on March 18, 1854, interestingly the same day Fr. Thomas Hopko would repose one hundred sixty years later. He may have been born into a tiny nation and a very poor Carpatho-Russian family, but he reposed a glorious Saint and a colossus of Orthodox missionary work. Like many Rusyns—he was born…you guessed it—a Uniate. A true scholar speaking over six languages, after his time in Prešov, he went to America.
In America, however, he was greeted by the Roman Catholic Archbishop John Ireland with the typical western disdain for Slavs. Ireland wanted to “Americanize” the “ethnic Catholics”, and having enough trouble with typical the Roman rites, you can imagine how foreign a Greek Catholic Rusyn seemed next to the Germans, Italians, and Irish.
Archbishop Ireland was openly hostile to Saint Alexis, not even giving him a chance to serve. Saint Alexis however spoke Latin, he was a catholic professor of Canon Law, and he knew the rights which the Vatican promised in the Union of Brest, so he was ready to contest this.
Still, the American Catholic bishops wrote to Rome demanding all Greek Catholics be recalled to Europe, and when they wrote their Uniate Bishops in Europe, they refused to help them.
This stunning and cruel rejection was one of the greatest moments in the life of Saint Alexis, it was here he realized the truth about the Unia; The Union of Brest was never a true union of mutual respect for the Eastern Rite, it was always intended as a transitional stepping stone into the full Latin Rite Roman Church.
As we see even in modern Ukraine, by the admission of the Uniate Primate Shevchuk, in his mind, the goal of this entire schismatic “union” arranged by Poroshenko, Philaret, and Patriarch Bartholomew is eventually to lead to a single Ukrainian Church which would be recognized by both Constantinople and the Vatican…i.e. a full Union with Rome.
The Vatican, the Polish Crown, and the Austrian authorities never saw Uniates as their brothers, but rather as their subjects whom they divided from their Orthodox family and countrymen by way of the Unia. It was a means to lead Rusyn lambs to the slaughterhouse of heresy. Saint Alexis understood this perfectly and from personal experience, and he and his fellow Carpatho-Russians resolved to contact a Russian Orthodox Bishop in America, and return to the faith of their fathers.
Not only did he return to Orthodoxy, but his missionary labors resulted in the conversions of many thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of Carpatho-Russian and Ukrainian Uniates to Orthodoxy. His works were so great that the OCA says concerning the fruits of his labors for the entire American mission:
“Any future growth or success may truly be regarded as the result of Father Toth’s apostolic labors.”5
Vladyka Luke, who we discussed above, gave an excellent lecture on Saint Alexy which is available here on Orthochristian. This is yet another example of the amazing role played by Rusyns in Orthodoxy.
Metropolitan Laurus (Škurla)
What proper words can be said for the Hierarch who—together with the ever-memorable Patriarch Alexiy of Moscow—literally reunited the sundered Russian Church.
Metropolitan Laurus, the previous First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad was born in 1928, in the Prešov region of what is modern day Slovakia, in the village of Ladomirová to a family of Orthodox Christians. He served in the altar of the church of Saint Job of Pochaev Monastery since he was five years old, and by age eleven, he joined the monastery, officially becoming a novice by age sixteen. Vladyka Laurus reluctantly said goodbye to his homeland, and fled during WW2 with the Brotherhood to Jordanville, where he joined the monastery and continued the publishing mission of the Saint Job of Pochaev all throughout his arch pastoral service.
His contributions to the Church Abroad are beyond counting, but suffice to say, he ordained nearly half the current ROCOR clergy, and that alone says something. Vladyka Laurus himself was ordained by Metropolitan Philaret (Voznesensky), and Metropolitan Laurus even presided over the local glorification of Saint Paissy Velichkovsky at the Skete of the Holy Prophet Ilia on Mount Athos. It is also worth noting that Vladyka bore a strong resemblance to His Beatitude, Metropolitan Onufry of Kiev and All Ukraine—they could practically have been brothers.
Without a doubt his greatest achievement was presiding over the reunification between the Russian Church Abroad and the Moscow Patriarchate.
It seems like divine Providence that God would choose a Rusyn Metropolitan to lead the Russian Church back into full unity. The fact that a Carpatho-Russian would be one of the leading figures not only immortalizes yet again their indispensable contributions to the Russian Church but also symbolizes the unity thereof—a Bishop from the most distant and divided region of all Rus’ leading the reunion movement with the Patriarch! To paraphrase the findings of the Bishops Council of the ROC after the reunification: The uniqueness of national and cultural identity between different parts of historical Rus’ has always formed the strength of the Holy Russian Church.6
Though born in obscurity, Vladyka Laurus reposed a colossus, and there stand two memorial statues of him with Patriarch Alexy II: one in Moscow at the end of the Patriarchal Bridge directly in front of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, and another in New York. The fact that they stand is a testimony to the Triumph of Orthodoxy.
Vladyka Laurus fittingly reposed on the Triumph of Orthodoxy, which in a turn of fate, was the same day on which another great Rusyn Metropolitan Nikolai Smishko reposed. Metropolitan Nikolai is another great Rusyn figure, whose story is quite interesting, as described by Father Mark Tyson. I particularly love this recollection by Father Mark:
His last name was Smishko which is of course related to “smeshno”—“funny” in Russian, and he was a funny man; always joking and of course, very proud of his Carpatho-Russian heritage. I would tease him a lot. I remember one time I was cleaning his first-floor bathroom (another way he helped us to earn an income) and I started singing, “Remember Us, O Lord”—“Gospodi” in the Russian pronunciation, and he yelled out “It’s HOSPODI, you fool!”
Those of a Southern Russian, Ukrainian, or Carpatho-Russian background believe the fourth letter of the Slavonic alphabet Г, based on the Greek letter Gamma, should be pronounced not like a G, but more like an H, which is actually closer to the Greek pronunciation.
Rusyns in the homeland(s)
We have already discussed the martyrdom of Saint Maxim Sandovich—his life really brings to perspective the stark witness of the Rusyns, their struggle for Orthodoxy and their identity.
Saint Alexy Another great Rusyn Saint worth discussing and expanding upon in other articles is Archimandrite Alexy (Kabalyuk), a great saint and confessor of Orthodoxy, born on September first, 1875 fittingly named after Saint Alexander Nevsky who resisted the Vatican centuries before.
Father Alexy was born a Uniate, but frequented Orthodox monasteries such as the Kiev and Pochaev Lavras, where he met Archbishop Antony (Khrapovitsky), the future Metropolitan of Kiev and Galicia, and later of New York and First Hierarch of the Russian Church abroad. Metropolitan Antony was a Holy man, and the spiritual father of Saint John of Shanghai, and Vladyka Antony also had a major effect on Saint Alexy7 who later received Orthodoxy.
After receiving Orthodoxy, Saint Alexy Kabalyuk, much like his contemporary Saint Alexy Toth became a great enlightener of his fellow Rusyns, especially in the homeland. One day he baptized over two hundred children and communed over one thousand. He established over twenty-eight Orthodox communities, and around the region of Iza, over 14,000 people received Orthodoxy thanks to his efforts.
Saint Nicholas Monastery in Iza Source: monasteries.org.ua
For this, the Catholic Austro-Hungarian authorities and their Uniate allies subjected him, as well as his relatives and many hundred Rusyns, to imprisonment and brutal tortures. Upon hearing of his tortures, Emperor Saint Nicholas II of Russia, who delicately cared for the missions of all the children of Rus’ as far away as even Cleveland, Ohio, bestowed upon Saint Alexy the gift of a golden cross.
The mission of Saint Alexy was supported by Saint John of Shanghai, who was born in what is now Eastern Ukraine, and Saint Justin Popovich from abroad.8 He was also supported by Archimandrite Vitaly Maximenko, who headed the Pochaev Lavra printing mission, and later founded the Monastery of Saint Job in Slovakia where Vladyka Laurus hailed from! From this, we can see amazingly how all of these great saints were contemporaries and are still so close to our time! Many of our grandparents’ time were effected by their work, or even knew them personally!
While Vladyka Laurus went with the brotherhood to the new world, Saint Alexy remained in the homeland, and when the Soviets liberated Transcarpathia from the Nazis, Saint Alexy tried to negotiate the status of an independent republic for the Rusyns but the godless authorities would have none of it. Stalin and Khrushchev worked to dismantle Holy Russia, and Ukrainianize Carpathian Rus’, more ancient than Moscow Rus’, which possibly predated Kievan Rus’ itself. Saint Alexy reposed in 1947, and his relics were found to be uncorrupt in 1999 at Saint Nicholas Monastery in Iza, where this heroic confessor can be venerated to this day!
The Relics of Saint Alexy in Saint Nicholas Monastery, Iza Ukraine
There are of course many great Rusyns who suffered both under Polish, Austro-Hungarian, or Ukrainian nationalist persecution, all of those forces seeking to deny the Rusyn existence as a Rus’ nation.
Father Ivan Naumovich The story of Priest Ivan Naumovich is particularly telling. Father Ivan, who reposed in 1891, was a member of the intellectual circle known as the Galician Russophiles. These were people from Western Ukraine, Rusyn or otherwise, who preserved their Rus’ based identity as Ruthenians, refusing to be identified as a separate Ukrainian nation, as the Ukrainophiles or Ukrainianizers wanted.
Today, Ukrainian identity is prevailing in Western Ukraine. It must be said that not all people who call themselves Ukrainians, or possess patriotic or Ukrainophilic views are extremists, however one cannot deny the openly fascists tendencies of the vast majority of Ukrainian nationalist groups today, and the historical role of Ukrainian nationalists collaborating with Nazi forces during WW2.
Ukrainian nationalists almost unanimously are the most hostile group to the idea of Rusyn nationhood—that is to say, that Rusyns are a unique nation within the East Slavic family, like Belarusians for example.
It is very common in Western Ukraine, for example, in Lviv or Volyn, to hear that there is no such thing as the Rusyn nation, there are no Carpatho-Russians, and Rusyns are simply “Ukrainian highlanders”.
For Ukrainian nationalists, the idea of Rusyn nationhood is impossible, because it creates a serious conflict with the Ukrainian national ideology—that Ukrainians are the sole, or otherwise primary inheritor of Kievan Rus’, and that Rus’ is only Ukraine.
The issue is not that Ukraine hates Rus’, but rather, the Ukrainian nationalists think they are more Rusian than the Russians.
This is why they invented the term in Philaret’s title “Ukraine-Rus” because on the one hand, they want to be called Ukrainians, but on the other hand, they want to assert their sole claim over all things Rusian. They accepted a foreign name for themselves, unrelated to the common word Rus’ found in the names Russian, Rusyn, and Belarusian, and then in hindsight, needed to quickly rationalize this discrepancy.
This is why Rusyns can not exist for them—if they identify as a group of Ukrainians, this is fine, but if they maintain that their homeland is Rus’, but they are not Ukrainians, it creates a great impasse which either forces one to admit or deny the truth.
It was this impasse that Father Ivan Naumovich came up against, along with the rest of the Galician Russophiles. This was what he wrote in his famous publication “A Glimpse into the Future”:
The time has come . . . to cross our Rubicon and say openly so that everyone can hear it: We cannot be separated by a Chinese wall from our brothers and cannot stand apart from the linguistic, ecclesiastical, and national connection with the entire Russian world!
These are the words of a true Galician; today in Galicia there are so few left who would say that… in fact… such words could be very dangerous these days.
Archpriest Dimitri Sydor Mitered Archpriest Dimitri Sydor is one such Rusyn unafraid to stand up for his people. Father Dimitri was even formerly accused of “separatism” by Ukrainian authorities before the Maidan coup, under the alleged “pro-Kremlin” government. Of course, these charges were completely ridiculous, and only existed because Fr. Dimitri did not forget the witness and identity of the Rusyn people.
Father Dimitri is the beloved dean of the Uzhhorod deanery of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, where he serves in the massive Cathedral of Christ the Savior and is considered one of the greatest modern spiritual leaders of Rusyns. He is also a chairman of the Rusyn “Society of Saints Cyril and Methodius”9.
Uzhhorod is a lovely city, one of the greatest centers of Rusyn people, which as is typical for Western Ukraine, is filled with rolling hills and majestic castles.
One thing untypical, and one of it’s most majestic features is the beautiful sakura cherry blossom trees dotting the city like something from a Japanese fairy tale.
Father Sydor actively gives amazing sermons in the Rusyn language, available on the cathedral website or their YouTube channel. If you can understand them, they are quite strong. This very heroic man even published a primer of the Rusyn language based on his own translation of the Gospel of Matthew into Rusyn, and for that is he practically a modern Evangelist for Rusyn Orthodoxy.
Other great church figures from Zakarpattya include the famous Metropolitan Antony (Pakanich), Chancellor of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. A noted pedagogue and beloved hierarch, whose comments on the Ukrainian situation I have translated before, Vladyka Antony also has a beautiful YouTube channel where he constantly uploads videos of church services and events.
Even if you can’t speak Ukrainian or Russian, it is worth subscribing to as the videos often contain beautiful services and singing, as well as rare views into the Ukrainian church not seen in the English world with professional and phenomenal cinematography. Of note is also Archimandrite Ambrose, who was recently elected as a Bishop of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church—yet another Transcarpathian. The service of his consecration was complete with a magnificent choir and service. Just listen to this performance of “Many Years” and this soloist during the beatitudes. I must also say I recognize at least one dear friend of mine, along with familiar faces among the concelebrating clergy. The friend I recognize bears the name of a saint who worked closely with Rusyns and Ukrainians. Mnohaya Lita to all!
The Beauty of Rusyn Songs and Culture
While volumes can be dedicated to Rusyn culture, let’s take a brief look at some of their songs, language, and more colorful aspects, to better get to know them.
The most important Rusyn song to know is the hymn and anthem which opens with the words: I was, am, and will remain a Rusyn. Here is a beautiful performance, and here the lyrics can be found. I will translate below the shortened words sung in the video in more poetic English:
I was, am and will be a Rusyn—for a Rusyn I was born!
Forsake I shall not, my honorable race, but I shall remain the son it begot.
A Rusyn was my father, and also my mother, my entire family are Russians true!
My sisters and brothers are Rusyns and a great host of friends too!
I first beheld the light of the world beneath the Beskid mountains breadth,
As a Rusyn I took my first breath, I was cradled by a Rusyn, and on Rusyn bread I was fed.
I was, am and will be a Rusyn—for a Rusyn I was born!
Forsake I shall not, my honorable race, but I shall remain the son it begot.
The words of that song were written by a Uniate Priest Alexander Duchnovich , who was jailed by the Hungarians for remaining true to his Rusyn roots.10 This is further proof that even if you embrace the Unia—you are still an enemy to the Vatican.
A common theme among all Rusyn national songs is a call not to forget you are Rusyn, and asking for God to protect the Rusyn people and not let them disappear as the storms of the ages threatened. Take this hymn, for example, with words roughly translated as “Carpatho-Rusyns! The voice of the nation is calling you: Do not forget that which is your own! […] May the Rusyn nation live! We beg God Almighty to defend Rusyns and grant us to see better days!”
Rusyn folk songs are also very lively; take for example the song Chaban (The Shepherd), which is a song only a true Rusyn would know. This video of the rare song with pictures of adorable farm animals throughout the insanely beautiful countryside is one of the only versions on YouTube.
The chorus of the song (“It would be better not to go…not to love…”) is actually the same as in the Ukrainian Cossack song “Cossacks Road over the Danube”, and while the theme is still about a tragic love which was just out of reach, instead of a Cossack riding off to war and leaving his girl behind, the song tells the story of a Shepherd leading his flock through the Carpathians.
The video also contains pictures of the beautiful painted Ukrainian house tradition, popular in Carpathia, and very similar to the Polish Zalipie style.
One of the most famous songs popular in Carpathia is Hej Sokoly or literally “Hey Falcons”, a famous song originally written in Polish in what is called the Polish school of Ukrainian literature.
There are two Rusyn versions here, and also here, and if you want to want to get a feel for Rusyn speech, you can compare them to the Polish original also sung here by the Alexandrov Choir, or these Ukrainian versions. The song can also be heard in Slovak here, as well as here, with the pleasant phrase often sung to the Falcon “Z Bohom”—Godspeed or literally “With God”, a popular parting phrase among Rusyns and many Russian and Ukrainian peoples.
The upbeat song asks a falcon to fly over the mountains, forests, and valleys, and ring out like a little bell over his native land, bringing his greetings to his family and/or girl who he fears he will never see again along with his country. Only Slavic people can truly sing so jovially about such topics, but these songs and the ability to sing has often delivered Slavs from melancholy moments.
The Village of Pylypets, Photo by: Vlad Sokolovsky, https://vladsokolovsky.livejournal.com/22965.html
Recently a group in Slovakia put out a modern version of an old Rusyn folk song, which wonderfully invigorates and keeps the tradition alive. Especially in the diaspora, Rusyn culture and language is often in stasis, stuck in the periods of when the first immigrants came, and for it to survive, it must remain active. You can compare it to the traditional version here, and see which you like better!
There are many Rusyn songs available on YouTube, entire articles could be written about them.
As to Rusyn language, due to that stasis it is often in, it can be hard to find good resources on learning Rusyn. One of the best primers seems to be Father Dimitri Sydor’s “Grammar of the Rusyn Language from the Gospel of Matthew” or in Rusyn: Грамматика русинського языка для русинов Украйины (Прот. Димитрій Сидор). However, it may not be available abroad or online.
The Prešov University Institute of Rusyn Language and Culture is doing amazing work promoting Rusyn literacy and culture, and they have a Rusyn-English phrasebook available online for free! It can be an excellent way for the English speaking Carpatho-Russians in diaspora to keep their culture alive and teach their children some phrases.
The University also provides an extensive grammar book in the Rusyn language, however for English speakers who can’t read Cyrillic, it may be extremely complicated. Still, I provide these here simply to raise attention for those who may be interested.
There is also Lem.FM, a radio station in the Lemko dialect of Rusyn with news and cultural articles, in Rusyn, however it is not an exclusively Orthodox site, or but rather a Lemko language radio. There is also this Lemko radio. For those who simply want to practice reading Rusyn, there is even a Rusyn language version of Wikipedia, as well as an Old Church Slavonic version (complete with Glagolitic support)!
There are other resources available throughout the internet, but because Rusyns do not have a single state, there is no single standardized dialect of Rusyn. Often times these sources will be in Lemko dialect, or in the version that is standardized in Prešov, Slovakia, but they are all mutually intelligible, and with God’s help, the Rusyn language will live on.
I should also mention Rusyns have a beautiful tradition of what is called “simple chant” or Простопение (Prostopenije), a unique style or Rusyn Orthodox liturgical music which, though not as elaborate as magnificent Kievan Chant, or ancient Byzantine Chant, has a unique feature. There is a certain beautiful and dare I say God-pleasing Rusyn tradition where every member of the church sings the Liturgy themselves, instead of one choir singing everything to a silent faithful.
What it lacks in musical mastery it makes up for in real concelebration of the liturgy by everyone praying aloud! It may be the most important liturgical contribution of Rusyns to all of Orthodoxy. Whereas some Great Russian composers like Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov created musical masterpieces, some of those works performed in some churches in the Great Russian tradition became far to close to opera, especially in Saint Petersburg in the late nineteenth century. It is almost impossible to pray with opera-like music, which encourages the normal believer to silently and passively listen to the choir like a performance, rather than participate, like a prayerful liturgy.
Rusyn Simple Chant, however, enables all parishioners to participate in the liturgy. It is not for me to judge, but it seems that God, who would accept no sacrifice other than a contrite and humbled heart would be more pleased by all the people praying regardless how it sounds, than an opera performance sung to a crowd of spectators.
It is a must for any admirer of Rusyns to subscribe to the YouTube channel of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Uzhhorod, where under the blessing of the dean, Father Dimitry Sydor, they have a very active mission and online ministry. There are entire Liturgies, even recorded even with an interpreter in sign language for the hearing impaired! Most importantly, there you can watch videos where the entire church chants the entire liturgy together, as they regularly do! Prostopenije based traditions are also practiced in America and Canada, for example, Christos Voskrese sung by this entire parish.
Ruthenian Simple Chant, despite the name, can of course be sung by expert chanters and choirs as well, and some experts note that despite the centuries, a clear similarity to the venerable Byzantine Chant itself can be heard.11
Of note also is so-called Bulgarian Chant, which was one of the musical traditions from Western Rus’ (modern Ukraine), which together with the acclaimed Kievan Chant, became popularized in Muscovite Russia in the seventeenth century. Despite the name, what is known in the Russian tradition as “Bulgarian Chant” seems unlikely to originate directly from the now Byzantine styled music of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. Some say Bulgarian Chant was an ancient Bulgarian (or old Slavic) form of music, or taken from the tradition of the Danube Slavs; others say it is actually native to southwest Ukraine,12 thus making it a relative to Carpathian Prostopenije, as it was certainly from the Ukraine, specifically Galicia that this magnificent tradition was introduced to the rest of Russia, and beautified Muscovite church services.
Both of these theories may in fact be correct, as Father Dimitry Sydor notes that ancient Rusyns originated in the Tisa-Danube cradle of Slavic nations, and these ancient peoples, often called White Croats intermingled with the Slavs living near Thessaloniki and on the territory of the Bulgarian Empire. This was of note the same region where Saints Cyril and Methodius, who often appear among the Synaxis of Rusyn or Galician Saints, were raised. Father Sydor noted the similarities between Proto-Rusyn and Proto-Bulgarian, as forming the basis of the Old Slavic Language codified by those Saints, as well as the similarities between Rusyn and Church Slavonic today.13 Father Dimitry raises a very interesting point, that there was a major trade rout between Great Moravia and Bulgaria which the Saints traveled on, which in fact would pass directly through Transcarpathia, and it was along this route that their Slavic mission was forced to flee into Bulgaria.
Few people know, that during those times, it was enough to cross the Tisa river in the area of present day Rusyn Transcarpathian Tyachev-Solotvyna, in order to immediately cross from Moravia into Bulgaria.14
It is likely therefore that Bulgarian Chant originated in that region, which at varying times was part of both Bulgaria, Moravia, Galicia, and Transcarpathia, sometimes simultaneously! Therefore it seems both theories are correct, and once again, Carpatho-Rusyns are in fact, not an obscure people from nowhere, but very the bridge and link which unites all Rus’ people to the rest of the Slavic world, as well as all Slavs to the rest of Orthodoxy. So much for the idea that mountains divide people groups…
For examples of Bulgarian Chant, see this video of the Song of the Theotokos (called the Magnificat in the West) in tone five, chanted by the acclaimed choirmaster of Pochaev Lavra Father Serhii Chebotar. Here is also an example of the Trisagion in Bulgarian Chant, sung in the same Lavra.
One of the most beautiful aspects of the Rusyn language is how religious it is; almost blended with Slavonic at times, many every day phrases and greetings are actually invoking God’s blessings on another person. And this “Prayer of a Lemko Woman” by Kateryna Rusyn either in English or the Rusyn original can move you to tears.
While the Rusyn people have been scattered across the world, their freedom and glory has not diminished with age; they have brought forth countless saints resplendent in the homeland and in diaspora.
If there is anything to remember about Rusyns, remember at least this most important phrase, the greeting of Carpatho-Russians:
“Glory to Jesus Christ!” [to which you respond], “Glory Forever!”.
In Rusyn, it is written: Слава Исусу Христу—Слава навікы, and pronounced Slava Isusu Khristu!—Slava Naviky!
There are also other local variants such as Naviky Bohovi Slava (Glory to God forever).
I believe all Orthodox Christians can adopt that greeting into their lives!
Teach it to your fellow parishioners and greet each other in this way.
In doing this, you keep the legacy of ancient Carpathian Rus’ alive, and glorify The Lord Jesus Christ Who is Risen from the dead! May he also work the miracle of the Resurrection on Carpathian Rus’!
As far as I am concerned, if you do this simple thing, you are a Rusyn too, and wherever you live beyond the Carpathians, Transcarpathia can be your second home.
Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory Forever!