Carpatho-Rusyns - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefs. Carpatho-Rusyns are Christian, having received that faith from saints Cyril and Methodius or their disciples in the late ninth century. According to local tradition, one of the original seven dioceses ("eparchies" in eastern terminology) founded by the Cyril-Methodian mission was located in the Carpathian Rus' homeland at Mukachevo. The early Carpatho-Rusyn church was part of the Orthodox world and under the jurisdiction of the ecumenical patriarch in Constantinople. A movement for union with the Catholic Church of Rome, however, culminated in the mid-seventeenth century with the creation of the Uniate Church. The Uniate (later known as Greek Catholic) church retained Orthodox practices (liturgy in Church Slavonic, married priesthood, Julian calendar, elected bishops) but became subordinate to the pope. Orthodoxy was suppressed until its revival in the early twentieth century. As a result, much of Carpatho-Rusyn village life has been marked by the rivalry between adherents of Greek Catholicism and Orthodoxy.

Religious Practitioners. The primary religious practitioner is the village priest ( pop ). Also of great importance is the cantor ( diak), who not only leads the responsive singing during the liturgy (organs or other instruments are forbidden) but who, until the introduction of state elementary schools, served as the village teacher as well.

Ceremonies. Traditional Carpatho-Rusyn life is determined by the church calendar. Easter and Christmas are the most important holidays, although there are many others that derive from ancient pagan practices but that were outwardly Christianized—Green Thursday (before Easter), Rusalja (Pentecost), Saint George's Day, and Kupala (Saint John's Day). Church holidays, workless Sundays, and strict fasting during Lent are still observed by older people, although Communist regimes have tried, without much success, to impose official atheism and to curtail the role of the church.

Arts. Until the twentieth century, art and culture have been associated almost exclusively with the church. This has taken the form of icon paintings (which decorated the facade of the iconostasis, or icon screen, that separates the altar from the congregation), wooden church buildings with elaborate roofs and steeples, and religious literature (lives of saints, poems of faith, etc.). At the more popular level, the art of painting eggs ( pysanky, krashanky ) using dyes and wax is still a widespread custom during the week before Easter.

Medicine. Modern medical facilities did not reach areas where Carpatho-Rusyns live until the second half of the twentieth century. Until then, childbirth occurred at home with the help of village midwives, and minor diseases and sicknesses were cured with folk medicines.

Death and Afterlife. Death is interpreted following Christian practice: departed souls await the Second Coming of Christ, at which time they will be assigned to eternal life in heaven or damnation in hell. Many funerals are followed by feasts attended by family and friends. Little attention, however, is paid to the upkeep of gravesites.


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