Victim of Communist Persecution, Slovak Forced Ethnic Assimilation and
Russian Orthodox Expansionism

By Vladyka Michael J. Champion, DD., MA Th.

(some news text thanks to - John Paul II beatified two women and six men on November 4, 2001, presenting them as examples of life to a world gripped by fear and violence.Icon of Blessed Bishop Paul Peter Gojdich, OSBM, Confessor of the Faith

Among the new blessed are two martyrs of the Communist persecution, in Carpatho-Ukrainian eparchies located in what is the present day Slovak republic: Bishop Pavlo Petro Gojdich (1888-1960), Ordinary of the Eparchy of Prjashiv and Redemptorist Father Metod Dominik Trcka (1886-1959).

Towards the end of his life, Bishop Gojdich was also Apostolic Administrator of the Mukachevo Eparchy in the Transcarpathian Oblast of Western Ukraine, after the martyrdom of the Bishop of Mukachevo, Fedir Romzha.

The Greek-Catholic community of the Prjashiv Eparchy, incorporated in the state of Czechoslovakia after World War II, headed by Bishop Gojdich, was forced to become part of the Russian Orthodox Church in 1948 when the Communists came to power.

On April 28, 1950, the regime denied the Greek Catholic Church the right to exist, and Bishop Gojdich was tried for high treason and given a life sentence.

The bishop died in the Leopoldov prison in 1960. Father Trcka also experienced the slow martyrdom of prison, having been accused by the regime of collaborating with the Bishop Gojdich.

"United in generous and courageous service to the Greek-Catholic Church . . . , they experienced the same sufferings because of fidelity to the Gospel and Peter's Successor, and now they share the same crown of glory," the Pope said during the homily.

St. John the Baptist Cathedral, Bishop's Residence & Chancery Offices, Prjashiv, Carpatho-Ukraine - Photo from 1848 Ordained a priest on August 27, 1911, Bishop Gojdich was appointed as Apostolic Administrator of Prjashiv (Presov) on September 14, 1926, professed final vows in the Basilian Order on November 28, 1926, assumed the government of the eparchy on February 20, 1927 and was consecrated titular bishop of Harpasa in Rome, on March 25, 1927. However, on July 17, 1940, he was confirmed by the Holy See as the Ordinary of Prjashiv.

From 1947 on, Bishop Gojdich was assisted by his untiring and also heavily persecuted auxiliary, Bishop Vasylij Hopko, STD.

The Eparchy of Prjashiv was canonically established by the Holy See on September 22, 1818, from territory of the Eparchy of Mukachevo.

Bishop Gojdich's heroic virtues include his loyalty to his church and Gospel values, and also his firm resolve to defend the "Ruthenian" (Carpatho-Ukrainian/Rusyn) identity of many of his faithful, who endured and still endure fierce attempts at Slovakization. Slovak circles tired forbid the use of cultural tools such as the Cyrillic Alphabet and the Rusyn dialect of Ukrainian, as well as Church Slavonic in the Divine Liturgy. Bishop Gojdich, always the "Good Shepherd" promptly defended his flock before the government authorities.

Icon of Blessed Vladyka Fedir Romzha, Bishop of Mukachevo, UkraineThe Bishop of the Eparchy of Mukachevo in Ukraine, Bishop Fedir (Theodore) Romzha, was beatified by John Paul II during his June 2001 visit to Ukraine.

It is interesting to note that there were many particulars of ecclesiastical life in the former communist countries that most everyone in the West were unaware of until recent times, including, as has been discovered, the fact that Bishop Gojdich was appointed to the position of Apostolic Administrator of the Eparchy of Mukachevo.

Many in the United States, of Ukrainian and/or Ruthenian descent, have followed the plight of our martyred bishops with great devotion, over the decades in which our church was liquidated by the communist yoke. After the dissolution of the Mukachevo Eparchy, the faithful there were left without an official episcopal shepherd, due to the execution of Bishop Romzha. Not known to many in the free world until near the end of the last century, Bishop Olexander Chira, the Vicar General of the Eparchy of Mukachevo, was secretly consecrated by Bishop Romzha before the latter's martyrdom. Unfortunately, Bishop Chira was also persecuted and exiled to Karahanda, Kazakhstan, where he functioned as a priest, serving both Ukrainian and Latin Rite faithful. It is interesting to discover that Bishop Gojdich was appointed Apostolic Administrator of Mukachevo, in the wake of the martyrdom and deportation of the Uzhorod/Mukachevo hierarchy.


The effort at Slovakization of the Carpatho-Ukrainian people is an attempt at forced cultural assimilation, a subdued and less violent type of "ethnic cleansing" with the goal of eliminating the millennium-old identity from the consciousness of the people who descend from the culture of Rus' and which today is embodied in the Ukrainian nation.

The church in present day Slovakia, while heavily persecuted after World War II, fared slightly better than that of the Transcarpathian Oblast of Ukraine and also in Galicia, in that the church was allowed to function to an extent, after the Prague Spring of 1968. Bishop Hopko, however, the auxiliary to Bishop Gojdich, released from prison and initially under house arrest, was never allowed to assume the role of Ordinary of the Prjashiv Eparchy, and the administration was given over to the present Bishop of Presov, Jan Hirka, who followed a more Slovakized platform for the church. The role of the Holy See in these decisions was certainly not without attention to the political situations of the time.

Icon of Vladyka Vasylij Hopko, Auxiliary Bishop of Prjashiv, Carpatho-Ukraine It is important to also take notice of the issue of Slovakization of the Carpatho-Ukrainian faithful in the region of Slovakia. There are many who are of the school of thought which ascribes to the fact that the Ruthenian population in the Presov region are of a different culture and spiritual heritage than those Slovaks of the Latin Rite. In both language and ritual tradition, the Greek Catholics and Orthodox in modern Slovakia are by heritage, Rusyns (or Carpatho-Ukrainians) with linguistic similarities more to an older usage of what is today Ukrainian, and a common religious recension with those in Subcarpathian Rus' and Galicia in Western Ukraine, rather than with those faithful who are ethnically Slovak and are members of the Latin Rite.

Harvard professor and one of the foremost contemporary Ukrainian historians, Paul R. Magocsi writes, "The Carpatho Rusyns (also known as Carpatho-Ruthenians or Carpatho-Ukrainians) had, like the Slovaks, lived for almost a millennium in the Carpathian mountain region of northern Hungry . . . Unlike the Czechs and Slovaks, who were western-oriented Roman Catholics or Protestants, the Carpatho-Rusyns were eastern Christians."

Although around the time of the First World War, prospects seemed good for the future of an independently governed state of Carpatho-Ukraine, within the borders of the newly-created Czechoslovakia, under the leadership of Carpatho-Ukrainian patriot, Msgr. Avgustyn Voloshyn, these hopes dimmed after World War II, with the rise of the Slovak-Communist party, which had the support of the Soviet Union and the Moscow Patriarchate. Sadly, by our day, many of the faithful in the Presov area and throughout modern Slovakia, have become integrated into the Slovak culture and language of the surrounding region, and the use of the spoken Rusyn-Ukrainian language and Church Slavonic liturgical celebrations are becoming rare. This is the end result of what many have tried to impose for over a half-century. It It is an attempt at forced cultural assimilation, a subdued and less violent type of "ethnic cleansing" with the goal of eliminating the millennium-old identity from the consciousness of the people who descend from the culture of Rus' and which today is embodied in the Ukrainian nation.

This effort also has also had the negative effect of isolating in a certain sense, the relatives of these people in the US and throughout the Diaspora from the modern day population in their ancestral lands. The "memory" of the majority of these descendants in the immigration is of the Rusyn-Ukrainian dialect and Church Slavonic liturgies, not of the Slovak identity and liturgical usage that is being imposed on Carpatho-Ukrainians in Slovakia today. It is also unfortunate that some jurisdictions in the United States today, including Orthodox dioceses, have attempted to further the "Slovak" identity among their faithful, who until more recently were identified as Carpatho-Rusnys, Lemkos, Galicians or Ukrainians. This has occured through excessive use of the term "Slovak" and relationships with churches in modern-day Slovakia, originating from the Russian Orthodox expansion in the territory during the communist era. These churches promote the "Slovak" identity among their people, who can not possibly be actual ethnic Slovaks, because of, among other things, their various Carpatho-Rusyn linguistic dialects of Ukrainian, which are much different from the Slovak language, and their religious affiliation as Eastern Rite Christians.


The Russian Orthodox hierarchy's cooperation with the atheistic regime was nothing more than "religious terrorism" of its day, which trampled upon the rights of many people of Greek Catholic and Ukrainian Orthodox faith, and brought about the persecution and death of many clergy and laity.

While enculturation is a process that naturally occurs in some places, it is sad to see the disappearance of a legitimate cultural identity, of which many in the US are descended. Although not everyone will agree with this school of thought, it is a real one, and one which our people have struggled to preserve for a long time. One might think why members of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church are so quick to defend the struggle of Greek Catholics, but our common experience is in many minds, a true experiment in ecumenism, where it lives and breathes and rises out of the darkness of persecution into a new and vibrant community.

Icon of Vladyka Olexander Chira, Auxiliary Bishop of Mukachevo, Ukraine There are people throughout the Diaspora, who follow the situation of relatives in Eastern Europe, and who see the common identity of our people, who today call themselves both Ukrainians and Ruthenians (Rusyns). The church in this region, both Greek Catholic and Ukrainian Orthodox, shared a common persecution and attempts at liquidation of their churches, from the Soviet authorities and the cooperation they received from the leaders and clergy of the Russian Orthodox Church. We have both a common heritage in the Christianity of the ancient Land of Rus', inspired by the evangelical efforts of Grand Prince-Saint Volodymyr the Great, and a common experience of the barbarous efforts of Soviet expansionism and the assistance received in this goal from the Russian Orthodox, who saw in this situation the chance to further their own concerns and to become part of the "Soviet solution" to the world as they knew it. Their (the Russian Orthodox hierarchy's) cooperation with the atheistic regime was nothing more than "religious terrorism" of its day, which trampled upon the rights of many people of Greek Catholic and Ukrainian Orthodox faith, and brought about the persecution and death of many clergy and laity.

Below, are excerpts from the writings of Fr. Athanasius Pekar, OSBM, a highly respected Ukrainian historian, highlighting the struggle of the mid-twentieth century Prjashiv bishops to preserve their people's natural cultural identity in the face of a Slovakization that has virtually come to pass in our day. They were among the last religious leaders in that Eparchy to fight for the legitimate cultural heritage of their faithful.

The following paragraphs point out some of Bishop Gojdich's evangelical virtues, as expressed through his defense of his flock both spiritual and culturally. During the era of his episcopacy, Bishop Gojdich was faced with a many-faceted campaign against Carpatho-Ukrainians, brought on by the Slovak government with the cooperation of some members of the clergy who wished to elevate themselves in the eyes of the authorities of the day. Father Pekar emphasizes the dedication of Bishop Gojdich to the preservation of his people's true Carpatho-Ukrainian (Rusyn) cultural identity in the face of Slovak attempts to converge all ethnic groups under the Slovak banner:

Vladyka Pavlo Petro Gojdich's Coat of Arms - Motto: 'God is Love - Love Him'
Vatican circles were alerted to the fact that the Slovak government intended to use the Greek Catholic Church as a vehicle of Slovakization in Eastern Slovakia. To maintain a national balance in the eparchy, Pope Pius XII, therefore, decided to appoint Bishop Hopko, who shared the national policy of Bishop Gojdich. Bishop Gojdich explained: "Other nationalities (Slovaks - A. Pekar) have their own government officials, political parties and their national representatives in Parliament. But the major part of my faithful (Ruthenians - A.P.) have no one to defend their national and cultural rights. Consequently, when my own people, in confidence, turn to me for help, I cannot turn them down, I must at least try to help them, even though later I will suffer for it." (cf. Bishop's Jubilee Book, 1947, p. 51-25).

Seeing the systematic Slovakization of the Ruthenian people, Bishop Gojdich also appealed to the national conscience of his clergy, saying: "Open widely your priestly hearts and extend your love to our despised Ruthenian people, who deserve a much better fate. Being surrounded on all sides by their (national - A.P.) foes, they find themselves in constant danger of losing not only their souls but also their own national identity. We (the clergy - A.P.) are the leaders, placed by Almighty God to lead our people. It is our vocation and our duty to help them. We will be held responsible before God and before history for both their religious and national future!" (cf. A. Pekar, Bishop Paul P. Gojdich, OSBM, Pittsburgh, PA 1968, p. 24-25).


Metropolitan Stephan's Assessment:

The above article was written by Archbishop Michael, who has composed many texts concerning Orthodoxy, Ukrainian history and theology. His writing has been, in many cases, included in several seminaries, as part of the curriculum and he has spoken at many leading universities. A theologian in his own right, Vladyka Michael is a graduate of Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA and St. Mary Seminary & Graduate School of Theology in Cleveland, OH. He is presently working on a doctorate in theology and lectures at colleges, universities and seminaries. He is very well respected by many in the academic community and is in the process of publishing his works. Being one of the highest educated bishops within the Orthodox Church, Vladyka Michael is available to lecture and/or speak to groups. Contact the chancery office for more information.


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