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The Slovak Catholic Church

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 Užhorod was almost 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 (the Orthodox Church of Czechoslovakia after 1951). Bishop Gojdic of Prešov and his auxiliary, Bishop Basil Hopko, were imprisoned. Bishop Gojdic died in prison from harsh treatment in 1960; Bishop Hopko was released from prison in 1968 and died in 1976.

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 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. The Pope also beatified Bishop Gojdic in 2001 and Bishop Hopko in 2003.

A Greek Catholic Theological College was founded in Prešov in 1880. It was handed over 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, a Slovak government decree established a new University of Prešov and mandated that the theological school in Kosice be transferred there. Since 2005 it has been known as the Greek Catholic Faculty of Theology of the University of Prešov. Its specific task is to provide for the scientific and theological formation of candidates for priesthood and those who are preparing to serve in various other ministries.

The Prešov diocese includes a considerable 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 2001 Slovak census, 24,000 people claimed Rusyn ethnicity.

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