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The Hungarian Catholic Church

A significant Byzantine church was present in Hungary in the Middle Ages. Indeed, there were several Byzantine monasteries in the country in the 11th and 12th centuries, but all of them were destroyed during the 13th-century Tatar invasions.

In the 15th and 16th centuries, due to widespread population shifts caused by the Turkish invasions, communities of Orthodox Serbs, Ruthenians, Slovaks and Greeks moved into the area. Most of them eventually became Catholic but retained their Byzantine heritage. In the 18th century a number of Hungarian Protestants became Catholic and chose the Byzantine rite, again adding to the number of Byzantine Catholics in Hungary. They were placed under the jurisdiction of non-Hungarian Byzantine bishops.

Once this community of Greek Catholics was integrated into Hungarian society, some began to press for the use of the Hungarian language in the liturgy. But such a proposal was resisted by the church authorities. For this reason, the first Hungarian translation of the liturgy of John Chrysostom had to be published privately in 1795. In the 19th century several other liturgical books were published in Hungarian, but their use was still not approved by the ecclesiastical authorities.

A watershed in the history of this community took place in 1900, when a large group of Greek Catholic Hungarians went to Rome on pilgrimage for the Holy Year. They presented Pope Leo XIII with a petition asking him to approve the use of Hungarian in the liturgy and to create a separate diocese for them. The question was discussed at length both at the Holy See and in Budapest, and finally on June 18, 1912, Pope Pius X erected the diocese of Hajdúdorog for the 162 Hungarian-speaking Greek Catholic parishes. Because Hajdúdorog was only a small town, the first bishop established his headquarters in Debrecen in 1913. The following year he moved to Nyíregyháza, which remains the residence of the bishop of Hajdúdorog.

Even though a diocese for Hungarian Greek Catholics had been established, the use of Hungarian was still limited to non-liturgical functions: the liturgy was to be celebrated in Greek and the clergy were given three years to learn it. World War I intervened, however, and the requirement to use Greek was never enforced. In the 1930s the rest of the necessary liturgical books were published in Hungarian.

On June 4, 1924, an Apostolic Exarchate was established at Miskolc for 21 Ruthenian parishes formerly in the diocese of Prešov that remained in Hungarian territory after Czechoslovakia was created. They were provided with a distinct identity because they used Slavonic in the liturgy. By the 1940s, however, they had all begun to use Hungarian, and the apostolic exarchate since that time has been administered by the bishop of Hajdúdorog.

During the period of communist rule, the Greek Catholics in Hungary did not experience the harsh persecution that was common in neighboring countries. However, they had to deal with a number of restrictions including limited catechesis in schools, the abolition of press agencies, and the dispersion of monks and nuns.

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Tags: Central Europe