Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/Greek Catholics in America

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The Uniat churches of the Byzantine or Greek Rite were almost unknown to the United States some twenty-five years ago [1884]. Occasionally a priest of that rite from Syria came to America to ask assistance for his people who were struggling amid the Moslems, but while his visit was a matter of curiosity, his rite and the peoples who followed it were wholly unknown to American Catholics. To-day, however, emigration has increased to such an extent and is drawn from so many lands and peoples that there are representatives of most of the Eastern rites in America, and particularly those of the Greek Rite. These have lately arrived in large numbers and have erected their churches all over the country. The chief races which have brought the Greek Rite with them to the United States are the various Slavs of Austro-Hungary, and they are now approaching such a position of material well-being and intellectual development as to be reckoned with as one of the factors of Catholic life in the United States. Other races have also brought the Greek Rite with them and established it where they have settled. The advent of the Slavs into the United States really commenced about 1879-1880. Those of the Greek Rite came from the north-eastern portion of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, where they inhabited chiefly the northern and southern slopes of the Carpathian Mountains, which form the boundary line between Galicia and Hungary. The first of the new-corners were miners in the coal districts. During the troublous times in Pennsylvania, from 1871 to 1879, when the "Molly Maguires" terrorized the mining districts and practically defied the authority of the State, the various coal companies determined to look abroad for foreign labour to replace their lawless workmen, and so they introduced the Austrian Slav to the mining regions of Pennsylvania. His success in wage-earning induced his countrymen to follow, and the coal companies and iron-masters of Pennsylvania were quick to avail themselves of the new and less costly labour. This was before any of the present contract labour laws were enacted. The Slav was willing to work for longer hours than the English-speaking labourer, to perform heavier work, and to stolidly put up with inconveniences which his predecessor would not brook. He came from a land in which he had originally been a serf (serfdom was abolished in Austria-Hungary in 1848, and in Russia in 1861), then a degraded poverty-stricken peasant with hardly anything to call his own, and it was no wonder that America seemed to offer him boundless opportunity to earn a living and improve his condition. At first he was a cheap man; but in the course of a very short time the Slav became not a mere pair of strong hands, but a skilled worker, and as such he drove out his competitors, and his success drew still more of his countrymen across the sea. In the anthracite coal region of Pennsylvania there were in 1880 but some 1900 Slavs; in 1890, over 40,000; and in 1900, upwards of 81,000. The same proportion holds good of the bituminous coal-mining districts and of the iron regions in that and other states. Taking simply the past four years (1905-1908), the immigration of the Slovaks and Ruthenians, both of the Greek Catholic Rite, has amounted to 215,972. This leaves out of consideration the immigration (147,675) of the Croatians and Slavonians for the same period, though a considerable portion of them are also of the Greek Rite. These Slavs brought with them their Greek Catholic rites and practices, but they were illiterate, ignorant, the poorest of the poor, and knew nothing of the English language. Herding together in camps and settlements, and working like serfs at the most exhausting labour, they had but little opportunity to improve themselves or to learn the language, customs, and ways of the Americans around them, while both American and foreign-born Catholics failed to recognize in them fellow-Catholics, and so passed them scornfully by, and the American of the older stock and anti-Catholic prejudices too often held them in supreme contempt. Yet as soon as they gathered some little substance and formed a. settled community they sent for their clergy. When these arrived, they, too, were often imbued with national and racial prejudices, and knew too little of the English language and American ideas and customs to initiate immediately the progress of their people, yet they created for them churches, schools, and a branch of their native literature upon American soil, and gradually brought them into touch with the people around them. In this they were seconded by many educated laymen who also followed their countrymen, and the result has been that the Greek Rite has now been established in the United States much more solidly and with greater virility than it is in many of the dioceses in south-eastern Europe. Other races and nationalities have also established themselves besides the Slavs; and there are in America also the Rumanians, the Syrians, and the Italians who follow the Greek Rite. But the people who have been foremost and most enthusiastic inthe support of and devotion to their Oriental Rite are the so-called Ruthenians, a name used to designate the Ruthenians proper and also those Slovaks who are their immediate neighbours. In order to understand fully their position and relations in America, some of their history and peculiarities should be given.


The word Ruthenian is derived from the later Latin Ruthenia, the former name for Russia, and of course the Ruthenians might well be called Russians. Indeed, the present Ruthenians declare that they are the original Russians, and that the present Russia and Russians owe their name and nation to the accident of successful conquest and assimilation. Their own name for themselves is Rusini, and it is probable that Ruthenian was merely an attempt to put this word into Latin. The word Rutheni is first found in the writings of the Polish annalist, Martinus Gallus (1190), and the Danish historian, Saxo Grammaticus (1203). The original word Rusini is derived from Rus, the abstract word for Russian fatherland or dwelling-place of the Slavic people; and the English word "Russian" may therefore mean a derivative from the word Rus, as denominating the race, or it may mean a subject of the Russian Empire. The former is russky the latter rossiisky, in the Russian and Ruthenian languages, and hence, while the first word is translated either as Russian or Ruthenian, it carries no special reference to the Russian Empire. These people are also called "Little Russians" (an expression chiefly used for them in the Russian Empire), originally an allusion to their stature as contrasted with the Muscovites. Their language is known as Ruthenian or Little Russian, and is spoken in Northern Hungary, Galicia Bukowina, and in the Provinces of Volhynia, Podolia, Chelm, and Kiev in Russia. It is quite similar to the Russian language of the Russian Empire (sometimes called Great Russian), bearing about the same relation to it as Lowland Scotch does to English, or Plattdeutsch to German, and rather closer than Portuguese does to Spanish. The Ruthenians (in Austria) and Little Russians (in Russia) use the Russian alphabet and write their language in almost the same orthography as the Great Russians of St. Petersburg and Moscow, but they pronounce it in many cases very differently, quite as the French and English might pronounce differently a word written the same in each language. This fact has led in late years to a recension of the Russian alphabet in Galicia and Bukowina by the governmental authorities, and by dropping some letters and adding one or two more and then spelling all the words just as they are pronounced, they have produced a new language at least to the eye. This is the "phonetic" alphabet and orthography, and as thus introduced it differentiates the Ruthenian language of these provinces more than ever from the Russian. The phonetic system of orthography is still fiercely opposed at home and in America, and as an Austrian governmental measure it is regarded by many as an effort to detach the Ruthenians from the rest of the Russian race and in a measure to Polonize them. This battle of the reformed phonetic spelling rages as fiercely in the United States as in Austria. Indeed the Greek Catholic bishop here has found it necessary to issue his official documents in both the phonetic and the etymologic spelling (as the older form is called), so as to meet the views of both parties. The phonetic spelling has never been introduced among the Ruthenians in Hungary, and their section of the language is still written in the customary form, there and in the United States. Besides the Ruthenians there are also the Slovaks who live in Northern and North-western Hungary, close neighbours to the Ruthenians, who are Greek Catholics, and who speak a language almost like the Bohemian, yet similar to the Ruthenian. It is written, however, with Roman letters, and the pronunciation follows the Bohemian more than the Ruthenian. These people seem to have been originally Ruthenian, but became gradually changed and moulded by the Bohemians and their language and for a long time wrote their language in the same manner as the Bohemian. The Bohemians, however, are in the Austrian part of the empire, while the Slovaks are in Hungary. They have emigrated to the United States in large numbers, and are about equally divided between the Greek and Roman Rites. This again necessitates the publication of church matters, prayer books, journals, etc., in the Slovak language. It illustrates the difficulties of the Greek Catholic priests in the United States, since they are likely to have in their parishes Ruthenians (of the old and new orthographies), Slovaks, and even those who speak only Hungarian, having lost their Slavic tongue. It is no uncommon thing to find a Greek Catholic priest capable of speaking five languages: Ruthenian, Slovak, Hungarian, German, and English. It is these people as a whole who are comprehended under the term Ruthenian, although that term applies strictly to those speaking Russian and using the Russian alphabet. After the eleventh century the larger portion of Russians fell away from the unity of the Church in the schism of Constantinople, while a minority continued faithful to the Catholic Church, and later many more returned to unity. The Holy See, therefore, made use of the ancient word Ruthenian to designate those Russians who followed the Greek Rite in unity with the Holy See, in order to distinguish them from the Northern Russians who adhered to the schism. Later on, those Russians who joined the union under the Polish kings received the same name, and the word Ruthenian is to-day used exclusively to designate the Russians of Austro-Hungary, who are Greek Catholics in contradistinction to the Russians of the Russian Empire, who are of the Greek Orthodox faith.

The language of the Mass and the other liturgical services according to the Byzantine Rite is the ancient Slavonic (staroslavianski), and the Greek Liturgy was originally translated by Sts. Cyril and Methodius about the year 868, and it has remained substantially the same ever since. It is curious to notice that the Ruthenian language is much closer, both in spelling and pronunciation, to the church Slavonic than the present Russian language of St. Petersburg and Moscow. The letters in which the church books are printed are the Cyrillic, or Kirillitsa said to have been invented or, rather, adapted by St. Cyril from the Greek alphabet, together with some additional letters of his own invention. It consists of forty-three letters of archaic form as used in the church books, but has been altered and reduced in modern Russian and Ruthenian to thirty-five letters. In the year 879 Pope John VIII formally authorized the use of the Slavonic language forever in the Mass and in the whole liturgy and offices of the Church, according to the Greek Rite, and its use has been continued ever since by the Catholic and the Orthodox (schismatic) Greeks of the Slavic races. This is the language used in the Sluzhebnik (Missal), Trebnik (Ritual), Chasoslov (Book of Hours), and other church books of the Ruthenian Greek Catholics in America.

After the schism of Constantinople (1054) most of the Russians became estranged from the unity of the Church. (See under GREEK CHURCH, Vol. VI, pp. 760-62.) In 1595 the Russian bishops of Lithuania and Little Russia determined to return to unity with the Holy See, and held a council at Brest-Litovsk, at which a decree of union was adopted, and where they chose two of their number, Ignatius Potzey and Cyril Terletzki, to go to Rome and take the oath of submission to the pope. They declared that they desired to return to the full unity of the Church as it existed before the schism of Photius and Cærularius, so as to have in Russia one united Catholic Church again. No change in their rites or their calendar was required by Rome, but the whole of the ancient Greek Liturgy, service, and discipline (excepting a few schismatic saints' days and practices) was to go on as before. In December, 1595, Clement VIII solemnly ratified the union of the two Churches in the Bull "Magnus Dominus". On 6 October, 1596, the union between the Eastern and Western Churches was proclaimed and ratified in the Russian part of the Kingdom of Poland. A large number of the Russian bishops immediately went over to the union. In Chelm the Russian Bishop Zbiruiski led the way with his whole diocese, and his successor, Methodius Terletzki, was a valiant champion of the Uniat Church. This Greek Uniat Church even produced a martyr for the Faith, St. Josaphat, Archbishop of Polotzk, who was slain by the Orthodox partisans in 1633. In Galicia, however, the union was slower. While priests and congregations became Uniat, the Bishops of Peremysl and Lemberg stood out for nearly a century. But on 23 June, 1691, Innocent Vinnitzki, Bishop of Peremysl, joined the union, and in 1700 Joseph Shumlanski, Bishopof Lemberg (it was afterwards restored to metropolitan dignity by the pope in 1807), also took the oath of union with the Holy See. From that time till now the Russians on the northern slopes of the Carpathian Mountains and on both sides of the River Dniester have been united with Rome. On the southern side of the Carpathians the Russians also accepted the union. In the year 1636 Vassili Tarasovitch, Bishop of Munkács, acknowledged the pope as the head of the Church and for it he was persecuted, imprisoned and forced to resign his see. But union with the Holy See could not be stayed by such means, and on 24 April, 1646, it was accomplished in the city of Ungvar by Peter Rostoshinski; the then Bishop of Munkács, and George Yakusitch, Bishop of Agri (Erlau). These two bishops in solemn council, with sixty three priests, abjured the schism and confessed themselves Greek clergy holding the Faith of Sts. Cyril and Methodius in communion with Rome. Since that time the Ruthenian people (including the Greek Slovaks) in the Kingdom of Hungary have acknowledged the pope as the visible head of the undivided Catholic Church.

These Ruthenians have continued to practise their ancient Greek-Slavonic rites and usages, and their forms of worship introduced into the United States seem strange to the Catholic accustomed only to the Roman Rite, and have made them objects of distrust and even active dislike, so that a few of the most salient differences may be pointed out, although a full statement will be found in the various articles on the Eastern rites, ceremonies, and vestments. The Mass itself is said in ancient Slavonic, the altar is separated from the body of the church by a high partition called the iconostasis, upon which the pictures of Christ and His Mother, as well as various saints, are placed, and the vestments of the Mass are quite different. The stole is a broad band looped around the neck and hanging straight down in front, the chasuble is cut away at the front and closely resembles the Roman cope, and instead of the maniple two broad cuffs are worn, while a broad belt takes the place of the girdle or cincture. Married men may be ordained to the diaconate and priesthood; but bishops must be celibate, nor can a deacon or priest marry after ordination. Priests impart the Sacrament of Confirmation to children immediately after baptism, and Communion is given to the laity under both forms, the consecrated species being mingled together in the chalice and administered to the communicant with a spoon. Organs are not used in their churches, and their church year follows the Julian Calendar, which is now thirteen days behind the Gregorian calendar in use in the United States and Western Europe. Besides this, the Ruthenians (and the Russian Orthodox likewise), display the so-called "three-armed" (or Russian) <img src= "../images/06744aat.jpg" height="23" width="25" />cross fashioned in this manner upon their churches and use it upon their missals, prayer-books, paintings and banners, as well as other objects. They make the sign of the cross in the reverse direction to the Roman method, and in their religious services the men and women are segregated from each other upon different sides of their churches.

It is from these people, inhabiting Galicia, Bukowina, and Hungary, that the Ruthenian Greek Catholic population has come. Their earliest immigration to the United States began in 1879, from the western portion of Galicia near the Carpathian Mountains, the so-called Lemkovschini, and then spread throughout the Galician and Hungarian sides of the mountains. At first it was hardly noticed, but it grew year by year, the earliest immigrants coming from Grybow, Gorlice, Jaslo, Neu Sandec, Krosno, and Sanok in Galicia, and from Szepes, Saros, Abauj, and Ung in Hungary, until finally the governmental authorities began to notice it. At the post offices in many of the mountain places in the Ruthenian portion of Galicia it was observed that the peasants were receiving large sums of money from their fathers, sons, or brothers in America. The news spread rapidly, the newspapers and officials taking it up, and so emigration was at once stimulated to the highest degree. Every year it has increased, and Ruthenian societies are formed here to assist their newly-arrived brethren to find employment and to give information to those at home about America.. It is impossible to tell exactly how many Ruthenian and Slovak Greek Catholics have come to the United States, because no statistics have been kept by the United States Government in regard to religious faith of immigrants, and not always accurate ones in regard to race or nationality. Still the immigration reports show that immigration from Austria-Hungary from 1861 to 1868 was annually in the hundreds; and from 1869 to 1879 it ranged from 1500 to 8000 annually; and in 1880 it suddenly rose to 17,000. From 1880 to 1908 the total immigration from Austria-Hungary to the United States amounted to 2,780,000, and about twenty percent of these were Ruthenians and Slovaks. Within the last four years (1905-1908) the immigration of the Slovaks and Ruthenians has amounted to 215,972. To this must be added the Croatians and Slavonians (117,695), a large proportion of whom are of the Greek Rite. It is estimated that there are at present in the United States between 350,000 and 400,000 Greek Catholic Ruthenians, including as such the Greek Catholic Slovaks and Croato-Slovenians. The largest number (over one-half) are in Pennsylvania, while New York, New Jersey, and Ohio have each a very large number of them, and the remainder are scattered all through the New England and Western states. From the best information obtainable in advance of the coming census of 1910 their distribution is as follows:—

New York
New Jersey
Rhode Island