The Eastern Christian Churches by Ronald Roberson

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.

The diocese of Hajdúdorog originally covered only eastern Hungary and the city of Budapest. In 1980 its jurisdiction was extended to all Greek Catholics in Hungary. There is now a theological institute in Nyíregyháza that has been affiliated with the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome since 1995.

By 2014 there were 187 Greek Catholic parishes in Hungary, served by 262 priests and three women religious. The rather small number of Greek Catholic Hungarians who immigrated to North America have a few parishes, all of them part of the Ruthenian dioceses in the USA and the Ukrainian dioceses in Canada.

On March 20, 2015, Pope Francis reorganized the Hungarian Greek Catholic Church and elevated its status to Metropolitanate. In doing so, he elevated the eparchy of Hajdúdorog to a metropolis with its seat in Debrecen, and appointed Bishop Péter Fülöp Kocsis of Hajdúdorog as the first Metropolitan. He also created two suffragan sees by elevating the apostolic exarchate of Miskolc to the status of eparchy, and erecting a new eparchy in Nyíregyháza.

Location: Hungary
Head: Archbishop Péter Fülöp Kocsis (born 1963, appointed 2015)
Title: Metropolitan Archbishop of Hajdúdorog
Residence: Debrecen, Hungary
Membership: 326,200

Last Modified: 01 February 2024

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