ONE Magazine

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Catholic Near East Welfare Association

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Who are Hungary’s Greek Catholics?

Nyírascád is a religious anomaly in Hungary.

Of Nyírascád’s 4,400 residents, 2,500 are Greek Catholic, 900 are Roman Catholic, 700 are Calvinist, 90 are Baptist and there are a small number of Jehovah’s Witnesses and some atheists. In contrast, in all of Hungary, 52 percent of the population is Roman Catholic, 16 percent Calvinist, 3 percent Lutheran and 3 percent Greek Catholic, with the other 26 percent either practicing other religions or unaffiliated. Most of the country’s Greek Catholics are in northeastern Hungary, which explains their high numbers in Nyírascád.

In the year 1000 Stephen, a Christian convert, became Hungary’s first king. He declared as official the faith as observed in Rome, but allowed those who followed the “Greek” rites of Byzantium to hold on to their faith. Most of Hungary’s Byzantine Christians were wiped out in the 13th-century Mongol invasion of Europe. But soon afterward, Byzantine Christians from the Carpathian Mountains (Ruthenians and Romanians) settled in the region. Since then, northeastern Hungary has been the historical and spiritual center for the country’s 282,000 Greek Catholics.

While Greek Catholics, since the 17th century, may be the dominant faith community in Nyírascád, others also have a strong presence. The oldest religious structure in the region, dating to the 13th century, became a Calvinist church in 1534.

Nearby Debrecen was the center of the Hungarian Reformation. There was once a significant Jewish presence. In 1941, Nyírascád had 198 Jewish residents, but today it has none. (More than 560,000 of the country’s 825,000 Jews were killed in the Holocaust.) The village’s synagogue is now a Baptist church.

As Greek Catholics became an accepted part of Hungarian society, they lobbied for the use of the Hungarian language in the liturgy. In 1900, a group of Greek Catholic Hungarians presented Pope Leo XIII with a petition asking him to approve the use of Hungarian and also to create a distinct eparchy for them. Twelve years later, Pope Pius X established the Eparchy of Hajdúdorog for the 162 Greek Catholic parishes that spoke Hungarian. But he limited the use of Hungarian to nonliturgical functions, requiring the clergy to use Greek. This was never enforced.

The Eparchy of Hajdúdorog, which originally encompassed eastern Hungary and Budapest, saw its jurisdiction expanded in 1980 to include all the country’s Greek Catholics. A small number of Greek Catholic Hungarians have immigrated to North America. Their few parishes are a part of the Ruthenian Byzantine Metropolia in the United States and the Ukrainian eparchies in Canada.

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