The author of this article, Fr Dimitry Sidor, is Carpatho-Russian, that is Rusin, and a spiritual leader of contemporary Carpatho-Russia. Born in 1955, he studied Physics at the University of the Rusin Capital Uzhgorod, at present in the Ukrainian ‘Transcarpathian Region’. After this he studied at the Moscow Theological Academy. Since 1990 he has been the rector of the Orthodox Cathedral in the Rusin capital of Uzhgorod and is also the architect of the new Cathedral there.
He chairs the Sts Cyril and Methodius Society, runs the main Rusin Orthodox website, as well as taking a very active role in Rusin media and political life and translating the Gospels into Rusin. He is a keen advocate of Slav Orthodox unity, especially of what we would call the ‘four Russias’: Great Russia, Little Russia (at present called the ‘Ukraine’), White Russia (Belarus) and Carpatho-Russia, under the leadership of the Patriarch of All Rus, His Holiness Alexis II.
Fr Dimitry is of the new generation which is fighting for the renewal of Orthodoxy, after the compromises of the tragic Soviet era. He is therefore like us. For, as part of the ‘Western Rus outside Russia’, we too are fighting for the restoration of the thousand-year old Orthodox heritage of our ‘Rus of the Isles’, after the compromises of the tragic Heterodox era. Like him, we too are struggling for Holy Orthodoxy against the powers of secularism and atheism. Like him, we too are struggling for the spiritual purity of Holy Orthodoxy against an older generation of Orthodox representatives, who largely fell into compromise with the powers that be, and so thwarted the growth of authentic Orthodoxy.
Below we have translated a slightly abbreviated version of the recent interview with him, which first appeared at the end of July 2006 on the excellent website www.pravoslavie.ru.
As we know, God gives each people its own mission in this world. One of the most ancient peoples of Central Europe, the Rusins, have by no coincidence been preserved by the Lord for a very important mission in the third millennium.
What is the mission that the Rusin people is to accomplish at the beginning of the third millennium and who is this people which remains unknown to many, even to ‘qualified’ academics? Why has this ancient Slav Orthodox people had to endure so much sorrow and oppression at the hands of nomadic peoples, so frequently changing places with one another, then occupiers, then the usual ‘liberators’, then some other ‘benefactors’? Looking at the past millennium, we can boldly assert that the Rusin people has borne and undergone a great trial in its faithfulness to Slavdom and Holy Orthodoxy!
Settled in the cradle of the Slav peoples between the Danube and the Tisa, the Rusins are the descendants of the Subcarpathian White Croats. (Not to be confused with the Croats who lived near the Carpathians, as were later mentioned by St Nestor the Chronicler in his story of the campaign of Prince Vladimir against the Croats). As early as the mid-seventh century Subcarpathian White Croats had been invited by the Roman Emperor Heraclius to settle both on the territory of present-day Croatia, and on Greek territory around Thessalonika, on the frontiers of the Roman Empire. Establishing Slav settlements, they remained there right up until the first half of the twentieth century.
It was probably in this very setting, among the White Croat Old Rusins, that Sts Cyril and Methodius were born, brought up and mastered the Slavonic tongue. Their parents may possibly have been of White Croat extraction. This hypothesis, that the Old Rusin Slavonic tongue was spoken around Thessalonika, is supported even now by the fact that Rusins today have (and in the future will still have) their own original, living Rusin language, almost 70% of which coincides with Old Slavonic. This demonstrates the possibility that it is Old Rusin, so similar to Old Bulgarian, which could have been taken as the basis of the Slavonic language, codified by the peers of the Apostles, Sts Cyril and Methodius.
The White Croats or Old Rusins, living on the southern slopes of the Carpathians, kept their ancient name for themselves – Rusins. They were part of Greater Moravia (and some part of the Old Bulgarian Kingdom), long before the foundation of Kievan Rus. At that time a salt road led from Bulgaria to the present-day Rusin town of Solotvin (now in Transcarpathian Ukraine) and therefore this was one of the most convenient routes into Moravia for Sts Cyril and Methodius. Moreover, at that time Transcarpathia was part of the Moravian State. In the same way, this was also the quickest route for the disciples of the brothers and peers of the Apostles, when they were forced to flee from Moravia to Bulgaria. It is little known that at that time all one had to do to get from Moravia to Bulgaria was simply to cross the little River Tisa in the area of present-day Rusin Tiachevo-Solutvin in Transcarpathia.
Nomadic Hungarian tribes have left stories about the local population of Subcarpathia. At the end of the ninth century they crossed the Carpathians highlands with difficulty and there found a local people called Rusins. And 100 years after their baptism it was Rusins who, together with Bulgarians, went to baptize Kievan Rus. After the arrival of the Hungarians, towards the beginning of the twelfth century, the newcomers gradually forced the Rusins out of their lowlands into the hills. For long they became an unknown people, cut off from Europe by the Hungarian State and cut off from the east by the Carpathian highlands and forests some 100 miles deep.
The Subcarpathian Rusins were for long little noticed by historians. But none of this was by chance. God was keeping the ancient Slavic Rusin people from assimilation with neighbouring peoples, who often became like elder brothers for the Rusins. It is a curious fact of history that, without lifting a finger, the Transcarpathian Rusin has been the citizen of more or less six States, each in turn attempting to pass itself off as the legitimate age-old occupier of the Rusin territory.
In 1917 the Bolsheviks mounted an anti-Orthodox coup d’etat in Russia. Overt anti-Christians came to power. They were in no hurry to give the land to the people, but set about the systematic destruction of churches, monasteries, the clergy and even the language. At the same time, in Central Europe amid the ruins of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, there appeared small Slav states, among them the Rusin, with the strange but hallowed name of ‘Subcarpathian Rus’. The Rusins of the age of ‘the springtime of the peoples’ sang the songs of O. Dukhnovich (later they became Rusin anthems): ‘O Rusins from beneath the Carpathians, forsake your slumber deep…’ and ‘I was, am and will be a Rusin, I was born a Rusin’.
In the twentieth century, Rusins living on the southern slopes of the Carpathians saw their native identity guaranteed and enshrined in the Saint Germain peace agreement of 1919. They became part of the new democratic European State of Czechoslovakia with the right to self-government. In 1921 the Carpatho-Russian Autonomous Orthodox Church was formed under the Patriarchate of Serbia. In 1938 Subcarpathian Rus officially received autonomous status within the now Federal Republic of Czechoslovakia. In November 1938 and at the beginning of 1939, on orders from Berlin, Galician nationalists, as former Polish citizens, crossed the border in Austrian military uniform and carried out a coup d’etat on part of the territory of Subcarpathian Rus. They unlawfully renamed it Carpathian Ukraine with a centre in Khust. The main part of Subcarpathian Rus, with its historic capital in Uzhgorod, was occupied by Hungarian troops.
All Subcarpathian Rus territory was liberated by Soviet forces only in November 1944. After the War, the independent status of Subcarpathian Rus within Czechoslovakia was renewed automatically. However, on the advice of Mekhlis and Khushchev, Stalin decided to annex the territory of Subcarpathian Rus to the Soviet Union, seeing it as a suitable bridgehead for expansion into Europe. As for the Rusins, they were not against joining a large Slav State, as long as they could keep their status as an independent republic with the support of their East Slav brothers. Authorized Rusin delegates, both ecclesiastical (Archimandrite Alexis (Kabaliuk), now canonized as a Carpatho-Russian saint) and secular, visited Moscow in November 1944, where they left a written memorandum with the senior leadership of the Soviet Union. Understanding that they would inevitably become part of the Soviet Union, they still set out the Rusin position, asking for Subcarpathian Rus to become an independent Carpatho-Russian Republic. This document has now officially been published in the Ukraine.
The viewpoint of Mekhlis and Khrushchev won the day. The greater part of Subcarpathian Rus (lacking Presov Rus in northern and eastern Slovakia, the south-east Lemko corner of Poland, the Rusin town of Sighet (which had already been occupied by Romania in 1918) and the territory up to Debrecen, was joined to Soviet Socialist Ukraine. Its inhabitants, Rusins from time immemorial, were by force renamed indigenous Ukrainians. The Bolsheviks simply renamed Subcarpathian Rus the Transcarpathian Region of the Ukraine. And the Carpatho-Russian Autonomous Orthodox Church of the Patriarchate of Serbia entered the Russian Orthodox Church, not as an autonomous part, but as a diocese of the Moscow Patriarchate.
In 1991 the inhabitants of ‘Transcarpathia’, tired of the atheist Soviet regime, took a difficult decision and voted for the independence of the Ukraine. At the same time 78% of them voted to become a self-governing territory within the Ukraine. Once again the Rusins conscientiously accomplished their historic mission – to remain faithful to eastern Slavdom. True, the collapse of the Soviet Union showed that once three Slav brother peoples had formed their own States, their economies began to disintegrate. The canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church was subject to attacks on the part of Ukrainian nationalists and politicians of a pro-Bolshevik mentality, who set up for themselves pocket autocephalous groups, that the Church of Christ might be torn apart all the more easily. The Rusins in Transcarpathia bravely took the side of Holy Orthodoxy and to this day they have not let schismatics into their ancient Rusin land.
At the IX All-Slav Council in Uzhgorod on 8 and 9 May 2002, that is, at the beginning of the third millennium, Rusins demanded that the Ukrainian government restore the historic truth and return their lawful ethnic name ‘Rusins’ and their right to be recognized as an indigenous people on their own territory.
At the same time, we Rusins are accomplishing our God-given mission, in other words: Again and again we remind the three Slav brother peoples (Russians, Ukrainians and Belorussians) that the dismemberment of the spiritual and historic entity of Ancient Rus into separate parts is unacceptable. And it is vital to keep our millennial Slav Orthodox civilization for mankind, as a counterweight to Western civilization, which is secular and also, in the very near future, occult and atheistic. May God on High bless all the Slav peoples, among whom is our peaceful, God-fearing Orthodox Rusin people.
Today, God has allowed that Rusins live in the Ukraine. Over half a million Rusins live in the USA, Canada, Australia, Serbia, Slovakia, Poland, the Czech Lands, Romania and Hungary. Everywhere they are openly recognized as an independent nationality, except in the Ukraine, where, without basis and unlawfully, the Ukrainian authorities silence this issue. But here too Rusins are accomplishing their mission: none of us Rusins is a separatist or an enemy of the Ukraine. We Rusins are only too happy to be in the Ukraine, together with Ukrainians and others, that is as a people which is able to form its own State, with the right to live as equals in that State, to do good, to keep faith with the Orthodox Church and to look with confidence to the future.
However, at the same time we are reminded that, unfortunately, the word ‘Ukrainian’ does not contain in it the ancient root ‘rus’. This means that Ukraine in itself cannot be considered to be the lawful heir to Kievan Rus. The barbaric hatred of certain Ukrainian officials for the very word ‘Rusin’ is therefore all the more incomprehen-sible. Or, perhaps, Ukrainian powerbrokers have set themselves the aim of eradicating not only the word ‘Rusin’, but also the very mention of Kievan Rus. Meanwhile, they also cloud the minds of their own citizens regarding the ‘great antiquity’ of the Ukrainian nation and provocatively reckon that Slovak, Polish and Serbian territory is ethnic Ukrainian, since there live ethnic Rusins, whom Kiev would recognize only as indigenous Ukrainians. I say that the mission of the Rusins of Transcarpthia is not yet finished. I think that it will continue further, in order to cool the fantasies of the Ukrainian nationalist hotheads of the third millennium.
Spiritually, while awaiting the Second Coming of Christ, we Rusins wish to live and work in the Orthodox Faith, with love and hope. At the same time, we know full well that at the Last Judgement the Lord will address us Rusins in our own Rusin mother tongue. And woe to us Rusins, if we do not understand the Lord, if we do not recognize our own Rusin tongue. For our mission, accomplished conscientiously, we hope that God will grant us the salvation of our souls and the Kingdom of Heaven.
Protopriest Dimitry Sidor,
Head of the Subcarpatho-Rusin Orthodox
Society of Sts Cyril and Methodius