Where Did the Rusyns Come From and From Whom Did They Receive Christianity?

From "Our People - Carpatho-Rusyns and Their Descendants In North America" © 1995 by Dr. Paul Robert Magocsi and used here with permission. Any other use is a violation of international copyright law.

These two questions have been researched for decades by scholars in the European homeland, and they have also been of great interest to Carpatho-Rusyns in America. Definitive answers have yet to be found. Instead, numerous and often conflicting hypotheses abound.

The question of where Rusyns came from is closely related to the famous controversy in the study of early eastern European history known generally as the problem of the origin of Rus'. There are at least three explanations favored by various Rusyn and other eastern European scholars: (l)that the Rus' derive from a Varangian (Scandinavian) tribe or group of leaders who made Kiev their political center in the late ninth century AD-the so-called Normanist theory; (2) that the Rus' or Ros were an indigenous Slavic tribe who were already settled just south of Kiev by the fourth century AD, later giving their name to the Scandinavian conquerors-the so-called anti-Normanist theory; and (3) that the Rus' came from Scandinavia, but were not associated with any particular Varangian tribe. Instead, they were part of an international trading company that plied the North and Baltic seas. The company, which comprised various peoples, traced its roots to the city of Rodez (Ruzzi) in what is today southern France-a city whose inhabitants were called Ruteni or Ruti, and who today are known as rutenois.

As for the first Rus' in the Carpathians, there are also numerous theories. For many years, scholars thought that the Carpathian region was the original homeland of all the Slavs. Today, however, it is generally felt that the original Slavic homeland was just north of the Carpathians, in what is today eastern Poland, southwestern Belarus, and northwestern Ukraine. Archaeological remains indicate that human settlement in the Rusyn region south of the Carpathians goes back for centuries before Christ, but it is still not certain when the ancestors of the Rusyns first made their appearance. Some writers-who support the so-called autochthonous theory-argue that Rusyns were already in the Carpathians in the fifth and sixth centuries AD and that they had a state ruled by a Prince Laborec' which was "independent" until its destruction by the Magyars at the very end of the ninth century. Others-who support the so-called colonization theory-state that the Rusyns began to arrive with the Magyars at the end of the ninth century, although only in small groups; larger numbers did not come until after the thirteenth century.

Faced with these varying interpretations from "European authorities," Rusyn-American writers have favored one or more of the above theories and some have even added other less convincing explanations, seeking Asiatic roots for Rusyns either in the Urals, the Caucasus, or Himalayas.

Most likely, Rusyns first settled in the Carpathians as part of the great migration of Slavs during the sixth and seventh centuries AD. They were known at the time as White Croats and came from regions immediately to the north and east like Galicia, Volhynia, and Podolia in what is today western Ukraine. Therefore, some Rusyns inhabited the mountainous valleys before the arrival of the Magyars in the late ninth century. The largest number of Rusyns did not come until after the thirteenth century, however, again from Galicia and Podolia and often at the request of the Hungarian government anxious to protect its northern frontier by settling it with people. The most famous of these Rusyn invitees was Prince Feeder Koriatovych of Podolia, later Prince of Mukachevo and the legendary founder of the nearby Monastery of St. Nicholas on Monk's Hill (Chernecha Hora).

The problem of when and from whom Rusyns received Christianity also remains an unresolved question. A major concern with respect to this question has to do with the issue of a western or eastern orientation in Rusyn religious culture.

Traditionally, Rusyn historians have argued that their people received Christianity from the "Apostles to the Slavs," Cyril and Methodius, as part of their mission from the Byzantine Empire to the state known as Greater Moravia in 863. Although based in former central Czechoslovakia (Moravia,

eastern Bohemia, and western Slovakia), the Moravian sphere of influence-and therefore Christianity-reached farther northward, southward, and eastward. Ostensibly one of the original Methodian dioceses was based in the Rusyn center of Mukachevo. It should be mentioned that although the Cyril-Methodian mission brought Christianity according to the eastern Byzantine rite, it came "from the west" and was

recognized by the Pope. The Universal Church had, of course, not yet become divided into "western Roman" and "eastern Orthodox" Christian spheres.

Another theory basically rejects or minimizes the importance of the Cyril-Methodian mission, and instead associates Christianity in the Carpathians with the arrival of Rusyns (that is, the Rus' people or those of the Orthodox faith) from the east, most especially after the conversion of Rus' to Christianity in 988 carried out by the Kievan grand prince Vladimir (Volodymyr). This "eastern theory" is used to justify the "Orthodox origin" of Carpatho-Rusyns.

The newest theory proposed in the 1980s by the late Greek Catholic priest and historian from Slovakia. Stepan Pap, suggests that on their way to Greater Moravia Cyril and Methodius stopped first in the Rusyn homeland where they converted the local populace. And as for Kievan Rus' in the east, it was Rusyns from the Carpathians who, according to Pap, brought Christianity to Kiev during the following century and not the other way around.

With regard to the traditional interpretations, it is not surprising that the Byzantine Ruthenian Catholic Church favors the "western" Cyril-Methodian view. The Byzantine Catholic Metropolitanate of Pittsburgh sees itself as the successor to the Eparchy of mukachevo, which in turn evolved from the ostensible presence of the Methodian mission in the Carpathian region in the ninth century. For this reason, the Byzantine Metropolitanate participated fully in the 1963 celebration to honor SS. Cyril and Methodius and their missionary work in Greater Moravia 1,100 years ago. It did not join the millennium celebrations of the Christianization of Kievan Rus' in 1988.

As for the Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church (Johnstown Diocese), it accepts both the "western" and "eastern" views; that is, it recognizes the importance of the Cyril-Methodian mission as well as the Kievan Prince Vladimir's conversion for Carpatho-Rusyn religious tradition. On the other hand, the Orthodox Church in America and the Patriarchal Exarchate (in which Carpatho-Rusyns are members) emphasize the "eastern theory" and, therefore, they participated fully in the millennium celebrations in 1988 to honor the Christianization of Kievan Rus' ("Kievan Russia").

Map copyright © Paul Robert Magocsi

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