Thursday, November 29, 2012

Summer School for Rusyn Language and Culture

Landscape in Eastern Slovakia (photo taken by Jim Kaminski)

The Studium Carpato-Ruthenorum International Summer School for Rusyn Language and Culture will be held for the fourth time in Prešov, Slovakia this coming June, 2013. Sponsored by the Institute of Rusyn Language and Culture and housed at the University of Prešov, the three-week session which runs from June 9-30 offers a rich and exciting immersion experience for those interested in learning about Carpatho-Rusyn language, history, and culture on site.

American students attending the summer school
So many of our grandparents and great-grandparents came from the eastern Slovak region around Prešov, slightly to the east--from Transcarpathia, and also slightly to the north--from the Lemko Region of southeastern Poland. There’s simply something very special about having the opportunity to spend three weeks in this area, not only absorbing information from experts, but also enjoying several excursions which will familiarize you with Prešov itself, and the surrounding countryside. Do you have questions about your grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ homeland? You’ll get your questions answered at the Studium. Participants not of Carpatho-Rusyn background are also warmly welcomed and will have a chance to learn about a fascinating Slavic culture poised on the threshold between the East and West Slavic worlds.

This summer, Professor Paul R. Magocsi of the University of Toronto and the foremost scholar in Carpatho-Rusyn studies in the world will guide you along the Carpatho-Rusyn historical path from the beginnings to the present day in a series of lectures during weeks one and three. During week two, Professor Patricia Krafcik of The Evergreen State College and longtime editor (1978-98) of the Carpatho-Rusyn American Newsletter, will offer presentations on selected topics in Carpatho-Rusyn folklore. Parallel lectures on history and folklore will be given in Rusyn for advanced students by faculty from the University of Prešov and also from Uzhhorod, Ukraine.

Participants have enjoyed enormously the various excursions offered in the first three years of the program, and this summer promises the same enjoyment and more. Some destinations include the towns of Medzilaborce (including the graves of famous Rusyns and the Andy Warhol Museum of Modern Art), Bardejov (with its famous open-air museum of Carpathian wooden churches), Svidník (and its well-known Rusyn Folk Festival), and Stará L’ubovňa (with its castle complex, and including a raft trip on the Dunajec River). A walking tour of Prešov will jumpstart our summer, and a visit to several working Carpathian wooden churches provides a journey into the past which is great for photographers and is truly unforgettable. There will be two new experiences this summer, as well. One is our attendance at an authentic Rusyn wedding in the village of Kurov (home village of Professor Mykola Mushynka, who will be reading lectures in Rusyn on folklore and who will offer an in-depth explanation of the wedding event) and a day trip on the final Saturday to the city of Uzhhorod in Ukraine with which so much significant Rusyn history and culture are identified. There, Uzhhorod resident Valerii Padiak, who will be offering the history lectures in Rusyn, will serve as our enthusiastic guide acquainting us with the “Carpatho-Rusyn Uzhhorod.”
View from the 11th floor dormitory

The Studium Carpato-Ruthenorum, then, offers you the chance to get deeply familiar not only with one city important in Rusyn history and culture, Prešov, but also plenty of opportunity for travel in surrounding areas and a profound experience of Rusyn culture.

Finally, there is a certain wonderful camaraderie that develops among the participants which previous attendees can tell you about. You will develop friendships that may last a lifetime. Most definitely, for those of Carpatho-Rusyn background, you will breathe the air your ancestors breathed, see some of the sights they certainly saw, including the magnificently green and rolling hills which give way to the rugged Carpathians, and acquire a deeper understanding of the lives they lived.

For further information and application, please go to:
Written by Pat Krafcik, email:


Thursday, November 22, 2012

Carpatho-Rusyn Christmas

Svajtyj Vecur (Christmas Eve)

The Christmas celebration for Carpatho-Rusyns, an East Slavic people hailing from the Carpathian Mountains of Eastern Europe, is steeped in ancient tradition. The customs are a  mystical blend of old pagan Slavic customs honoring ancestors and family with the revelations of Eastern Christianity.

The celebration’s main time is actually Christmas Eve, when the Holy Supper (Svjatyj Vecur, Velija) is served. Many customs are associated with this solemn meal, and these customs can vary from village to village and county to county.

In many Carpatho-Rusyn villages, the head of the household takes some of the food first and feeds it to the animals, since the animals in the stables were the first to witness the coming of the Savior when He was born in a manger. This gesture is to help assure a prosperous year for all of the family’s animals. Peas are thrown out to the chickens to assure their fertility (and that of the household’s) for the coming year.

In the middle of the table rests three key items – the icon of the Nativity of Christ. The Kracun or Christmas bread, and a triple candle stand. The icon proclaims the mystery of the Nativity; the bread – that the coming Christ is the bread of life: and the candles – that through Christ’s coming the Trinity was revealed to us. The kracun is then broken, passed around the table and shared together. Then garlic cloves and honey are shared by all. This must happen so that the family will stay together for the coming year. In some Rusyn villages, the legs of the table are bound by chains to “Keep the family together.”

Christmas Eve for Rusyns is a strict fast day. Therefore, all foods served must be free of meat and dairy products. Twelve dishes are served and these too vary from village to village. However, some of the more common include mushroom, pea or bean and sauerkraut soup, pirohy (dough stuffed with potatoes, kraut or prunes) bolbalky (bread balls with kraut or honey and poppy seeds), holubky(cabbage stuffed with rice or barley and mushrooms), fish, and prunes.

The décor is also meant to remind the Carpatho-Rusyn peasant of the mysteries of God becoming man and dwelling with us. The table is covered with a decorated white cloth, symbolizing that Christ came without sin; hay is scattered on the table and floor, reminding Rusyns that He came in humility, born in a stable; and an extra place is set at the table for Christ, symbolizing the Eastern Christian belief that Christ comes each year–ever present in the Eastern Christian home. Originally, however, this place was set in pagan times for the ancestors to join the family.

After the meal, the family goes to church for Christmas Eve Matins, leaving the food on the table and sometimes the windowsill “for the ancestors.” Children awake the next morning and see the food and drink gone, consumed by “their ancestors.”

Each Carpatho-Rusyn home is also visited by the Jaslickari, or Bethlehem carolers, a custom that can be traced to the blending of pre-Christian caroling customs and the medieval passion plays. The Jaslickari are young men from the village dressed as shepherds and angels, who witnessed the miraculous birth of Christ. They come into each home to enact a play with song, about their visit to the manger and their coming to grips with the mystery of Christ’s birth and their own human failings. The Jaslickari are a genuine folk expression and were a vital piece of the peasant’ s education in his or her faith.

The Jaslickari enter the home carrying a replica of the parish church or a stable. Some are in the role of angels, wearing white robes and tall, stovepipe hats. Others are the shepherds. Among the shepherds is a particularly colorful character, Guba, who dressed in sheep’s wool and sporting a beard and mask, represents mankind’s human tendency towards evil, chasing and frightening many a Carpatho-Rusyn child in the home.

Christmas Day is spent feasting while groups of carolers go from home to home proclaming the Good News. And Carpatho-Rusyns greet one another with the exchange: 

Christ is Born! Hristos Razdajtsa! 
Glorify Him! Slavite Jeho!
© John J. Righetti, 2001
Written by John Righetti.  Email:

Friday, November 9, 2012

John Schweich - Parish Historian

John Schweich
John Schweich, C-RS trustee, will be presenting at the 2013 Czechoslovak Genealogical Conference in Chicago.

 I grew up in  Frackville, a coal mining town in Northeastern  Pennsylvania in the midst of some of the oldest Carpatho-Rusyn settlements (St. Clair, Minersville, Shenandoah, Mahanoy City) in North America.  The local Rusyns had all of the fine qualities that are their trademarks, i.e. a fierce sense of loyalty to family and spirituality, a world class work ethic, a supreme ability to adapt to changing environments, that unparalleled cuisine, etc..  Ethnic self-awareness, however,  was not one of them.  Queries about their ethnicity produced responses like: "Slavonic," "Slavish," "Rooshin" , "Greek," "Our People," "Austrian," "Hungarian," "Uhorsky," "Uhorshchane," "Rusnaks," "Ruthenian," "Carpo-Rus," "Carpatho-Russian," "Russian," "Buyzzantyne, (a pharmaceutical perhaps?)" etc.  Never once did I hear  the term "Rusyn."  The people I queried about the terms "Greek" and "Byzantine," seemed to be more than clueless about the land  of Homer or the history of Constantinople.  The language used by those Carpatho-Russians was not Russian.  Since I was studying Russian at Penn State at the time, it seemed closer to Ukrainian, although, strangely,  the locals did not seem to appreciate hearing that.

To sort out the confusion and  because Magocsi's works had not yet appeared, I consulted a few available books, which turned out to be the largely unhelpful works of polemicists.  It began to occur to me there may be a "lost tribe" of Slavs that the mainstream scholars had failed or were otherwise unmoved to catalogue.

The solution seemed to be to collect all of the written histories available produced by a largely anonymous corps of parishioner chroniclers, which dealt not only with specific Byzantine Catholic  and Orthodox parishes, but, ultimately, with the local Rusyn community itself.

   While this was promising, it was also frustrating: the answer to one question might be found, only to have five more queries appear.   If there had been and Orthodox-Greek Catholic split in the town, say in  Taylor PA or Binghamton NY, how did each side chronicle the separation? Did persistent Old Country village loyalties play a role, as they may have in Farrel/Sharon PA? Oftentimes, the local historians ignored the fact that the parish represented a separation  from another (unmentioned) church or that a given parish had suffered a loss of half or more of its members.

After 30 years of effort, the result has been a collection of 1400 volumes pertaining to the histories of about 600 parish communities founded predominately by Rusyns or in partnership with other ethnic groups and representing half a dozen ecclesiastical jurisdictions.   Along the way, I have collected a fair number of histories of other communities, including Romanians, Melkites, Russians, Hungarians, Ukrainians, Serbs, Greeks,  Macedonians, Bulgarians, Poles, Slovaks, and Croatians.

This is, I believe, is the largest such collection in the US.  Some of the works  are triumphs of historiography ...other are not.  Although I am regularly  asked  to provide information on individuals, these histories are not  particularly  useful for genealogical purposes.  Unless the relative in question was a clergyman, a founding member, a cantor or choir director, a trustee (kurator),  a major donor, or a "first" ( baptism, marriage or funeral), there will likely be no mention of him/her.

Sometimes  the prose used is majestic:

"Beyond ties of blood, language and shared memories, the Ruska Vira, the Greek Catholic Church and its rich traditions, bound this urban village together and gave meaning to simple but intense lives. The Rusin village in South Philadelphia did not rest until, like the ancestral villages in Europe, it nestled in the shadow of an onion-domed church and three-barred cross." (Holy Ghost Byzantine Catholic Church, Philadelphia PA, 1891-1991, 100 Blessed Years)

Sometimes the prose  conveys (humorously) unintended  imagery:

"The fire of 1904  gave  the parishioners a burning (emphasis added) desire to rebuild the church." (name withheld)