In the different regions of historic Hungary the initiatives for the establishment of the Greek Catholic Church began during the first decade of the seventeenth century. After the established unions, the formal declarations of unification with the Roman Apostolic See, in the Southern Region in Márcsa in 1611, in the Northeast counties in Ungvár in 1646, in the Partium during the last decade of the seventeenth century, and then in Transylvania at the turn of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the Greek Catholic ecclesiastical organization gradually developed over a number of decades. The liturgical language of the Eparchy of Munkács, which had been formed long before but was only canonically founded in 1771, and whose bishop exercised jurisdiction from Szepes County to Máramaros, as well as the Eparchy of Eperjes, which was carved out of its territory in 1811, where was the Old Church Slavonic the liturgical language. In contrast, in the Eparchy of Fogaras, founded in 1721, and in the Eparchy of Nagyvárad, established in 1777, especially due to the influence of the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century rulers of Transylvania, the Liturgy was in the Romanian language.
Beginning with the end of the eighteenth century, the Greek Catholics in these eparchies, whose nationality was Hungarian, tried to gain acceptance for the use of the Hungarian language in the services. The movement for national awakening that began at the Diet of 1790-1791, in which the cultivation of the Hungarian language enjoyed considerable emphasis, also exerted influence on the Hungarian Greek Catholics. Demeter Görög (1760-1833), a distinguished son of Hajdúdorog, the largest and most significant community of Hungarian Greek Catholics, and a pioneer in Hungarian journalism, had lived in the capital and contributed decisively to its literary development, and he also transmitted the ideology of national and linguistic renewal back home to the region of his birth. Demeter Görög, who’s studies and career had been supported by András Bacsinszky, the parish priest of Hajdúdorog, to whom György Kritsfalusi, a teacher in Ungvár and one of the authors of the first Liturgy to have survived in the Hungarian language, dedicated this work in 1795. In the dedication Krisfalusi states, “ … I have been encouraged to take up this Work not only since I have been fortunate enough to live in this town of Ungvár but also by those who whished me well and lived in other places.” This observation indicates that by that time the need for a translation into the Hungarian language of the St. John Chrysostom Liturgy had been clearly indicated by the Greek Catholics, whose mother tongue was Hungarian. The young teacher, who had arrived at the seat of the bishopric, perhaps prepared his translation with precisely the intention that by obtaining the approval of the bishop, the work would become the basis of an official Hungarian language version. The liturgical translations, however, for several decades spread only in manuscript form and appeared in print for the first time in 1825 in Kassa as part of a book of prayers and liturgies, Imadsagos könyvetske [Little book of prayers].
The series of initiatives of the diets of the Reform Era to expand the use of the Hungarian language, which culminated when the Hungarian diet proclaimed Hungarian as the official language of Hungary, also spurred the Greek Catholics to action. During these decades the counties also did much to support the cultivation and the extension of the use of the Hungarian language. As a result of all these efforts, on the level of local parishes the use of the Hungarian language increasingly came to be associated with belonging to and being loyal to the Hungarian nation. Consequently, the Hungarian Greek Catholics became increasingly troubled by a situation in which, while they considered themselves to be Hungarian and used the Hungarian language in everyday conversation, the use of Old Church Slavonic and Romanian in their religious services caused the majority of the population to question their identities and their loyalties. Despite instruction the liturgical language in schools, fewer and fewer were able to understand the ceremonies in the churches, which often caused misunderstandings of an almost comical nature.
The introduction of the Hungarian language Liturgy first appeared as an issue in Hungarian public opinion at the Diet of 1834-1835. The representatives of Hajdúdorog at the diet requested the translation and publication of the liturgical books of the Greek Catholics into Hungarian at government expense. Although the concept received broad support in principle, the diet did not appropriate the necessary funds. Participating in the diet as a young clerk, Lajos Farkas (1821-1894), who would serve not only as the initiator of organized movements by Hungarian Greek Catholics but also for decades as their leader, must have experienced for the first time the indifference and niggardliness of national politics toward the Hungarian Greek Catholics.
Soon, the increasing obstacles to the employment of the Hungarian language in the Liturgy would become apparent within the Church as well. In 1845, the clergyman Antal Petrus, celebrated the complete Liturgy in Hungarian in Hajdúdorog, which provoked a protestation by the archdiocesan authorities of Eger. In a letter to the Bishop of Munkács the later often repeated argument was made: Hungarian is not a canonized language for the Liturgy, and therefore its use is not permitted.
Despite the difficulties, the faithful of Hajdúdorog kept the issue of the translation and the edition of liturgical books in Hungarian language in the forefront. The formation of the first Hungarian responsible government on 17 March 1848 raised hopes that the problem of the Hungarian Greek Catholics would receive support at the highest levels. A letter of 19 June 1848 by József Eötvös, Minister of Religion and Education, to Vazul Popovics, Bishop of Munkács (1837-1864), in which he declared that he personally was prepared to provide complete support for the translation and publication of the liturgical books into Hungarian, seemed to confirm these hopes. The promise raised by the struggle for liberty was extinguished by the defeat of the Hungarian uprising. During the Bach era the needs of the nationalities enjoyed precedence over the Hungarian national causes. From the perspective of the Hungarian Greek Catholics, the government’s support for Romanian Greek Catholics proved to be particularly significant. Since the Romanians in Transylvania had demonstrated their loyalty to the Habsburg House during the struggle for independence, afterwards they rightfully expected support for their national desires. Their petitions for the expansion of their ecclesiastical organization finally found a favorable reception in 1853, when the ruler elevated the Eparchy of Fogaras to the rank of metropolia to be known as the Metropolia of Gyulafehérvár-Fogaras. Furthermore, he also attached the Eparchy of Nagyvárad, which had formerly been under the authority of the Archbishop of Esztergom, to the new metropolia and also established a new eparchy in Szamosujvár and Lugos. Thus, the Romanian Greek Catholic ecclesiastical province in Transylvania, whose national minority identity was unambiguously apparent, had come into being. Conspicuously powerful and made highly effective through its school system, this ecclesiastical organization was able successfully to promote Romanian national interests, among others, against the ambitions of the Hungarian Greek Catholics.
In the inauspicious political situation, the preparation of additional Hungarian language translations and the removal of the ecclesiastical barriers to the liturgical use of Hungarian seemed to be the best available way. Therefore, in 1862, the Ó hitű imádságos és énekes könyv [Prayer and hymn book for the Byzantine Rite faithful] was edited by Ignácz Roskovics, a parish priest of Hajdúböszörmény. Its use spread over a wide region, and by 1898 it had been republished eight times. In 1863, the parish of Hajdúdorog petitioned Vazul Popovics, Bishop of Munkács, for permission to use the Hungarian language. The bishop appeared to be open to the notion of granting permission but insisted that it could only happen if it was preceded by the preparation of official and approved liturgical translations. Nevertheless, in his circular letter of 22 May he was forced to order that until the official approval for the use of the Hungarian language, the Divine Liturgy can only be celebrated in Old Church Slavonic and only certain parts, the prayer beginning with, “I believe my Lord and confess … “ and folk songs could be performed in Hungarian. He published the directive due to a command by János Scitovszky, Archbishop of Esztergom (1849-1866), whose view on the language question was determined by the fears of the Roman Catholic Church. Since Greek Catholics lived side-by-side with Roman Catholics in many communities, and the Roman Catholic Church officials feared that the demands to use the Hungarian language would also appear emphatically among those following the Latin Rite. This fear fundamentally determined for long decades the views of the Roman Catholic bishops who did not take into consideration that the attitudes to the national vernaculars in the Eastern Church were basically different than those in the West.
The intervention of the Archbishop of Esztergom made clear to the parish of Hajdúdorog that in the issue of the use of the vernacular they must step beyond the diocesan boundaries. The easing of the political situation also encouraged them to make their request once again public before the nation. In 1866, they sent a petition to the ruler, the primate, the chancellery, and the diet. In the petitions they declared their national self identity, “… we are Hungarians and wish to remain so until eternity.” They asserted sadly that while they lived as Hungarians in their homeland, nevertheless, due to their services they are ridiculed as Muskovites, or as Wlachs. They cited the example of the Romanian Greek Catholics, who had in the not too distant past received privileges for the development of their ecclesiastical organization. They could rightly ask, if Romanian Greek Catholics in Hungary are allowed to use their native language in the Liturgy and can enjoy their own ecclesiastical organization, then why could Hungarian Greek Catholics not request the same? Simultaneously, they also raised concerns that the strengthened movements of nationalities could mean serious dangers for the Hungarian Greek Catholics. They once again requested the translation and publication of the liturgical books of Byzantine Rite at public expense and formulated their need for a separate eparchy for the Hungarian Greek Catholics, or if this proved, due to financial reasons, to be unfeasible, then for a vicariate with Hajdúdorog as a seat.
The fate of their petitions had a sobering effect on the Hajdúdorog parish. They received no answer. They invoked national interest and the rights of the 200,000 strong Hungarian Greek Catholics in the community in vain, for they could not overcome the stereotypical thinking etched in public memory. Public opinion closely associated the Eastern Rite with the world of the national minorities and proved incapable of liberating itself from the notion that “Hungarian” and “Eastern Rite” were mutually exclusive concepts. Without any formal assertion, but through the silence surrounding the question, the prevailing view was that the Hungarian Greek Catholics, who wished emotionally and linguistically to identify with the Hungarians, should take the path of changing either their rites, or changing their confessions. The path of struggle for acceptance stood opposed to the alternative possibility offered here. The struggle constituted the way to Calvary on which the Greek Catholics firmly insisting on the Eastern Rite, the Catholic faith, and Hungarian identity set out with the parish of Hajdúdorog in the lead.
Although in Hajdúdorog the town could largely secure in practice the use of the Hungarian language in the Liturgy, elsewhere the local authorities imposed limitations. The events in Makó, which coincided with the petitions of 1866, drew attention to the seriousness of the conflicts based in the use of Hungarian as a liturgical language. The approximately two thousand strong Hungarian Greek Catholic community in the town had used Hungarian as its religious language for decades. In 1866 a parish of minority Romanian Greek Catholics, which numbered about fifty, desired to put an end to this practice, and Iosif Papp Szilágyi (1863-1873), Bishop of Nagyvárad supported them in this effort. In the conflict that convulsed a community, which for many years had been peaceful, the bishop took the position that services in no way could be celebrated in Hungarian. He wanted to force the faithful of Makó to employ a Romanian cantor and teacher, who would also lead the singing in the church. Bishop Papp Szilágy’s stance confirmed the fears that the parish of Hajdúdorog had expressed in the petitions of 1866; namely, the use of a foreign language in the Liturgy endangers Hungarian identity and can lead to the assimilation of the Hungarian communities. Earlier, during the large migrations and resettlements of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the Eastern Rite nationalities arriving in large numbers assimilated the remaining Hungarian Catholics or Reformed. Thus, they changed their nationality, rite, or confession. Although, during the second half of the nineteenth century the Hungarianization of the nationalities was much more characteristic, in some communities where the nationalities were in a majority, they were able to assimilate the Hungarians. The Hungarian Greek Catholics feared that in the general climate of disinterest in the public opinion of the country the language of the ceremonies will help to expand the national minorities.