With Renewed Strength on New Paths

The diplomatic exchanges following the Liturgy celebrated in the Hungarian language in the University Church and their consequences for domestic politics permanently pushed the movement of the Hungarian Greek Catholics onto a political track. Some, due to the consequences, considered this Hungarian language liturgical service in the capital to have been a mistake and an unnecessary provocation. Without any doubt, the reaction of the Holy See had been severe and caused serious difficulties but it also impelled the Hungarian Greek Catholics to act thoughtfully and to search for new paths. As a new initiative, in June 1898, the Byzantine Rite Catholic Hungarian National Commission was formed in Budapest, and its head became Jenő Szabó (1843-1921), a retired former governmental adviser and member of the Upper House. During his long career in the ministries, he had acquired a thorough understanding of political pitfalls, and therefore under his leadership the National Commission made an attempt to extract the problem of the Hungarian Greek Catholics from the quagmire of politics. Since the establishment of an eparchy depended above all on political will and negotiations and could easily fall prey to uncontrollable developments, the National Commission decided that it would try to gain consecration for the use of Hungarian as a liturgical language within the confines of the current diocesan system. Furthermore, the Commission formulated the goal of ridding the liturgical movement of the intruding nationalist elements, as well as the introduction of the Gregorian calendar in the Hungarian speaking religious communities. 113 parishes, 568 affiliated outparishes, and 134,527 believers joined the program. The National Commission after more than a decade of experience with the inflexibility and Romanianizing tendencies of the bishops of the Romanian eparchies returned to the concept of an independent eparchy, which throughout this time the Standing Executive Committee of Hajdúdorog had never given up.


The program of the National Commission also included the organization of a pilgrimage to Rome, with the goal of demonstrating the existence of Hungarian Greek Catholics. The first call to a pilgrimage in November 1898 stated:

“1. To give testimony that the Hungarian Greek Catholics are loyally devoted to the unifying center of the Church, to Rome, and this devotion is based on living faith, clear conviction, and generous love. 2. In contrast to those who have told the Holy See that there are no Hungarian Greek Catholics, with this pilgrimage we will demonstrate that we exist, and also that we are a large enough community to be taken seriously. 3. Finally, we must display before His Holiness that, similarly to our fellow believers who speak a different tongue, when we request our language to be raised to become a language of worship, we are only struggling against the indifference to the faith, the contempt for religion, and the abandonment of the faith that has arisen among us. Our movement is in every way clean, honest and Catholic.”


The pilgrimage took place during the Jubilee Year of 1900 between 6 and 9 March. After an eventful journey to the Eternal City, the Hungarian Greek Catholic pilgrims were greeted with the unsettling news that Pope Leo XIII perhaps would not receive them. The papal audience in the end took place on the last day of the Roman stay. Bishop János Vályi gave a short greeting and asked the Pope to consecrate the Hungarian Liturgy and presented the Memoir in which the Hungarian Greek Catholics summarized their request. The Papal State Secretariat had been informed earlier by the organizers about the contents of the petition that they would present, and the Secretariat had indicated by way of the nuncio that they obviously could receive no immediate response to it from the Holy Father. The later documents of the Papal State Secretariat connected to the review of the Memoir by the Holy See made clear that the Memoir had been respectful in tone and restrained in style. Both the behavior of the pilgrims and the words of the Memoir had improved on the unfavorable impression that had developed in Rome, based on the previously available information, concerning the Hungarian Greek Catholics.


After the Roman pilgrimage, the National Commission published a decorative Memorial Album, which contained two maps, numerous photos, descriptions of the preparations for the pilgrimage, the events of the pilgrimage, the text of the Memoir given to the Pope, and the names of the pilgrims. The title page of the Memoir was decorated by the print, “Our Lady of Hungary” by Ignác Roskovics (1854-1915), a painter and member of the National Commission, the son of Provost Ignác Roskovics, the translator of the Liturgy. The historical part was composed by the historian Antal Hodinka (1864-1946), a leading expert on the history of Greek Catholicism. In his introduction of the history of the Hungarian Catholics, who followed the Byzantine Rite, he listed those historical facts and arguments that beginning with the second half of the nineteenth century became increasingly significant in the self evaluation of the Hungarian Greek Catholics. The Eastern Rite was associated with Slavs and Romanians in the mind of the majority, while for Hungarians the characteristic religions were considered to be the Latin Rite and Protestantism. At the same time, the results of historical research were beginning to show more and more that the Hungarians were first exposed to the Christianity of the Byzantine Rite, that some high ranking Hungarians became Christians in Byzantium, and that as a result, a proselytizing bishop of the Byzantine Rite was active in Hungary in the person of bishop Hierotheos. Although St. Stephen decided on Latin Rite Christianity, nevertheless the representatives of the Byzantine Rite, above all the members of religious orders, were active for a long time among the Hungarians. The presence of the Byzantine Rite among the Hungarians during the rule of the Árpád dynasty, and the historical facts that attested to it, played an enormous role in the formation of the Hungarian Greek Catholics’ views of themselves. Especially during the atmosphere of the celebrations of the millennium it became very significant that they could point to the history of the Hungarian nation as proof that “Hungarian” and “Eastern Rite” were not mutually exclusive concepts. The road of self evaluation started from the far distant past. Acceptance of this by the majority of the country, however, proved to be a true road to Calvary.


The pilgrimage did not lead to a complete breakthrough, and the Holy See theoretically maintained the strict prohibition. Nevertheless, it proved to be very helpful for the cause of the Hungarian Greek Catholics. One sign of a thaw was that after the Roman pilgrimage Emidio Taliani, the Vienna nuncio (1896-1903), in agreement with the previously mentioned Nikolaus Nilles, also recommended the silent toleration of the language use that was already in practice. In reality, the Holy See had chosen this road. It was decided that the Holy See would only provide a new opinion, if the bishops concerned and the Hungarian government requested it, or news arrives of dangerous tendencies, schism, or significant abandonment of the faith, threatening to the Greek Catholic Church. In this case the Holy See appeared willing to entrust the decisions on language use to the wisdom of the bishops concerned, who could also have the Hungarian language liturgical works examined by experts.

On the issue of the use of Hungarian as a liturgical language, prince primate Kolos Vaszary had already formulated the recommendation before the Roman pilgrimage that it should only be used only in certain parts of the Liturgy, which were deemed to be less essential. He sent this recommendation to the Holy See and added that the possibility of completely excluding the Hungarian language, in other words complete enforcement of the Holy See’s prohibition, would no longer be possible. Later, he recommended to the National Commission the use of Ancient Greek because he was aware that the Holy See would not authorize a Liturgy entirely in the Hungarian language. This recommendation was rejected by the National Commission because it still hoped for a positive response to the petition submitted in 1900. Furthermore, in the Greek Catholic parish in Budapest, which had started to be organized in 1895 and in 1905 came to be formally included as a part of the Archdiocese of Esztergom, the temporary toleration of the practice of using a Hungarian language Liturgy also seemed to confirm these hopes. Archdean of Szatmár Emil Melles was appointed to lead the Budapest parish, and he was a committed supporter of the Hungarian language Liturgy. In the parish founded for all of the Greek Catholic believers of the capital, not just Hungarian speaking ones, he introduced the practice, which had become prevalent, in the Hungarian regions; namely, with the exception of the founding words and the silent prayers of the priest, everything was celebrated in Hungarian. This practice led to internal conflicts in which the Holy See was finally found it necessary to intercede. First, in 1907, the Romanians of the capital were removed from the jurisdiction of the parish, and they returned to the competent Roman Catholic parishes. Finally, in 1909, as a consequence of the stream of complaints reaching Rome, the Propaganda fidei designated the Budapest parish as Ruthenian Rite and prohibited the liturgical use of the Hungarian language. At this point, the Greek Catholics of Budapest accepted the previous recommendation of the prince primate and began to use Ancient Greek in the essential parts of the Liturgy.


The Liturgy in Ancient Greek was just as alien to the Hungarian Greek Catholics as Old Church Slavonic and Romanian. At the same time by employing it, they could avoid the accusation, which had been widely disseminated and especially propagated by the nationalities at Rome, and according to which the Hungarian liturgical movement was merely an instrument employed for political purposes with which the government desires to achieve the Hungarianization of the nationalities.