A Journey to Uzhorod

Earlier this year, I joyfully received an invitation to participate in the 100th Anniversary of Fr. John Boksaj's publication on Prostopinije, held at the Blessed Theodore Romza Seminary in Uzhorod, Transcarpathia.

I enthusiastically accepted this invitation, as this anniversary would commemorate a significant element of the piety and culture of this Diocese. Fr. John Boksaj, working together with the eminent cantor of Holy Cross Greek Catholic Cathedral, Professor Joseph Malinic, produced a transliteration of the Rusin plain chant tradition - for the first time in western musical notation. Until this publication, the greater part of the plain chant had never been printed in standard music, much less in the easily-understood western musical notation.

It is difficult to overestimate the value of the work of Fr. Boksaj and Professor Malinic. For one hundred years, the influence of their volume has only increased in importance.

Accordingly, I accepted the gracious invitation to present a major address. I was to join, in the program, other presenters who are well-known ecclesial musicologists and acknowledged experts in the field of liturgical singing.

Besides presenting an address, I was also to extend the good wishes of the His All-Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, and Archbishop of Constantinople, directed me to express his greetings on this occasion to the participants, and to commend them for their scholarly work on the plain chant tradition.

On the voyage, I was accompanied by the Cantor Len Myers, who assisted me in my travels and took many photos (many of which can be seen in The Church Messenger, and on the Diocesan website in the Photo Gallery).

Making the trip to the Carpathians, the homeland of my parents and forefathers, I was also able to make many visits to the churches and institutions of the Orthodox dioceses of Presov and Uzhorod, and the respective jurisdictions of the Greek Catholic Eparchy. I served in numerous places, visited orphanages and parochial schools (Orthodox and Greek Catholic), where I frequently took time to meet and sing with the children.

Soon after arriving in Slovakia, I visited Archbishop Jan of Presov. There, I visited the chancery and several diocesan churches and the St. Nicholas Home for Children. This Orthodox diocese has a day school, a seminary and faculty connected to the famous medieval university of Kosice.

Also in Presov, I paid respects to the Greek Catholic bishop of Presov, Bishop John Babjak. There, I visited the historic cathedral of St. John the Baptist, where our founding bishop, Metropolitan Orestes of thrice-blessed memory, was ordained priest. Along with him, a number of other of our Carpathian Orthodox priests were ordained there, including Blessed Alexis Toth of Wilkes-Barre, who had been the Diocesan chancellor and Rector of the Presov Seminary.

In this cathedral, I visited the crypt where the bishops of that diocese lie in repose. I stopped especially to pray before the tomb of Bishop Valij, who had ordained Metropolitan Orestes as a priest.

Also in the crypt of the St. John's Cathedral was the tomb of Fr. Alexander Duchnovic, famed proponent of Rusin piety and culture (composer of "Ja Rusin Byl") and author many essays and books that helped ensure the survival of the language and Rusin ethnicity.

After spending a week in the Slovak Republic, I then proceeded into Transcarpathia, and visited with my Smisko relatives, and arrived in the city of Uzhorod, capital of that province.

Meeting me in Uzhorod was the dean of the Holy Cross Orthodox Cathedral, Fr. Dimitrios Cidor, who served as my host during my stay in the city.

Soon after my arrival, I visited the Orthodox Bishop of Uzhorod-Mukacevo, Bishop Agapit, meeting him at his diocesan chancery. I also paid his respects to the Bishop of the Greek Catholic Diocese of Transcarpathia, Bishop Milan Sasik.

I was privileged to serve Divine Liturgy with Bishop Agapit in the new Holy Cross Orthodox Cathedral of Uzhorod: a majestic edifice, the largest Orthodox Church in the Carpathians, holding a total of 9000 (the lower church holding 3000, the upper 6000). The 8:00 liturgy had 1100 in the lower nave. In the upper (and larger) nave, over 4000 attended the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy. The Liturgy was sung by the Cantors, the many faithful, and the choir from Protection of the Virgin Mary Orthodox Cathedral in Mukacevo.

This was a normal attendance, almost filling the building to its capacity, and I was thrilled to hear the beauty of the plainchant singing resounding from the crowd. At the end of the Liturgy, I led the faithful in singing hymns to the Holy Virgin. The Plain Chant, in its beauty and strength, resounded like the mighty voices of the Seraphim to the height of the vault and dome of the cathedral.

Later, that day, a Conference on Boksaj's accomplishment was held in the Cathedral, organized by the Orthodox diocese. The larger conference which would begin later in the Greek Catholic seminary, had served to inspire this Orthodox conference. I was pleased that our participation in the Greek Catholic conference had served as a catalyst for this appropriate Orthodox commemoration.

The main conference at Uzhorod was held at the newly constructed Greek Catholic seminary, named after the Blessed Martyr Theodore Romza. The seminary has over 160 students in its beautiful setting.

Soon after my arrival at the Seminary, I was privileged to meet the nieces of Fr. John Boksaj, who had traveled to the anniversary conference from their residence in Hungary.

The Conference speakers spoke eloquently of Fr. Boksaj's inestimable contribution to the plain chant tradition. The Conference was comprised of a mixed audience, mostly non-Orthodox. Participants came from Trans-Carpathia, Slovakia, Hungary, the Czech Republic, the United States and from the Vatican.

It was well organized, and I was pleased to see an abundance of computers and up-to-date audio-visual technology. Each of the speakers spoke in their native tongue, but a translated text was available for the perusal of participants. I presented my address in Carpatho-Rusin and in English.

During the Conference, I also visited the historical monastery of St. Nicholas in the outskirts of the city of Mukacevo, founded and erected by Prince Korjatovic. This is an Orthodox monastery, where there are over ninety nuns. It is at this monastery there is kept, in solemn repose, the relic of the arm of St. Moses Uhrin (the Hungarian). I am thankful that I was able to venerate these relics, so precious as they are to our people over the centuries.

The Mother Superior of the St. Nicholas Monastery, Mother Epistimia, is from the area of Chust, which is famous for its huge number of vocations to the priestly vocations, monastic life, and many hierarchs. I visited this monastery with the knowledge that many of our diocesan immigrants, especially those from the counties of Berecka, Ugoc and Maramaros. These people attended services in this monastery, and learned the prostopinije there, besides at their own village churches.

It should be noted that in Transcarpathia, there are over twenty monasteries now open and active.

After the conference, Vespers was held at the Seminary, in extremely hot conditions outdoors. It was attended by all the Bishops and clergy and people. It was without any change from our own practice, as it was pure Carpathian plain chant, with all the beauty and inspiration thereof. A folk concert followed Vespers in downtown Uzhorod.

I attended the Divine Liturgy the next morning. The Seminary choir sang, and the cantors led people in the plain chant responses. I spoke briefly at the end of the Liturgy, and led the faithful in the singing of the hymns to Our Lady. The singing was done with great vigor and with faith, and the wind carried the sound over the hills and meadows.

Over and over again, I reflected on the dynamic that unified our people, across the jurisdictional lines of Greek Catholic versus Orthodox: it was simply, and miraculously, the singing of our Christian, Rusin plain chant.

I spoke to the gathered faithful there, and to many others along my journey, about what united us is the plain chant, and the piety, the ecclesial discipline, the order of the services - these miraculous gifts are all part of the inheritance from the past. I told them that we must walk together as brothers and sisters with our common plain chant and legacy.

I made sure to urge them to love and respect their Rusin heritage, and that they should not let any foreign melodies come into the Plain Chant - melodies that would diminish the beauty, and the jewel in the crown of our people, of our greatest gift to the larger Christian community. It is the Plain Chant that has united us for four hundred years, the uniting, cohesive force that sustains us as a single people.


The history of the church in that land is a melancholy one, of continuous occupation by foreign powers, and by fellow Slavs. There was also a nobility of the ancient Rus that were kind and gentle to the populace of the mountains and valleys. There was the monarchy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire that showed, occasionally, some respect for the church. But then came the event of the Unia, which was a complicated development at the least. Then came a series of geopolitical events, including world wars, that scarred the land and its people.

But despite all this tumult, our people maintained a strong faith and piety. They were a pious and hard-working people. They have never declared war on another people. The Church, as now, played a dominant role in the life of the people and their faith in God. The Church was responsible for educating the people and perpetuating the language and traditions of the people.

For me, traveling to the Seminar and the land of our ancestors was a very warm and spiritually fulfilling experience, because I was able to stand with brothers and sisters of the Carpathians. Perhaps as an Orthodox Bishop and a son of those people, I was able to enjoy the fellowship of both Orthodox and Greek Catholic Christians simultaneously - a simultaneity that is certainly not usual and common, at least not yet.

The Conference itself accomplished many things: we came together to sing together, and to acknowledge the great common legacy, and perhaps to look forward to a closer, more fraternal future.

Before leaving the tomb of Fr. Alexander Duchnovic, I sang "Ja Rusin Byl" at his graveside. Leaving the pious people of the Church, we sang "Christians Praise the Most Pure Virgin," in the familiar melody of the Mariapoc monastery. It is in the singing of these hymns, and the rehearsal of these melodies, that call sundered hearts together, to a fellowship forged in the past, a fellowship that once again might be renewed.

I hope, fervently, that the spirit of these hymns will prevail and will draw us closer together.


(Personal Reminiscences from the Metropolitan's Visit to Slovakia and Transcarpathia-June, 2006)