An Interview With Archpriest Dimitri Sidor (16 July 2007)

Fr Dimitri Sidor is Rector of the Cathedral of the Exaltation of the Cross in Uzhgorod, author of a grammar of the Rusin language and chairman of the Regional Parliament of Transcarpathia, as the Rusin area of the Ukraine is called. Here there follows a summary of an interview with him on today’s spiritual and national rebirth of the Subcarpathian Rusin people.

Between 1918 and 1946 the million-strong Rusin people had their own Republic of Subcarpathian Rus, the third and little-known part of the then Federal Czechoslovak Republic, called ‘Ruthenia’. However, after Stalin’s occupation of Eastern Europe, Subcarpathian Rus was divided, the largest part becoming Transcarpathia, a province of the Ukraine. Others Rusins live in Slovakia and, to a lesser extent, in Poland, Romania, Hungary and Serbia.

The strongest defenders of the spiritual and national interests of the Rusin people have always been the clergy, for example in the nineteenth century the ‘awakener’ of the Rusin people was Fr Alexander Dukhnovich, a deputy of the Austrian Parliament and, in the last century, Fr Augustin Voloshin was the second Prime Minister of Subcarpathian Rus and later President of ‘Carpathian Ukraine’. I was given the blessing of the Church to be a deputy of the Transcarpathian Regional Parliament, where I have defended Rusin and Orthodox interests. On 7 March 2007 this Parliament took the decision to restore the Rusin nationality which had been banned by Stalin in 1946.

Sadly, the Ukrainian government in Kiev does not wish to respect Rusin rights, even though in 2006 the UN strongly recommended that the Ukraine recognize Rusin nationality, given their clear differences with Ukrainians. For over 1,100 years the Rusins have been preserved as the ancient Russian people. At the present time about 70% of Rusins consider themselves to be Orthodox, 20% Uniats and there are also groups of Latin-rite Catholics and Protestants. 98% of the Orthodox belong to the Mukachevo and Khust Dioceses of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate. We have some 600 parishes and several dozen monasteries and convents and our land is therefore called the ‘Carpathian Athos’.

This is why many clergy of the Russian Orthodox Church come from a Rusin background. We are a religious people and our language is very similar to Church Slavonic. Even during the Soviet period of atheist persecution our young people still studied in the theological schools of the Church. We rejoice in particular that one of the main figures behind the unity of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia is Metropolitan Laurus, a Rusin. It should be added that Rusins are one of the main components in the Polish, Czechoslovak and American Churches.

The Autonomous Carpatho-Russian Church of the Patriarchate of Serbia joined the Russian Orthodox Church after the Second World War. We remain faithful to it despite the schism in the Ukraine, with which we have no part, for we value too highly canonical Orthodoxy. We remain canonical Orthodox despite the political changes in the Ukraine. As for the schismatic Philaretists in the Ukraine, we consider them to be mere sectarians and their path back to the Church lies in repentance.

Internationally, at the present time the Kiev government is planning to let the Americans install a missile system and set up the main NATO information centre for the Ukraine in Mukachevo. This reminds me of the 1980s when I protested at the building of a powerful radar installation near Mukachevo. Little did I imagine then that today instead of Soviet military installations on Rusin soil there would be American bases. Most Rusin organizations have resolved to demand that Transcarpathia be declared a demilitarized zone, where only sanatoria and convalesecent homes may be installed!

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