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The Eastern Catholic Churches / The Ruthenian Catholic Church

The Ruthenian Catholic Church

Number of faithfulabout 370,000
Title of First HierarchBishop of Mukačevo
See of the First HierarchUzhhorod (Ukraine)
Current incumbent

See currently vacant; Apostolic Administrator: Auxiliary Bishop Nil Jurij Lushchak, born 1973, in office since 2020

Bishops and dioceses8 bishops; 5 dioceses (1 in Ukraine, 4 in USA) and 1 exarchate (in Czech Republic)
Liturgical LanguageChurch Slavonic, English
Presence in Austria1 priest
Presence in Germanyunknown

The Ruthenian Greek Catholic Church traces its origins to the Union of Užhorod in 1646. The Christianization of the Ruthenians, as the Slavic-speaking population of Transcarpathia was called, probably dates back to the missionary activities of the Slavic apostles Cyril and Methodius in the Great Moravian Empire. From the 11th century, the region largely belonged to the Kingdom of Hungary. Efforts to conclude a union of the orthodox Christians in Hungary with Rome did not exist until the end of the 16th century in order to counteract the encroaching Protestantism. However, it was not the bishops but two Basilian monks who were able to win over the majority of the Ruthenian clergy in favor of the Union in the 17th century. In April 1646, the Latin Bishop of Eger received 63 Ruthenian priests in communion with the Church of Rome. This date is considered the birth of the Ruthenian Greek Catholic Church. Further local union agreements in the remaining areas of Carpatho-Ukraine followed in 1664 and 1713. Although at the beginning of the 18th century almost all Slavic-speaking Christians in north-eastern Hungary were in communion with the Roman See, the situation of the Ruthenians remained unsatisfactory: their bishop was subordinate to the Latin bishop of Eger and their priests had to work as vicars of the Latin pastors. It was not until 1771 that Pope Clement XIV established the independent Ruthenian eparchy of Mukačevo, based in Užhorod, at the request of Empress Maria Theresa.

After World War I, Transcarpathia became part of the newly formed Czechoslovakia. In Czechoslovakia there were two Greek Catholic dioceses, the Eparchy of Mukačevo and the Diocese of Prešov, which was separated from it in 1818. After World War II, most of Transcarpathia was annexed by the Soviet Union and incorporated into the Ukrainian Soviet Republic. In 1949, the Ruthenian Greek Catholic Church was banned in the Soviet Union and its faithful incorporated into the Russian Orthodox Church. It was only in 1991 that the Holy See was again able to appoint a bishop to the Eparchy of Mukačevo. The Ruthenian Church, which is now on the same territory as the much larger Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, is closely associated with the latter but resists integration into the Ukrainian Church because of its identity being closely linked to the Ruthenian ethnic group. In the United States, there is a relatively large Ruthenian diaspora that is largely integrated into American society and generally celebrates the liturgy in English. In 1996, an Apostolic Exarchate for Catholics of the Byzantine Rite in the Czech Republic was established, formally belonging to the Ruthenian Rite but accommodating mainly those married Latin priests secretly ordained during the communist rule in Czechoslovakia.


  • A. Mykhaleyko, Die Ruthenische Griechisch-Katholische Kirche, in: ders., Die katholischen Ostkirchen (Die Kirchen der Gegenwart 3), Göttingen 2012, 126-132.
  • M. Lacko, Die Union von Užhorod (1646), in: W. De Vries, Rom und die Patriarchate des Ostens, Freiburg/ München 1963, 114-131.