Saints, Cyril and Methodius
There is no doubt at all, that Lemkivshchyna in ancient times was part of the Great Moravian state, whose northern boundaries extended past Tarnow and Krakow (Cracow). It is hard to determine the population density of the Carpathian Mountain areas at that time, however it is certain that a strong eastern-Slavic community existed here, which under the influence of the missionary work of two brothers from Thessaloniki, Sts. Cyril and Methodius, was able to renounce paganism and adopt civilized Christianity. To this day a mountain by Ustye Ruskye bears the name Rotunda, which relates to antiquity. That is how the early Christian temples (tserkvy*) of the eastern Byzantine rite were named. In the village of Biltsareva, a folk legend about one of these stone tserkvas survived until today: "on that plot of land commonly referred to as "Hrobyska", on which Kuzemchak is currently farming, stood the first tserkva in our village. Built of stone, in a perfect circle, just like a small rick of oats. People in those days lived well, and as a result tended to sin a lot. Even their priest failed to observe God's law, and they were severely punished by God. On Easter mass, when the tserkva was full of worshippers, the church bells started to toll earlier, and the tserkva with all the parishioners sunk deeply beneath the earth..."
Today on that plot of land there exists nothing but very uneven pastures, and deep ravines. Whoever doesn't believe in this legend, let him go to "Hrobysko" on Easter, after midnight, prostrate himself in the innermost pit, put his left ear to the ground, and lie so till sunrise. Most likely he will be able to hear the sound of those ancient Easter bells. It is difficult to say how much truth there is in this legend, and how much of it is fiction. Maybe at one time a tserkva stood in this place and was later completely destroyed by the Tartars. Over time, the truth might have become legend.
The brothers Cyril and Methodius, who were born in Thessaloniki, Greece, held a distinguished place within Lemko tserkvas. Icons with their likeness were being placed in every tserkva. Priests often in their sermons reminded parishioners about these saints' Christian mission, which took place in the western Carpathians, predating acceptance of Christianity by the Rus', by 100 years.
Lemkos were always proud of having embraced the East Byzantine rite, of their extreme fondness for their Carpathians, which sheltered them from pressures to be latinized, and they continue to remain faithful to their saints, Cyril and Methodius.
* Note from translator: [Most eastern European languages have more than one word for "church". Traditionally the Lemko word "kostel" is used for a Roman Catholic place of worship, while the word "tserkva" in used for a place of worship of an Eastern Rite church - whether Catholic or Orthodox. Because no similar distinction exists in English, the word "tserkva" is used in this translation - WM]
Copyright ®1997 Jon W. Madzelan
This Home Page was created on Sunday, April 13, 1997
Most recent revision Tuesday, April 15, 1997