The Orthodox Church in Czech and Slovak Republics
At the time of its independence in 1918, Czechoslovakia was a preponderantly Catholic nation. In 1920, a group of progressive Catholic priests and faithful broke away and formed a National Czechoslovak Church. Some of these were sympathetic to Orthodoxy, and when the church held a congress in 1921 it heard an appeal from a Serbian bishop to unite with the Orthodox Church. In September of that year, the Serbian Patriarch ordained Fr. Matej Pavlik, the administrator of one of the National Catholic dioceses, as an Orthodox bishop and leader of the emerging community. He took the name Gorazd. Only a minority of the National Catholics became Orthodox; the larger group eventually formed a Protestant church. At this point there were about 40,000 Orthodox in the country, but the numbers soon increased when a group of Greek Catholics in Transcarpathia became Orthodox.
Subsequent developments led to divisions within the Orthodox community. On March 3, 1923, the Patriarchate of Constantinople issued a Tomos granting autonomy to the Czechoslovak church, and sent Metropolitan Sabbazd to look after the Orthodox faithful there. And in 1930 the Serbian Patriarchate sent a bishop of its own to Transcarpathia. Most Orthodox Czechoslovaks, however, remained within Bishop Gorazds jurisdiction. In the 1931 census, there were 145,583 Orthodox in Czechoslovakia, with 117,897 of them in Transcarpathia.
During the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia, the church was annihilated; Bishop Gorazd and his close associates were executed in 1942. (Bishop Goradz would be canonized by the Czechoslovak Orthodox Church as a martyr in 1987.) All the Orthodox priests were sent to German labor camps, and all Orthodox churches were closed. The liberation of the country by Soviet armies meant that the Orthodox could begin to reestablish themselves. But the annexation of Transcarpathia by the Soviet Union in 1945 reduced the number of Orthodox in the country again to about 40,000. In 1946 the Czechoslovak Orthodox petitioned Russian Patriarch Aleksy I for protection. He sent a bishop and created an exarchate of the Moscow Patriarchate that now included all the Orthodox in the country.
In 1950 the Greek Catholics in Slovakia were forcefully absorbed into the Czechoslovak Orthodox Church [see Slovak Catholic Church]. This vastly increased the total number of Orthodox to about 400,000, and in the same year the church was reorganized into four dioceses. Most of these new members were lost again when the Greek Catholic Church in Slovakia was allowed to resume functioning during the brief Prague Spring of 1968. Church buildings, however, were left in the hands of the Orthodox.
In December 1951, in view of the churchs increased size at that time, the Moscow Patriarchate decided to grant autocephalous status to the Orthodox Church of Czechoslovakia. But this act was not recognized by the Patriarchate of Constantinople or the other Greek-speaking churches. In order to regularize the situation, and to remove a controversial issue that complicated plans for a Pan-Orthodox Council, the Ecumenical Patriarchate issued its own Tomos granting autocephaly to the church in the Czech and Slovak Republics on September 8, 1998.