Blessed Bishop Basil Hopko

Born in the village of Hrabské in northeast Slovakia in 1904, Bishop Basil (Vasil) Hopko helped lead the struggling Slovak Greek Catholic Church (SGCC) through one of the most tumultuous periods of its existence. He was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2003 and his feast day is celebrated on July 23.


Humble Origins

At the time of his birth, Basil’s parents were landless peasants struggling to make a living in the waning days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. After his father was killed in a lightning strike, his mother emigrated to the United States in search of work while young Basil was left in the care of his mother’s extended family. Educated in Hungary, Basil was ordained to the priesthood in 1929.

While Basil and his mother hoped he would be sent to minister to the Greek-Catholic Exarchate in Pittsburgh, PA, that was not to be as the young seminarian’s financial resources were drained due to numerous health issues. Basil, though disappointed, came to see these trials as a sign from God that He wanted the future bishop to remain in his native land. After undergoing a miraculous recovery from his ailments following a Novena to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Basil committed himself to clerical celibacy despite the fact that it was normative for non-monastic Greek-Catholic priests to marry before being ordained.

From Priest to Bishop

Following his ordination, then-Fr. Basil was tasked with establishing a new parish in Prague, the capital of Czechoslovakia (today the capital of the Czech Republic), in order to minister to the city’s Greco-Catholic population. Soon thereafter, Basil became known for his missionary zeal and dedication to his flock, especially those suffering from the economic hardships of the 1930s. Despite a strong effort from communists to lead Catholics into their fold, Basil upheld the Catholic Church’s condemnation of this ideology, preaching always the Catholic Faith and the love of Christ to his people.

Before and after expanding his theological studies at Komensky University in Bratislava, Basil was also charged with forming new seminarians for the SGCC, he eventually took over the local religious press with the approval of his hierarch, Bishop Paul Gojdich, OSBM. Not long after, Bishop Gojdich requested and received permission from the Vatican to ordain Basil as his auxiliary bishop. And so Fr. Basil became Bishop Basil on May 11, 1947, less than a year before the communist authorities began their persecution of the SGCC.

Years of Imprisonment

As part of their efforts to liquidate the Greek Catholic Church, the communists had Bishop Basil arrested and attempted to convince him to join the Eastern Orthodox Church which, at the time, had come under the tutelage of the secular Czechoslovakian state. Refusing to renounce the Catholic Faith, Bishop Basil was subjected to cruel treatment at the hands of the communists, including long periods in solitary confinement; forced marches; and food deprivation.

Bishop Basil’s health began to break under the communists, but not his spirit. After being condemned to 15 years of imprisonment for “subversive activity,” Basil was repeatedly transferred to prison after prison, each one taking a new toll on his physical and mental health. The authorities opted to release him in 1963 and following the so-called 1968 “Prague Spring” where communist influence in the country waned for a brief period, Bishop Basil was cleared of the false charges against him.

Unfortunately, years of imprisonment had taken their toll on Basil’s permanent health. While Basil lived to see the SGCC restored, internal controversies resulted in Basil being removed from active leadership. As a result of the communists’ cruel treatment, Bishop Basil reposed on July 23, 1976. He was 72 years old.

The Slovak Greek Catholic Church Today

Despite the unjust treatment Bishop Basil received during the latter decades of his life, even by his own communion, he is today honored as a saint by many Greek Catholics around the world. The SGCC, the church he helped lead during some of the 20th Century’s darkest days, today has approximately 350,000 members in the Slovak Republic, with several thousand more in and around Toronto, Canada. Like its sister sui iuris Greco-Catholic churches, the SGCC uses the Byzantine Rite in its liturgy and preserves its Eastern spiritual and theological patrimony while remaining in communion with Rome.

Holy Bishop Basil, pray to God for us!

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