The Autocephalous Orthodox Church of Albania (Albanian: Kisha Orthodhokse Autoqefale e Shqipërisë) is one of the newest autocephalous Eastern Orthodox churches. It declared its autocephaly in 1922, and gained recognition from the Patriarch of Constantinople in 1937.
The church suffered during the Second World War, and in the communist period that followed, especially after 1967 when Albania was declared an atheist state, and no public or private expression of religion was allowed.
The church has, however, seen a revival since religious freedom was restored in 1991, with more than 250 churches rebuilt or restored, and more than 100 clergy being ordained.
- Anastasios Yannoulatos, Archbishop of Tirana, Durrës and All Albania, head of the Synod
- Ignatios, Metropolitan of Berat, Vlora, Kanin, and all Myzeqe
- Joan Pelushi, Metropolitan of Korçë
- Demetrious Sinaiti, Bishop of Gjirokastër
- Nikolla Hyka, Bishop of Apolonia (Kozma Qirjo was Bishop of Apolonia from 1998 until 2000 when he died) and
- Andon Merdani, Bishop of Kruja
Christianity first arrived in Albania with Saint Paul during the 1st century. Saint Paul wrote that he preached in the Roman province of Illyricum, and legend holds that he visited Durrës. However it was with Constantine the Great (324-37), who accepted Christianity and transferred the empire's capital from Rome to Byzantium, that the Christian religion was official in the lands of modern Albania.
Before the Ottoman conquest in 1478, the Ghegs in the north of the country were mostly Catholics following the Latin liturgy, while the Byzantine tradition was predominant among the Tosk people in the south. Following the Turkish conquest in the XVth century, a slow conversion of Albanians to Islam started. By mid-XIXth century because of the Tanzimat reforms that had started in 1839 the majority of Albanians had become Muslim. The Tanzimat reform that mostly decreased the number of Christians in Albania was the obligatory draft for non-Muslim soldiers.
Under Ottoman rule, the remaining Orthodox population of Albania was integrated into the Patriarchate of Constantinople, and all Orthodox religious services, instruction and cultural activities were conducted in Greek.
Autocephaly and Statutes
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During 1908 in Boston Massachusetts, USA, Fan Noli, ordained as a priest by a Russian bishop in the United States, led the first Orthodox Albanian liturgy for the Albanian-American community, which later also included Faik Konica. Noli had prepared his own translation of the liturgy into Albanian, and used it also during a tour several major cities of Europe in 1911. Soon after Albanian independence in 1912, Fan Noli (who in 1924 would also be a political figure and prime minister of Albania), traveled to Albania where he would be ordained a bishop and become the head of the church, whose independence he strongly supported.
The Church declared its Autocephaly in Berat on September 17, 1922 in its first congress. At the end of the congress the First Statute of the Church was approved.
The Church had a Second Statute that amended the First Statute in a second congress gathered in Korce on June 29, 1929. Also on September 6, 1929 the first Regulation of General Administration of the Church was approved.
On November 26, 1950 The Parliament of Albania approved the Third Statute that abrogated the 1929 Statute. Such new statute required Albanian citizenship for the primate of the church in its article #4. With the exception of the amendments made in 1993, this statute is still in force for the Church.
The 1950 statute was amended in January 21, 1993 and approved by the President of Republic Sali Berisha in 1996 (as required by the Statute of 1950). In particular article #4 of the 1950 statute that required Albanian citizenship for primate of the church was no longer required.
The church greatly suffered during the dictatorship of Enver Hoxha as all churches were placed under government control, and land originally held by religious institutions were taken by the state. Religion in schools was banned. In 1952 Archbishop Kristofor was discovered dead; most believed he had been killed.
In 1967, inspired by China's Cultural Revolution, Hoxha closed down all churches and mosques in the country, and declared Albania the world's first (and only) atheist country. All expression of religion, public or private, was outlawed. Hundreds of priests and imams were killed or imprisoned.
Revival of the Church
At the end of the communist rule, when religious freedom was restored, only 22 orthodox priests remained alive. To deal with this situation, the Ecumenical Patriarch appointed Anastasios to be the Patriarchal Exarch for the Albanian Church. Bishop of Androusa Anastasios before his appointment was dividing his time between his teaching duties at the University of Athens and the Archbishopric of Irinoupolis in Kenya, which was then going through a difficult patch.
He was named Archbishop of Tirana on 24 June 1992 and enthroned on 2 August 1992. Over time Anastasios has gained respect for his charity work and now is recognised as a spiritual leader of the Albanian Orthodox Church, although most Albanians are not comfortable having a Greek primate in their own country.
Archbishop Anastasios insisted from the start that the church that was to be revived would be an Albanian Church, but has greatly increased Greek influence in the church. Liturgical books and other literature were produced in the Albanian language between 1910 and the 1940s. There are very few Albanian publications after his enthronement, such as a new translation of the Bible produced by the Albanian Bible Society translated from Italian, and a New Testament translated from the Greek by the Interconfessional Bible Society of Albania.
While most parishes use Albanian, Greek is also used in the ethnically mixed areas, where Greek may be the dominant language.
As of February 2008, there are 135 clergy members, all of them Albanian citizens who graduated from the Resurrection of Christ Theological Academy, while 9 other students are continuing their education in renowed theological universities abroad.
So far, 150 new churches have been built, 60 monasteries and more than 160 churches have been repaired.
Anastasios started a seminary in 1992 initially in a disused hotel, which was in 1996 relocated to its own buildings at Shën Vlash, 15 kilometres from the port of Durrës. The primary purpose of the seminary was training of the new clergy. Women, who will serve the Church as lay leaders, also receive theological training there.
Two Ecclesiastical High Schools for boys were opened - the "Holy Cross" in Gjirokastër in 1998, and the "Holy Cross" in Sukth of Durrës in 2007.
Media and Publishing
The Orthodox Church of Albania has its own radio station, named "Ngjallja" (Resurrection) which 24 hours a day broadcasts spiritual, musical, informative and educational programmes and lectures, and has a special children's programme.
A monthly newspaper with the same name "Ngjallja" is published, as well as a children's magazine "Gëzohu" (Rejoice), the magazine of the Orthodox Youth "Kambanat" (Bells), the student bulletin "Fjala" (Word), the news bulletin "News from Orthodoxy in Albania" (published in English) and "Tempulli" (Temple) magazine, that contains cultural, social and spiritual materials.
As of February 2008, more than 90 books with liturgical, spiritual, intellectual, academic topics have been published.
The Orthodox Church in Albania has taken various social initiatives. It started with health care, by organizing medical clinics, diagnostic centres, mobile dental clinic. Then programmes for people with disabilities, development in the mountain regions, orphanages, working with prisoners and homeless people, as well as free kitchens and help.
Apart from the theological schools, it has established elementary schools, day-care centres and an institute for professional training (named "Spirit of Love", established in Tiranë in 2000) which is said to be the first of its kind in Albania and provides education in the fields of Team Management, IT Accounting, Computer Science, Medical Laboratory, Restoration and Conservation of Artwork and Byzantine Iconography.
An environmental programme was started in 2001.
Although Islam is the dominant religion in Albania, in the southern regions, Orthodox Christianity was traditionally the prevailing religion before the declaration of the Albanian Independence (1913). However, the following years, their number was decreasing:
Moreover, there is a widespread belief that the Orthodox faith is linked with conspiracy theories in which the identification with Greek expantionist plans would classify them as potential enemies of the state. Today, in parts of Albania, the term Greek is used as a pejorative for Orthodox Albanian speaking communities.
- Archbishop Anastasios of Albania
- Religion in Albania
- Orthodoxy in Albania
- Albanian Greek-Catholic Church
- The statute of the Autocephalous Orthodox Church of Albania
- CNEWA - Autocephalous Orthodox Church of Albania
- The Holy Synod of Albania, Orthodox Autocephalous Church of Albania, accessed on 2008-06-16
- Official site, "Ordination of New Clergy"
- Romfea news
- Forest, Jim The Resurrection of the Church in Albania, World Council of Churches Publication, August 2002, ISBN 2-8254-1359-3
- [ Official Site - Publication]
- Nußberger Angelika, Wolfgang Stoppel (2001) (in German), Minderheitenschutz im östlichen Europa (Albanien), Universität Köln, pp. 75, http://www.uni-koeln.de/jur-fak/ostrecht/minderheitenschutz/Vortraege/Albanien/Albanien_Stoppel.pdf
- Todorova Marii︠a︡ Nikolaeva. Balkan identities: nation and memory. C. Hurst & Co. Publishers, 2004 ISBN 9781850657156, p. 107
- Russell King, Nicola Mai, Stephanie Schwandner-Sievers (Ed.) (2005). The New Albanian Migration. Sussex Academic Press. p. 173. ISBN 9781903900789. http://books.google.com/books?id=05Mw4-b9oN0C&hl.
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- Official website
- Eastern Christian Churches: Orthodox Church of Albania
- History of the Establishment of the Church
- History and description of the Orthodox Church of Albania on World Council of Churches website
- Orthodox Peace Fellowship report on Albania