Orthodox Autocephalous Church of Albania
The Autocephalous Orthodox Church of Albania (Albanian: Kisha Ortodokse Autoqefale e Shqipërisë) is one of the newest autocephalous Eastern Orthodox churches. It declared its autocephaly in 1922 through its Congress of 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. It has 909 parishes spread all around Albania, and around 500,000 to 550,000 (unconfirmed) faithful. The number is claimed to be as high as 700,000 by some Orthodox sources – and higher when considering the Albanian diaspora.
- 1 Administration and Holy Synod
- 2 History
- 3 Revival of the Church
- 4 Demographics
- 5 Gallery
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 External links
Administration and Holy Synod
- Archbishop of Tirana, Durrës and All Albania, head of the Holy Synod: Anastasios (Anastasios Yannoulatos) (1992-)
- Metropolis of Berat, Vlorë, Kanina and all Myzeqe: Ignatios Triantis (1996-)
- Metropolis of Korçë: Joan Pelushi (1998-)
- Metropolis of Gjirokastër: Demetrios Dikbasanis (2006-)
- Titular Diocese of Apollonia : Nikolla Hyka (2006-)
- Titular Diocese of Kruja: Andon Merdani (2006-)
- Titular Diocese of Amantia: Nathanail Stergiou (2012-)
- Titular Diocese of Byllis: Asti Bakallbashi (2012-)
- General Secretary Protopresbyter: Jani Trebicka
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, who issued the Edict of Milan and legalized Christianity, that the Christian religion became official in the lands of modern Albania.
When Albania came under Ottoman influence in the 15th century the Orthodox people of Albania were members of the Archbishopric of Ohrid which was officially recognized by the Ottoman Empire. Following the Ottoman conquest in the 15th century, a slow conversion of Albanians to Islam started. By mid-19th century, because of the Tanzimat reforms started in 1839, which imposed mandatory military service on non-Muslims, the majority of Albanians had become Muslim.
Autocephaly and statutes
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On March 18, 1908, as a result of the Hudson Incident, when a young Albanian, Kristaq Dishnica, was excommunicated for his patriotic activities, Fan Noli was ordained as a priest by a Russian bishop in the United States. In March 1908, Noli thus led the first time in Albanian the Orthodox liturgy for the Albanian-American community.
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, 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.
The Church had a Second Statute that amended the First Statute in a second congress gathered in Korçë 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.
On January 21, 1993, the 1950 statute was amended and 1996 it was approved by the President of the Republic Sali Berisha. In particular article 4 of the 1950 statute that required Albanian citizenship for primate of the church was no longer required.
On November 3 and 4, 2006, at the new Monastery of St. Vlash in Durrës, there was a special Clergy-Laity Assembly of the Orthodox Autocephalous Church of Albania, attended by 257 representatives (including all clergy members). At this Assembly the New Constitution (Statute) of the Church was analyzed and accept unanimously. On November 6, 2006, the Holy Synod approved this Constitution (Statute). On November 24, 2008, the Orthodox Autocephalous Church of Albania and the Council of Ministers signed an agreement according to the 1998 Albanian Constitution, for the arrangement of their reciprocal relationship. The agreement was ratified by the Albanian Parliament, and became law nr.10057, 01.22.2009 of the Albanian State.
Archbishop of Tirana
The Primate of the Orthodox Autocephalous Church of Albania is also the Archbishop of Tirana. The current Archbishop of Tirana is Archbishop Anastasios of Albania. The primates to date:
- 1929-1937: Visarion Xhuvani (unrecognized autocephaly)
- 1937-1948: Christopher Kisi (autocephaly recognized)
- 1948-1966: Pais Vodica
- 1966-1973: Damian Kokoneshi
- 1973-1990: sede vacante
- 1990–present: Anastasius Yannoulatos (position reinstalled)
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 Hoxha closed down all churches and mosques in the country, and declared Albania the world's first 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. As 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. Elected on 24 June 1992 and enthroned on 2 August 1992. Over time Anastasios has gained respect for his charity work and now is recognized as a spiritual leader of the Albanian Orthodox Church.
Orthodox parishes with active liturgical lives have been established in a majority of cities and villages. Liturgical, preaching, and catechism ministries have been expanded, increasing the participation of both clergy and laity. Several groups have been organized to assist the church with its ministries: the Orthodox Women, and Orthodox Intellectuals. The moral and spiritual strength offered through the cultivation of a sound religious life is contributing decisively to the general progress of the Albanian society.
While most parishes use Albanian language, Greek is also used in areas where Greek is also spoken. The Albanian Orthodox liturgy is the only one in the world to use Modern Greek rather than Koine of the New Testament.
New clergy and ecclesiastical and theological education
The Church has prepared a new generation of clergy. 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. As of February 2011, there were 145 clergy members, all of them Albanian citizens who graduated from the Resurrection of Christ Theological Academy. This Academy is also preparing new members (men and women) for catechism and for other services in different Church activities.
Meanwhile, students are continuing their theological educations in well-known theological universities abroad.
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.
New and reconstructed churches
So far, 150 new churches have been built, 60 monasteries and more than 160 churches have been repaired. Many buildings have been built, and others have been bought and reconstructed for various purposes. (These 70 buildings include: preschools, schools, youth centers, health centers, metropolitan sees, hospitality homes, workshops, soup kitchens, etc.) All together there have been about 450 building projects. Through its construction projects and provision of jobs, the Orthodox Church is contributing to the economic development of Albania and is one of the most serious investors in the country, offering work for many local builders and dozens workers. Since 1995, the Church has put on an architecture course from time to time, each year giving more than 40 young people instruction in various aspects of ecclesiastical construction and architecture.
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”) and Kërkim (“Searching/Research”) magazine, that contains cultural, social and spiritual materials, Enoria Jonë (“Our Parish”).
As of February 2008, more than 100 books with liturgical, spiritual, intellectual, academic topics had been published.
The Orthodox Church in Albania has taken various social initiatives. It started with health care, by organizing from 1999, diagnostic center “The Annunciation” Orthodox Diagnostic Center in Tirana, with some of Albania's most renowned doctors and administers health care and most contemporary health services in 23 different specialties; four medical clinics, and one mobile dental clinic. The office “Service of Love” (Diakonia Agapes) for along now is contributing in the increasing of midwives’ and nurses’ role offering those training projects and assistance.
The Orthodox Autocephalous Church of Albania made extensive humanitarian contributions during the political and social crises (1992, 94, 97), collecting and distributing thousands of tons of food, clothing and medicine. Supported a wide range of social programs including: development projects in the mountain regions, especially in the areas of agriculture and farming; road construction water – supply, educative programs on health for children, the building of rural health centers and contributions for schools, orphanages, hospitals, institutes for the disabled, elderly homes, prisons (i.e., the greenhouse financed and built by the Church where the prisoners work and the income serve for them and construction of sports ground, soup kitchen for the poorest, etc.
During 1999 when Albania accepted waves of refugees from Kosovo, the Orthodox Autocephalous Church of Albania in collaboration with donors and other international religious organizations (especially ACT and WCC) lead an extensive humanitarian program of more than 12 million dollars, hosting 33,000 Kosovars in its two camps and giving them food, clothes, medical care, etc.
Apart from the theological schools, it has established three elementary schools (1st – 9th), 17 day-care centers, two institutes 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. and Gjirokastra, 1 professional school, children Orphanage “The Orthodox Home of Hope”, a high school dormitory for the girls, also given technical and material support to many public schools.
An environmental programme was started in 2001.
An Office of Cultural Heritage was established to look after the orthodox structures considered to be national cultural monuments and repaired. A number of choirs have been organized in the churches. A Byzantine choir has also been formed and has produced cassettes and CDs. A workshop for the restoration and painting of icons was established with order to train a new generation of artists to revive the rich tradition of iconography. The Church has also sponsored important academic publications, documentary films, academic symposiums and various exhibits of iconography, codex, children’s projects and other culturally related themes.
The Orthodox Autocephalous Church of Albania actively participates as equals in the events of the Orthodox Church worldwide. It is a member of the Conference of the European Churches (of which the Archbishop Anastasios has served as vice-president since December 2003), the World Council of the Churches (of which Archbishop Anastasios was chosen as one of eight presidents in 2006), and largest inter-faith organization in the world, "Religions for Peace" (of which Anastasios was chosen as Honorary President in 2006), is also active in various ecumenical conferences and programs. The Orthodox Autocephalous Church of Albania also contributes to the efforts for peaceful collaboration, and solidarity in the region and beyond.
Although Islam is the dominant religion in Albania, in the southern regions, Orthodox Christianity was traditionally the prevailing religion before the declaration of Albanian independence (1913). However, their number decreased over the following years:
However, some of this decrease was accounted for by the changing of the boundaries of districts by the newly independent Albania. Additionally, the Orthodox Christians of Southern Albania had a greater tendency to migrate than their Muslim neighbors (at first, at least) in the early 20th century. Many of the Orthodox Albanians would ultimately return from the Western countries they emigrated to.
Around the fall of the Ottomon empire, as based on the late Ottoman census of 1908 and the Austrian-run Albanian census of 1918, the regions that retained the highest percentages of Orthodox Albanians, in some cases absolute majorities, were in the South (especially around Saranda, Gjirokastra, Përmeti, Leskoviku, Pogradeci and Korça) and the Myzeqe region of Central Albania (especially around Fier, where they formed a strong majority of the population). There were also large Albanian Orthodox populations in the regions of Elbasan and Berat. Contrary to the stereotype of only Tosks being Orthodox, Orthodox Albanians were also present in the North, where they were spread out at low frequencies in most regions. Orthodox Albanians reached large proportions in some Northern cities: Durrësi (36%), Kavaja (23%) and Elbasani (17%). Orthodox Albanians tended to live in either urban centers or in highland areas, but rarely in rural lowland areas (with the exception of in the region of Myzeqe).
2011 Census and reactions
In the 2011 census the declared religious affiliation of the population was: 56.7% Muslims, 13.79% undeclared, 10.03% Catholics, 6.75% Orthodox believers, 5.49% other, 2.5% Atheists, 2.09% Bektashis and 0.14% other Christians. However, the Orthodox Church of Albania officially rejected the specific results, as "totally incorrect and unacceptable".
Although the question regarding religion was optional, only to be answered by those who chose to, like the question about ethnic origin, it has become the central point of discussion and interest of this census.
The Albanian Orthodox church refused to recognize the results, saying they had drastically underrepresented the number of Orthodox Christians and noted various indications of this and ways it may have occurred. The Orthodox church claimed that from its own calculations, the Orthodox percentage should have been around 24%, rather than 6.75%.
In addition to boycotts of the census, Orthodox numbers may also be underrepresented because the census staff failed to contact a very large number of people in the south which is traditionally an Orthodox stronghold, Furthermore, The Orthodox Church said that according to a questionnaire it gave its followers during two Sunday liturgies in urban centers such as Durrësi, Berati and Korça, only 34% of its followers were actually contacted. There were other serious allegations about the conduct of the census workers that might have impacted on the 2011 census results. There were some reported cases where workers filled out the questionnaire about religion without even asking the participants or that the workers used pencils which were not allowed. In some cases communities declared that census workers never even contacted them. In addition to all these irregularities, the preliminary results released seemed to give widely different results, with 70% of respondents refusing to declare belief in any of the listed faiths, compared with only 2.5% of atheists and 13.8% undeclared in the final results.
Orthodox Albanians weren't the only ones to claim the census underrepresented their numbers: the Bektashi leadership also lambasted the results, which even more drastically reduced their representation down to 2%, and said it would conduct its own census to refute the results, while minority organizations of Greeks (mostly Orthodox) and Roma (mostly Muslim) also claimed they underrepresented, with the Greek organization Omonia arguing that this was linked to the under-representation of the Orthodox population.
According to the Council of Europe (“Third Opinion of the Council of Europe on Albania adopted 23.11.2011,”) the population census “cannot be considered to be reliable and accurate, raises issues of compatibility with the principles enshrined in Article 3 of the Framework Convention…The Advisory Committee considers that the results of the census should be viewed with the utmost caution and calls on the authorities not to rely exclusively on the data on nationality collected during the census in determining its policy on the protection of national minorities." 
Moreover, the World Council of Churches (WCC) general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit has expressed concern at the methodology and results of the Albania Census 2011. He has raised questions in regard to the reliability of the process which, he said, has implications for the rights of religious minorities and religious freedoms guaranteed in the country’s constitution. Tveit expressed this concern in letters issued at the beginning of May to the WCC president Archbishop Anastasios, to Prof. Dr Heiner Bielefeldt, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, and to the Albanian government.
Moreover, there is a widespread belief that the Orthodox faith is linked with conspiracy theories in which the identification with Greek expansionist plans would classify them as potential enemies of the state.
Alternate emblem, used on church flag.
- Archbishop Anastasios of Albania
- Religion in Albania
- Albanian Byzantine Catholic Church
- Christianity in Albania
- The Christianisation of Albania was apostolic, since Apostle Paul visited the territories of modern Albania. Theofan Noli is the founder of the autocephal church.
- Katić, Mario (2014). Pilgrimage, Politics and Place-Making in Eastern Europe: Crossing the Borders. Ashgate Publishing. p. 140. ISBN 9781472415943.
In spite of the formation of the Albanian Autocephalous (autonomous) Church in 1922 and its recognition by the Patriarchate in 1937, there have been very few subsequent translations of religious literature (see Winnifnth 2002: 135). There is an Albanian translation of the New Testament, used in Greek minority areas and all other areas that managed to hold onto Christianity under Ottoman rule and the threat of Islamization. Except for the officially recognized Greek minority areas and the Himara area, where the liturgy is celebrated only in Greek. Christian communities hold services partly in Albanian and partly in Greek.
- The statute of the Autocephalous Orthodox Church of Albania, Article 7, p.2 (in Albanian)
The Official language of OACA is Albanian. The Orthodox of other languages can use in their divine worship their traditional worshiping language, with the condition that the texts have been approved by the Holy Synod
- John Anthony McGuckin (28 December 2010). The Orthodox Church: An Introduction to Its History, Doctrine, and Spiritual Culture. John Wiley & Sons. p. 72. ISBN 978-1-4443-3731-0. Retrieved 8 June 2012.
The Orthodox currently represent about half a million faithful, worshipping in 909 parishes.
- CNEWA - Autocephalous Orthodox Church of Albania
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The Orthodox Albanians ... religiously ... were members of the church that was officially recognized by the Ottoman state.... The Archbishopric of Ohrid.
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- [ Official Site - Publication]
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- Albanian census 2011
- "Official Declaration: The results of the 2011 Census regarding the Orthodox Christians in Albania are totally incorrect and unacceptable". orthodoxalbania.org. Retrieved 22 January 2014.
- "Official Declaration: The results of the 2011 Census regarding the Orthodox Christians in Albania are totally incorrect and unacceptable". orthodoxalbania.org. Retrieved 22 January 2014.
- Kisha Ortodokse: S’njohim censusin - Top Channel
- AK- Nishanit: Hiqi ‘Urdhrin e Skënderbeut’ Janullatosit, dekoro themeluesit e Kishës Autoqefale Shqiptare (LETRA) | Gazeta Tema
- Prifti: Në Shqipëri ka një axhendë anti-ortodokse | Gazeta Tema
- INTERVISTA/ Vangjel Dule: Autorët e censusit, manipulatorë të realitetit. Rezoluta çame? historia nuk ribëhet | Gazeta Tema
- Censusi, shumë prej pyetjeve plotësoheshin nga vetë anketuesit | Gazeta Tema
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- WCC general secretary
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- (ctrl-click)">> Official Site - Photos
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- Official website
- Article on the Orthodox Church of Albania by Ronald Roberson on CNEWA website
- 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