June – July 2014 – The Albanian Orthodox Church
Report by Thoma Dhima
Photo by Aleksandra Ritsi, Thoma Dhima, ATSH
For the Orthodox believers of Shkodra, Sunday, June 22, 2014, was very special and filled with spiritual experiences. In a festive atmosphere, Archbishop Anastasios consecrationed their church, dedicated to the Nativity of our Lord, Jesus Christ. The Consecration Service and the Divine Liturgy were presided by His Beatitude Archbishop Anastasios, assisted by the Bishop of Amantia, His Grace Nathanael, the Bishop of Bylis, His Grace Asti, and other clergy. The church square was filled from early in the morning with believers awaiting the arrival of the Archbishop. They wanted to express not only the joy of this special day for their community which is relatively small, but with an ancient history, but also to give thanks to His Beatitude for the care that he has shown since his first days for their town. The Catholic Archbishop of Shkodra, Mons. Angelo Masafra, as well as the President of the Episcopal Conference of Albania honored the services from the beginning with his presence. The Mayor of Shkodra, Mr. Lorenc Luka; The Mayor, Mr. Pjerin Radovani; MPs Agron Çela; Voltana Ademi; Tom Doshi; Mimoza Hafizi and Namik Kopliku etc, also honored the community with their participation in the Divine Liturgy.
The service began with the procession and litany with the relics of the martyrs around the church, attended by all the believers and led by the Byzantine choir “John Kukuzeli”. After placing the holy relics in the Holy Table, the Divine Liturgy began. Later Archbishop addressed the participants and among other things said: “I remember the first time I came here in this city, in 1991. Many of those present here today were not born yet. It was the time when the persecution was still so sensitive, that it was impossible for us to find out where the church had once been in this city. And in the years that followed we had not had the opportunity to have our church, and we needed to rent the premises of the movie theater to perform the Divine Liturgy. There were made many attempts to return the place where the Orthodox church of the city had been before … even protest and other steps were made, but again it was impossible for what was our right to be given to us. At the end we decided to ask our friends to raise funds to buy a property. And we bought this land where we are now and we built a church.
But we have always been close to our other brothers, and we have insisted during these years on the peaceful coexistence of all religious communities here in Albania. I believe absolutely in this coexistence. It is that as we mentioned, that is a port and harbor, for those persons who are in very difficult journey; it is a place where souls recover; it is a refuge for all those who need and seek to find refuge and solace in God. We are sure, that this holy place here in Shkodra will turn into a place of consolation, a place of hope, a place of prayer, a place of spiritual renewal for man, a place of reconciliation and brotherhood, that will cultivate these relationships between people, families.
This day of consecration and inauguration of this holy place is not just a eulogy feast, which relates only to our community, but is also an invitation made to everyone of us. An invitation for spiritually renewal, an invitation to find God even more, to continue to live more correctly according to the will that He has for us, to overcome our little ego and open to society with love and respect to it.
Many are those who speak today for the hope and love, but where will we find the strength to have these. The worst thing that happened during that persecution was not the destruction of the churches and that they tried to stop any form of divine worship, but they destroyed faith within the spirit of the people. And when faith is destroyed, everything is impossible. As Dostoevsky said, “If there is no God, all things are permissible.”. And we lived this tragedy, which allowed all; revenge, evil, retaliation against one another. But even today, there is a secret persecution against the faith. Not officially, but still the old nomenclature has not forgotten what it has been done, and tries again to put question marks in between.
In the case of the consecration of this church, I want to thank with all my heart, all the city authorities who are here today, because they move forward with this vision that this city is to be a city of love, beauty and truth. I want to especially thank Archbishop Masafra, my fellow brothers and other religious communities here in Shkodra, because it is a good cooperation between us. We have not only tolerance among each other, but a fraternal cooperation.
We hope, and this is the prayer that we give, that Albania will soon be within the European Union, because essentially, and in terms of culture, it is already part of this Europe. We also hope that God preserves for the younger generation a different era, in which we have to give everything we have of our tradition.
Then the priest of this parish spoke who is from an old family in Shkodra,Father Alexander Petani. He is one of the first generation of priests that were elevated by Archbishop Anastasios. He has continued this tradition in his family, and his son has also become a priest, Father Nicholas. He expressed deep gratitude for all the care that has been shown by His Beatitude Archbishop Anastasios for the city of Shkodra, not only in pastoral leadership and church building, but also for the contribution of His Beatitude for children (with two kindergartens), for youth, for Kosovo people in 1999, for the isolated families, Flood victims, for families of officers killed in the line of duty etc.
Then a group of children with popular clothing of the city of Shkodra, gave the Archbishop Anastasios bouquets of flowers, flowers which he gave to friends in recognition of their honored presence on this remarkable day.
After the Consecration and the Divine Liturgy, Archbishop Anastasios accompanied by his associates, and many Orthodox believers attended a reception hosted by the deputy of LSI Agron Çela, on the premises of the Grand Hotel Europe.