The Albanian Orthodox Church – June – July 2017
Election of Archbishop Anastasios: A Remarkable Day of the Resurrection of Faith after the Atheistic Darkness
Although formal freedom was already restored to the country, the beginning of the 1990s was a dramatic time period for the Community of the Orthodox faithful in Albania. There was no surviving bishop, and no potential candidate who could be ordained to such a rank; only 15 retired and ailing clergy remained. There were no churches (they were either destroyed or repurposed as secular buildings) and no financial means to rebuild, due to the profound poverty and because the state would not take any responsibility in supporting religious communities. Overall, a desperate situation existed. Under these conditions, the only authority that had the responsibility and the ablity to undertake initiatives for the reestablishment of the Orthodox Church in Albania was the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, which is recognized by all the Orthodox Churches as the first among equals and maintains the responsibility for the support of the Orthodox Churches. In order to observe the situation and the needs of the Church of Albania, the Patriarchate sent to Albania one of the most qualified persons who was well known both throughout the Orthodox world and beyond, Prof. Dr. Anastasios, who was at that time the Metropolitan of Androussa, the Moderator of the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism of the World Council of Churches and the Acting Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.
Upon arriving in our country, the Archbishop encountered the fearful spiritual and material void that formal atheism had left behind, but he was not intimidated. He was committed to changing the situation. He began with the opening of a seminary for the preparation of young clergy and began restoring the existing Church properties while simultaneously undertaking projects to build new churches. It was this self-sacrificing work that convinced the Albanian Orthodox Christians to officially ask the Ecumenical Patriarchate to have then Metropolitan Anastasios as their Father and Chief Priest. As he himself confessed, such a ministry was to him “not a throne of power, but a cross of sacrifice.” Without this blessing of love and self-denial, the Orthodox faithful of Albania would not have such an organized and continuously-developing Church today, that is considered to be God’s true miracle.
The election of Prof. Dr. Anastasios as Archbishop of Albania laid the foundation for a rapid reinstatement of autocephaly and created the premises for the Church’s resurrection. There were those who opposed the election and the appointment of Archbishop Anastasios, on the pretext of defending the autocephaly and the independence of the Church of Albania. In fact, this opposition would have resulted in the limiting the Church of Albania to an ecclesiastical province which would be dependent upon others and thus unable to grow into a real Church, to be independent and to once again take up its historic role in the Albanian society. The proof of the Church’s achievements and resurgence, as well as the canonical and official recognition of the Autocephalous Orthodox Church of Albania, became clear on June 1st, 2014, when the primates of the majority of the Orthodox Churches (and an official representation from other Churches) gathered in Tirana for the consecration of the Resurrection of Christ Cathedral. Another proof was the full participation and contribution of Archbishop Anastasios and of our Church at the Great and Holy Synod of Crete (2016).
In this significant anniversary for our Church, when all the Orthodox faithful of Albania commemorate with gratitude and thanks the 25th anniversary of the election of Archbishop Anastasios, we should not forget that this major event embodies the blood, the sweat, and the efforts of the Orthodox faithful of Albania to preserve the faith of their forefathers even in the most difficult moments, such as the long atheistic darkness, but also to overcome together with their Arch-priest difficulties and numerous attacks. A significant and special place in the history of the Orthodox Community of Albania will always be dedicated to the work and personal ministry of Archbishop Anastasios, not only for the resurrection of Orthodoxy in the country, but also for its safe progress at the present and in the future.