Albanian Orthodox church

Autocephalous Orthodox Church of Albania
Kisha Ortodokse Autoqefale e Shqipërisë
File:Orthodox Autocephalous Church of Albania logo.gif
Coat of arms
Founder Apostle Paul, Theofan Stilian Noli[1]
Independence 17 September 1922[2]
Recognition Autocephaly recognised in 1937 by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.
Primate Archbishop Anastasios of Albania
Headquarters Tirana, Albania
Territory Albania
Language Albanian, other languages can be used in liturgy[3]
Adherents 700,000[4]
Bishops 6
Priests 135
Parishes 909
Monasteries 150

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, 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 faithful.[5]

Administration and Holy Synod

The Holy Synod of Bishops was established in 1998, and is currently composed of:[6]


Christianity first arrived in Albania with Saint Paul during the 1st century. Saint Paul wrote that he preached in the Roman province of Illyricum,[7] and legend holds that he visited Durrës.[8] 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.[9]

When Albania came under Ottoman influence in 15th century the Orthodox people of Albania were members of the Archbishopric of Ohrid which was officially recognized by the Ottoman Empire.[10] 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 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 Eastern Orthodox population of Albania south of the Drin river was integrated into the Patriarchate of Constantinople, and all local Eastern Orthodox religious services, instruction and cultural activities were conducted in Greek. The territory north of the Drin was a part of the Serbian Church and had had Slavic liturgy.

Autocephaly and statutes

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.[11][12][13] 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 declared its autocephaly in Berat on September 17, 1922, at its first congress. At the end of the congress the First Statute of the Church was approved.[2]

The Church had a Second Statute that amended the First Statute in a second congress gathered in Korçë on June 29, 1929.[14] Also on September 6, 1929, the first Regulation of General Administration of the Church was approved.[15]

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.[16]

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 Durres, 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.[17]

Archbishop of Tirana

Main article: 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: Kristofor (Kisi) (autocephaly recognized)
  • 1948-1966: Pais (Vodica)
  • 1966-1967: Damian (Dhimiter Kokoneshi)
  • 1967-1992: Position abolished by the Communists
  • 1992–present: Anastasios (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. 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.[18] 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.[19]

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.[20] 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.[21]

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.[22]

Social activities


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.[21]

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.[21] 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.[21]

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.


Historical demographics

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:[24]

Year Orthodox Christians Muslims
1908 128,000 95,000
1923 114,000 109,000
1927 112,000 114,000

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.[25]

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. (It should be emphasized that the question regarding ethnic origin in the Census had the following results: Albanians 82.58%, an extremely small percentage of other ethnic minorities and concluded with 13.96% “did not answer”.)

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”. It is a well known that in the country national minorities are affiliated with a concrete religion." [26]

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 of Tirana and Durres, Orthodox primate of Albania, to Prof. Dr Heiner Bielefeldt, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, and to the Albanian government.[27]

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.[28] Today, in parts of Albania, the term Greek is used as a pejorative for Orthodox Albanian speaking communities.[29]


See also


External links

  • Official website
  • Eastern Christian Churches: Orthodox Church of Albania
  • History of the Establishment of the Church
  • World Council of Churches website
  • Orthodox Peace Fellowship report on Albania

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