The Church of Albania as a church using the Albanian language is a latecomer to an ancient region of Europe. The heritage of the Byzantine Roman Empire that resided in the areas in which Albanians lived meant that Greek was the language of their churches. It was only in recent times, that is, the last hundred years or so, as nationalism came to the forefront in the Balkans that the idea came of an independent Albanian country in which the Orthodox church would use Albanian as its liturgical language. The idea of an Albanian liturgical language was in part realized through the efforts of an Albanian Orthodox émigré in the United States of America who began translating the Orthodox services into Albanian, became an Orthodox priest, and began using the Albanian translations among Albanian communities both in America and Europe. This was Fr. Theophan (Fan) Noli in 1908. He was also part of the nationalist movement.
At the same time, the nationalist movement for an independent Albanian nation bore fruit with a declaration of independence in 1912. The declared independence was ratified after World War I when the League of Nations granted membership to Albania. Fr. Theophan Noli was also in the political forefront as this new nation was formed. Now consecrated a bishop in Albania, he was named Bishop of Korca and Metropolitan of Durres, and the ruling hierarch of Albania. In 1922, a Council held at Berat proclaimed autocephaly for the Albanian church over the objections of the Patriarch of Constantinople who, in 1926, offered an agreement that would lead to future autocephaly. This, the Albanian government rejected.
In 1929, two Albanian Orthodox bishops were consecrated by Bp. Vissarion and a Serbian bishop. Thus, a synod of bishops was formed in Tirana and the church repeated its declaration of autocephaly. A schism ensued between the two churches until on April 12, 1937, when the Ecumenical Patriarch recognized the autocephalous status of the Albanian church.
In the meantime, the church organization developed. Diocesan sees were established at Tirana, Berat, Argyrokastro, and Korce. Albanian began to be used more widely as Albanian translations of the service books became available, replacing Greek as the liturgical language. In 1937 an Orthodox seminary was founded at Korce.
The peace of the church was savagely destroyed when the communists took over the government of the country in 1945. Influential Orthodox clergy were executed, and in 1949, the Archbishop of Tirana, Kristophor Kissi, was removed from office, thus beginning the systematic removal of bishops who were not acceptable to the communist regime. The communists became more and more oppressive, exceeding even the oppressive measures in other communist regimes in Eastern Europe. In 1967, the regime closed all religious institutions and forbade any religious practices. At the same time, Abp. Damianos of Tirana was sent to prison where he died in 1973. The church was virtually destroyed.
As the communist world began to disintegrate in 1990, the government in Albania followed in its disintegration. The persecution of the Church ended, but the Orthodox hierarchy had been destroyed. Having granted autocephaly to the Albanian church, the Patriarch of Constantinople stepped in to guide the Albanians in their recovery. He appointed Metropolitan Anastasios of Androusa as Patriarchal Exarch in Albania to begin the reconstruction of the autocephalous Orthodox Church of Albania. On June 24, 1992, the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate elected Anastasios as Archbishop of Tirana and All Albania. The Synod also named three other bishops to the diocesan vacancies, but the government refused their entry into Albania, calling instead for the appointment of ethnic Albanians. Tensions continued between the Greek-centered hierarchy and the Albanian government over naming ethnic Albanians to the hierarchy of the Albanian church. This was complicated by tensions between the Greek and Albanian governments over the ethnic Greek minority in Albania.
The situation was finally resolved in 1998, when by mutual agreement among the Ecumenical Patriarch, the Albanian Church, and the Albanian government, Metr. Ignatios of Berat, who was one of the three bishops named earlier by the Ecumenical Patriarch, was enthroned, the other two hierarchs resigned, and two ethnic Albanians were elected. Archimandrite Joan Pelushi was elected Metropolitan of Korça and Fr. Kosma Qirjo was elected Bishop of Apollonia, thus forming a full Holy Synod for the Church of Albania.
The Orthodox Church of Albania during this period to date, 1992-2021, despite the hardships, the social-political turmoil and the destruction of the country’s economy, was recovered from the ruins and living in the resurrection atmosphere, ran rapidly. 165 clergymen, all Albanian nationals, graduated at the Orthodox Theological Academy “Resurrection of Christ” in Durrës, since 1992. 150 churches were rebuilt from ruins,160 churches were reconstructed, and 70 cultural monuments were restored. 70 buildings were purchased for different purposes (kindergartens, schools, youth centers, health centers, metropolis sees, guest houses, workshops, soup kitchens for the poor etc.). All the construction works amounted to 450 church buildings.
Today, the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Autocephalous Church of Albania is composed of eight members for the first time in its history: Archbishop Anastasios, President; Metropolitan of Berat Ignatios, Metropolitan of Korça Joan, Metropolitan of Gjirokastra Demetrios, Metropolitan of Apollonia and Fier Nikolla, Metropolitan of Elbasan Andon, Metropolitan of Amantia Nathaniel, Bishop of Byllis Asti.
Sources: Orthodox wiki, Church of Albania
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