History of the Orthodox Church in Albania
The region occupied by what is now Albania stretches along the north coast of the lonian Sea and the south coast of the Adriatic, and lies inland along the axis of the western section of the axis formed by the Egnatian Way. It has been directly involved in the political and intellectual ferment of three successive empires - Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman. At the same time it has been a target for barbarian attacks and looting by various peoples (Huns, Goths, Normans, Serbs, Bulgars, Venetians, and others) intent on penetrating into its territory. Its most fundamental metropolitan centres have always been multi-ethnic in composition, with Greek, Illyrian, and Roman living side by side and with various other elements in time of invasion. On the basis of the ecclesiastical affiliation of the provinces of modern Albania, we can disengage five chronological periods. There are firstly the days of the apostles, up to the year 731, when this region was subordinate to the self-governing church of East Illyricum, under the Roman vicariate of Thessalonike. The second period runs from 731 to the eleventh century: the region was subordinate to the Patriarchate of Constantinople. The third period runs from the eleventh century to 1767: most of the sees were subject to the autocephalous archbishopric of Ohrid. The fourth period is from 1767 to 1937: subject to the Patriarchate of Constantinople. In the last period, from 1937 onwards, the church of Albania is autocephalous.
Part 1: From Apostolic times to 731
Writing from Corinth to the Romans, in 55-57 A. D., the apostle Paul records that he was acting with holy zeal "so that from Jerusalem, and round about unto Illyricum, I have fully preached the gospel of Christ" (Romans xv. 18-19). By "unto Illyricum" he probably meant that he included Illyricum, which was in the first century A.D. a province of Macedonia. In the light of his next words -"Yea, so have I striven to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man's foundation"- we would be justified in supposing that it was the apostle Paul, either in person or through his close associates, who first planted the seed of the Gospel in the geographical region we are looking at. That he was at Nikopolis, not much south of present-day Albania, is incontestable (Titus iii. 12). So too is the missionary work of his close associate Titus in Dalmatia, a little to the north of present-day Albania (II Timothy iv. 10). One early tradition named the apostle to this region as Kaisar (or Kaisarios), one of seventy apostles; and another reconciled the two versions by making Paul establish Kaisar as first bishop of Dyrrachion (Durrës).
Clearer evidence of the presence of a church community at Dyrrachion is provided by the witness of bishop Asteios (or Astios) in 98 A.D. The reference in the Orthodox menologion is as follows. "July 6th. Saint Asteios, bishop of Dyrrachion, anointed with honey and stung by bees, perfects his life upon the cross". The day after, July 7th, is the feast in commemoration of Saint Peregrinus and the other saints, all of Latin origin, who died with him -Lucian, Pompey, Hesychius, Papius, Saturninus, and Germanus- when they were drowned in the sea by the governor of Dyrrachion, Agricola.
Dyrrachion, the ancient Kerkyrean colony of Epidamnos, was a main harbour for the Adriatic. It was the Romans' gateway to the Balkans and, along the Egnatian Way, to Thessalonike and Constantinople. At this crossroads it was natural that a cosmopolitan church should spring up in the first Christian centuries. This church was constantly plagued by invasions, earthquakes, and fires, but it never ceased to renew and reorganize itself. When the Roman Empire split into East and West on the death of Theodosios I in 395, what is now Albania became subject to the Eastern provinces. Until the time of Constantine the Great, the region had been dependent, politically and ecclesiastically, on Rome. Afterwards, it belonged only politically to Constantinople, while ecclesiastically the old situation did not change, until the year 731.
The whole of Eastern Illyricum was a self-governed church under the supreme supervision of Rome via the vicariate of Thessalonike. Of the vicariate's nine bishops, the metropolitan of Dyrrachion ranked fifth. In Hierocles' "Synekdemos", a sixth-century text, several towns that today belong geographically to Albania are mentioned by name. In New Epirus there are: Dyrrachion, Skampia (Elbasan), Apollonia, Byllis, Amantia, Poulcheriopolis (Berat), Aulon (Vlora), Listron, and Scipon. In Old Epirus there are: Euroia, Phoinike, Adrianopolis, Anchiasmos, and Bouthrotos (Butrinto). [There are several variants in the names of towns and sees as given by the sources]. Further south, from 429 onwards, was the see of Dryinopolis, the seat of which was originally somewhere near Korytsa of Dropolis, then later (558) at Episkope. Episcopal sees often had to move because of military and political events in the region.
Historical information about this period is very limited. Additional evidence comes from archaeological finds and -a valuable piece in the mosaic- names of some saints and bishops. But these are not enough for us to reconstruct the complete mosaic of local church history. Christian tombs found in a stoa outside the walls of Bouthrotos, and probably dating to the second century, are our earliest indication of the presence of a Christian community in what is now Albania. Early Christian basilicas have been discovered in various places. They are mostly from the fifth or sixth century, and their dimensions show that they must have served sizable Christian communities, thus standing as important witnesses to the flourishing Christianity of this area.
Our region is drenched in the blood of saints. They have included Eleutherios, "bishop of Aulon and Illyricum", martyred in 120; his mother "Anthia", Donatos, and Therinos, all martyred at Bouthrotos in 250; Danax (third century); Isauros, Basil, Innocent, Felix, Hermias and Peregrinus (all from Apollonia, in the third century); Tryphon (from Sekista in Berat, in 313); Donatos, bishop of Euroia (in 387). The names of a handful of bishops are known from the proceedings of Oecumenical Synods. Eucharios bishop of Dyrrachion and Felix "bishop of the towns of Apollonia and Belis" were at the Third Oecumenical Synod (431). Eusebios "of Apollonia in New Epirus", "Peter of Echineos" in the series of bishops from New Epirus, Luke, Pelegrinus of Phoinike, and Claudios (or Kladeos) of Anchiasmos all took part in the Fourth Oecumenical Synod (451). Bishop Syssinios was present at the Synod in Trullo (691/692). There are also other mentions of bishops: Hypatios, at the local Synod in Epirus in 516; Eutychios (or Eustochios) (449-451) and Constantine (523-529); Valerian, bishop of Phoenike in the reign of the Emperor Leontios; Philip (516) and Eustathios (586).
Part 2: From 731 to the 11th Century
The second period (731 to the early eleventh century) begins with the annexing of east Illyricum to the Oecumenical Patriarchate by the Iconoclast Emperor Leo III the Isaurian. It goes up to the subordination of many of the sees of what is now Albania to the autocephalous archbishopric of Ohrid. In the area there was one tremor after another, and the Christian population went through great trials and tribulations. The most significant of these was the capture of Dyrrachion by the Bulgars in 896. After many a hard struggle, Basil II managed, in 1014 to 1018, to impose Byzantine rule on the region.
Historical information about church life during this period is again scanty, with the most reliable testimonies still being the names of bishops and bishoprics. In Leo III's Taktikon, of the year 733, as we have it in the Parisinus Codex, the province of Illyricum ranks fifteenth in the Oecumenical Patriarchate's list, its metropolis being Dyrrachion. Later, in the church Constitutional Book of Leo the Wise, at the start of the tenth century, the metropolitan of Dyrrachion occupies forty-third place (above the metropolitan of Smyma), and has fifteen bishops. The citation of their names implies that there was a well-developed church organization. It also shows new sees were being created, and that some of the old ones remained stable, even if their classification changed, while others appeared with new names. It was at the end of the tenth century or the beginning of the eleventh that Saint John Vladimir was active and went to his martyrdom at Elbasan: his relics are preserved in the monastery that bears his name.
Part 3: From the 11th Century to 1767
In the next period we can distinguish two chronological phases, the dividing line being the Ottoman Conquest. In the first, the archbishopric of Ohrid was founded in the year 1018, after the collapse of Samuel's Bulgarian state, and the Emperor Basil II issued three bulls to this end, making over to the archbishopric thirty-two ecclesiastical provinces in all. A very large independent archiepiscopal see was thus created, and subordinate to it were the following sees in what is today Albania: Glabinitza-Akrokeraunia, Belegrada-Poulcheriopolis, Tzerenikos, Adrianopolis, and Bouthrotos.
From the eleventh to the thirteenth centuries, the metropolis of Dyrrachion continued to be subordinate to the Patriarchate of Constantinople. It was Dyrrachion that was the birthplace of the great twelfth-century (or by other accounts fourteenth-century) Byzantine musician saint, John Koukouzelis. He lived on Mount Athos; and Athos was also the home of two fourteenth-century ascetics from the region, Saint Nephon from Loukovo in Cheimara, and Saint Neilos Erichiotes from Kanina.
After the dismemberment of the Byzantine Empire by the Latins in 1204, the Epirus area, New and Old, did not go unscathed by the expansionist plans of the Angevin Kings of Naples and the commercial plans of the Venetians. With the rise of the Despotate of Epirus (1267-1479), many of the sees on the soil of what is today Albania were beset now by one influence, now by another; but to discuss these is beyond the scope of the present short historical sketch.
From the late eleventh century onwards, the Roman Catholic church intensified its efforts to extend its sway further south (with the creation of the sees of Kroia (Krujë), Antibaris, Skodra, and so on). It was above all from the thirteenth century onwards, after the Latin rule of 1204-1474, that the northern zone of what is now Albania was most strongly touched by Roman Catholicism. When the Orthodox metropolitan of Dyrrachion perished in an earthquake in 1273, a Roman Catholic bishop installed himself in the town. An invasion by the Serbs in the fourteenth century caused the evacuation of many provinces. At the same time, certain Albanian families such as the Thopia, Balsha, Spata, and Muzaqi, set up minor princedoms. In 1335 the Emperor Andronikos the Younger came out from Constantinople on campaign and reached Dyrrachion by way of Thessalonike, imposing Byzantine rule on his revolting subjects. The powerful local lords of the Thopia family surrendered Dyrrachion to the Venetians, who were to control the town from 1392 to 1501. At the very end of this first phase there was the resplendent and heroic figure of George Kastriotes Skanderbeg, whose valiant efforts (1451-1468) made him a symbol of the last Christian resistance to the Ottomans. Dyrrachion finally fell into Turkish hands in 1501, and the Ottoman Conquest was complete.
We have no information when the metropolis of Velegrada was founded. The name itself is found in the early fourteenth century. This town -which was also known as Berat, was taken by the Ottomans in the reign of Murad, in 1431. There is mention of twenty church leaders, and of these the best known are Ignatios (1691-1693), later archbishop of Ohrid, and Joasaph 1(1752-1760 and 1765-1801). It was during the latter's tenure that the province of Belegrada was returned to the throne of Constantinople. Even before the town itself was built, in 1490, the district of Korytsa belonged the metropolis of Kastoria, which had itself become subordinate to the archbishopric of Ohrid. The metropolis of Korytsa was established early in the seventeenth century, incorporating the sees of Kolonia, Debolis, and Selasphoro (Sevdas). The first well known bishop of Korytsa (1624 and 1628) was Neophytos. In the year 1670, Parthenios archbishop of Ohrid, a native of Korytsa, elevated his mother town to a metropolitan seat, its occupant bearing the title of bishop of Korytsa, Selasphoro, and Moschopolis.
The southern regions continued to be subject to the Patriarchate of Constantinople. We have rather more evidence about the see of Dryinoupolis (eleventh-eighteenth century). Prominent among the forty-one bishops whose names are known to us were Sophianos (1672-1700), a heroic warrior in the fight to throw off the yoke of Islamization; Metrophanes (1752-1760), a man of culture and "a most excellent musicologist"; and Dositheos (1760-1799), who saw to it that some seventy churches were built.
Under Ottoman rule the church's most serious problem was continual mass conversions to Islam. It was the Albanian population that was most vulnerable to them: other reasons apart, there was a lack of Christian literature in the native Albanian tongue. At the same time, various Roman Catholic propaganda missions were active in the coastal region of Cheimara. To bolster Orthodoxy, new monasteries were built in many regions from the seventeenth century onwards, and these evolved into centres of Orthodox resistance, spiritual culture, training, and charitable works. Simultaneously there were many clergy working enthusiastically to strengthen the Orthodox population. Prominent among these was the holy monk Nektarios Terpos of Moschopolis, active between 1710 and 1730 in the Berat and Spathia areas.
In many parts of southern Albania the resistance was stiffened by building churches and organizing schools. One of the major centres of Orthodoxy was Moschopolis, built on an inaccessible plateau. In the eighteenth century it had about sixty thousand inhabitants, and enjoyed an astonishing flowering of economic and intellectual life. The New Academy (1744), with its library and printing press, was widely renowned. No less than twenty churches adorned the town. Until 1760 Moschopolis was directly subject to the archbishopric of Ohrid; but after this date it was assigned to the metropolis of Korytsa. Its decline began in 1771, when it was pillaged for the part it had played in the Oriov rising, and was complete in 1916, when the town was set on fire by unruly Albanian units.
In order to escape forcible Islamization, and at the same time to retain their identity of origin, groups of the enslaved in the Ottoman Empire in many places preferred to become "underground Christians" [kryptochristianoi]. They would go about their social life using Moslem names and behaving like Moslems, but in family life they would keep up their Orthodox traditions. The most typical example of "underground Christians" in Albania were the Tosks of Spathia, a mountain region south of Elbasan. This phenomenon was one which lasted from the late seventeenth to the late nineteenth century. The region also had its "New Martyrs": the holy martyr Nikodemos (in 1722 at Elbasan) and Christos Kepouros (the Gardener) or the Arvanites from the Gjanicë river area (in 1748 at Constantinople).
Part 4: From 1767 to 1937
The fourth period stretches from the abolition of the autocephalous status of the archbishopric of Ohrid to the canonical grant of autocephalous status to the church of Albania. The key event in this period was the creation of the Albanian state in 1912.
1. During this period there was a reorganization of the metropoleis and the other sees. New churches were built, and from time to time there were systematic attempts to spiritually awaken the Orthodox. The outstanding figure of his times was Saint Kosmas Aitolos, active in the region between 1775 and 1779. His martyrdom in 1779 at Berat was the crown of his historical mission. Thirty years later, another saint "from Arvanite parts" (probably from Spathia) Niketas Arvanites was to preach Christ and to be martyred in the Serres-Drama area, in 1809.
The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries saw determined efforts to translate the Scriptures into Albanian. The first recorded person to make this attempt was the holy monk Gregory Konstantinidis, afterwards bishop of Dyrrachion. He translated the Old and New Testaments, using an Albanian alphabet of his own invention. Sadly, this translation has disappeared. In the nineteenth century, Gregory Argyrokastrites, bishop of Euroia, published a translation of the New Testament in Albanian, written with the Greek alphabet. There were later translations by K. Christophoridis into the Gheg dialect (1869) and the Tosk dialect (1879), also originally using the Greek alphabet.
2. With the creation of the Albanian state in 1912, a new phase began for the Orthodox church. The coming of political independence brought with it repeated demands for emancipation from all religious centres that were in countries abroad.
A decisive part was played by the Albanian Diaspora in America and Europe, and its various societies: the Drita [Light] organization, for instance, founded in 1886 at Bucharest. Of particular importance was the work of Fan Noli (Theophanes Stylianou Noli or Mavrommatis). Not only did he translate many ecclesiastical texts into Albanian, but he insisted that they be introduced into worship; and he held leading posts, first of all in the church, as metropolitan of Dyrrachion (Durrës), and then in the Albanian state, as Foreign Minister and Prime Minister.
The first declaration of autocephalous status for the Orthodox church of Albania was made at the Synod of Berat (10.9.1922). The Synod's decisions were recognized by the Albanian state, and a Supreme Ecclesiastical Synod was appointed to take temporary charge of the church. In February 1929 a Holy Synod was set up. The Oecumenical Patriarchate refused to countenance these uncanonical initiatives, but it did show itself willing to grant self-government, with concurrent use of the Albanian language in worship, preaching, and training. Because of political developments and threats of one kind or another from the West, the Patriarchate also consented to discuss the issue of autocephalous status. Indeed, it sent its representative to Albania -the distinguished metropolitan of Trebizond, Chrysanthos, who was later to become bishop of Athens- for bilateral talks on the subject with the Albanian authorities. Chrysanthos declared himself in favor of the granting of autocephalous status and indicated what procedures for this were to be followed.
By way of smoothing out relations with the Oecumenical Patriarchate, a Conference of Clergy and Laity was called at Korytsa in May 1936, at which representatives of all four provinces were present. The Conference asked pardon from the Patriarchate; there were negotiations in Athens (13.3.1937); and a committee of Albanians went to Constantinople in order to settle the question once and for all. This protracted ecclesiastical irregularity was very bad for the development of the spiritual church life of the Orthodox of Albania. The clergy was sorely tried by pressure of various kinds and by poverty. Ordinary people were split on the issue for a long while, this being due to its complex international ramifications, such as the Northern Epirus Question. The Unia and Protestant groups tried to take advantage of the confusion.
Part 5: From 1937 Onward
The canonical grant of autocephalous status by the Oecumenical Patriarchate, during the tenure of Benjamin I, was the start of a new period for the church of Albania. The Patriarchal Synodical Tome "Concerning the Blessing of the Autocephalous Status of the Orthodox church in Albania" was issued on April 17th 1937. After canonical elections at the Oecumenical Patriarchate, the first Synod comprised Christophoros, archbishop of Tirana, Dyrrachion and All Albania, and the three bishops Eulogios of Korytsa (Korça), Agathangelos of Berat, and Panteleemon of Argyrokastron. The two metropoleis became bishoprics, while a third bishopric was formed from such parishes of the ancient metropolis of Dryinoupolis as lay within Albania. Two idiosyncrasies of the Orthodox church of Albania concealed thorny problems. Firstly, there were the ethnic origins of the Orthodox congregation: Albanians, Greeks, Vlach-speaking, and Slav-speaking. Secondly, there was the fact the Orthodox were not in the majority - as in other Balkan countries - but were only 23% of the total population. Thus the life of the church was beset in various ways by the political, ideological, and social oppositions within Albania itself, not to mention the unsettling effect of war in the region at large.
a) Italian occupation
When Italian troops entered the country on April 7th 1939, Albania became a province of Fascist Italy. Plans for parallel religious annexation were at once put into effect. At the same time as Roman Catholic missionary orders were installing themselves in various parts of the south of the country, there was an overall strategic plan to absorb the Orthodox by means of the Unia. It was emphasized in the propaganda that the cohesion of all Albanian Christians would aid the country's development, under the protection of the Vatican and the Italian state. According to some accounts, archbishop Christophoros had already agreed to joint union with the Arbëreshi of Italy; according to others, he was trying to buy time by delaying action. At all events, the lack of an absolute majority in the executive organs of the Orthodox church was enough to upset the plan for going over to the Unia, and these plans were finally abandoned with the fall of Italy in 1943.
b) Atheist persecution
After the Germans pulled out of Albania in late November 1944, the Communist regime imposed its complete control and religious persecution began. In the first twenty-three years persecution took the same classic form as it already had in Russia and the Balkans. Archbishop Christophoros was forced to leave his post, on Christmas Day 1948, and a new archbishop was put in his place, Païsios Vonditsa, until then bishop of Korytsa, in vacancy. Permission was even given for an Assembly of Clergy and Laity of the Orthodox church to be convened, at Tirana (February 5th-lOth 1950), 50 that a new Charter could be voted in (and in some respects this Charter was an improvement on the existing one of 1929). The canonical archbishop, Christophoros, was put under house arrest, and was found dead on June 19th 1956: the official version was that he had had a heart attack. In March 1966 Païsios left this life, and in April Damianos ascended the archiepiscopal throne. Efforts to ridicule religion and its representatives were stepped up, and to the same end the faithful, both clergy and laity, were intimidated by exile, imprisonment, and killings.
The Albanian Orthodox settled in America were split into two groups. One of these, led by Theophanes Noli and subsequently by bishop Stefan Lasko, kept up its links with the church of Albania. The other, led by the bishop of Leuke, Marko Lippa, was subordinate to the Oecumenical Patriarchate. When Noli died in March 1965, efforts were made (in 1966-1967) to reconcile the two factions, but without positive results.
On April 4th 1967 the signal was given for the persecution to become total. By a decree published on November 22nd 1967, Albania officially proclaimed itself an atheist state - the only one of its kind in the world and in history. In this state, all forms of religious expression were constitutionally forbidden. Hundreds of churches were pulled down, and many more were turned into machine shops, warehouses, stables, cinemas, or clubs. Virtually all the monasteries were destroyed or became army barracks. At this time the church of Albania still had, apart from its archbishopric, three Episcopal sees, nineteen diocesan districts, three hundred and thirty parishes, and twenty-five monasteries. Clergy were unfrocked: many of them were thrown into prison or sent into exile, and a number went to their martyrdom. Among them were the former bishop Bessarion, who was imprisoned, and the suffragan bishop of Apollonia, Eirenaios, who was exiled. Damian, the archbishop, was not persecuted: he died at his home at Pogradec (on October 18th 1973). In this totalitarian persecution, both persecutors and persecuted traditionally belonged to all ethnic and religious communities of Albania. In November 1990, yielding to international realignments, the Albanian government decided to tone down its measures against religion.
In January 1991, the Oecumenical Patriarch Demetrios and the Holy Synod appointed a professor from the University of Athens, Anastasios, bishop of Androusa, as Patriarchal exarch, his remit being to go over to Albania for first contacts with the Orthodox and the authorities of the country. The Albanian state raised objections for many months, but eventually the Patriarchal exarch reached Tirana, on July 17th 1991. As he went about the country, he could see for himself the frightful desolation caused by implacable persecution: 1608 churches and monasteries had been destroyed. In order to rebuild the ecclesiastical structure, the Patriarchal exarch convened a General Assembly of Clergy and Laity, on August 1st - 2nd 1991. Taking part in this Assembly were fifteen clergy and thirty lay-people from the ecclesiastical provinces of Albania. Four church commissioners and a General Ecclesiastical Synod were elected to provisionally represent and run the church.
On the initiative of the Oecumenical Patriarch Bartholomalos, the Synod of the Oecumenical Patriarchate took measures to re-establish the Autocephalous Orthodox church of Albania by unanimously electing, on June 24th 1992, the following: as archbishop of Tirana and All Albania the serving metropolitan bishop of Androusa, Anastasios; and as metropolitan bishops of Korytsa, Argyrokastron, and Berat with Aulon and Kanina respectively, the archimandrites Christodoulos Moustakas, Alexandros Kalpakidis, and Ignatios Triantis.
The Albanian government was strongly resistant to what it saw as the imposition from abroad of Greek leaders for one of the country's three major religious communities. The president of Albania, Sali Berisha, made no secret of his displeasure when a deputation from the Oecumenical Patriarchate visited him on July 4th 1992: it was made up of the metropolitan bishops Evangelos of Perge and Meliton of Philadelpheia, plus the protopresbyter Elias Katre, an Albanian by origin. The Albanian president finished by stating that while he was prepared to accept the installation of archbishop Anastasios, there was no question allowing all the Orthodox metropolitan bishops of Albania to be of Greek origin. The new archbishop, having sent the "Great Message" to the Phanari on July 12th 1992, was enthroned in the cathedral church of Tirana on August 2nd. Certain Albanian circles attempted to dislodge him by a series of manoeuvres. At an extraordinary Gathering of Clergy and Laity at Dyrrachion (Durrës), on January 21st 1993, the delegates were of one body in announcing that they were not prepared to put up with anything of this sort. In the autumn of 1994, there was an attempt, with the draft constitution, to remove the archbishop once and for all. This was however voted down in the referendum of November 6th 1994. In July 1996, without any new entente with the Albanian side, the consecration of the bishops elected in 1992 took place at Constantinople. The Albanian authorities categorically refused to let them enter the country and take up their posts. After dogged discussions between representatives of the Oecumenical Patriarchate, the church of Albania, and the Albanian authorities (November 1997 to July 1998), the issue of forming a Holy Synod was in the end settled by agreeing to a format whereby the Synod was made up of two church leaders of Greek origin and two of Albanian origin. The metropolitan bishop of Berat, Ignatios, was enthroned; the metropolitans Alexander of Argyrokastron and Christodoulos of Korytsa tendered their resignation; and archimandrite Joan Pelusi was elected metropolitan of Korytsa and warden Kosmas Kirio was elected bishop of Apollonia.
Despite its grievous trials and tribulations in the period from 1991 to 1998, in a climate of general political and social upheaval and national economic subsidence, the Orthodox church of Albania pulled itself together and rose from the ruins, making very swift progress, and living in "a resurrection atmosphere". In most towns and large villages with a population of Orthodox, as well as in hundreds of smaller villages, Orthodox parishes were organized from scratch.
The life of liturgy and the Mysteries generally became more and more intense, as did preaching the gospel and the practice of catechism. Youth, women's and thinkers' associations were set up. In 1992 a Theological and Priestly School went into operation, its aim being to staff the church with native Albanians. From 1997 onwards this school became a privately-owned complex of buildings (the Monastery of Hagios Blasios at Dyrrachion), with the title "The Orthodox Theological Academy-Resurrection". In 1999 there were ordinations of one hundred and ten new clergy with a High School or University education and a three-year course of University studies. In September of 1998, the "True Cross" church High School was founded at Argyrokastron, with an attached boarding-house. The nucleus for the Ardenitsa monastery was supplied by graduates of the Theological Academy. Five monasteries were rebuilt from scratch and seventy-four new churches were put up; sixty-five churches and monuments were restored; and repairs were done to more than a hundred and thirty others. Over twenty large buildings were erected, or were purchased and made good, to house metropolitan residences, schools, hostels, workshops, and clinics. Publications include the monthly Albanian language newspaper Njgjallja [Resurrection], founded in 1992; the children's magazine Ge zohu [Be glad!], founded in 1997; the student leaflet News from Orthodoxy in Albania; and liturgical, edifying, and scientific books. The church has its own printing press, radio station, and candle making and wood-carving workshops.
The Orthodox church of Albania has carried out social work across a broad range, particularly at times when the country has been in political and social crisis. Thousands of tons of foodstuffs, clothing, and medicine have been distributed to ease the plight of families in poverty and refugees. Hospital supplies, too, have been provided for towns, villages, and Albanian charities.
The church contributes to health work through the Evangelismos Diagnostic Centre at Tirana, and through polyclinics at Kavaja, Korytsa, Lushnja, and Gjorgucat, and it also runs a mobile dental unit. In the field of education it has founded, apart from the foundations mentioned earlier, seven nursery schools in large towns, youth clubs, and holiday camps. It has also set up agricultural development schemes (irrigation, family economics, road building, and so forth).
The Orthodox church of Albania is actively involved in the work of the other Orthodox churches. It has become a member of the World Synod of churches and the Assembly of European churches, and contributes generally to efforts to establish peaceful cooperation and mutual support in South-East Europe. Its actions and presence have shown it to be a force to be reckoned with in bringing spiritual, cultural, and social progress to Albania.
George A. Christopoulos, THE SPLENDOUR OF ORTHODOXY. 2000 Years – History • Monuments • Art , Vol. II - Patriarchates and Autocephalous Churches - , Ekdotike Athenon, Athens, 2000.