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Orthodox Autocephalous Church of Albania

Orthodox Autocephalous Church of Albania

The Orthodox Autocephalous Church of Albania (Albanian: Kisha Orthodhokse Autoqefale e Shqipërisë ) is one of the newest autocephalous Eastern Orthodox churches, having only been established in the 1922 by the fathers of the Albanian Orthodoxy Fan Noli, Visarion Xhuvani, et al. Since its beginning it has had a difficult time.

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.

The church is led by the Archbishop of Tirana, Durrës and All Albania, who is currently Anastasios Yannoulatos. There are also Bishops of Berat, Korçë, Gjirokastër, Kruja and Apolonia


Christianity arrived in Albania before the 4th century from two directions. The Ghegs in the north of the country became Latin Christians, while the Byzantine tradition was predominant among the Tosk people in the south. Following the Turkish conquest in the 15th century, the majority of Albanians became Muslim. Under Ottoman rule, the remaining Orthodox population of Albania was integrated into the Patriarchate of Constantinople, and all Orthodox religious services, instruction and cultural activities were conducted in Greek.


The first Orthodox community to use Albanian in the liturgy was in Boston, Massachusetts, USA, in 1908 among a group of Albanian immigrants led by Fan Noli (1882-1965). 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, Fan Noli traveled to Albania where he would be ordained a bishop and become the head of the church, whose independence he strongly supported. He also became an influential political figure, and would even serve briefly as prime minister for five months in 1924, until his government was overthrown and he went into permanent exile.


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, inspired by China's Cultural Revolution, Hoxha closed down all churches and mosques in the country, and declared Albania the world's first (and only) atheist state. All expression of religion, public or private, was outlawed. Hundreds of priests and imams were killed or imprisoned. .


At the end of the communist rule, when religious freedom was restored, only 22 priests remained alive.

The Ecumenical Patriarch appointed Anastasios to be the Patriarchal Exarch for the Albanian Church. Bishop of Androutsa 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.

He was named Archbishop of Tirana on 24 June 1992 and enthroned on 2 August 1992. Though at first seen by the Albanian state as a possibly dangerous Greek nationalist, Anastasios has gained respect for his charity work and now is recognised as a spiritual leader of the Albanian Orthodox Church, although many are still not comfortable having a Greek primate in their own country.

Archbishop Anastasios insisted from the start that the church that was to be revived would be an Albanian Church, but has greatly increased Greek influence in the church. Liturgical books and other literature were produced in the Albanian language between between 1910 and the 1940s. There are very few Albanian publications after his enthronement, while the Orthodox Albanians continue to use the New Testament published by the British & Foreign Bible Society in 1879. This is a dialectical translation in Gheg, while most Albanians use standard Albanian in their daily life and activity. There is now a new translation of the Bible produced by the Albanian Bible Society translated from Italian, and a New Testament translated from the Greek by the Interconfessional Bible Society of Albania.

Anastasios started a seminary, initially in a disused hotel, and later in its own buildings at Shen Vlash, 15 kilometres from the port of Durrës.

While most parishes use Albanian, Greek is also used in the ethnically mixed areas, where Greek or Vlach may be the dominant language. The biggest problem is in the south-eastern city of Saranda, where Albanian liturgy is not allowed in the city's main church, alienating a heavy part of the city's Orthodox population.

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