Eastern Orthodoxy in Albania
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Eastern Orthodoxy in Albania arrived in the area of contemporary Albania during the Roman period.
In Albania, Eastern Orthodoxy underwent many changes due to sociopolitical difficulties of the medieval period resulting in the conversion of the Albanian north to Catholicism and under the Ottomans the widespread conversion of Albanians to Islam in central and southern Albania. Following the Albanian National Awakening (Rilindja) tenets and the de-emphasizing of religion during the 20th century, the democratic, monarchic and later the communist governments followed a systematic de-religionization of the Albanian nation and national culture. Due to this policy as with all other faiths in the country, Orthodoxy underwent radical changes. Decades of state atheism which ended in 1991 brought a decline in religious practice in all traditions. The post-communist period and the lifting of legal and other government restrictions on religion allowed Orthodoxy to revive through institutions that generated new infrastructure, literature, educational facilities, international transnational links and other social activities.
- 1 History
- 2 Controversies
- 3 Demographics
- 4 Gallery
- 5 See also
- 6 References
- 7 External links
Christianity first arrived in Albania with Saint Paul during the 1st century. Saint Paul wrote that he preached in the Roman province of Illyricum, and legend holds that he visited Durrës. It was Saint Astius, a 2nd-century Illyrian and Christian martyr venerated by the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, that served as bishop of Durrës (Dyrrachium), during the time of the emperor Trajan (98–117). Astius is the Patron Saint and Protector of Durrës. 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. The schism of 1054, however, formalized the split of Christianity into two branches, Catholicism and Orthodoxy that was reflected in Albania with the emergence of a Catholic north and Orthodox south. In the 11th century, the Catholic church created the archbishopric in Bar that brought the bishoprics of Drivast, Ulcinj, Shkodër and others under its control. As such during the latter half of 12th century Catholicism spread in northern Albania and in southern Albania partially made inroads among the population. The religious transition from Orthodoxy to Catholicism in northern Albania was also due to Albanians using conversion as a means of resisting pressures arising from geopolitical factors such as conflicts with Orthodox Serbs. During the moment of schism (1054) Albanians were attached to the Eastern Orthodox Church and were all Orthodox Christians.
Orthodoxy during the Ottoman Period
The official Ottoman recognition of the Orthodox church resulted in the Orthodox population being tolerated until the late 18th century and the traditionalism of the church's institutions slowed the process of conversion to Islam amongst Albanians. The Orthodox population of central and south-eastern Albania was under the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Orthodox Archbishopric of Ohrid, while south-western Albania was under the Patriarchate of Constantinople through the Metropolis of Ioannina. In the early 16th century the Albanian cities of Gjirokastër, Kaninë, Delvinë, Vlorë, Korçë, Këlcyrë, Përmet and Berat were still Christian and by the late 16th century Vlorë, Përmet and Himarë were still Christian, while Gjirokastër increasingly became Muslim. Conversion to Islam in cities overall within Albania was slow during the 16th century as around only 38% of the urban population had become Muslim. The city of Berat from 1670 onward became mainly Muslim and its conversion is attributed in part to a lack of Christian priests being able to provide religious services.
Differences between Christian Albanians of central Albania and archbishops of Ohrid led to conversions to Bektashi Islam that made an appeal to all while insisting little on ritual observance. Central Albania, such as the Durrës area had by end of the 16th century become mainly Muslim. Consisting of plains and being an in between area of northern and southern Albania, central Albania was a hub on the old Via Egnatia road that linked commercial, cultural and transport connections which were subject to direct Ottoman administrative control and religious Muslim influence. The conversion to Islam of most of central Albania has thus been attributed in large part to the role its geography played in the socio-political and economic fortunes of the region.
During the late eighteenth century Orthodox Albanians converted in large numbers to Islam due overwhelmingly to the Russo-Turkish wars of the period and events like the Russian instigated Orlov revolt (1770) that made the Ottomans view the Orthodox population as allies of Russia. As some Orthodox Albanians rebelled against the Ottoman Empire, the Porte responded with and at times applied force to convert Orthodox Albanians to Islam while also providing economic measures to stimulate religious conversion. During this time conflict between newly converted Muslim Albanians and Orthodox Albanians occurred in certain areas. Examples include the coastal villages of Borsh attacking Piqeras in 1744, making some flee abroad to places such as southern Italy. Other areas such as 36 villages north of the Pogoni area converted in 1760 and followed it up with an attack on Orthodox Christian villages of the Kolonjë, Leskovik and Përmet areas leaving many settlements sacked and ruined.
By the late eighteenth century socio-political and economic crises alongside nominal Ottoman government control resulted in local banditry and Muslim Albanian bands raided Greek, Vlach and Orthodox Albanian settlements located today within and outside contemporary Albania. Within Albania those raids culminated in Vithkuq, mainly an Orthodox Albanian centre, Moscopole (Albanian: Voskopojë, Greek: Moschopolis) mainly a Vlach centre, both with Greek literary, educational and religious culture and other smaller settlements being destroyed. Those events pushed some Vlachs and Orthodox Albanians to migrate afar to places such as Macedonia, Thrace and so on. Some Orthodox individuals, known as neo-martyrs, attempted to stem the tide of conversion to Islam amongst the Orthodox Albanian population and were executed in the process. Notable among these individuals was Cosmas of Aetolia, (died 1779) a Greek monk and missionary who traveled and preached afar as Krujë, opened many Greek schools before being accused as a Russian agent and executed by Ottoman Muslim Albanian authorities. Cosmas advocated for Greek education and spread of Greek language among illiterate Christian non-Greek speaking peoples so that they could understand the scriptures, liturgy and thereby remain Orthodox while his spiritual message is revered among contemporary Orthodox Albanians. By 1798 a massacre perpetrated against the coastal Orthodox Albanian villages of Shënvasil and Nivicë-Bubar by Ali Pasha, semi-independent ruler of the Pashalik of Yanina led to another sizable wave of conversions of Orthodox Albanians to Islam.
Other conversions such as those in the region of Labëria occurred due to ecclesiastical matters when for example during a famine the local Orthodox bishop refused to grant a break in the fast to consume milk with threats of hell. Conversion to Islam also was undertaken for economic reasons which offered a way out of heavy taxation such as the jizya or poll tax and other difficult Ottoman measures imposed on Christians while opening up opportunities such as wealth accumulation and so on. Other multiple factors that led to conversions to Islam were the poverty of the Church, illiterate clergy, a lack of clergy in some areas and worship in a language other than Albanian. Additionally the reliance of the bishoprics of Durrës and southern Albania upon the declining Archbishopric of Ohrid, due in part to simony weakened the ability of Orthodox Albanians in resisting conversion to Islam. Crypto-Christianity also occurred in certain instances throughout Albania in regions such as Shpat amongst populations that had recently converted from Orthodoxy to Islam. Gorë, a borderland region straddling contemporary north-eastern Albania and southern Kosovo, had a Slavic Orthodox population which converted to Islam during the latter half of the eighteenth century due to the abolition of the Serbian Patriarchate of Peć (1766) and subsequent unstable ecclesiastical structures. Whereas starting from the seventeenth and increasing in the following centuries, the mainly Slavic Orthodox population of the now Albanian borderland central-eastern region of Gollobordë converted to Islam.
By mid-19th century, because of the Tanzimat reforms started in 1839, which imposed mandatory military service on non-Muslims, the Orthodox Church lost adherents as the majority of Albanians had become Muslim.
Establishment of an authocephalous Albanian Orthodox Church
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 played an important role in establishing the Orthodox Albanian Church. On September 17, 1922, the first Orthodox Congress convened at Berat formally laid the foundations of an Albanian Orthodox Church and declared its autocephaly. The Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople recognized the independence or autocephaly of the Orthodox Albanian Church in 1937.
Persecution of Orthodoxy under Communism
Hohxa propagated that Albania is threatened by religion in general, since it serves the "Trojan Horse" style interests of the country's traditional enemies; in particular Orthodoxy those of Greece and Serbia. 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.
In August 2013, demonstrations took place by the Orthodox community of Përmet as a result of the confiscation of the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin and the forcible removal of the clergy and of religious artifacts from the temple, by the state authorities. The Cathedral was allegedly not fully returned to the Orthodox Albania after the restoration of Democracy in the country. The incident provoked reactions by the Orthodox Church of Albania and also trigerred diplomatic intervention from Greece.
In August 2015 Albanian police demolished the renovated Orthodox church of Saint Athanasius in Dhërmi, Himara, as local authorities weeks earlier declared it an "illegal construction". The Orthodox Autocephalous Church of Albania declared it a vandalistic act of desecration and a violation of church property and it also triggered diplomatic protests from Greece. This is the second demolition of the church, the first having taken place during the era of the People's Republic of Albania, but at the time the church was rebuilt by the local Orthodox Church after the restoration of Democracy in the country (1991). The Albanian government has promised to rebuild the church after archaeological excavations have taken place. The demolition of the religious monument also triggered strong reactions from the European Commission.
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.
In early 2014 in a trip to the US, Archbishop Anastasios was met by protestors from the Albanian diaspora who oppose his position as head of the church due to him being from Greece. Whereas due to the Albanian Orthodox Church head and some bishops being from Greece, Fatos Klosi, former head of Albanian intelligence stated in an April 2014 media interview that the Albanian Orthodox Church is Greek controlled and no longer an Albanian institution. Klosi's comments were seen in Albania as controversial, rebuked by the church while it also sparked media discussion at the time.
The Albanian Orthodox Church created a new diocese in Elbasan on April 17, 2016. Its creation is opposed by Father Nikolla Marku who runs the local St Mary's church and who has broken ties with the Albanian Orthodox Church in the 1990s. The dispute has been ongoing as the Albanian Orthodox Church views Marku's tenure over the church as illegal. Marku's differences with the Orthodox church relate mainly to Anastasios Yannoulatos' being a Greek citizen heading the church in Albania with allegations that it has promoted divisions amongst the Orthodox community and Greek "chauvinism". Marku as a cause célèbre over the years has been portrayed by the Albanian media as a "rebel patriot". Nevertheless, he enjoys very limited support in Albania.
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:
However, some of this decrease was accounted for by the changing of the boundaries of districts by the newly independent Albania. Additionally, the Orthodox Christians of Southern Albania had a greater tendency to migrate than their Muslim neighbors (at first, at least) in the early 20th century. Many of the Orthodox Albanians would ultimately return from the Western countries they emigrated to.
Around the fall of the Ottomon empire, as based on the late Ottoman census of 1908 and the Austrian-run Albanian census of 1918, the regions that retained the highest percentages of Orthodox Albanians, in some cases absolute majorities, were in the South (especially around Saranda, Gjirokastra, Përmeti, Leskoviku, Pogradeci and Korça) and the Myzeqe region of Central Albania (especially around Fier, where they formed a strong majority of the population). There were also large Albanian Orthodox populations in the regions of Elbasan and Berat. Contrary to the stereotype of only Tosks being Orthodox, Orthodox Albanians were also present in the North, where they were spread out at low frequencies in most regions. Orthodox Albanians reached large proportions in some Northern cities: Durrësi (36%), Kavaja (23%) and Elbasani (17%). Orthodox Albanians tended to live in either urban centers or in highland areas, but rarely in rural lowland areas (with the exception of in the region of Myzeqe).
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. However, the Orthodox Church of Albania officially rejected the specific results, as "totally incorrect and unacceptable".
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.
The Albanian Orthodox church refused to recognize the results, saying they had drastically underrepresented the number of Orthodox Christians and noted various indications of this and ways it may have occurred. The Orthodox church claimed that from its own calculations, the Orthodox percentage should have been around 24%, rather than 6.75%.
In addition to boycotts of the census, Orthodox numbers may also be underrepresented because the census staff failed to contact a very large number of people in the south which is traditionally an Orthodox stronghold. Furthermore, The Orthodox Church said that according to a questionnaire it gave its followers during two Sunday liturgies in urban centers such as Durrësi, Berati and Korça, only 34% of its followers were actually contacted. There were other serious allegations about the conduct of the census workers that might have impacted on the 2011 census results. There were some reported cases where workers filled out the questionnaire about religion without even asking the participants or that the workers used pencils which were not allowed. In some cases communities declared that census workers never even contacted them. In addition to all these irregularities, the preliminary results released seemed to give widely different results, with 70% of respondents refusing to declare belief in any of the listed faiths, compared with only 2.5% of atheists and 13.8% undeclared in the final results. An Orthodox Albanian politician Dritan Prifti who at the time was a prominent MP for the Myzeqe region referred to fluctuating census numbers regarding the Orthodox community as being due to a "anti-Orthodox agenda" in Albania.
Orthodox Albanians weren't the only ones to claim the census underrepresented their numbers: the Bektashi leadership also lambasted the results, which even more drastically reduced their representation down to 2%, and said it would conduct its own census to refute the results, while minority organizations of Greeks (mostly Orthodox) and Roma (mostly Muslim) also claimed they underrepresented, with the Greek organization Omonia arguing that this was linked to the under-representation of the Orthodox population.
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."
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, to Prof. Dr Heiner Bielefeldt, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, and to the Albanian government.
- Orthodox Autocephalous Church of Albania
- Archbishop Anastasios of Albania
- Religion in Albania
- Albanian Byzantine Catholic Church
- Christianity in Albania
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- Ramet 1998, p. 203. "The Ottoman conquest between the end of the fourteenth century and the mid-fifteenth century introduced a third religion – Islam - but the Turks did not at first use force in its expansion, and it was only in the 1600s that large-scale conversion to Islam began – chiefly, at first, among Albanian Catholics."; p.204. "The Orthodox community enjoyed broad toleration at the hands of the Sublime Porte until the late eighteenth century."; p. 204. "In the late eighteenth century Russian agents began stirring up the Orthodox subjects of the Ottoman empire against the Sublime Porte. In the Russo-Turkish wars of 1768-74 and 1787-91 Orthodox Albanians rose against the Turks. In the course of the second revolt the "New Academy" in Voskopoje was destroyed (1789), and at the end of the second Russo-Turkish war more than a thousand Orthodox fled to Russia on Russian warships. As a result of these revolts, the Porte now applied force to Islamicize the Albanian Orthodox population, adding economic incentives to provide positive stimulus. In 1798 Ali Pasha of Janina led Ottoman forces against Christian believers assembled in their churches to celebrate Easter in the villages of Shen Vasil and Nivica e Bubarit. The bloodbath unleashed against these believers frightened Albanian Christians in other districts and inspired a new wave of mass conversions to Islam."
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- Koukoudis 2003, pp. 321–322. "Particularly interesting is the case of Vithkuq, south of Moschopolis, which seems to have shared closely in the town's evolution, though it is far from clear whether it was inhabited by Vlachs in the glory days before 1769. It may well have had Vlach inhabitants before 1769, though the Arvanites were certainly far more numerous, if not the largest population group. This is further supported by the linguistic identity of the refugees who fled Vithkuq and accompanied the waves of departing Vlachs. Today it is inhabited by Arvanites and Vlachs, though the forebears of the modern Vlach residents arrived after the village had been abandoned by its previous inhabitants and are mainly of Arvanitovlach descent. They are former pastoral nomads who settled permanently in Vithkuq."; p. 339. "As the same time as, or possibly shortly before or after, these events in Moschopolis, unruly Arnauts also attacked the smaller Vlach and Arvanitic communities round about. The Vlach inhabitants of Llengë, Niçë, Grabovë, Shipckë, and the Vlach villages on Grammos, such as Nikolicë, Linotopi, and Grammousta, and the inhabitants of Vithkuq and even the last Albanian speaking Christian villages on Opar found themselves at the mercy of the predatory Arnauts, whom no-one could withstand. For them too, the only solution was to flee... During this period, Vlach and Arvanite families from the surrounding ruined market towns and villages settled alongside the few Moscopolitans who had returned. Refugee families came from Dushar and other villages in Opar, from Vithkuq, Grabovë, Nikolicë, Niçë, and Llengë and from Kolonjë."
- Jorgaqi 2005, pp. 38–39.
- Winnifrith 2002, p. 109. "Of these Vithkuq... All these villages have a Vlach element in their population, and it is Vlach tradition that they were large and important... This culture was of course Greek culture...
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- Ramet 1998, p. 210. "In general, a pattern emerged. When the Ottoman empire was attacked by Catholic powers, local Catholics were pressured to convert, and when the attack on the Ottoman empire came from Orthodox Russia, the pressure was on local Orthodox to change faith."
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Clergy and faithful were violently ejected from an Orthodox church in Premeti during the celebrations for the Assumption of the Virgin Mary on 16 August 2013, by private security and municipal authorities. Religious items such as icons and utensils were also confiscated.
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A further point of contention between the Albanian Orthodox Church and the Albanian government is the return of church property.... In addition many holy icons and vessels of the Orthodox Church are being held in national museums, allegedly because of the Albanian government is concerned with protecting these valuable objects.... other church property that have been allegedly not been fully returned by the state include, the Cathedral of the Assumption in Permet
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- Nikolli, Fatmira (2015-08-27). "Albanian Jorgo Goro: Kisha e Shën Thanasit do të rindërtohet, varri i Katalanos është pjesë e projektit [George Goro: St. Athanasius' Church will be rebuilt, Katalano's grave is part of the project". BalkanWeb. Retrieved 4 November 2015. "Po, do ta kërkojmë varrin e Nilo Katalanos. Do të vazhdojë gërmimi nga arkeologët për nxjerrjen e themeleve dhe të gjitha detajeve dhe më pas do të behet projekti në bashkepunim me Monumentet e Kulturës". Kështu është shprehur dije për "Gazeta Shqiptare", kryetari i Bashkisë së Himarës, Jorgo Goro. I pyetur për kohën e shembjes, ai bën me dije se ishte lajmëruar prifti i fshatit për prishjen dhe se kishte kohë deri në 10 për të hequr sendet nga objekti… Për mua është nje reagim i nxituar, se nuk ka prishje të një objekti kulti, por një ndërtim pa leje mbi rrënojat e një kishe mbi 500-vjeçare me histori dhe rëndësi të veçantë për zonën dhe Shqipërinë, gjë që e dinë edhe pjesa më e madhe e banorëve të Dhermiut. Objektin në fjale duam ta rindërtojmë, duke i dhënë vlerat e duhura historike dhe kulturore zonës. Vlerësim të veçantë e nderim i historisë së të parëve tanë si pionierë të Rilindjes. [Yes, we will search for Nilo Katalano's grave. We will continue with excavations by archaeologists and digging until the foundations with all the details which will then become a project in collaboration with the Cultural Monuments sector. This was expressed yesterday for "Gazeta Shqiptare", by the mayor of Himarë, George Goro. Asked about the time of the demolition, he suggests that the village priest was notified a day prior regarding the demolition and had the time until 10 to remove items from the building… For me it is a rash reaction, because there is no demolition of an object of worship, but an illegal construction on the ruins of a church with 500 years of history and of particular importance to the area and Albania, something which most of the residents of Dhërmi know. The object in question, we want to rebuild by giving proper values of the historical and cultural area. Special appreciation and honor to the history of our ancestors as pioneers of the Renaissance.]"
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The European Commission has issued a strong reaction in relation to the demolition of the orthodox church in the south of Albania and calls on Albanian authorities to respect religious freedoms for the citizens of the country, while it includes the incident in the upcoming Progress Report.
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- Ndrenika, Denion (03 March 2014). "Fatos Klosi: Kisha Ortodokse më keq se islamikët, “pendesa” për vrasjen e Tivarit [Fatos Klosi: Orthodox Church worse than Islamists, "remorse" for the killing of Tivari]". Illyria. Retrieved 14 June 2016.
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- Respublica (09 April, 2014). "KOASH pas deklaratave të Fatos Klosit: Qëndrime arbitrare dhe çorientuese. Kisha e Shqipërisë është Autoqefale. Ringritjen e saj e inicioi Patriarkana [KOASH after statements by Fatos Klosi: Arbitrary and misleading attitudes. The Church of Albania is autocephalous. Its rebuilding was initiated by the Patriarchate]". Respublica. Retrieved 14 June 2016.
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