Tirana, Albania, June 27, 2022
“On June 24, 1992, His Beatitude Anastasios was elected Archbishop of our Church after the atheist darkness,” writes the press service of the Albanian Orthodox Church.
The 30th anniversary of the Archbishop’s election was festively celebrated on Friday in the Church of the Annunciation of the Theotokos in Tirana. His Beatitude celebrated the Divine Liturgy together with His Grace Bishop Asti of Byllis and the clergy of the Archdiocese.
Following the service, Bp. Asti thanked the Archbishop for his years of hard work at the helm of the Albanian Church, and wished him many years. Abp. Anastasios’ election to the Tirana cathedra also marks the canonical revival of the autocephalous Albanian Orthodox Church.
His Eminence then addressed the faithful, thanking God for all that He made possible to accomplish over the past 30 years. He also spoke the events that preceded his election as primate of the Albanian Church by the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Constantinople.
The clergy and faithful then congratulated their primate, and children from a local school camp performed a song that they composed in his honor.
The Albanian Church recalls its revival:
On June 24, 1992, the Ecumenical Patriarchate, as the Mother Church that had granted autocephaly, elected Metropolitan Anastasios as the first Archbishop after the advent of democracy. It was in the Patriarchate, in 1937, that the first canonical Archbishop of our Church was elected.
This event was a proclamation of the good news that the Church of Albania was alive and full of life and would continue the spiritual work enlightened by God for the benefit of the entire Albanian society.
The early 1990s, although freedom of religion was formally regained, were dramatic for the Orthodox community. The situation was depressing: there was no bishop left, not even a candidate to rise to this rank; there were only 15 clergymen of retirement age and sick, there were no churches (they had been destroyed or transformed into secular buildings). Also, there was no financial opportunity, due to deep poverty, but also because the state didn’t undertake any obligation to support the religious community.
In these conditions, the Ecumenical Patriarchate sent a high clergyman known throughout the Orthodox world and beyond, the Metropolitan of Andrus, Prof. Dr. Anastasios, who at the time was Moderator of the World Council of Churches (WCC) Missionary and Evangelism Committee and ruling Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania, to Albania to examine the situation.
Archbishop Anastasios came to Albania in July 1991 as Patriarchal Exarch to see what was left of the atheist ruins. He found a frightening spiritual and material void left by official atheism and committed himself to changing the situation.
It started with the opening of the seminary for the preparation of new clergy and continued with the repair of existing facilities and the efforts to build new churches. It was this selfless work that persuaded the Orthodox of Albania to formally ask the Ecumenical Patriarchate to have Anastasios as their father and primate. His acceptance of this ministry was, as he himself later stated: “Not a throne of power, but a cross of sacrifice.”
His name not only became synonymous with the resurrection of the Church in Albania, but also as a modern apostle, a promoter of dialogue between different faiths and cultures, of peace and love for all, of caring for the poor and needy and of the respect, freedom, and dignity of every man, whoever he may be.