Albanian Religion

Religion and Nation in Albania

Religion has played a primary role in Albanian people’s survival equal to that of some other ancient peoples such as Armenians and Hebrews. It was Christianity that gave Albanian people a stronger identity during the times of barbarian and Ottoman onslaughts, and it was in the 14th century, during Scanderbeg’s times, that their country turned into a sacred land, when he defended Christianity as Pope and Patriarch were struggling against each other. It was Islam and Bektashi religion that would differentiate Albanians when their neighbors’ enslaving and Hellenizing policies aimed at assimilating and taking over Albanian
The moral flame common to all Albanian clerics of all creeds was similar to the ancient apostolic zeal combined with a fiery patriotic feeling. Christianity in Albania is an apostolic one, i.e., it has been instilled to “Arbėrs” (old Albanians) directly from the mouth of Jesus Christ’s Apostles themselves and became widespread in Illyria as early as the 1st century AD as an illicit religion. About 57 AD, Apostle Paul writes, “So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ… where Christ was not known”. (Rom. Besides Paul, many other saints have preached across Illyrian lands, and they would pass into the Balkan space along a highway, Via Egnatia, which started from Durrės (Dyrrachium) to proceed eastward. Records say that there were 60 Christian families in Dyrrachium in 58 AD. The earliest Christian bishops launched their activities just in Illyria, beginning with bishop Qesar of Durrės in 70 AD and later with St. Asti in 98 AD. Emperor Trajan and the local ruler Agrikoli sentenced St. Asti to death in 116 as by this time Rome prohibited and condemned Christian practices.
The first Christian centers established through the preaching activities of both Apostles and their Illyrian supporters during the 1st century AD to the 4th century AD (when Christianity became a legal religion) can be ascertained across such cities as Dyrrachium, Butrint, Onhezm (Saranda), Jeriko, Vlora, Apollonia, Amantia, Bylis (Ballsh), Antipatrea (Berati), Skampis (Elbasan), Scodra (Shkodėr), Lyhnid (Ohrid), etc. Among mosaics and old church structures such as those in St. Nicholas’s Church in Kurjan of Fier, Ballshi’s basilica, etc., early Christian symbols are preserved, such as heart-shaped vegetation leaves (see Butrinti’s mosaics and elsewhere), crucifix shapes in Saranda’s mosaics, fish shapes both in Ballshi’s wood carvings and other mosaics such as that of Lin of Pogradec and elsewhere.
The illegal sign of the name of Jesu Christ (first century AD) is found only in some Illyrian and Roman antique Basilicas. This sign is formed from the crossing of seven lines and one arch. Such evidence testifies to Illyria’s having become, from the very start, one of the main regions of propagating Christian religion for several reasons — its very ancientness and the great expansion of its people, its big urban development with cities such as Dyrrachium, Apollonia, Shkodėr, etc. , and it’s very favorable geopolitical position as a natural corridor between East and West for transmitting Christianity’s moral values and transporting an endless host of armies and In the 4th century AD, Emperor Constantine proclaimed Christianity an official religion, hence it was codified in the Bible, and its institutions — churches and monasteries — were created; its bishops, archbishops, abbots and their dioceses with their headquarters in Rome came into
The full conversion to Christianity of territories where the Albanians of today live were carried out during the 5th and 6th centuries. St. Jerome (Hieronymus) of Illyria made the first translation of the Bible in Latin (La Vulgata) giving the world for the first time the Holy Bible in the mid-4th century. The First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea in 325 was the first to articulate the basic principle of Christianity, “I believe in one God, the Almighty Father, the creator of heaven and earth and of all what is seen and Niketa of Dardania (Remesianes) authored the principal prayer of Christianity (its chief hymn) TE DEUM LAUDAMUS (We Praise Thee, God) which continues to be the principal prayer to date after more than 15 Being in the war against barbarian tribes, Constantine the Great gave orders to build several magnificent basilicas.
The types of such basilicas consist of a rectangular floor, whose laying with mosaics was something preferable. In their outer sides, there were colonnades whereby the church’s portico was concocted. Such kinds of basilicas have been found in Albania as well, in Butrint, Bylis, Antigone, Tepe in Elbasan, and probably elsewhere. During the period of late antiquity, church structures were organized on a province basis (Dardania, Prreviewit, New Epirus, and Old Epirus); each having a metropolis at their head to which bishoprics were Until the 8th century, the Illyrian church was directly subordinate to Rome. This is why Albanian church terminology, i.e., words such as mass, Eucharist, priest, saint, baptism, bishop, cross, malediction, etc. are of Latin origin. This also shows that in the 4th to 6th centuries, when such phenomena as church language, etc., were sanctioned, the Arbėrs were present in these places. After the split of the Empire, they were included in the East Illyricum zone, whose church subordination would shift between Rome and Constantinople. Beginning from the first half of the 8th century (the year 731 following Leo the Isaurian’s decision on the re-division of Eastern dioceses from the Western ones) the Illyrian space (already known as the land of Arbėrs) was divided into zones subordinate to Constantinople’s Patriarchate, and zones subordinate to It is commonly held that River Mati might have been the dividing line between Byzantium and Rome.
The separation of the Eastern church from the Western one was aggravated by historical processes such as the emergence of Gauls (prior to the French), Charles the Great (in the 9th century), and Normans or Angevins who ultimately brought about the official and complete split in During the period from 731 to 1054 onward, the examination of abundant archive records demonstrates the rivalry between Rome and Constantinople, each contending to put under its own influence Illyria/Arbėria’s dioceses which often ended up even in bloody battles. Bulgarian foray into Albanian lands caused this space to be isolated from the Patriarchate, but the native population maintained their Christian practices. Furthermore, the King of Bulgarians Boris was christened together with his people at the Ballshi church in the Arbėrs’ lands in 866.
From heathen people, Bulgarians were converted to Christians. Understanding the importance of the new faith in the lands he had occupied, Boris sought to associate himself with the Pope of Rome to ask advice on how to secure a correct ecumenical Various authors hold that Boris ought to have appealed to Constantinople. But when one is baptized in an old place such as Illyria/Arbėria where Christianity had been brought by Paul himself, it is too natural for one to direct to Rome as the first official metropolis. Constantinople’s hostility towards the Bulgarian King continued and reached its climax in 1018 when the Byzantine Emperor Vasili II defeated Tsar Samuel.
In 1100, Vasili II reorganized Ohrid’s diocese by placing Greek bishops in its leadership such Theogilikati with the intention of including the whole Arbėria and even Southern Italy into his domination. Meanwhile, until 1303, the Rome Patriarchate, being self-styled Papacy (a French influence), continued to intensify its struggle to win as more dioceses as possible in Dalmatia and Arbėria through Ragusa’s bishops, but also by punishing several priests (of Tivari and Ulqin in 1167 and 1303) for their preaching according to Such practices were also used in the framework of efforts to unify the Christian Church. Normans’ landings, the first occurring in 1081 and the second in 1105, as well as the first Crusade in 1095, started to quake Byzantium in its efforts for the Constantinople’s occupation by the 4th Crusade in 1204 and its holding for 60 years under the French rule brought the French Benedictine monks in Arbėria in the 1230s, who were initially settled in Shirgj and Bunė river near Shkoder and later, after 1250, in Durrės and Shkodėr under the protection of Charles of Anjou.
It is said that just at the same time the Franciscan Order was established, intensifying thus the return of Christian Arbėrs to the old center, Rome. The principality of Arbėrs supported these developments and there is evidence of the correspondence held in 1208 between Dhimitėr and Pope Innocent III whereby the Pope was asked to help the army of the Christian religion. As Pope and Patriarch struggled in the Balkans for hegemony, Ottoman Turks appear on the scene by occupying Ohrid in 1408, Constantinople in 1453, where they made havoc of and subjugated the Patriarchate, and central Tivar (subordinate Nevertheless, a treaty was reached between the Sultan Mohammed II and the new Patriarch of the Patriarchate Gjergj Skalari wherein the Ottomans agreed not to destroy churches to make mosques out of them; marriages and funerals could be made in church and the festival of Easter could continue being observed. At this time, the single Christian place not yet subdued, and paying nothing to the sultan was Arbėria. George Kastriot – Scanderbeg, a son of Kruja’s prince, nicknamed “Champion” and “Athlete” of Christendom, defeated Ottoman armies for 25 years in succession thus enthusing the Christian world for his feats and assuming the gratitude of the whole Christian community wherever Scanderbeg the “Athlete” of Christendom, Scanderbeg and the Pope established close relationships with each other with a clear view to defending and promoting the holy This close link with the Pope and the West matched the ideas of Scanderbeg and his nobles had of the kingdom of Arbėrs’ fate in the Balkans and Europe. After Scanderbeg’s fall, the sultan launched a conversion campaign into Muslims against Christian Arbėrs by employing the package of privileges and obligations as well as taxes such as “defshirme” (blood tax) by which the youngest son of every family was taken away never to return home again to be used for training him to become a Very often such a tax forced entire villages to emigrate. Part of them was converted by only changing their names while maintaining and observing their Christian rites in secrecy. Instances are known, also documented in 1637 by Frang Bardhi, of having members of the same family (brother or husband and wife) practicing different religions with the sole aim of getting rid of taxes or
There are strong traces of religious resistance to conversion into Muslim in Shpati of Elbasan testified by the frescoes painted by Onufri of Neokastra (Elbasan) in 1558 in St. Nicholas’ church and St. In such a climate of Islamization, the use of Albanian language in the church became an urgent need and it was strongly felt by Albanian patriotic priests such as the Archbishop of Durrės Pal Engjėlli, a close associate of Scanderbeg, who used the “Formula of Baptism” in baptizing in 1462. It is a short sentence in Albanian which reads, “Unte paghesont premenit Atit et birit et spertit senit” (I’m baptizing you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit”, which is found in a circular (pamphlet) written in Latin. During a visit to Mat, Pal Engjėlli noticed irregularities in religious practices and before his departure, he left some directions and recommendations with the Catholic priest, namely the aforementioned blessing, which could be used by parents in baptizing their children in case they could not do it in church or there was no priest available.
The formula is written in the Latin alphabet in the northern dialect of the Ghegs (gegėrisht). Taking advantage of the Papacy’s Counter-Reformation and with the permission of the Holy See to consolidate Christianity, in 1555 Gjon Buzuku published the “Missal” which was a translation of the main parts of Catholic liturgy into Albanian; it contains services for the main religious holy days of the year, comments from the book of prayers, parts from the Testament and parts from the ritual (see the chapter “Albanian Language” of this guide) The “Missal” by Gjon Buzuku is written in the northern dialect (gegėrisht), in the Latin alphabet, and is provided with some special letters. The book has a relatively rich vocabulary and its orthography and grammatical forms seem to be established, which is indicative of an earlier tradition in the writing of the Albanian language. Lekė Matrėnga, an Albanian priest in Italy, published in 1592 “E mbesueme e krishterė” (“The Christian Faith”). It is a booklet of 28 pages containing the translation of a catechism. The book is written in the southern dialect, in the Latin alphabet, and is provided with some special letters that are missing in Latin. Later, Pjetėr Budi translates “The Christian Doctrine” (1618), “The Mirror of Confession” (1621), and “the Roman Ritual” (1621). Having endorsed the usage of the Albanian language in church, the Holy See in Rome decided in 1634 for the Franciscans to be settled once and for all in the regions of Shkodėr, Zadrimė and Lezhė so as to check the spreading of In the meantime, the Orthodox Church administered by Ohrid’s autocephalous Patriarchate, which had under its charge Berati’s diocese, was engaged in collecting taxes for the Data demonstrates that the Patriarchate had been a loyal servant in this respect. The Ottomans established the religious principle as the only one to distinguish nationality, hence they considered all the Muslims as Turks and all the Christians as Greeks.
There’s a lot of evidence that even certain extremist Hellenic circles of the Patriarchate had long been applying this irreligious principle by seeking to Hellenize all the It’s understandable that as a response to this, but also for seeking zones of influence, the Holy See would send many delegations to Arbėria in order to renew the Rome-centered Christianity. Rome, however, did not intend the assimilation of Arbėria, which is testified in the endorsement of Albanian language usage in preaching. This might have been the reason for both prince Dhimitėr in 1208 and Scanderbeg in the mid-14th century to be West-oriented towards Rome. The “Arbėrs’ Convention” or “Arbėrs’ Council” held in Mėrqi tė Zadrimės on July 20, 1703, under Tivari’s management and with the blessing of Pope Clement XI (who was Albanian), took important decisions on consolidating the Catholic church in Albania, such as the ban to conceal religious belonging; the barring of priests from preaching in secrecy for such crypto-Christian people, etc. In this convention, the Catholics spoke their mind against the Orthodoxes. Though the Jesuits came to Albania in later times, they were able to grasp quickly the Albanian psyche and culture.
Their patriotic magazine “Leka” is an obvious example. Among the Franciscans, Father Gjergj Fishta was distinguished as a patriot; he was considered a national poet and founder of the Albanian alphabet at the Congress of The controversy or competition between Jesuits and Franciscans never reached to a crisis for the Catholic Church in Albania, rather, they have always united their efforts to ensure powerful supporters among big powers such as Austria, which had exercised its influence with the Porte to defend Catholic interests and had subsidized Albanian Catholic In a precarious post-First World War situation for Albania’s destiny in face of its neighbors’ greed, a delegation headed by Catholic bishop Bumēi went to Versailles and the Holy See in an effort to use their influence to make sure that Catholic Albanians did not want to live separated from Muslim Albanians having in view a possible division after the war. To accommodate to all of its own believers, the Catholic Church had to consider the Canon of Lekė Dukagjini and its variants and tried not to come up against this Code of honour, hospitality, parole, accounting for these elements with the Bible as well. Unlike its homologues in Europe, the Albanian Catholic Church was marked by a degree of independence of its components because of the special role the Franciscans and Jesuits had
This fact contributed to the reluctance of Rome delegations, as they were unable to understand the real situation in the country. It must be stressed that in 1861, just as in the 15th and 16th centuries, contrary to the practice of the Eastern Church, the Catholic Church fostered the use of Albanian language in a Franciscan Order seminar and excelled at exhibiting a That’s why the Catholic bishops had to jointly write King Zogu in 1933, “We’ve been staying here in Albania for two thousand years, then being Catholics and today being Catholics, then being Albanians and today and forever The two Catholic magazines of the 1930s, “Drita” and “Leka”, harmonize the religious doctrine with Albanian context and advocate both religious tolerance and possibilities of co-existence between, For example, the social Christian solidarity would find its support in Albania by relying on faith and parole of honor of the customary Albanian tradition. Italian occupation of the Second World War aroused anew the Vatican’s old idea for the unification of the Church and there were missionaries and meetings were held about this issue in the framework of the Italo-Greek War. Religious clergy of all religious creeds (Muslim, Catholic, Bektashi and Orthodox) tried to get as much financing as possible from the policy of Italian and German fascists. But this did not prevent believers from seeing an occupier before their eyes who should leave as soon as possible.
The Bektashi engaged themselves in a total war against Italian Fascism and German Nazism. With the merge of Ohrid’s Patriarchate and the passage of subordination of Orthodox Church directly to Constantinople, following January 1767 (also under the influence of the Russian-Turkish Wars’ outcome) the Orthodox Church intensified its efforts towards Hellenizing the Balkan peoples by increasing the number of Greek schools and important religious and learning centres such as Voskopoja, where a number of schools were opened such as “The New Academy” in 1744 (an Enlightenment institution to which Greeks, Rumanian-Walachians and Albanians such as Kavalioti gave them But religious Albanian patriots and learned people took advantage of this religious and cultural infrastructure to produce works to the benefit of Albanian nation’s future such as the trilingual dictionary by Kavalioti published in Venice So, Voskopoja became an Enlightenment, art and patriotic centre. A patriotic devotion to Albanian Church was added by Ali Pashė Tepelena, who charged his physician Vangjel Meksi to translate the New Testament for Albanian believers from 1819 to 1827 to continue later with
Kristoforidhi’s Ottoman occupation and the spread of Islamism caused heavy damages to the Christian Catholic and Orthodox Church. With the raising of national awareness in the struggle against foreign rule, several known figures from domestic clergy emerged such as Pjetėr Budi, Frang Bardhi, Pjetėr Bogdani etc. , who played an important role in Albanian culture. During the National Renaissance, there were clerics from among the two branches of Christianity who laboured in the interest of the country and national culture such as Papa Kristo Negovani, Ndoc Nikaj, Nikollė Kaēorri, etc. At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, the Albanians of the Diaspora, mainly Orthodox, understood soon enough that to oppose Greece’s Hellenizing policy and practice an Albanian Autocephalous Church was The first endeavors to achieve this aim were made by Albanian patriot Nikollė Naēo of Bucharest descent, but without success.
The legitimate right for being autocephalous arouse in Albanian Orthodox Church as early as November 28, 1912. With the proclamation of Albania’s independence from Turkey, the Orthodox Church of Albania could not be lawfully protected by the Patriarchate, which was under the jurisdiction of the Turkish This was the case with other Balkan populations as well, which had been occupied by Turkey. So, the Greek, Bulgarian, Rumanian, and Serbian Orthodox Church had already proclaimed their autocephalousness. In the United States, such efforts had begun in May 1907. The cause that gave momentum to this issue was a specific event. In August 1907, a young man died in Hudson. When his body was carried to the Orthodox Church where Orthodox Albanians usually performed their rites, the Greek priest refused to perform the funeral service as the young man was known to be an Albanian nationalist and was automatically This event gave rise to Albanians’ incentive to create a religious association in September 1907 named “Albanian Honor” and elect a commission in charge of associating Wooster’s association with immigrants in Natick, Marlborough, It was the first step towards an independent Orthodox Church with America’s emigrants. Since Albanians hadn’t got a legal priest ordained by a bishop, they decided to call a priest from Albania. Among the candidates, it was F. Noli to win, who after a series of tribulations hatched up by the Patriarchate, was ordained a legal priest in March 1908.
Three bishops, a Russian, a Ukrainian and a Rumanian ordained him. This event was cheered by all Albanians wherever they were and was followed by repercussions across the press of the time. The newspaper “Drita” of Sofia, published by Shahin Kolonja, the “Shpresa e Shqypnisė” and other Albanian newspapers of Egypt and America wrote of this event. F. Noli gave the first mass in the Albanian language on March 22, 1908. Thereafter, a wave of rapid constructions of Albanian Orthodox churches began in America such as St. Nicholas’s Church in South Bridge, which ended in 1912, and both St. Paul’s Church and St. Peter’s Church in Philadelphia. This initiative was undertaken by Stavri Seminaku from Berati and Father Naum Cerja, a priest from Rehova e Kolonjės. In 1919 the Church of St. Mary was built in For the needs of the new and independent Albanian Church, F. Noli translated in succession all the necessary ecclesiastic books beginning from 1908: “The Services of Holy Week”, “The Book of Holy Services”, “The Book of Great Holy Days”, “The Prayer Book” Noli made all these efforts for an Albanian Autocephalous Orthodox Church with the intention of creating an Albanian Orthodox bishopric in America, whose throne was to be carried to Albania in the future. One of the most remarkable events dealing with Albanian Orthodox Church was the Convention of March 16, 1919, wherein the Albanian Diaspora of America and
The Convention requested the Russian bishop to create opportunities for them to establish the Albanian Bishopric of America and to ordain for them their first bishop. To this end, many such petitions were sent to other archbishoprics. The Russian bishop promised three times to ordain F. Noli as a bishop and the three times he recanted. Under these circumstances, on July 26, 1919, F. Noli addressed those who were present at St. George’s church in Boston: “Who made the very first bishop? And people replied, ‘It was people who made the very first bishop.’ The same is with me, the people will ordain me because I am just the very first for the Albanians”, F. Noli said.In the course of such events, the 30 July 1919 Convention proclaimed the Albanian Orthodox Church of America autocephalous and F. Noli its first bishop. By the time these things were occurring in America, in Albania, which was turned into a battlefield, Greek metropolitans were prevailing, such as Jakovi of Durrės and the one of Korēė. There were reports that terrorist gangs of “holy companies” were running riot in Albania; they killed Papa Kristo Negovani in 1904, terrorized the population of southern Albania in 1914, and killed Father Stath After all these obstacles, on April 28, 1921, Father Vasil Marku gave eventually the first mass in the Albanian language at St. George’s Church in Korēė.
The greatest event by far for the Orthodox Church of Albania was the holding of a pan-Albanian Congress in Berat on September 10, 1922, which approved the city Korēė as the headquarters of the Orthodox The Congress decided that the liturgical language at the Albanian Orthodox Church should be the Albanian language. The Congress of Berat closed on September 19, 1922. On November 21, 1923, the 1st Synod, founded in Berat, proclaimed F. Noli an archbishop. The ceremony was performed at St. George’s Church in Korēė. So, as F. Noli has written, the 1st Synod of the Albanian Orthodox Church was created after 500 years since 1478, when the whole Albania (Arbėria) fell under the Ottoman yoke. This Holy Synod was composed of Hireotheu, Korēė’s and Gjirokastėr’s metropolitan, Kristofor Kisi, Berat’s and Vlorė’s metropolitan, and F. Noli, Durrės’ and Tirana’s metropolitan. According to what Noli has written, this Synod continued until December 24, 1924, when Fan Noli was forced to leave Albania. With the support of the government, Father Visarion Xhuvani came at the head of the Albanian Orthodox Church, who was thus proclaimed an archbishop.
In 1929, the Synod and its metropolitan sent him to Anastas of Koshavac. From there he was summoned to Tirana and together with the Serbian bishop of Shkodėr and two other bishops, Evthim Ikonomi and V. Ēamēe (Agathangjeli), created the 2d Synod of the Albanian Orthodox Church with Visarion Xhuvani as its archbishop. The Ecumenical Patriarchate opposed this synod. It must be stressed, however, that V. Xhuvani demonstrated great vigour. During the time he was in charge of the Church, he called the Second pan-Orthodox Congress in Korēė on June 16, 1929. Under the formula: “A free church in a free country, a church divided from the state”, the Article 16 of the Statute was formulated to read: “Archbishop, bishops, local deputies, the Great Deacon Mitrofor, Synod’s Secretary-General, as well as ecclesiastic assistants and deputies of the archbishop and bishops must be of Albanian blood and language and have Albanian The 2d Holy Synod of the Autocephalous Orthodox Church of Albania, as yet unrecognized by Ecumenical Patriarchate, was made up of: Archbishop and bishop of Tiranė and Durrės V. Xhuvani, his Eminence Ēamēe, his Eminence Ambrozi, his Eminence Eugjeni. Afterward, this synod was complemented with the Great Deacon Mitrofor and Father Vasil Marku. During his efforts to create political stability in Albania, King Zogu pursued a neutral policy in connection with different religious creeds in Albania by separating political power from religion, supporting the independence of the Orthodox Church and preferring Albanian religious leaders to foreign For three years in succession (1933-1936) he was involved in a conflict with Catholic schools, which he closed and opened again.
This was made within the framework of educational reform. There are interpretations, however, that this movement of Zogu was also intended to keep a religious balance and put a limit to the overall Italian expansion in Albania. The autocephalousness issue was made one of the chief themes for the King Zogu as well, who sent his Orthodox minister Kotta twice to Istanbul to hold negotiations and also to put forth In 1933, King Zogu’s government put pressure on Xhuvani as well to lead him to resign, which he did, and then Kristofor Kisi was charged to create the 3d Synod of the Albanian On February 20, 1937, it became possible for the Albanian government to send K. Kisi and the layman Josif Kodhi as delegates to Athens. So, on April 12, 1937, the Albanian Orthodox Church was proclaimed autocephalous. The high ecclesiastic decree, Tomi, was conferred on K. Kisi. On this occasion, the Patriarchate sent a message to the Minister of Justice Thoma Orollogaj, the King Zogu, and the Prime Minister Koēo Kotta. Thereafter, this Church would make its own decisions both legally and canonically, would decide on its own for its organization, the appointment of bishops and bishoprics, the translation of liturgy and service books in the Albanian language, On its part, the Patriarchate maintained the powers to explain and interpret the Orthodox dogma and requested that among eligible bishops enthroned by the Holy Synod of the Autocephalous Church of Albania, two of them ought to have an Orthodox theological background received in Greek schools and, in addition, to have lived abroad, in Greece and the Holy Mountain, for a long time.
This was the only condition the Patriarchate laid down. The 3d Synod of the Orthodox Autocephalous Church of Albania was made up of Kristofor Kisi, archbishop and metropolitan of Durrės and Tiranė, Agathangjel Ēamēe, metropolitan of Berat, Evllogji Kumila, metropolitan of Korēė, and Pandeli Kotoko, metropolitan of Gjirakastėr. Islamism in Albania Albanian people’s contacts with the Islamic world is relatively later than those of the greater part of European peoples. Islamism appeared first in the old continent by the end of the first millennium (9th and 10th centuries). From the contacts of the Spanish with the Arabs and their culture the epos of Cid emerged in which the main conflict is that of Hispanic knights with Moors (Arabs). The national epopee of French people “The Roland’s Song”, in which the conflict develops between the Moors (Arabs) and the natives, originated from the contact of Franks with Arabs. Some centuries later the Arabs would be present in Shakespeare’s tragedies (Othello, “the black Moor”, in the homonymous tragedy). By this time (the end of the Byzantine period and threshold of Ottoman invasion) the Arabs first appear in traditional Albanian culture fixed in the ballad of a brother who rises from his deathbed to defend his sister’s honor from “a black alien” (or a “black Moor”) coming out of the Historically, cross-border conflicts between Christian Albanians and pilgrims as propagators of Islamism date from the 13th and the 14th centuries. The first missionaries of the new religion arrived in Albanian space under the name of Orthodoxy. One of these missionaries who brought Bektashiism in Albania is known by name of “St. Spiridoni” and corresponds to the figure of Hajji Bektash Veli. Before Ottoman imperial armies occupied the country, the concealment behind Orthodoxy made the acceptance of Islamism easier (initially in the form of Bektashiism).
This first period represents the stage of a peaceful selective Islamism. Islamism in Albania was presented as an unoriginal, “European” Islamism. With the Ottoman occupation, the phase of Islamization with coercive measures through implementing a privileged system of taxes and duties on Moslems begins as opposed to a disadvantageous system to non-Moslems (those who changed their religion were excluded from economic impositions, recruitment in the army, From the 15th and the 16th centuries onwards, important cult institutions of Islam (mosques, shrines, and tekkiehs) were set up in the main cities of Albania. Islamism spread mostly in Central Albania. At the initial phase, most Albanians were holding Islam faith formally and actually exercised Christian rites. This phase bears evidence of underground (some literally under the ground) churches. The holding of two religions and two names (crypto-Christianity, i.e., Christianity concealed or covered under an outer Islamism) continued until the 20th century. In the 18th and the 19th centuries Islamism had a religious and cultural bloom in Albania. This period is marked by the Albanian literature using Arab alphabet, known as the “literature of doggerelists”, which the scholars compare to the “alhamiado” literature that had previously evolved in Spain. Islamism left its traces in the customary life of Albanians through introducing certain laws of Sharia. But Sharia never became a prevailing customary code of Albanians.
The acceptance of Islam by Albanians can be explained with the role this religion seems to have played for the differentiation of Albanians from Slavs (Kosova region) and Greeks (Ēamėria region), who, after the 18th century in particular, had begun an assimilating policy towards Albanian people. A majority of Sunnah Moslems and a minority of Bektashi order have marked Islam faith in Albania. In the circumstances of an independent Albanian state after World War I, the Sunnah Moslems were reorganized in 1921 into a national Moslem alliance. In 1923, the Sunnah community would separate itself from the Caliphate of Istanbul by electing Tirana’s Mufti as its chairman. In these years, a reformatory zeal appears in Albanian Islam resulting in polygamy being formally forbidden, Albanian translations of Koran beginning to appear and the Moslem MPs requesting for women to lead a social life just as that of men, which was not to materialize until 1937, when the law banning women from wearing veils was In 1923, there appears the magazine “Zani i Naltė” which was marked by noticeable patriotic and reformatory feelings. A congress of Sunnah Moslems was held in 1929 taking decisions on exclusively using Albanian language in services, reducing the number of mosques to keep only the chief ones, unifying the There is room to believe that Zogu might have had an implication in this reform with his goals to unite and Occidentalize Albania so as to eliminate once and for good the image of an Islamic country. It is said that Attatürk, the greatest reformer of those times, might have become jealous of the reformist spirit of Zogu, as he didn’t like the latter to outshine him in this respect. Bektashism derives from a mystical doctrine of Turkoman fathers of the 11th and the 12th centuries in the Caspian Sea and was founded by Hajji Bektashi under the influence of the Persian mystic Ahmet Jasevi to be strengthened as a Moslem sect in Turkey after its being linked with janissary corps (who were of Christian descent). Bektashiism worships Ali as much as Mohammed. Because of the conflict with Moslemism itself, Bekatshiism developed some religious tolerance towards Christian faith having in common with it even some interface in religious
They preached equality between man and woman; they would drink liquors and other drinks that were quite loathsome to Islam. As to this tolerant attitude of Bekashiism and the patriotic role many Bektashi have played, many domestic and foreign researchers and politicians of all times have maintained that Bektashiism could have well been an appropriate religion for One among them is the great national poet Naim Frashėri. In Albania, Bektashiism appeared at the end of the 12th century and the beginning of the 13th century. In 1925, when Attatürk undertook severe government laicizing reforms for the creation of a modern Turkey, Albania became the country of the World Headship of Bektashiism remaining such to our present Very few might know that Albania is the world headquarters of a religion. It is interesting to note that even during the period of atheism there were no claims from any other country where there are Bektashi believers to assume the role of headship.
The Bektashi community of Albania was declared independent in 1921. Many Bektashi tekkiehs became centres of resistance against Italians and Germans such as Father Fejzo and Father Faja, and it should be taken into account that it was 6 000 Bektashi being organized The History of Evangelical Protestant Church in Albania originates on October 18, 1873, when Messrs. Byrd, Jenny and Marsh settled as missionaries in the city of Manastir. These noble missionaries created the first Evangelical Community. Among the first members of Manastiri’s Evangelical Community was Gjerasim Qiriazi, who after receiving his education in Bulgaria with the help of these missionaries, came back to Albania in May 1883 encountering many hardships and He cast his eyes on the city of Korēė and in the Albanian School of that city he made his first preaching on May 3, 1890, and being a patriotic missionary, he set himself the goal of He considered it a patriotic duty to proclaim the Word of Christ. Gjerasim and his sister Sevasti opened the girls’ school on October 23, 1891. There were three girls in all. Afterwards, resisting the fight the Patriarchate waged against the school, the number of girls was increasing. Many girls graduated from Qiriazi’s school. On November 14, 1892, the “Evangelical Brotherhood” community was founded, part of which were Gjerasim, Gergj and Sevasti Qiriazi, Grigor Cilka, Herakli Bogdani, V. Pasha from Pogradec, Fanka Evthimi and probably P. N. Luarasi. This Evangelical association ran its own press organ called “Brotherhood Paper”, whose first issue was published in Korēė in November 1892. Religious Creeds during the period 1944-1990 The political power of 1945 targeted to attack especially the Catholic Church of Albania describing it as a lair of foreign agents in That’s why since the very beginning the Albanian Catholic Church was requested, and so it was forced, to make a canonical sacrilege — to proclaim its autocephalousness. The two Catholic bishops, his Eminence Gaspėr Thaēi and his Eminence Vinēenc Prennushi rejected such request. The Communist government sent both of them to jail, sentencing his Eminence Prennushi, a cleric and poet, to 20 years of imprisonment, and his Eminence Gaspėr Thaēi to be shot. After much suffering in prison, his Eminence V. Prennushi, bishop of Durrės and Tirana, died in prison in 1949. 30 Franciscans, 15 Jesuits and a lot of seminarians were arrested. Some of them were shot and some died in misery in concentration or forced labour camps.
In 1945, Dom Ndre Zadeja, a poet and patriot, Frano Gjini, Gj. Volaj and Father Ciprian Nika were shot. In Shkrel, Nikollė Gazuli was sentenced to death and was shot in 1946, followed by many others. Their last words were “Long live Christ, King of heaven! Long live Albania even without us! In 1950, Bernardin Shllaku was proclaimed archbishop of the Albanian Catholic Church, but he was put under strict surveillance. Meanwhile, Catholic schools and monasteries were closed everywhere. Foreign Catholic clergy serving in Albanian dioceses had already been banished since 1948. In 1967, Zef Bici was also shot because allegedly had hindered the atheist enterprise of young people. Archbishop Ernest Ēoba had been imprisoned since 1964 sentenced to 25 years in jail. He died in a Tirana hospital 1980. At that time, Mikel Koliqi was also imprisoned who for all his sufferings was released from prison alive and died a cardinal in 1997. Such people and many others like them were the martyrs of the Albanian Catholic Church in the 20th century.
The 3d Synod of Autocephalous Orthodox Church lasted until 1949, when Archbishop Kristofor Kisi resigned. Kisi died on 16 June 1959. The 4th Synod of Autocephalous Orthodox Church was founded on August 25, 1949, headed by Paisi Vodica, who was proclaimed both ARCHBISHOP of the Autocephalous Orthodox Church and bishop of Durrės Qiril Naslazi was appointed metropolitan of Berat; Filothe Duni metropolitan of Korēė; and Damjan Kokoneshi metropolitan of Gjirokastėr. Sofron Borova was proclaimed a suffragan bishop. Paisi Vodica advised immediately the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople of the new Synod, but the Patriarchate considered it uncanonical and did not recognize his For political reasons, Vodica linked the Autocephalous Orthodox Church of Albania with the Russian Communist Patriarchate. So the 4th Synod assumed a conspicuous political character. That’s why the Patriarchate sent to America the bishop Marko Lipa of Lefkė with the mission to prevent the Albanian Orthodox Church in America from falling to political positions of the Church in In 1967, religious creeds and their institutions were aggressively forced to interrupt their activities only to begin them anew following the democratic The movement against religious institutions fostered by the dictatorial Communist government was carried out under the cover of a youth atheist movement. Many churches were turned into public halls, some were changed to livestock sheds, and some were completely destroyed. In total, 2,169 cult buildings including churches and mosques were shattered.
During that period, 217 clerics were imprisoned on the charge of exercising terror, many of whom died in prisons or were shot. The Penal Code of 1977 convicted religious propaganda and the propagation of liturgy. Not only a lot of former clerics, but lay people as well were sentenced by this Code. The Catholic Church, which has given the country tens of intellectuals, renowned scholars, poets and writers, such as Father Shtjefėn Gjeēovi, Preng Doēi, Father Gjergj Fishta, Dom Ndre Mjeda, Father Donat Kurti, etc. , suffered one of the heaviest blows in its whole history in Albania. The proclamation of Albania (the soil wherefrom Christ’s disciples first preached, the soil of Scanderbeg who entered the history of Church as its most loyal defender) the only atheist country in the whole earth flabbergasted the world. The Vatican would never cease its struggle to support its own believers, who lived their religious life underground, this time persecuted by the dictator Enver Hoxha who was much more cruel than Emperor Trajan was. Despite the severe Communist regime, the Albanians never failed to observe all religious festivals according to their methods which were as old, as they were modern, under the circumstances of an extreme poverty, with people having to be supplied with food on ration cards until In such a general situation of illegality and fear, the feeling of religious tolerance came to be stronger.
The religious-humanitarian activity of Mother Teresa, the most distinguished Saint of the 20th century, who everything she performed she would do in the name of Jesus Christ, would exert a great influence on godly and ungodly Albanians. After the overthrow of the atheist regime in Albania, on November 4, 1990, Father Simon Jubani who had been closed in prison for 26 years, and Karlo A. Sevilla who had been banished from Albania since 1946, gave a mass for the living and the dead at the small chapel of the graveyard in Shkodėr, which was used in lieu of an altar. Participation in the mass was extraordinary. On the same day, at the Leaden Mosque in Shkodėr the Moslems held a prayer. Religious creeds after 1990 Emissaries of the Catholic Church of Albania, missionaries and apostolic envoys of the Holy See among whom there were also Albanian Catholic clerics who had come out alive from prisons, such as his Eminence Mikel Koliqi, his Eminence F. Mirdita, turned Orthodox clerics, who were still alive, began to commit themselves to activities at churches that had remained undamaged and set to renewing them.
The Ecumenical Patriarchate sent its missionary bishop A. Janullatos to Albania, who had made efforts for re-establishing the destroyed Orthodox churches and restituting them their stolen properties. Their primaries such as Pope John Paul II on April 25, 1993, and Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholeme I visited the two main Christian churches in Albania Likewise, the Evangelic Church of Albania has undergone a significant renewal through a countrywide contribution of missionaries and Christian Evangelical communities, especially in cities, but also in The Evangelical Church of Albania performs according to its long-standing European traditions, extending its activities to proclaim the Good News, especially in schools where it has made a remarkable Albanian believers can be found anywhere in a space populated by Albanian people, but the prreviewence of representatives of a given religion differs from region to region in the Albanian space, Balkans and the world. So, the northeastern region of the country (the districts of Tropojė, Has, Kukės, Dibėr and Mat), the highlands of Tiranė and Krujė and those of Mallakastėr, the highlands of Kėrrabė, Kurvelesh and Skrapar, those of Kosova, and the western part of Macedonia are mainly inhabited by Moslem religion population. Mainly Catholic Christians populate the regions of the Alps, Mirditė and Pukė, the highlands and lowlands of Lezhė in part, Kurbin, Shkodėr area and the Arbėreshi of Italy. The regions of Myzeqe Plain and Berati region, the valley of Drino River, Lunxhėri, Pogo-Zagori, Ionian shores, the lowlands of Pėrmet and partially the southeastern region and lowlands of Delvina are populated by Orthodox religion inhabitants.
Some cities such as Shkodėr, Tiranė, Gjirokastėr, Elbasan, Vlorė, Korēė, Durrės, etc., are particular and original as to their populations, as they are made up of different religions. In these cities one can encounter even religions entering Albania following 1990, such as Bahaism, Protestantism, etc. Religious Tolerance Albanians have distinguished themselves for a unique inter-religious tolerance, which bears links with the very history of the presence and co-existence of various religious creeds in regions populated by Albanians following the division of Christendom in two parts, the Roman (Western) ritual and the Byzantine (Eastern) one by means of “Theodosius’ line” passing somewhere between the Rivers Shkumbin and Mat and following their embracing of Islam chiefly to resist assimilation from the Slavic and Greek chauvinists at the end of 18th and 19th centuries. The Albanians have been tolerant and have never shed blood for religious disputes. In his book “ Albanian life and customs” the Prince of Montenegro Mark Milan asserts, “Whenever we’ve tried to pit Catholics against Moslems or vice versa in Shkodėr, we’ve had our battle lost because Albanians had their national sensitivy much stronger. The existence of religious tolerance was also noted by Italian fascists who developed a new strategy to maintain this balance, though making Catholics feel somewhat From the end of the Middles Ages onwards, Albanian space was a balancing zone between the two most powerful empires of the time, the Ottoman Empire and Austro-Hungarian Empire. Between these two empires several agreements have been signed called “Capitulations”, which regulated the equality of influences recognizing the West the right of care for the Christian shrines by means of the doctrine “cultus protectorati” — the protection of In Albania, one can too frequently find two religions (Christianity and Moslemism) in one and the same family (Lurė, north) or two religions in one and the same person (Shpat, Elbasan) who holds two first names, one Christian and one Mohammedan, and observes the rites and feasts of both The national hero of the Albanians George Kastriot was born into an Orthodox family, became a Moslem at the Sultan’s Court, became a Bektashi (this was a condition to become a janissar), turned to Albania and assumed his father’s faith (Orthodox) and when he died, his last will was to be buried in a cathedral of Catholic Christians (Lezhė). One of George Kastrioti’s brothers, instead, asked to be buried in one of Athos’ monasteries, one of holy places of Orthodoxy. Religious conflicts in Albania, even in incidental forms, were never known. It is quite normal for an Albanian to abandon the church and to seek communion with God in a mosque if he does not like the priest or his conduct.
One of the most important authors of Albanian classical literature Pjetėr Bogdani in his work “The Band of Prophets” quotes Calvin and Avicenna side by side. The first translator of Moslems’ Holy Scriptures Koran was a Christian (Ilo Mitkė Qafėzezi). Albanian Moslems celebrate St. George and St. Mary, part of them celebrate St. Nicholas and Christmas, while Christians pay friendly visits to Moslems on their characteristic festivals (Kurban Bairam) There are many instances told by people who have experienced them when the priest has been obliged to sing suras from Koran to honour a dead Moslem if the khoja and the mosque were far off, or there was snow or bad weather. In such cities as Shkodėr, where the population is a mixture of Catholics and Orthodoxes, even non-Moslem shopkeepers would stop selling pork in their shops during the Ramadan days. In Shkodėr again, it was the noble Moslem families who defended the construction of a Catholic Church when a few fanatics began to destroy its foundations at night. The construction of the church could go on only when Moslem nobles appeared before the public saying, “No one dares touch these foundations, as they are ours”. Religious festivals in Albania of both Christian and Moslem communities retain traces of the polytheist mythological times. Catholic Albanians of the northern regions celebrate the “Buzmi” day just on Christmas day, but the cult of fire, too, forms a substratum of this festival. Moslems’ St. Mary concurs with Fairy’s Day. The Bektashi observe the cult of Baba Tomorri, which is similar to the mythological cult of Greek Olympus. One Christian poet entitled his book “Baba Tomorri”. This and other examples show that Albanians observe the cult of nature, celebrate the day of the mountain, keep the serpent and goat as totems (protecting gods) to our present days, and have a cult for the fire, water and bread, the road and guest, the earth and sky.
Author Genc Myftiu
Bibliografy De la Rocca “Religion and Nation in Albania# 1989 Rome
Dh .Qiriazi “Kristianity in Albania” 2000
Mark Milan “Albanian life and Customs” Kurti, Sirdani,
“On the contribution of the Catholics in Albania” 2000

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