World Council of Churches

A worldwide fellowship of churches seeking unity, a common witness and Christian service

Country profile: Albania

"Church & country profiles" for several countries have been developed by the WCC Europe desk ahead of the 2006 assembly. Please note that these profiles are intended to serve as general references, and do not represent official policy positions of the World Council of Churches. The WCC strives to maintain accuracy in its information, but cannot be responsible for any mistakes or outdated information.

01 January 2004

"Church & country profiles" for several countries have been developed by the WCC Europe desk ahead of the 2006 assembly. Please note that these profiles are intended to serve as general references, and do not represent official policy positions of the World Council of Churches. The WCC strives to maintain accuracy in its information, but cannot be responsible for any mistakes or outdated information.

Background

An independent republic located on the western coast of the Balkan peninsula, Illyria, later known as Albania, was evangelized as part of the Roman Empire in the first centuries. After c.1400, Albania was under Ottoman Turkish rule for five centuries. Following an early revolt, conversion to Islam resulted in a majority Muslim population by the 18th century. Independence was declared in 1912 during the Balkan wars. A brief period of democratic rule after the First World War was ended when Ahmet Zogu proclaimed himself King Zog I in 1928. A People's Republic was proclaimed in 1946 and during the following four decades the country was ruled as a Stalinist dictatorship by Enver Hoxha in almost complete international isolation. All forms of religious life were outlawed. In 1991 the first multi-party elections were held, and freedom of religion was restored. During the last decade, Albania has renewed its international presence, but has experienced considerable political and economic upheaval.

Church and religious context

The majority of Albanians are secular in orientation after decades of rigidly enforced atheism. Muslims make up the largest traditional religious group and are divided into two communities: those who adhere to a moderate form of Sunni Islam and those who adhere to the Bektashi school (a particularly liberal form of Shi'a Sufism). Historically, around 20% of the population is Albanian Orthodox, while around 10% are members of the Roman Catholic Church. A small Evangelical Alliance also exists. The communist revolution of 1945 marked the beginning of extreme persecution of all religious groups in Albania. A number of influential Orthodox clergy were executed, and in 1949 Archbishop Christopher Kissi of Tirana was deposed. In 1967 the communist regime announced that all religious edifices in Albania, including 2,169 churches, mosques, monasteries and other institutions, were being closed and that all religious practices were illegal. Religion was only authorized again in 1991.

According to the 1998 Constitution, there is no official religion, and all religions are equal. However, the predominant religious communities (Muslim, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic) enjoy de facto recognition by the authorities that gives them the legal right to hold bank accounts, to own property and buildings, and to function as juridical persons based on their historical presence in the country. The State Committee on Cults, which was founded in September 1999 according to a decision of Council Ministers, aims to regulate the relations between the State and religious communities.

WCC programmatic involvement in Albania

Immediately following the political changes and opening in the country in 1991, WCC took an active role in supporting the revival of Christian life in Albania. In 1993, WCC organized a first ecumenical Round Table meeting in Albania, initiating a major assistance programme. The main partner in the Round Table programme has been Diaconia Agapes, the social and humanitarian arm of the Orthodox Church, the only WCC member church in the country. Over the last seven years, the WCC Round Table programme has channeled resources in support of a wide range of activities, including agricultural development, health programmes, seminary development, school rehabilitation. In 1998, Archbishop Anastasios of Albania, the head of the Orthodox Church, was elected a member of the WCC Central Committee. In 1999, during the Kosovo refugee crisis, WCC/ACT implemented a major emergency response effort in cooperation with the Orthodox Church. In 2001, the WCC General Secretary Rev. Dr Konrad Raiser visited Albania.

Key dates in Albanian religious history

1st century: Christian presence in Albania.
1st-8th centuries: Church relates to Rome.
8th-10th centuries: Church relates to Constantinople.
1054 Great Schism: Gradual distinction between Catholic North and Orthodox South.
17th century: spread of Islam under Ottoman rule.
19th century: Over 50% of Albanian population is Christian.
1967: Religion is outlawed in Albania.
1991: Albanian government lifts ban on religion.

Key dates: Orthodox Church

Autocephaly (independence) of the Orthodox Church of Albania is first proclaimed.
1924 The head of the Orthodox Church, Bishop Fan Noli, becomes Prime Minister.
1937 Autocephaly recognized by the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
1966 The Orthodox Church counts 608 churches and 250,000 members.
1967 All churches and religious groups are outlawed and clergy are killed or imprisoned, all places of worship are closed or destroyed. Orthodox Archbishop Damianos of Tirana is sent to prison where he died in 1973.
1991 Orthodox Exarch Archbishop Anastasios (Yannoulatos) appointed by Ecumenical Patriarch to revive Church in Albania.
1992 Orthodox Autocephalous Church of Albania re-established. 250 Orthodox churches are built or re-opened. 100 local priests are trained and ordained.
1994 The Orthodox Church becomes a member of the World Council of Churches.
1998 Holy Synod formed following the consecration of the first three Albanian Bishops.
2001 The Orthodox Church has developed an impressive range of ministries, including social services, health clinics, vocational training schools, nursery schools, a radio station, publishing and cultural activities.

Key dates: Evangelical Alliance (VUSH)

1967 Small Protestant presence almost extinguished following the banning of all religious activity.
1991 Following lifting of ban on religion, Evangelical missionaries arrive. Open evangelisation and distribution of New Testaments.
1993 Over 200 foreign missionaries serve an estimated 50 churches.
1993 Albanian Evangelical Alliance founded. Eugene Begu is General Secretary of the Albania Evangelical Alliance (VUSH).
1997 Civil crisis leads to evacuation of many foreign nationals, including missionaries. 1998 The Evangelical communty counts around 3,000 members in 160 churches of all denominations, including Baptist, Brethren, Lutheran.