The Resurrection of the Church in Albania

by Jim Forest

In the last decade, with the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, the Church in Albania has gone through dramatic changes. Albania was the first officially atheist state in the world. After 1967 all forms of religious expression, even prayer in one’s own home, were forbidden. Since the fall of communism, the Orthodox Church, the oldest and largest Christian community in Albania, has been transformed from a repressed church into a vibrant, rapidly growing and inspired force for renewal and reconciliation in the country.

Jim Forest’s narrative presents a fascinating historical background and an inspiring story of current church witness. The traditions and life of this fellowship, so clearly portrayed, will help educate the wider Christian community about Albania’s diverse religious life and also the role religion can play as a potential force for both healing and peace in the Balkan region.

The book is illustrated with 65 photos.

The author: Jim Forest has written many books, including The Ladder of the Beatitudes, Confession: Doorway of Forgiveness, Praying with Icons, The Wormwood File: E-Mail from Hell, Living With Wisdom: A Biography of Thomas Merton, All is Grace: A Biography of Dorothy Day, Pilgrim to the Russian Church, and Religion in the New Russia. He is secretary of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship and editor of the quarterly journal In Communion.

Here are several chapters from the book:

An extraordinary story: Between 1944 and his death in 1985, Enver Hoxha, the Communist leader of Albania, carried out possibly the most extraordinary persecution of religion to be seen in any of the Communist Bloc. His aim was no less than the total eradication of all religion in the country, be it Roman Catholic, Orthodox or Muslim. Not only did he destroy the churches, monasteries and mosques and proscribe all religious practices but he attempted to expunge the very idea of religious faith from people’s minds.

The full story of this horrifying forty years has yet to be fully documented but Jim Forest has made an extremely valuable contribution to the literature on the subject. The book’s main theme is the extraordinary way in which the Albanian Orthodox Church has literally come back from the dead under the leadership of the charismatic Archbishop Anastasios. In describing the resurrection of the Church, however, there is also a great deal of detail about the preceding persecution and the incredible courage of the believers shines through on every page.

Jim Forest is not a pundit or historian giving an “expert” analysis of the situation. He is a better and rarer creature than that; he is a listener. Almost all of the book comprises interviews with survivors of the horrors and participants in the resurrection, the predominant voice being that of the Albanian people rather than of Mr. Forest. The subtitle of the book is Voices of Orthodox Christians and it is these voices which give it an immediacy and vigour that bring the story to life. Where Jim Forest’s skill lies is in the sympathetic but penetrating questions he asks.

If you already know something of this extraordinary story, this book will fill out your knowledge with fresh insights. If you know nothing of the struggles of the Albanian Church, you jolly well ought to and this book is an excellent place to start.

— Christopher Moorey, author of “Traveling Companions: Walking With Saints of the Church”


World Council of Churches
WCC Publications
P.O. Box 2100
1211 Geneva 2, Switzerland

published August 2002, 128pp, illustrated.
ISBN: 2-8254-1359-3
Price: Sfr26.00, US$15.95, UK£10.95, 17 euros.

The book can be ordered via the WCC web site.

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