Tag Archives: religion

Albanian Jews reject new chief rabbi

Thanks to a quick-witted, prominent Albanian-American intellectual, the following is a repudiation by Albania’s Jews of Tirana’s new Chief Rabbi. Read on…

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Albanian Jews and Shlomo Amar

Albanian Jews reject appointment of new chief rabbi
By GIL SHEFLER

01/06/2011 05:03

Members of the local Jewish community complain the position created without consultation, and declare that they refuse to recognize his authority.
Talkbacks (1)

Last month, the Albanian government appointed Rabbi Yoel Kaplan as the former communist country’s first chief rabbi, amid much fanfare.

But in an angry letter recently sent to The Jerusalem Post, members of the local Jewish community complained the position had been created without consultation, and declared that they refused to recognize his authority.

“We completely alienate ourselves from this illicit and incorrect act, which was carried out in total discordance to the historical and religious traditions and principles of our nation,” stated the letter, which was signed by 34 of the country’s estimated 150 Jews.

“We strongly appeal and urge all the Albanian institutions and the international Jewish organizations to preliminary consult the Albanian-Jewish community before taking any action that would directly impact its dignity and community life, since we do not recognize Rabbi Yoel Kaplan as Albania’s Chief Rabbi.”

The signatories also alleged that Sokol Pirra, who helped facilitate Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar’s visit to Albania and who the signatories said had lobbied to create the position, was an impostor.

“Mr. Sokol Pirra is not the representative of our community,” they declared. “He is not even one of its members, because his connections to Judaism are very unclear at least, not to say inexistent.”

Kaplan, who had initially been unaware of the letter’s existence, responded to its criticism of his appointment in an e-mail this week, saying his critics within the community misunderstood his mission.

“The people behind the letter fear losing their role as unofficial representatives of Israeli-Albanian commercial ties,” he said. “Of course, such fears need not exist. My clear and sole goal is reinforcing Jewish life. Up until now, there have been gatherings for international Holocaust Remembrance Day and, at best, Israel’s Independence Day as well. We want to reinforce an active Jewish life throughout the year and establish an active community center.”

Jews have lived the area of present-day Albania for at least 1,300 years. Under the communist regime, all religions were suppressed, but when Albania opened up to the world in 1991, the majority of the remaining 300 Jews were airlifted to Israel. Only a few, mostly living in the capital Tirana, where the country’s only functioning synagogue is located, remained behind.

Yossi Levi, spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, which was also sent a copy of the letter, said on Monday that it wasn’t the ministry’s position to comment on appointments of rabbis in Jewish communities overseas.

“This is up to local communities to decide,” he said on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Kaplan said he would continue to serve the community despite the criticism from some of its members.

“The letter is indeed charged, but now the Albanian community has joined other Jewish communities around the world: There are camps in favor and against,” he wrote in the e-mail. “A day will come where, God willing, I will bring them together.”

The Albanian Orthodox Autocephalous Church

A Frosina Infobit

The Albanian Orthodox Autocephalous Church

The establishment of an Albanian Orthodox autocephalous church had been one of the principal objectives of Albanian patriots since 1880. Sami Frashëri (an Albanian Muslim) rated it next to the Albanian language in importance. He urged the Albanians to rid themselves of their dependence on the Greek, Bulgarian, and Serbian churches – especially the Greek church – and create their own church with Albanian priests and a liturgy in Albanian. As it was impossible to reach this goal in Albania, on account of the opposition of the Patriarchate and the Turkish government, an attempt was also made to introduce only the Albanian language in the church services. When this effort failed, the patriots turned their thoughts to the constitution of an Albanian church outside Albania and Turkey. Bucharest seemed at the moment best suited for the purpose.

The church movement in Bucharest appears to have started at the outset ot the century. On May 27, 1900 Drita (Albanian newspaper in Romania) had as the first point in its program the separation of the Albanian church from the Greek Patriarchate and the introduction of the Albanian language in its liturgy. A decision was made to build an Albanian church in Bucharest. Obviously the decision was not carried out for two years later another fruitless attempt was made.
It was in the United States of America that the first Albanian Orthodox Church was founded. On March 22, 1908 in the Knights of Honor Hall in Boston, the first liturgy in Albanian was celebrated. An incident expedited it. In 1907 a young Albanian died in Hudson, Mass., and the local Greek priest refused to officiate for the funeral services, on the ground that the young man was an Albanian nationalist and as such “automatically excommunicated.” The incident provoked indignation among the Albanians of Massachusetts, who called a meeting and decided to have an Albanian priest ordained. They invited Fan S. Noli to undertake the mission, and he hastened to accept it. Platon, the Russian archbishop of New York, ordained him priest on March 8, 1908 at the age of twenty-six. The Albanian Orthodox Church of America, which was established with the ordination of Fan S. Noli as priest was authorized to conduct services in Albanian, was a missionary church under the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church. It was organized as an independent diocese in 1919.*

The creation of the Albanian Orthodox Church in America was a powerful incentive to the growth of Albanian national feeling. With the introduction of Albanian in the liturgy, the church assumed a national character. Fan S. Noli translated the service from Greek and used it immediately after his ordination. He later translated many liturgical books in a clear and beautiful language. Fan S. Noli turned the pulpit into a tribune for nationalist preaching. The other priests serving Albanian congregations followed his example, for they were not at the service of the Greek church, but nationalistic-minded Albanians. The function of the Albanian Orthodox Church did not remain religious; it also became patriotic. As a religious institution, the Church interested only the Orthodox Albanians. As an institution established in order to detach them from the Patriarchate of Constantinople, whose policy was to hellenize them and unite them with Greece, it acquired a broader and national significance. This second aspect of the Albanian Orthodox Church of America concerned not only Orthodox Albanians but also their Moslem and Catholic compatriots. The activity of the Albanian colonies in the United States was intensified in the period following the creation of the Church – after 1908.

PP 161-163, The Albanian National Awakening, 1878-1912, Stavro Skendi, Princeton University Press, 1967

In September 1922, the Congress of Berat in Albania was called to deal with the question of religious independence. The congress, while irregular in composition, declared the Albanian Orthodox church to be autocephalous and ruled that Albanian instead of Greek should be used in the liturgy. The lack of hierarchy (no bishops existed) made these decisions largely inoperative; but by 1926, the then president and later king, Zog, had become interested in the matter and he henceforth worked to establish a valid autocephalous church. This was done with some semblance of legality following the convening in Fenbruary 1929 of a synod in King Zog’s villa and finally achieved when on 13 April 1937 the patriarch of Constantinople accepted the Albanian Orthodox Church as autocephalous.

PP 170-171, Historical Dictionary of Albania, Raymond Hutchins, The Scarecrow Press, Lanham, MD and London, 1996

Present Day Islam Religion in Albania

I believe I speak for many Albanians – Christians and Muslims alike – who are tired of the frightening assertions by some of Albania’s neighbors that “Albania is now the only Muslim country in the Balkans” and should, therefore, be feared as possibly nurturing Muslim extremists.

However, from Scanderbeg’s time in the 15th century up to the current Berisha adminstration in Albania, Albanian Christian Orthodox, Roman Catholics, and Muslims were – and are – invariably included in Albania’s governments. King Zog, Fan Noli, and successive communist administrations always made it a point to include members of the three different religious faiths in Albania in their governments.

I am pleased, then, to post the following article about religion in current-day Albania that may help set the record straight.

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A Frosina Infobit

Present Day Islam Religion in Albania

Albania is both a secular state and secular society. Albanian Islam has never been a strict and traditional form. The majority of Albanian Muslims are Sunnis, the branch which, in contrast to the Shi’ites, is most open to western influences such as dress and social habits. The other Muslim tradition in Albania is Bektashim, a form of Shi’ite Islam close to the Sufis (best known for the practice of the ‘whirling dervishes’). The Bektashis are one of the least dogmatic expressions of Islam and open to collaboration with other faiths. In any case, most Muslim Albanians have a long secularist tradition, being very moderate and liberal (in the sense of marrying someone of another religion, drinking alcohol, or eating pork, etc.). The long period of state atheism also had the effect of damping down religious fervour on the part of Muslims.

After the collapse of communism the religious revival has tended to favour conversions to Christianity rather than Islam, reinforced by the wish of Albanians to join the European family, which is viewed as a ‘Christian Club’. In Albania there is little evidence of Islamic fundamentalism, or even Islamization. Most young Albanians today conform to the more hedonistic and secularist life-styles of their young western counterparts.

The situation in Albania is unlike Kosovo or Macedonia where religion has been an important element of their national identity for the ethnic Albanian populations. Another specific feature is that Albania did not have a single national church, powerful and influential, as had its neighbouring countries Greece and Serbia.

Source: Page 34. Albania and the European Union, by Mirela Bogdani and John Loughlin, I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd, 2007, London and New York, www.ibtauris.com

DVD Albanian Church Documentary

I frequently receive many requests to cross link on Frosina’s website www.frosina.org that I invariably refuse simply because there have been so many of them. However, I will make a one-time exception because it’s about an event that happens once in a hundred years. Metropolitan Fan S. Noli was for a short time in 1924, the Prime Minister of Albania, but, perhaps, more important, he founded the Albanian Orthodox church in America. Saint George Cathedral, the seat of the Albanian Orthodox Archdiocese in America, in South Boston, recently celebrated its Centennial. In honor of this 100-year milestone, a DVD has been produced documenting the history of the Cathedral and the immigration of Albanians to America.

The title of the English language DVD is “In Their Own Tongue,” reflecting the fact that Albanians were finally able to celebrate the Divine Liturgy in their own native tongue after almost 500 years of Turkish subjugation. I purchased the CD soon after it came out and have been pleased to show it non-Albanian friends.

Copies of the DVD are being offered for sale at Saint George Cathedral in South Boston following Sunday Liturgy and through the Cathedral’s Web site (www.saintgeorgecathedral.com).

Albanian Religious Institutions in the USA and Canada

ALBANIAN ORTHODOX ARCHDIOCESE IN AMERICA
Albanian Orthodox Archdiocese in America
517 East Broadway, So. Boston, MA 02127
– Right Rev. Bishop Nikon
– eMail: BpNikon@aol.com

Saint George Albanian Orthodox Cathedral
523 East Broadway
So. Boston, MA 02127
– V. Rev. Arthur E. Liolin, Dean
Tel: (617) 268-1275
eMail: albboschurc@juno.com

Saint John the Baptist Albanian Orthodox Church
410 West Broadway
Mail: 143  Dorchester St.,  Box 125
So. Boston, MA 02127
– V. Rev. John Scollard,  Tel: (617) 268-3564

Annunciation Albanian Orthodox Church 
37 Washington Street
Natick, MA 017607
– V. Rev. Joseph Gallick,  Tel: (508) 655-7927
– eMail: AOCAnn37@aol.com

Saint Mary’s Assumption Albanian Orthodox Church
535 Salisbury Street
Worcester, MA   01607
– V. Rev. Spero Page   Tel: (508) 756-1690
– Rev. Dn.  Mark Doku
– eMail: HolyDormition@aol.com

Saint Nicholas Albanian Orthodox Church
126 Morris Street
Southbridge, MA  01550
– Rev. John Daley, Jr.,  Tel: (508) 764-6226

Saint George Albanian Orthodox Church
5490 Main Street
Trumbull, CT 06611
– V. Rev. Sergei Bouteneff,  Tel: (203) 268-1968
– eMail: StGeorgeTrumbull@aol.com

Saint Nicholas Albanian Orthodox Church
181-14 Midland Parkway
Jamaica Estates,  NY 11432
– Rev. David Fox,  Tel: (718) 380-5684
– eMail: snickny@aol.com

Saint Elia Albanian Orthodox Church
101 Palmer Street
Jamestown, NY 14701
– Mrs. Paul (Virginia) Semo,  Tel: (716) 484–9812

Saint John Chrystostom Albanian Orthodox Church
Five Franklin Plaza / 237 N. 17th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103
– V. Rev. Gregory O’Leary,   Tel: (215) 563-0979
– eMail: saintjohns215@gbronline.com

Sts. Peter and Paul Albanian Orthodox Church
9230 Old Bustleton Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19115
– Rev. Stephen Siniari,  Tel: (215) 676-3311
– eMail: ssiniari@covenanthousepa.org

Saint E Premte Albanian Orthodox Church
10716 Jasper Road
Cleveland, OH 44111
– Rev. John Loejos,
Tel: (216) 941-1508   Fax: (216) 631-2713
– eMail: john5356@aol.com

Saint Thomas Albanian Orthodox Church
29150 Ten Mile Road
Farmington Hills, MI 48336
– Rev. Dimitri Vincent
Tel: (248) 471-1059  Fax: (248) 471-1057

 MUSLIM
Albanian-American Muslim Center
38 Raymond St.
Waterbury, CT 06701
– Tel: (203) 879-3680
Albanian-American Cultural and

Islamic Center “Hasan Prishtina”
106 Columbia Blvd.
 Waterbury, CT 06710
– Azmi Isaku,  Tel: (203) 755-0687

Albanian Community Center
21 Long Meadow Drive
Wolcott, CT 06716

Albanian-American Islamic Center 
1325 Albermarle Road
Brooklyn, NY 11226
– Imam Isa Hoxha,   Tel: (718) 282-0358

Albanian Islamic Cultural Center
307 Victory Blvd.
Staten Island, NY 10301
– Imam Zurkenin Vardari, Tel: (718) 816-9865

Albanian American Islamic Ctr. of Queens
72-24 Myrtle Ave
Ridgewood, NY 11385.

United Albanian American Islamic Fdn.
PO Box 4102
Flushing (Ridgewood), NY 11386
Tel: (718) 381-3853 / Tel: (718)  803-2202.

Islamic Unity & Cultural Ctr. of Plav-Gusine
31-33 12th Street
Long Island City, NY   Tel: (718) 274-2016

Albanian Mosque Fund – Paterson
456 River Street
Paterson, NJ 0752
-Imam Arun Polozhani / Imam Muhamet Osmani
- Tel: (973) 523-9203

Albanian-American Islamic Center
43 Monro Street
Garfield, NJ 07026    Tel: (201) 385-1807

Albanian-American Muslim Association
157 W. Girard Ave.
Philadelphia, PA 19123
– Imam Hatip Jemali,  Tel: (215) 639-0217

Albanian Islamic Center
504 Skinnet Avenue
Dunedin, FL 34698 –  Tel: (813) 447-8736

Albanian Islamic Center – Chicago
5825  Saint Charles Road
Berkeley, IL 60163
– Imam Rexhep Morina, Tel: (708) 544-2609

Albanian Islamic Center
19775 Harper Ave.
Harper Woods, MI 48225  Tel: (313) 884-6676

Albanian Muslim Bektashi Teqe
21749 Northline Road
Taylor, MI 48180,
– Baba Flamur,  Tel: (313) 287-3646

Albanian-American Islamic Center
6001 80th Avenue
Kenosha, WI 53140
— Imam Llaz Fetahu,
- Tel:  (262) 654-0575 /  (414) 654-0575

ALBANIAN ORTHODOX DIOCESE OF AMERICA
Holy Trinity Albanian Orthodox Church 
245 “D” Street
So. Boston, MA 02127
– V. Rev. Thomas Fitzgerald,  Tel: (617) 268-7808

Saint Nicholas Albanian Orthodox Church
2701 N. Narragansett Ave.
Chicago, IL 60639
– Rt. Rev. Philip Koufas,  Tel: (773) 889-4282
– eMail: philpkoufos@aol.com

Our Lady of Wisdom
7260 West Sahara Ave.
Las Vegas, NV 89112
– Fr.  Archimandrite Frank Vivona

Our Lady of Grace
31 Redgrave Avenue
Staten Island, NY 10306
– V. Rev. Archdeacon John DeMeis,  Tel: (718) 987-8098

ROMAN  CATHOLIC
Our Lady of Shkoder (Zoja e Shkodres)
3651 W. Hartsdale Ave.
Hartsdale, NY 10530
–  Pastor:  Dom Pjeter Popaj,  Tel: (914) 761-3523
–  WebSite: www.albchurch.com/ny

Our Lady of the Albanians (Zoja e Shqiptareve)
20855 West Thirteen Mile Rd.
Beverly Hills, MI 48025
– Pastor:  Dom Ndue Gjergji,  Tel: (248) 642-0816

Saint Paul (Shen Pali)
4311 Twelve Mile Road
Warren, MI 48092
- Pastor:  Dom Anton Kçira,  Tel: (810) 573-8799
- WebSite: www.albchurch.com/michigan

 CANADA

The Albanian Muslim Society of Toronto
564 Annette
Toronto, ON  M6S 2C2
Canada
– Imam Abdulvehap Hoxha, Tel: (416) 763-0602

The Albanian Orthodox Autocephalous Church

Author: Raymond Hutchins

The establishment of an Albanian Orthodox autocephalous church had been one of the principal objectives of (Albanian) patriots since 1880. Sami Frashëri rated it next to the Albanian language in importance. He urged the Albanians to rid themselves of their dependence on the Greek, Bulgarian, and Serbian churches – especially the Greek church – and create their own church with Albanian priests and a liturgy in Albanian. As it was impossible to reach this goal in Albania, on account of the opposition of the Patriarchate and the Turkish government, an attempt was also made to introduce only the Albanian language in the church services. When this effort failed, the patriots turned their thoughts to the constitution of an Albanian church outside Albania and Turkey. Bucharest seemed at the moment best suited for the purpose.

The church movement in Bucharest appears to have started at the outset ot the century. On May 27, 1900 Drita (Albanian newspaper in Romania) had as the first point in its program the separation of the Albanian church from the Greek Patriarchate and the introduction of the Albanian language in its liturgy. A decision was made to build an Albanian church in Bucharest. Obviously the decision was not carried out for two years later another fruitless attempt was made.

It was in the United States of America that the first Albanian Orthodox Church was founded. On March 22, 1908 in the Knights of Honor Hall in Boston, the first liturgy in Albanian was celebrated. An incident expedited it. In 1907 a young Albanian died in Hudson, Mass., and the local Greek priest refused to officiate for the funeral services, on the ground that the young man was an Albanian nationalist and as such “automatically excommunicated.” The incident provoked indignation among the Albanians of Massachusetts, who called a meeting and decided to have an Albanian priest ordained. They invited Fan S. Noli to undertake the mission, and he hastened to accept it. Platon, the Russian archbishop of New York, ordained him priest on March 8, 1908 at the age of twenty-six. The Albanian Orthodox Church of America, which was established with the ordination of Fan S. Noli as priest was authorized to conduct services in Albanian, was a missionary church under the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church. It was organized as an independent diocese in 1919.*

The creation of the Albanian Orthodox Church in America was a powerful incentive to the growth of Albanian national feeling. With the introduction of Albanian in the liturgy, the church assumed a national character. Fan S. Noli translated the service from Greek and used it immediately after his ordination. He later translated many liturgical books in a clear and beautiful language. Fan S. Noli turned the pulpit into a tribune for nationalist preaching. The other priests serving Albanian congregations followed his example, for they were not at the service of the Greek church, but nationalistic-minded Albanians. The function of the Albanian Orthodox Church did not remain religious; it also became patriotic. As a religious institution, the Church interested only the Orthodox Albanians.

As an institution established in order to detach them from the Patriarchate of Constantinople, whose policy was to hellenize them and unite them with Greece, it acquired a broader and national significance. This second aspect of the Albanian Orthodox Church of America concerned not only Orthodox Albanians but also their Moslem and Catholic compatriots. The activity of the Albanian colonies in the United States was intensified in the period following the creation of the Church – after 1908. PP 161-163, The Albanian National Awakening, 1878-1912, Stavro Skendi, Princeton University Press, 1967 (In Albania) in September 1922 the Congress of Berat was called to deal with the question of religious independence.

The congress, while irregular in composition, declared the Albanian Orthodox church to be autocephalous and ruled that Albanian instead of Greek should be used in the liturgy. The lack of hierarchy (no bishops existed) made these decisions largely inoperative; but by 1926, the then president and later king, Zog, had become interested in the matter and he henceforth worked to establish a valid autocephalous church. This was done with some semblance of legality following the convening in Fenbruary 1929 of a synod in King Zog’s villa and finally achieved when on 13 April 1937 the patriarch of Constantinople accepted the Albanian Orthodox Church as autocephalous.

PP 170-171, Historical Dictionary of Albania, Raymond Hutchins, The Scarecrow Press, Lanham, MD and London, 1996

RELIGION IN ALBANIA DURING THE OTTOMAN RULE

Author: Stavro Skendi

Few countries have experienced such unusual confessional changes as Albania.
After the religious schism of 1054, she was split into a Catholic north and an Orthodox south.  Westerners from across the Adriatic invaded Albania and attacked  the Byzantine Empire. The thema of Durrës (Dyrrhachium) and its Metropolis became the most active theatre of contest between the two faiths.  Whenever the Western armies were successful, the border line of the Eastern church receded: whenever Byzantium was victorious, its frontiers expanded.  Church power followed the vicissitudes of the political power which supported it.

Caught between the East-West struggle, the local lords and bishops in Albania tried to adapt themselves to the changing situations.  They wavered between Eastern Othodoxy and Roman Catholicism, according to their momentary interest.  These oscillations, however, and the mixed populations of cities, such as Durrës, prevented the Orthodox-Catholic conflict from taking a violent form on Albanian territory.

With the coming of the Ottomans a third religion was introduced into Albania: Islamism.  The Turks invaded Albania for the first time in 1385.  Turkey were invited by an Albanian feudal lord of the central part, Charles Thopia, who, distrusting Venice and fearing the domination of a ruling house in the north, the Balshas, asked for Turkish support. Balsha II and many other Albanian lords formed a coalition in order to oppose the enemy, but their resistance was broken near the Vijosë River.  Albania was invaded again in 1394-1396 by Sultan Beyazid I and a large part of the country was occupied by the Ottomans. But after Beyazid’s departure the local lords revolted and much of the lost territory was regained. A great invasion of the Turkish army took place in 1423 under Sultan Murad II (1421-1451) reaching as far as the Adriatic.

At the outset the Ottomans do not seem to have employed force for the propagation of Islam.  They allowed the Albanian lords to maintain their positions on condition that they pay the harac (tribute), send their sons as hostages to the Sultan’s court, and furnish auxiliary troops. In the records of the timars (Ottoman military fiefs) in southern and central Albania for the years 1431-1432, only 30% of the timars were held by Turks from Asia Minor whom the sultans had rewarded with lands in Albania, the rest were held by Albanian lords.

It was not obligatory for an Christian Albanian lord to become a Mohammedan in order to preserve his possessions or part of them as timars, although no doubt he would be more favored by the Ottoman administration if he were converted to Islam. In the record book just mentioned, a Christian lord named Pavlo Kurtik appears as a holder of a great timar south of Tiranë, while well-known Albanian Christian lords like Yuvan (John, Skenderbeg’s father), Balsha,  Araniti, Zenevisi, and  Dimitri Jonima are all in control of other lands.  There were timars held by Christians even during the reign of Mehmed II.  Title to timars could also pass from a Christian to a Moslem or visa versa.  We meet sipahi (holders of timars) brothers of whom one is a Christian and the other a Moslem.

Apparently local conditions influenced the Turks to pursue a conciliatory policy toward Albania before Skenderbeg’s time. The inhabitants were warlike people inclined to rebellion and their country was well-protected by mountains. Across the Adriatic was the Catholic West, and Venice, a potential enemy, was in possession of an important part of the Albanian coast. The Albanian local lords were small and more or less independent and it was easier for the Ottoman state to come to terms, with each one separately, with as good an offer as the timar.  It was not even very difficult for them to become Moslems.  They led in pre-Turkish Albania an amphibious life between Catholicism and Orthodoxy.  A military state like the Ottoman Empire offered a wide field of opportunities for their warlike qualities.  The interest of the Ottoman government in Albania seems then to have been primarily in recruiting support, irrespective of religion,

But in 1443 one of the sons of an Albanian lord who had been reared as a Moslem in the Sultan’s palace returned to Albania and raised the banner of revolt in the center of his father’s domains, the town of Kruja. It was Gjergj Kastrioti, surnamed Skenderbeg, the national hero of the Albanians. He immediately returned to the faith of his grandfathers. He declared in reality a Holy War from which there was no retreat; he linked his interests with the Christian West and burned his bridges behind him.

PP 151-152, “Balkan Cultural Studies”  by Stavro Skendi, East European Monographs,  Columbia University Press,    1980