Ecclesiastically, Christians in Albania being part of the Illyricum province were under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Rome (1st-8th century). At 732-733 AD the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of Illiricum was transferred to the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. The schism of 1054 formalized the split of Christianity into two branches, Catholicism and Orthodoxy that was reflected in Albania with the emergence of a Catholic north and Orthodox south. During the moment of schism (1054) Albanians were attached to the Eastern Orthodox Church and were all Orthodox Christians.
Orthodox Church during the Ottoman Period
The official recognition of the Eastern Orthodox Church by the Porte resulted in the Orthodox population being tolerated until the late 18th century. The Orthodox population of Albania was integrated into the Patriarchate of Constantinople, with the population of central and south-eastern Albania being under the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Orthodox Archbishopric of Ohrid, and the population of south-western Albania being under the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Metropolis of Ioannina.
During the late eighteenth century, the poverty of the Orthodox Church, the illiterate clergy, a lack of clergy in some areas and liturgy in a language other than Albanian, the reliance of the bishoprics of Durrës and southern Albania upon the declining Archbishopric of Ohrid, due in part to simony, weakened the faith among the Church's adherents and reduced the ability of the Orthodox Albanians in resisting conversion to Islam.
By mid-19th century, because of the Tanzimat reforms started in 1839, which imposed mandatory military service on non-Muslims, the Orthodox Church lost adherents as the majority of Albanians had become Muslim.
Movement for establishing an authocephalous Albanian Orthodox Church
Papa Kristo Negovani
, first Orthodox priest to conduct the divine liturgy in Albanian and was murdered (1905) by a Greek guerilla band for his efforts.
In the 19th century, Orthodox Albanians under the Patriarchate of Constantinople had liturgy and schooling in Greek and toward the late Ottoman period mainly identified with Greek national aspirations. For Orthodox Albanians, Albanianism was closely associated with Hellenism, linked through the faith of Orthodoxy and only during the Eastern crisis and thereafter was that premise rejected by a few Orthodox Albanianists. In southern Albania during the late Ottoman period being Albanian was increasingly associated with Islam, while from the 1880s the emerging Albanian National Movement was viewed as an obstacle to Hellenism within the region. Some Orthodox Albanians mainly from Korçë and its regions began to affiliate with the Albanian National movement by working together with Muslim Albanians regarding shared social, geopolitical Albanian interests and aims causing concerns for Greece. Contribution to the national movement by Orthodox Albanian nationalists was mainly undertaken outside the Ottoman state in the Albanian diaspora with activities focusing on educational issues and propaganda. As Orthodoxy was associated with Greek identity, the rise of the Albanian national movement caused confusion for Orthodox Albanians as it interrupted the formation of a Greek national consciousness.
Metropolitan bishop Photios of "Korytsa and Premeti" (1906-1908) took various initiatives for the promotion of Greek cultural activity.
He was murdered in 1908 by an Albanian irregular band for being against the development of Albanian cultural activity and in retaliation for the murder of Kristo Negovani.
At the onset of the twentieth century the idea to create an Albanian Orthodoxy or an Albanian expression of Orthodoxy emerged in the diaspora at a time when the Orthodox were increasingly being assimilated by the Patriarchate and Greece through the sphere of politics. The Orthodox Albanian community had individuals such as Jani Vreto, Spiro Dine and Fan Noli involved in the national movement and some of them advocated for an Albanian Orthodoxy in order to curtail the Hellenisation process occurring amongst Orthodox Albanians. In 1905, priest Kristo Negovani who had attained Albanian national sentiments abroad returned to his native village of Negovan and introduced the Albanian language for the first time in Orthodox liturgy. For his efforts Negovani was murdered by a Greek guerilla band on orders from Bishop Karavangelis of Kastoria that aroused a nationalist response with the Albanian guerilla band of Bajo Topulli killing the Metropolitan of Korçë, Photios. In 1907, an Orthodox Albanian immigrant
Kristaq Dishnica was refused funeral services in the United States by a local Orthodox Greek priest for being an Albanian nationalist involved in patriotic activities. Known as the Hudson incident, it galvanised the emigre Orthodox Albanian community to form the Albanian Orthodox Church under Fan Noli who hoped to diminish Greek influence in the church and counter Greek irredentism. On March 18, 1908, as a result of the Hudson Incident Fan Noli was ordained as a priest by Russian bishop Platon in the United States. Noli conducted the Orthodox liturgy (March 1908) for the first time among the Albanian-American community in the Albanian language. Noli also devoted his efforts toward translating the liturgy into Albanian and emerging as a leader of the Orthodox Albanian community in the USA visited in 1911 the Orthodox Albanian diasporas in Romania, Ukraine and Bulgaria. For Albanian nationalists, Greek nationalism was a concern toward the end of the 19th century due to overlapping territorial claims toward the ethnically mixed vilayet of Yannina. Those issues also generated a reaction against Greek nationalists that drove the Albanian desire to stress a separate cultural identity.
Autocephaly and statutes
Bishop Fan Noli, founder of the Orthodox Autocephalous Church of Albania.
After Albanian independence in 1912, Noli (who in 1924 would also be a political figure and prime minister of Albania), traveled to Albania where he played an important role in establishing the Orthodox Albanian Church. On September 17, 1922, the first Orthodox Congress convened at Berat formally laid the foundations of an Albanian Orthodox Church and declared its autocephaly. Fan Noli was consecrated as Bishop of Korçë and primate of all Albania while the establishment of the Church was seen as an important development for maintaining Albanian national unity. At the end of the congress the First Statute of the Church was approved.
The Church had a Second Statute that amended the First Statute in a second congress gathered in Korçë on June 29, 1929. Also on September 6, 1929, the first Regulation of General Administration of the Church was approved. The Patriarchate in Istanbul recognised the independence or autocephaly of the Orthodox Albanian Church in 1937.
On November 26, 1950, the Parliament of Albania approved the Third Statute that abrogated the 1929 Statute. Such new statute required Albanian citizenship for the primate of the church in its article 4. With the exception of the amendments made in 1993, this statute is still in force for the Church.
On January 21, 1993, the 1950 statute was amended and 1996 it was approved by the President of the Republic Sali Berisha. In particular article 4 of the 1950 statute that required Albanian citizenship for primate of the church was no longer required.
On November 3 and 4, 2006, at the new Monastery of St. Vlash in Durrës, there was a special Clergy-Laity Assembly of the Orthodox Autocephalous Church of Albania, attended by 257 representatives (including all clergy members). At this Assembly the New Constitution (Statute) of the Church was analyzed and accept unanimously. On November 6, 2006, the Holy Synod approved this Constitution (Statute). On November 24, 2008, the Orthodox Autocephalous Church of Albania and the Council of Ministers signed an agreement according to the 1998 Albanian Constitution, for the arrangement of their reciprocal relationship. The agreement was ratified by the Albanian Parliament, and became law nr.10057, 01.22.2009 of the Albanian State.
Archbishop of Tirana
The Primate of the Orthodox Autocephalous Church of Albania is also the Archbishop of Tirana and Durrës. The current Archbishop of Tirana is Archbishop Anastasios of Albania.
The primates to date:
The church greatly suffered during the dictatorship of Enver Hoxha as all churches were placed under government control, and land originally held by religious institutions were taken by the state. Religion in schools was banned. Similarly, Hohxa propagated that Albania is threatened by
religion in general, since it serves the "Trojan Horse" style interests of the country's traditional enemies; in particular Orthodoxy those of Greece and Serbia. In 1952 Archbishop Kristofor was discovered dead; most believed he had been killed.
In 1967 Hoxha closed down all religious buildings in the country, and declared Albania the world's first atheist country. All expression of religion, public or private, was outlawed. Hundreds of clergy were killed or imprisoned. As a result of this policy a total of 600 Orthodox churches were demolished (there were 1,600 in 1944). Other buildings of the Orthodox community forcibly seized their religious function.