TIRANA, April 28. /TASS/. The Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia, Kirill I, arrived on Saturday in Albania on what is the first-ever visit by the head of the Russian Orthodox Church to this country.
The Eastern Orthodox Archbishop Anastasios of Tirana, Durres and all Albania, members of the Holy Synod of the Albanian Orthodox Church, and the Russian Ambassador in Tirana, Anatoly Karpushin came to the airport to meet and greet His Holiness Kirill.
Right from the airport, the hierarchs of the Albanian and Russian Churches and the accompanying clerics went to the Resurrection Cathedral where about a thousand pilgrims from all parts of Albania had gathered for prayer.
The service was conducted in three languages - the Old Church Slavonic, Albanian and Greek. The congregation sang many a time the Christos Anesti [Christ Hath Risen] hymn in Greek.
On Sunday, Archbishop Anastasios and Patriarch Kirill I are expected to lead a liturgy in the same cathedral.
Resurrection Cathedral that was built in downtown Tirana in 2012 offers an offbeat sample of contemporary Christian architecture. It rises on a plot of land the government allotted by way of compensation for a metropolitan cathedral, which the Communist regime of Enver Hoxha pulled down in 1967.
Over the past 25 years, Orthodox Christian Albanians had restored 160 churches and built anew about the same number of church buildings.
The Albanian Orthodox Church that resurrected over the past 25 years after an almost total destruction and it is making a notable contribution to the restructuring and social progress of the country today, Archbishop Anastasios told Patriarch Kirill at a meeting at the Resurrection Cathedral.
"Along with the purely internal reorganization, the Albanian Church has designed advanced projects in healthcare, education, culture, ecology," he said. "Thanks to its very presence, it is making a considerable contribution to the reforming and spiritual/social development of the country."
His Beatitude Anastasios recalled that, beginning with 1968, a unique situation took shape in Albania in the religious sphere.
"Officially, the Constitution declared Albania to be an absolutely atheistic state that drove religion into oblivion most violently and cruelly for a whole 23 years," he said, adding that Communist government’s anti-religious actions were marked by extreme radicalism.
For instance, anyone who dared cross oneself in public would run the risk of a prison term of ten years and those who kept icons at home could be marooned in prison for 25 years.
At present, Eastern Orthodox Christianity and other religions are enjoying a period of revival. The Albanian Orthodox Church has six monasteries, a theological academy in Durres, the Logos University that trains economists and medical assistants, a diagnostic center in Tirana, four outpatient clinics, the Service of Love mobile perinatal center, and other institutions.
Kirill I said on his part the Russian Orthodox Church lived through similar ordeals in the 20th century. "I hope my visit here will turn a new page in relations between our sisterly local [national] Churches," he said.
The Moscow Patriarch will stay in Albania through April 30. The itinerary of his visit includes a liturgy in the Resurrection Cathedral in Tirana, a trip to Durres where he will visit the theological academy and St Blaise’s monastery, and meetings with the country’s political leadership.