Address By His Beatitude Archbishop Anastasios of Tirana at the inauguration of The Holy Church of The Resurrection of Christ10 June 2014
By His Beatitude
of Tirana, Durrës and All Albania
At the inauguration of The Holy Church of The Resurrection of Christ,
‘This is the day the Lord made
Let us rejoice in it and be glad’
All Holy Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios of Constantinople, [Your Excellency, the President of the Republic], Your Beatitudes the Primates, and Your Eminences the Representatives of the Local Orthodox Churches, Venerable Representatives of the Religious Communities in Albania, Your Excellencies the Ambassadors, Beloved Brothers and Sisters,
Feelings of praise, thanksgiving and joy fill the souls of the Orthodox in Albania when we recall God’s exceptional blessings and gifts over the last 23 years. And the thought comes to my mind, unbidden, of my first contact with the suffering Orthodox people of this land.
At the beginning of 1991, the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate took the initiative to invite me to come to Albania as Patriarchal Exarch, so that I could investigate what had remained after the atheist devastation. It was July 1991 when we arrived, with two companions, at Tirana Airport. We were met by a small group of elderly people, worn out by ceaseless persecution. From there we made our way to the ruined church of the Annunciation. I wanted to define the message of my mission from the first moment. I asked them all to take a candle and requested that they say ‘Christ has risen’ in Albanian. I lit my candle and cried ‘Krishti u Ngjall’, that is ‘Christ has risen’. One after another, these few Christians lit their candles and, with tears in their eyes, replied ‘Vërtet u Νgjall’, ‘He has risen indeed’. Since then, ‘Christ has risen’ has been the slogan we have marched to all these years. It gave light to the melancholy autumn and the dark, hard winter that followed. And it predominates in the spiritual spring that God has granted us in the end. Christ’s Resurrection has become the most expressive symbol of our Church.
It is with profound gratitude, Your All-Holiness, that we, clergy and laity, recall the love and tireless concern of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, of the Mother Church, in the years of totalitarian persecution, your swift personal initiatives for the reconstruction of the Orthodox Church of Albania. And now, at the moment of the inauguration of the new Cathedral, we feel obliged to express ‘again and again’ our most cordial thanks.
I would also like to express our heartfelt thanks to Your Beatitudes, Patriarchs Theofilos of Jerusalem, Irinej of Serbia and Daniil of Romania, Your Beatitudes, Archbishops Chrysostomos of Cyprus, Ieronymos of Athens and Savvas of Warsaw and also Your Eminences, the Metropolitans who are representing the Patriarchates of Alexandria, Antioch, Russia, Bulgaria and Georgia, for agreeing to take part in what is a historic day for the Church of Albania.
Your presence here this Sunday, which coincides with the commemoration of the 318 Fathers of the First Ecumenical Synod, lends special emphasis to the unity of Orthodoxy, to the truth that ‘if one member suffers, all members suffer alike; and if one member is praised, the other members also rejoice’ (I Cor. 12, 26-7) and that our Church is one body, the body of Christ, ‘the fullness of him who fills all in all’ (Eph. 1, 23). So today’s event is not merely a great honour for the Church of Albania, but, at the same time, a wider testimony to the strength of the Orthodox World, ‘from one end to the other’.
Today seals a whole period of Passion, Burial and Resurrection for the Orthodox Church of Albania. I shall not refer now to the conditions, the questions, the obstacles, the misunderstandings, the slander, the objective difficulties and the trials of these long 23 years, nor to the achievements over the same period. It is now beyond doubt that, in an age of uncertainty and disturbances, the Autocephalous Orthodox Church of Albania, through its presence and its many and varied social initiatives, has strengthened the faith, the love and the hope of the Orthodox people, and of Albanian society in general. Through its activities it has contributed effectively, at a critical period in history, to the broader reconstruction, to the spiritual and social development, of Albania.
The most obvious symbol of this painstaking and total reconstruction of the Autocephalous Orthodox Church of Albania, in all sectors, is this new Cathedral church. The overall concept of its architecture combines many symbols from Orthodox tradition. The basic idea comes from the most imposing achievement of Orthodox architecture, from one side of Ayia Sofia (Holy Wisdom) in Constantinople, with a quest for a new expression from the 21st century. The church rests on four columns, which form a cross. Above this rises the cupola, with 52 windows, a symbol of the length of time of a year, and, at the top is a mosaic of Christ the Almighty, Who links time to eternity.
In the apse of the sanctuary, another large mosaic represents the universal triumph of the Risen Lord and refers to the command and promise which close the Gospel according to Saint Matthew: ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations… And behold, I am with you until the end of the age’.
If I may digress for a moment. A few days ago marked the completion of fifty years from my ordination to the priesthood (24 May 1964) and my departure, on the same day, for Africa. I went as a representative of a young team that wanted very much to put the fire back into the Orthodox External Mission and, in obedience to the last command of the Risen Lord- ‘Go out’- wished to go out to new boundaries, to take the Gospel message to the downtrodden, who were thirsting for the truth of the Gospel. Much later, I followed the call to another path, in Albania, which had been so wounded by the atheist persecution.
On the western façade of the Cathedral, the central entrance recalls an open embrace. It silently issues the invitation of Christ, the Master of the house: ‘Come to me all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will refresh you’ (Matt. 11, 28). An invitation which summarizes the message of our mission.
A bright blue pane of glass recalls the rainbow, a sign of peace and hope after the storm. Above the central entrance, there rises a bronze cross with two stalks of wheat, a symbol of sacrificial love and devotion, as Christ declared before His Passion: ‘Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone. But if it dies, it bears great fruit’ (Jn., 12, 24). This is a verse that determines the whole of our journey.
As regards the bell-tower, the four Easter candles recall the four Evangelists, who announce Christ’s Resurrection. The small chapel of Christ’s Nativity reminds us that everything began with the humility and love of the Incarnate Word of God. The Cathedral is flanked by the Synodal Chambers and the Cultural Centre, a reflection of our belief that culture is directly linked to the life of the Church.
Everything emphasizes that, in the Orthodox tradition, truth, love and beauty flow into each other.
Many public and anonymous figures contributed to the construction of the Cathedral. In the first place, those who served as Prime Ministers in Albania in the last decade. Many donors and collaborators from a variety of countries. The diptychs of the Cathedral contain hundreds of names of those who contributed to its erection. Our gratitude to all of them remains sincere and profound.
As we prayed in the Service of Inauguration, we hope that this Cathedral will be ‘a harbour for the storm-tossed, a place of healing for the passions, a shelter for the sick’, a source of consolation, love and hope, contributing to the development of a dynamic liturgical life and of Orthodox spirituality. And that it will provide ceaseless inspiration for the ‘continuation of the liturgy after the Liturgy’. So that our daily lives may be transformed into a personal Liturgy, in which, in a spirit of praise, we can share with other people, in word and deed, the gifts which God has granted us.
Within the context of this general joy and blessing, it is imperative that we also mark the secret message which God is sending to each of us personally on the occasion of this inauguration: the obligation for the personal renewal of our being, so that we are ‘temples of the living God’.
In his discourse ‘On the new Lord’s Day ’, Saint Gregory the Theologian weaves together the call for the radical renewal of all things, which is accomplished with Christ’s Resurrection, and the obligation of Christians to make ceaseless efforts towards self-renewal. His basic message culminates with: ‘Let us celebrate the present inauguration spiritually’. ‘The old has passed away; behold all things have become new’. ‘Bring this as your fruit to the feast, and undergo the good change’. ‘Renew yourselves, brethren, and, casting off your former selves, live in the newness of life’. ‘This is how people are inaugurated; let the day of inauguration be honoured in this way’ ‘Renew yourself’ the Church urges each of us. Dedicate your life with constancy to the God of love.
The great requirement for every believer is how to become a temple of the Holy Spirit. Not in a general or vague way, but by cultivating the fruit of the Holy Spirit in our daily lives. And how, in our lives, we can be witnesses to the power of the Cross and the joy of the Resurrection. Let us wish for each other that the brilliant light of the Resurrection may illumine our existence, and strengthen our faith in the Crucified and Risen Christ. And may it support our struggles for the spiritual progress of the place where we live and of the world as a whole.
Let us pray that this Cathedral will become the symbol of an Orthodoxy open to the modern world, a place where the mystery of God in the Trinity, the divine dispensation in Christ through the Holy Spirit, will be experienced and proclaimed. A true laboratory of spiritual culture on the part of the faithful, rooted in an awareness of the Resurrection, which embraces the whole world. And which conveys the truth, the power and the beauty of Orthodoxy.
‘To Him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than we can ask or conceive, to Him be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, unto the ages. Amen’ (Eph. 3, 20-1).