ALBANIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH OF ST. ATHANASIUS DESTROYED.
On August 26, 2015 at around 4 o’clock in the morning construction forces attacked and destroyed the church of St. Athanasius in Dhermi in Himara, which had recently been twice vandalized, reported the press office of the Albanian Orthodox Church.
The destruction crew gave no notice and did not allow the parish faithful to remove the sacred objects before they flattened the parish. Parishioners responded that they felt dejected and offended to see the Holy Gospel, icons and other sacred objects buried under the rubble.
As were the previous acts of vandalism at St. Athanasius, this action is a flagrant violation of Albanian Law no. 10057, 22.01.2008, “On the ratification of the Agreement between the Government of the Republic of Albania and the Orthodox Church of Albania” which recognizes the sanctity of buildings used for Orthodox worship and prohibits state intervention, promising the protection of religious objects. Those who planned the destruction of the temple had made various incorrect claims about the history and legal ownership of the parish building in order to justify their actions. Hierarchical representatives have demanded an explanation from local authorities.
Such actions endanger the peaceful coexistence of different religious communities towards which the Albanian Orthodox Church works and provokes and distorts the image of the Albanian people and nation.
ALBANIA, GREECE ROW OVER VILLAGE CHURCH
The Greek Foreign Ministry on Sunday condemned what it called a “violent incident” at the church of Saint Athanas in the Albanian village of Dhermi, describing what happened as “unacceptable and contemptible”.
Construction police from the local Himara Municipality went to Dhermi on Friday to remove the concrete roof of the church, claiming it was an illegal build.
But the Orthodox Church of Albania, which has strong Greek support, called it an attempt to destroy the church and said that those involved “used violence against the priest and believers”.
It claimed that there had been officially-sanctioned attempts to carry out excavations at the church in a bid to find the grave of a Catholic missionary from the 17th Century.
The Albanian Foreign Ministry meanwhile described Greece’s statement as “interference in Albania’s internal affairs”.
Artan Shkreli, an advisor to Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, said that local police had simply intervened to stop illegal construction at the site, which he said had “deformed” the church.
Shkreli claimed that the Church of Saint Athanas is a cultural monument in Albania and that the reactions against the intervention by the police were organised by the Greek minority group Omonia, which is known for its nationalistic stance.
“The illegal and illogical reaction from Omonia against the intervention of the Construction Police is linked to the fact that they deny the history of this country,” Shkreli said.
“The [17th Century] Basilian missionary Nilo Catalano, who opened the earliest Albanian schools, was buried in this church, amongst others,” Shkreli told local TV station A1 Report.
Albanian Orthodox Church spokesperson Thoma Dhima responded by saying that the church in Dhermi does not have cultural monument status and that it was built by the villagers in 1992 on the foundation of the old church. He described the police intervention as unlawful and said that he had filed charges at the prosecutor’s office.
Responding to Shkreli’s claims about Catalano, Dhima said that the missionary attempted to convince people in the area to become loyal to the Pope, but was rejected.
He said that Catalano “poured in plenty of money to buy” the locals’ faith, but was driven out.
The rivalry between the Catholic and Orthodox churches in Albania is centuries old and is often mixed up with Albanian-Greek rivalry.
But as the dispute over the church illustrates, it still has the potential to cause serious disagreements between Albania and Greece.
In its statement on the row on Sunday, the Greek Foreign Ministry suggested that Albania’s EU integration process could suffer as a result.
“Greece will be at our neighbouring country’s side on its course towards Europe, on the condition, of course, that Albania fully meets all of its obligations provided for by international law and the European acquis [the body of law that needs to be met to secure EU accession],” the Greek Foreign Ministry statement said.
25 / 08 / 2015
ALBANIAN CHURCH OF ST. ATHANASIUS SUFFERS TWO ATTACKS OF VANDALISM
The church of St. Athanasius in the southern Albanian town of Dhërmi was recently attacked and vandalized two days in a row reports the press office of the Autocephalous Orthodox Church of Albania.
On August 20th, during the festive period celebrating the Dormition of the Theotokos, municipality employees of Himara entered the church of St. Athanasius, removing icons and other sacred items and began to vandalize the building. The destruction took place without the knowledge of the Orthodox community or legal documentation, but carried the approval of local law enforcement.
Once the destruction became known the faithful gathered at the church with their priest to protest and intervene to prevent any further damage to the holy building. The people expressed their indignation at such flagrant acts and boldly declared to defend their church against any such further attacks. They gathered again in the afternoon to protest.
Again on Friday, August 21st a serious act of vandalism took place at the church of St. Athanasius when as-yet unidentified persons driving unmarked cars destroyed the cement floor of the temple. The priest was a witness to the vandalism and was almost seriously injured as the perpetrators fled the scene.
Local Church authorities denounced the unprovoked action of destruction and blatant attempt to increase social conflict. The Orthodox faithful of Dhërmi were shocked by the acts of violence and have called upon the state to prosecute the offenders and intervene to stop any further attacks. The faithful are also outraged by the attitude of the media which is largely attempting to politicize and legitimize the acts of hatred.
The acts of August 20th and 21st violates all possible laws considering that the church property belongs to the Orthodox community, and they especially violate Law no. 10057 / 22.01.2009 / “On Ratification of the Agreement between the Government of the Republic of Albania and the Orthodox Church of Albania” which guarantees the inviolability of places of worship and protects them against the state. The acts betray a profound lack of respect for non-Muslim religious communities and echoes the actions of the atheist Communists who first destroyed the church in 1972. The temple was rebuilt in 1992.
The Orthodox Church of Albania condemns all such actions and calls upon its faithful to remain calm but resolute in defending their church and to pray for the repentance of the perpetrators. The Church has also vowed to rebuild the church of St. Athansius.