World Council of Churches - News Release
Contact: +41 22 791 6153 +41 79 507 6363 email@example.com For immediate release - 14/09/2006 02:37:00 PM
"IT IS A SCANDAL FOR CHRISTIANS TO REMAIN ISOLATED" INTERVIEW WITH WCC PRESIDENT ARCHBISHOP ANASTASIOS OF TIRANA AND ALL ALBANIA
By Stephen Webb and Yannick Provost (*)
[Corrected version of the interview distributed on 11 September]
The rich ecumenical and church experience of Archbishop Dr Anastasios of Tirana, head of the Orthodox Autocephalous Church of Albania, spans four decades and several continents. Sent to Albania for the first time in 1991, he has led the devastated church, the largest and oldest in this majority-Muslim country, to an extraordinary renewal. In 1967, under communist rule, Albania's population of 3.5 million people were prohibited from any practice of religion. Anastasios found 1,600 destroyed or closed churches and only 22 elderly priests still alive of the 440 who had served Albania before communism. Since then, he has led the effort to reconstruct church life, baptizing thousands, and opening hundreds of places of worship, schools, youth centres, clinics and monasteries.
From 1984 to 1991, Anastasios was moderator of the WCC's
Commission on World Mission and Evangelism; from 1981 to 1990, he was the acting archbishop of East Africa, where he organized and developed the Orthodox mission in the region; and from 1983 to 1986, dean of the theological school at the University of Athens. A renowned theologian and missiologist, Archbishop Anastasios is professor emeritus of the National University of Athens, an honorary member of the Academy of Athens, and has received 15 honorary degrees from universities in Europe and the United States. In 2006, he was elected as one of the eight WCC presidents.
How did you first become involved in the ecumenical movement and what was your first contact with the WCC?
My first contact was in 1963 at the Conference on World Mission and Evangelism in Mexico to which I was appointed by the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece, and I quickly became involved in international ecumenical work.
After WCC's Vancouver assembly in 1983, I was elected moderator of the Commission for World Mission and Evangelism and worked on the theme "Your will be done: mission in Christ's way". I think this theme has marked my calling, spiritual life and work.
How do you see the current situation of the ecumenical movement?
I think we are in a transition. It is clear that the ecumenical movement is not an institution, a house; it is more like a river. A river exists in different environments, starting as a source and changing as it flows along. But a river is extremely beautiful and extremely useful for the whole environment.
We speak about crisis and difficulties and disappointments. Nevertheless, I believe that the ecumenical movement is a must for all of us. We must think together, we must speak together and act together, and even quarrel together, without letting other ambiguous or secular interests interfere with and pollute the river.
What do you see as your role as WCC president?
As a president, my role is to participate in the deliberations of the Council, share experiences of past decades, contribute to the discussions on the present and gaze on the problems of the future.
Outside, my task is to promote ecumenism and to interpret the work of the WCC. Of course, when you speak of interpretation, you must know both languages, the language of the WCC and also how others outside will understand it.
Especially for the Orthodox Church, it is to help the Orthodox to see the responsibility that we have towards the whole Christian world and not to remain isolated in our own communities. For we in the Orthodox Church are a living part of the modern world.
In the environment of other churches my role is to articulate the Orthodox experience and conscience and our interest in the plans of the WCC. I think the spirituality and sense of the faith and work of the church is a useful contribution of the Orthodox Church to the ecumenical movement.
Can you tell us something about the current situation in Albania?
Albania is a unique place. It was the only state that outlawed religion for 23 years. The current generation bears the marks of that time. Thank God, there is now religious freedom. The Orthodox Church started from nothing, from scratch. But now we have a vital church life. We try also to be active in social life, and in the areas of health, education, agricultural development, culture and the environment.
We are not a closed community, acting for ourselves, but we share with the others what we have. The Orthodox Church in Albania is not the majority, but it is a strong presence in society. There are good relations between religious communities, including the Muslim majority. I think we have the best relations in the Balkans region.
It is not enough to speak about coexistence; we must speak about collaboration. And the religions must come together in periods of crisis. At the time of the Kosovo crisis in 1999, when the refugees started to come to Albania, and all of them were Muslims, we went in the midst of those suffering and shared their difficulties. We made an appeal to the ecumenical family and there was a moving response. Working through WCC's Action by Churches Together (ACT) we brought assistance to 33,000 people. It was not only symbolic but also extremely important for the whole situation in the Balkans.
In Albania we emphasize that we must not leave the religious field to be used by other forces; we must use religion for healing wounds and making hearts human.
As WCC president, what is your message to the churches?
I don't like to speak about a message; I like to speak about sharing our concerns, because I am also an active person in a concrete local church. My concern first of all is to understand that we must be together. Any isolation to ourselves would be a great mistake and even a sin. It is a scandal for Christians to remain isolated.
We must not leave basic issues for others to be protagonists. For example, in the last century it was a mistake to let other ideologies be at the forefront in human rights, social justice, and the interests of the poor. In the 21st century, it would be a graver mistake to allow other religious entities to be the main protagonists, while Christians are associated with the powerful, and seemingly indifferent to injustice, human indignity and poverty.
We are co-workers in the transforming energy of Divine Grace. We must accept this role. Perhaps the most important contribution for us Christians, as churches, is to be really what we pretend that we are: the living body of Christ. The church must be a people which is creative, responsible, full of love and energy.
(*) Stephen Webb is media officer for the New South Wales Synod of the Uniting Church in Australia. Yannick Provost is coordinator of WCC Publications.
A high resolution photo of Archbishop Anastasios is available on: http://www.wcc-assembly.info/en/news-media/press-room/high-resolution-photos.html?tx_damdownloads_pi1%5BshowUid%5D=2720&cHash=11fa9567ec
Additional information: Juan Michel, +41 22 791 6153 +41 79 507 6363 firstname.lastname@example.org
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The World Council of Churches promotes Christian unity in faith, witness and service for a just and peaceful world. An ecumenical fellowship of churches founded in 1948, today the WCC brings together 348 Protestant, Orthodox, Anglican and other churches representing more than 560 million Christians in over 110 countries, and works cooperatively with the Roman Catholic Church. The WCC general secretary is Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia, from the Methodist Church in Kenya. Headquarters: Geneva, Switzerland.