It is the 13th of March 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I'm Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1965.
Today we turn our attention to Albania. It is a country with a fascinating religious history. Its location and historical ties to Rome and Greece, and the Ottoman Empire have made it a one-of-a-kind melting pot for various cultures and theological cousins.
First, and without insulting, the intelligence of the geography whizzes listening: Where is Albania? Picture the Italian peninsula in the Mediterranean. To the East, that gulf of water is called the Adriatic Sea. Albania is on the opposite coast of the Adriatic from Italy, parallel to the heel of that boot. It is the northern neighbor of Greece. The Balkan nations (think: former Yugoslavia) are to its north. If you've heard of the ancient people called the Illyrians or Dalmatians. Part of those lands were in modern Albania. Its location on the Mediterranean and proximity to Rome and Greece has long made it a strategic foothold.
The Albanians trace their history back through the Roman era and Constantine's Christendom. When the church split in 1054, the Northern Albanians sided with their Roman neighbors to the West while the Southern Albanians sided with their Byzantine neighbors to the East. However, in the High Middle Ages, the Ottoman Turks took control of the Balkan state. Thus, the country was disengaged with the Renaissance and Enlightenment, making the country seem, to western eyes, stuck as moderns with a medieval mindset. In 1912 Albania declared independence only to be carved up by Greece, Italy, and Yugoslavia. They eventually gain independence again, just to be swallowed up by Mussolini. After World War 2, the Albanians became part of the Soviet sphere.
Here's something worth noting. With their mix of Muslim, Orthodox, and Catholic populations, the state became the first Soviet satellite (and first county ever) to declare atheism as the state religion officially.
The events from 1989 to 1992 were as eventful in this former Warsaw Pact country as any Soviet satellite. A democratic system elected a president and a prime minister and jailed former leaders on corruption charges. The story doesn't end here, but for our sake, the years of struggle since their initial independence in 1912 had come to an end. The story of the 20th-century battle has become synonymous with one man.
Imagine a combination of the statesmanship of George Washington coupled with the literary and scientific ability of Ben Franklin. Add to this the evangelical zeal and theological mind of a Johnathan Edwards or John Wesley. Even still, there are things that Theofan Stilian Noli did for his home country, which makes him a wholly one-of-a-kind founding father, theologian, and academic.
Theofan, or Fan Noli, was born in Albania in 1882. This coincided with the mass immigration of Albanians to America for the first time. By 1906, Noli had found work with an Albanian newspaper in Boston. The young Albanian would not only find a Pan-Albanian organization, but he would become an ordained priest in the Orthodox Church. However, there would be tension with the church on Noli's Albanian nationalism and desire to hold church services not in Greek but his native tongue.
In 1911 he toured Europe holding services in Albanian for communities spread across Eastern Europe. After Albania declared its independence in 1912, Noli traveled to his home country and performed the first-ever church service in Albanian. He returned to America to write and work on behalf of members of the Albanian Diaspora. He traveled back to Albania in the mid-twenties when a short-lived revolution made Noli the Prime Minister and regent of the country. By the end of 1924, the provisional government was overthrown, and Noli took refuge in Italy.
For the rest of his life, Fani Noli would be engaged in the political questions of Albania. Still, he would also serve as the head of the autocephalic Albanian Orthodox Church. Noli became a translator of not only Albanian works into English, but English works into Albanian. He translated the New Testament into English for the Orthodox Church and paid particular attention to Albanian musicology. Later in life, he studied at the New England Conservatory of Music and then earned a Ph.D. from Boston University with a thesis on Beethoven and the Revolution.
His later life would be marred by some political allegiances (assumed and real), and he spent the end of his life translating hymns and religious texts into and from Albanian. The giant of the 20th-century Albanian renaissance and the founder of the Albanian Orthodox Church of America, Fan Noli, died on the 13th of March in 1965.
The reading for today comes from Anna Kamienska, a poem "Those Who Carry" translated from the original Polish by David Curzon.
Those who carry pianos
to the tenth floor wardrobes and coffins
an old man with a bundle of wood limps beyond the horizon
a woman with a hump of nettles
a madwoman pushing a pram
full of vodka bottles
they will all be lifted
like a gull's feather like a dry leaf
like an eggshell a scrap of newspaper
Blessed are those who carry
for they shall be lifted.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 13th of March 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by a man who would direct you to the Simpsons Season 1, Episode 11, for more on Albania. He is Christopher Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day. And remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true. Everything is going to be ok.