‘Only at one time did I consider resigning’

One hot afternoon in July 1991, a black-robed cleric arrived at Tirana’s primitive airport. After he passed through customs, he was welcomed by a group of about 15 people, who took him straight to a ruined Orthodox Christian church in the center of town. There among the ruins, the bespectacled priest officiated at the first religious service to be held in Albania in 24 years, as government agents kept a close watch – Albania was still governed by Ramiz Alia – and ordinary people who had never seen a cleric before stared at him as if he were an extraterrestrial. The cleric with the long white beard and sharp eyes was none other than Anastassios Yiannoulatos, now Archbishop of Tirana and All Albania, who arrived in the capacity of exarch of the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchate, charged with the difficult task of rebuilding the Orthodox Church of Albania which had been dissolved by the Hoxha regime in 1967. The trials and tribulations of Anastassios Yiannoulatos, who arrived in Albania from jungle missions in Africa, began the moment he set foot in Tirana and have never ended. Thirteen years on, this brave pastor, who is generally seen as the incarnation of Orthodoxy’s most benign face, spoke to Kathimerini recently about the hard road he has traveled through Albania’s troubled history and which he continues to travel as «it is God’s will.» Archbishop Anastassios reviews the events of the past few years and for the first time speaks about those in Greece and in Albania who have undermined him and who continue to do so. He refers to reports of «strange car accidents» that have reached him, saying that there have been times he has thought of giving up and moving on.

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