A shining exception

Apart from the usual consumer frenzy, the festive season – which ended yesterday with the feast of the Epiphany – raises questions about the role of religion in the world today. While the 20th century began with Nietzsche’s militant cry of «God is dead!» the dawn of the 21st century marks what a French thinker has described as a «return to God.» Unfortunately, in many cases what returns is not the god of universal love and social solidarity, but a god who punishes those who espouse other creeds, who happen to be foreign or different. The proof of this can be seen in the recent upsurge in all kinds of national-religious fanaticism, not only in the Islamic world but also in many democratic Western societies, particularly after September 11, 2001. Fortunately, in this ill-omened climate, there are some shining exceptions of genuine spiritual leaders, who manage to retain the timeless message of Christianity in the most difficult circumstances. One of the most remarkable but least publicized is that of Anastasios, Archbishop of Albania. A decade ago, starting literally from scratch, faced with a legacy of suspicion and overt hatred from the world’s most autocratic regime, he managed to turn the Orthodox Church into one of the strongest sources of hope in a country which is still struggling to get into its stride in the chaos of the post-communist era. Academies, youth centers, infrastructure works, environmental programs, and building the most important diagnostic center in the country are among the many contributions the Orthodox Church has made to Albania. The archbishop’s success seems even more extraordinary given how little economic and political support he had from the state or any other secular agency. There is nothing magical in Anastasios’s recipe for success: Only the hard work of people who are inspired by a sense of mission, far removed from the transient glory of publicity. One hopes that the message of the archbishop of Albania finds ready ears among spiritual and political leaders, who do not always convince us that they are able to distinguish the ephemeral from the essential, the enjoyable from the beneficial and the power of love from the love of power.

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