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The Story of Archbishop Anastasios - p.3

"We Must Not Waste A Single Day"

by Nicholas Gage

"Every night snipers would fire at my office and residence,” the archbishop recalls, “but none of them hit anyone, thank God."

Despite of danger, he believes the experience brought him closer to the Albanians. "It proved that we're not here just to play good Samaritans but to live with them, share the risks they face and show that, in the worst of times, there is always hope."

Two years later, thousands of Albanians from Kosovo poured into the country when Serb forces attacked them. "We helped as many refugees as possible, knowing almost all of then were Muslims," Anastasios says. "We collected more than $12 million to set up camps that housed, fed and cared for some 33,000 refugees."

That effort helped strengthen the archbishop's standing with Albanian Muslims. "We strive to show that religious communities can come together and help each other," says Anastasios."Islam has the possibility of becoming very aggressive or quite moderate. The important thing is to prevent religious institutions from falling into the hands of fanatics."

The invasion of Iraq has disturbed all Arabs, he believes. "They feel wounded, but if America shows that it is sincere in respecting the freedom and religion of the people of Iraq, then attitudes in the Muslim world will improve dramatically."

To aid Albanian Muslims, the archbishop stretches his limited resources which come entirely from donations. An example is the state-of-the-art clinic in Tirana where 3000 to 4000 people a month, mostly Muslims, are treated, "no one is turned away," says Dr. Charles Linderman, 37, a physician from Cleveland who runs the surgical unit, "and I know there are churches not being built in order to keep the clinic going." Among those treated were the window and daughter of Enver Hoxha, the late Communist dictator who outlawed religion.

Archbishop Anastasios is just as daring in dealing with his fellow Orthodox Christians. "When we started our seminary, everyone was shocked that we accepted female students," he recalls.:We needed them to direct programs and teach, but I also believe women must play a greater role in the life of the church."

As a result of such progressive views and his accomplishments, the archbishop has drawn Americans and Europeans to Albania – including doctors, nurses, priest, architects and even computer experts – to help him in his work.

Anastasios' most ambitious project, which he views as the capstone of his mission in Albania, is to rebuild an Orthodox cathedral in Tirana to replace one that was demolished by the Communists. The name he has chosen for the cathedral embodies what he has accomplished for the Orthodox Church in Albania and the Albanian people – Resurrection.

 

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