On August 16th, the day after the feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos, government officials in Permet, Albania violently seized and looted the Church of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple, and prevented worshipers from entering.
The church has existed there since the early 17th century. In the 1960's communists turned the church into a cultural center. The Supreme Court of Albania ruled in 1996 that the building belongs to the Orthodox Church, and liturgical services resumed and have continued there since.
Yesterday, from the Cathedral of the Resurrection in Tirana, Archbishop Anastasios was particularly critical of what happened in Permet. Among other things, he said: "We are reliving the nightmare of 1967 when the communist party thought they could uproot forever the religious faith of the Albanian people," and he added, "We cannot allow the desecration of our churches in the 21st century, in this Europe of freedom and human rights." Archbishop Anastasios also made the following comment: "If one of us Orthodox took a Koran from a Mosque and threw it on a truck, would there not would be a revolution? Justifiably! But then they say to us why are we complaining? Of course we are protesting." The Archbishop also stated: "We do not know the details of who is behind this, but it is a great insult." And he wondered: "Who are those who want to bring us back in time?" (The video of this sermon can be seen here.)
A Greek report on what happened can be seen here. Metropolitan Kosmas of Aitolia calls this "an insult to Orthodoxy and Greece," in an effort to encourage Greece to get involved in this issue.
Below are videos of what took place together with an official declaration by the Orthodox clergy and photos.
From the Clergy of the Holy Metropolis of Gjirokaster
Today in Permet the Orthodox Community witnessed the most brutal violation of the very notion of democracy or human rights; in particular the right to religious freedom as sanctioned by the Constitution, as well as violation of the most basic conditions that must be guaranteed within the framework of a state that ensures equal rights.
This morning, Friday, August 16, 2013, while all the Orthodox Community continued to observe the great feastday, the Dormition of the All-holy Virgin Mary – often called “the Summer Pascha”, paramilitary groups (with the aid of municipal employees and the silent support of municipal authorities) inflicted many forms of violence on the clergy and faithful of Permet, on the pretext that they were responding to a judicial issue.
Our entire Church stands behind the faithful of the “Entrance of the All-holy Virgin Mary into the Temple” parish in protest today because:
- the clergy of this city were beaten barbarically.
- the faithful were violently prevented from entering their church in order to carry out the duties of their faith.
- many church articles were stolen on the pretext of executing a judicial decision which had not been implemented in the proscribed time frame.
- grave sacrileges were committed as those who forcefully entered the church handled sacred church items (icons, sacred vessels used for worship, etc).
Those in power that speculate different legal procedures in fact aim at the violent removal of the faithful from their place of worship. The State, on the other hand, has ratified the Agreement between the Council of Ministers and the Orthodox Autocephalous Church of Albania with specific laws, where particular priority is given to securing the freedom of the Church to use its holy places for worship purposes.
We raise our voices in protest and at the same time declare that we are determined to continue our efforts, with whatever means and methods possible, that our right to the property and free use of the parish church, “Entrance of the All-holy Virgin Mary into the Temple”, be completely secured.
These dark forces which have committed today’s violent acts are without any control of a state of law and the spirit of tolerance and social cohesion. We demand that they receive the rightful punishment set forth by the Law.