“Society of Love" Charity Kitchens
The “Society of Love” Charity Kitchens provide a very valuable contribution to many poor people in Albanian society. The Orthodox Autocephalous Church of Albania helps many people in need in Tirana, Korça, Berat and Gjirokastra with food. Today these activities are taking place even more often because these centers are intended not only to help people with daily hot meals, but also to offer them a safe place where they can feel love for one another and for life. To achieve this aim, believers voluntarily provide a clean, comfortable and welcoming environment and serve a good lunch with nutritional food.
The organization’s groups work in these kitchens with commitment, treating all of the friends with respect, love and dignity. No one is asked to which religion they belong; rather a serious attempt is made to understand their needs. The number of people that receive food in these kitchens has grown to more than 500 people. The friends who come to these kitchens are poor people, with many economic difficulties; who have either been identified by the believers, or have themselves knocked on the doors of the Church to ask for help.
These kitchens serve lunch in Tirana three days per week, in Korça four days per week, two days per week in Berat, and in Gjirokastra one day per week. These charity kitchens are blessed by the efforts, economic assistance and work of many volunteers.
The organization’s groups also visit the homes of the poor to ascertain more clearly their needs and how to help these people more fully. The establishment of these kitchens are under the blessing and financial support of Archbishop Anastasios. In truth, there are many very poor people in Albania; that is why, together with offering material aid, the Orthodox Christians also pray that all of their efforts will alleviate somehow their suffering and help them to see the light of Love.
Visits and Support of Families and People in Need
A great deal of help has been provided for many years by the members of the Orthodox Women Group, "Spreading the Love," in Tirana and in other parts of Albania. With the assistance given by Archbishop Anastasios, and also from the believers themselves, they have been in contact with people and families in need. Members have continued to visit the homes of the sick, accompanied often also by the priests of the Church, comforting these people spiritually, with words of consolation and with various prayer services, and with the Sacrament of Holy Communion. Help, comfort, friendship, love and warmth expressed through deeds and sincerity are offered, and are deeply needed by these people and their families, as well as the material help given for food, medicines, etc.
In the offices, located near the Church of the “Evangelization of the Mother of God" in Tirana, every Tuesday and Thursday of each month, people from diverse religious backgrounds come to the office to talk about their needs. The Orthodox women have an opportunity to learn about their problems, and often to support them with spiritual and social advice, as well as help them with food and clothing. Thus, about 200 people have been helped and supported financially, as well as many others that are ill and have been assisted to buy medicines; while others, the homeless, have been helped to pay a part of the monthly rent, etc. Assistance is also provided for those families who seek help with school materials for their children. The thoughts of the families and various people who receive help are not focused only on food and other material assistance, but foremost on the love that they read in our hearts.
The income from the sale of arts and crafts projects such as: icons, crosses, prayer ropes, sweaters for babies, scarves, embroidery needlework, cakes and pies etc, which have been sold at small Church community fairs, are offered to poor families, to the homes for the elderly, and to the prisoners etc.
Visits and Assistance to the Homes for the Elderly
From their suffering eyes, to hearts filled with grief, with so many problems, even until the last years of their lives, to their wrinkles, one can understand the thousands of unresolved problems and unfulfilled hopes of these elderly people. However they are not alone; there are always beside them people who have hearts filled with love, not just to comfort them on ordinary days to overcome somehow their loneliness, but to show them true Christian love, which starts here on earth and ends in eternity.
The Orthodox Autocephalous Church of Albania is always listed among the first to help people with serious vital needs. Whether on the Great Feasts’ of the Church, on any given day of the year, Archbishop Anastasios has always made extraordinary contributions with spiritual and material aid; assistance has been given for food and clothing, with meals for the elderly and for people with health problems in the homes for the aged in Tirana. About 60 people living in these homes always wait for the warm hand of the Church. Many of these people, with deeply grateful spirits thank the organizers and most especially God, praying together for the blessing of the food and for eternal life in Christ.
The Orthodox Women Group, "Spreading the Love" works very well in cooperation with the Orthodox youth in the Homes for the Elderly in Tirana; assisting the very poor and sick in every possible way: with food, clothing, shelter, medically, and spiritually.
Near to People with Physical Disabilities
The Orthodox Church of Albania has shown special attention to persons with mental and physical disabilities, offering to them its love and care. Through various activities over the years, the Church has expressed its desire to remain close in prayer, in spiritual and in material assistance to these members of society, who more than anyone else need love. Since 2002, the Youth Office has been organizing the event, "Weekend of friendship,” to celebrate a friendship that has begun and continues with enthusiasm, becoming ever more beautiful from one year to the next.
About 40 persons with disabilities from Tirana, Kukësi, Tropoja Laçi, Fieri, Berati, etc, annually participate in this activity, either in the City of Durrës or Tirana. The experience, year after year, shows that the friendship between the Orthodox youth and the people with physical disabilities has increased and strengthened. Three days of activities are filled with special celebrations of games and fun, group discussions, competitions and dancing lessons.
It is not surprising to see how well even those who are in wheelchairs or crutches know how to dance or are able to adapt. Their creative skills defy conjecture. In their faces everyone can read the joy and the energy of life. They have their potential and a spiritual world that amazes everyone.
Extensive Social Assistance and Development Projects
The Orthodox Church has supported a great number of programs including development projects for: mountain areas, agricultural and livestock development, the rural health education program for children and for the establishment of health centers in villages. Food, clothing and medicines have been distributed to remote areas for thousands of families in need and educational projects, trainings and special classes for children and young people have been developed. For further information, see Diakonia Agapes’ section on this site.
A great investment has been realized also in education. An entire system of education, in all educational levels, and throughout almost the entire country has been established: 17 kindergartens, an orphanage for children, three elementary and middle schools (classes 1 -9), three middle schools, a dormitory for high school girls, two institutes of professional formation, the Theological Academy “Resurrection of Christ” and the "Logos" University. For further information see the Education section in this site.
Archbishop Anastasios has provided funding and technical and material support for many of the public schools; repaired destroyed university buildings in Tirana and in Gjirokastra; reconstructed ten schools and seven daycare centers for children, as well as many of the public playgrounds. In 1998 he donated 1,100,000 US Dollars for new furniture and equipment in classrooms and computer labs at the University of Gjirokastra; in 2000 he donated 70,000 US Dollars for the complete reconstruction of the Ndroq School in Tirana; in 2001 the reconstruction of the school, "Konferenca e Pezës"; in 2002 the playground in Përmet, and recently in 2008 the reconstruction of the kindergarten in the village of Muçaj, destroyed by explosions in Gërdec.
In the field of health, the Church has made valuable contributions. In addition to the "Evangelization" Clinic in Tirana, health centers were opened in Kavaja, in Korça, in Jergucat (Gjirokastra) and in Lushnje. It is worth noting also the mobile dental clinic, which for years has visited many Albanian cities, serving thousands of people for free. In various times of social crisis, Archbishop Anastasios has provided hundreds of medications for the sick, assisting the public hospitals and numerous families in different areas of the country. For further information see Health Care section on this site.
A number of special projects have also been created and implemented in the area of infrastructure for: bridges, roads and waterworks in several villages: Vlora, Saranda, Gjirokastra, Përmet and others; as well as assisting in the very difficult problem of access in many distance villages; and also bringing drinking water directly from nearby sources to many villages where this had been missing throughout their history.
Included also in the above development projects are the new construction of churches and restoration of old churches, and other church buildings, over 450 buildings. All of these projects have offered a great contribution to the economic and social development of Albania. Conscientiously, objectively, and honestly this effort and contribution has gone down in history. For further information see Building and Restoration section on this site.
In the field of public relations, the Church has enabled journalists and various media through information, interviews, transmissions and training programs to share the reality of the developing Church and Orthodox Community, as well as shared theological and the ecclesiastical views on various issues.
Visits and Assistance in Prison
The motto that comes from the words of Christ: "I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me” (Matthew 25:35-37), led and accompanied the first group of Orthodox believers, who took on and began making visits with spiritual, social and food assistance to Prison No. 325 in Tirana. These visits are very beneficial for the prisoners as well as for our believers who visit them.
These visits date back from 1998 and continue today. The importance of these visits emphasizes even more deeply the nature of this wound in Albanian society. The needs of the people who suffer punishment in this environment have been revealed during the years of providing assistance there. In cooperation with the prison management staff of Prison No. 325 it has been possible to send to these people the things most urgently needed, as well as to provide social and humanitarian comfort.
In the year 2000 at Prison No. 325 in Tirana, with Archbishop Anastasios’ support, the building of a greenhouse for the prisoners was begun. The income from sales of the products of this greenhouse (which in the first year of production brought about 200 000 US Dollars) went to help the prisoners themselves. Seven women were employed in this area, and all the necessary materials for the work were donated. Christmas and Easter holidays have always been very dear to these people, because our Church group organizes beautiful holiday lunches for all.
In 2006 the personnel of the prison requested funding to build a sports field for about 160 men that were in this prison. Archbishop Anastasios visited this facility and acknowledged this request and the work on this field began very quickly. It cost around 20,000 US Dollars. In addition to the recreational benefit to the convicts, the construction of the field also brought a social benefit because many were employed during construction and were paid for their work.
Besides all of these, the Church has made an investment in books, computers and printers for the prisoners at the same institution. Recently, in 2010, after the leaders of this prison expressed the need for computers and printers for computer classes and courses given there and requested help. Three computers and two advanced technology printers were donated. A fund of 100,000 US Dollars was also given for activities such as training programs and the regulation of the greenhouse.
Such visits offering spiritual, social and material support are performed regularly in Durrës, and in the Detention Centers of other areas: in Berati, in Korça and in Gjirokastra. The assistance to this institution and to others of its kind has never ceased. This activity is always given priority, facilitating at the same time better communication and understanding of people in need.
Blood Donation to Children’s Thalassemia
During recent years voluntary blood drives have repeatedly taken place in the Orthodox Church with Orthodox youth and with people of all ages participating.
Blood donation drives are also held annually at the Theological Academy "Resurrection of Christ" in Saint Vlash of Durrës and in the Orthodox youth centers in Tirana and Elbasan, and in other places as well.
The Orthodox Church’s motto, "Give blood, save lives", responds to the emergency needs of children with Thalassemia, announcing to the believers during the Church services, as well as in other activities the need for the gift of life, for the benefit of saving lives. The believers express their gratitude to God for the opportunity of helping their brothers who have health problems.
Together with many believers and young people, the clergy were also present, setting an example by giving blood and bringing beautiful and impressive messages to all the people who donate blood. This is a beautiful experience for all people -- to become aware and understand what it means to give of ourselves. "It is more joyful to give than to receive”.
Human life itself is a gift from God; our body and blood are a gift to us from God. Orthodox believers by participating in this divine humanitarian act remember the Lord Jesus Christ, who with His blood washed our sins on the Cross and redeemed us from sin; He who purchased us with His own blood.
Assistance in Times of Disaster
The Orthodox Autocephalous Church of Albania has always responded to social crisis and natural disasters. Most recently the case of Shkodra in January & November 2010 revealed the solidarity, and spiritual and monetary support of the Church and its faithful. However, assistance in time of disaster began much earlier. In November 1992, our Church donated 1,700,000 US Dollars for the areas in northern Albania which had flooded. In 2002 in the districts of Lezha, Berati and Gjirokastra there were floods and other natural disasters, and the Church was present offering its assistance to these districts by donating vital elements such as food, clothing and shelter. From the first moments of the disasters, Archbishop Anastasia, offering himself as a personal example, answered the needs of these areas that were hit by the floods, and together with his prayers and support, he urged also the faithful to donate as much as they could.
In 2010, when flooding took place near the City of Shkodra, to be in solidarity with our brothers affected by this disaster, the faithful made personal contributions, collecting 613,000 US Dollars. This was the second major assistance donated by the Orthodox Church to the flooded area of Shkodra within a short time. Five tons of humanitarian aid was initially given in the first moments of the emergency to the Staff of this City and contained food, clothing, blankets and so forth. Also during the next flood in November 2010, our Church again provided 5 tons of food, which were sent to residents with boats.
Earlier, during the various crises that our country experienced (1992, 1994, 1997), our Church developed extensive social and humanitarian activities, providing and distributing thousands of tons of food, clothing, medicines, as well as the reconstruction of buildings, and social and spiritual support.
It is worth mentioning the assistance given after the explosion of the ammunition depot in Gërdec outside of Tirana in 2008. The entire area sustained severe damages, both to private and public facilities. Immediately, the Church gave the Emergency Staff in Vora several tons of aid in the form of food, clothing and financial assistance, and, in addition, gave aid to people sheltered temporarily at the Camp of the Ministry of Defense in Durrës. Also assistance was given by the Theological Academy students and believers of the Orthodox Church of Durrës, to the surrounding villages that had sustained injuries. On the day of the tragedy, the Orthodox youth of the Cities of Tirana and Durrës raced to the hospitals and emergency rooms to donate blood, providing a valuable contribution for their recovery and made frequent visits to their shelters as well. Over the next several months the students of the Academy, together with other young people from Tirana and Durrës, organized visits and games for children traumatized by the explosions of Gërdec at the Camp of the Ministry of Defense in Durrës.
One of the affected facilities of these explosions was the kindergarten for children in the village of Muçaj, which previously had been ill equipped for this type of educational activity for young children. From the very first moments after the disaster, it was Archbishop Anastasios’ desire to assist in restoring the work of educational institutions in the area. Thus, with a fund of about 3,200,000 US Dollars donated by Archbishop Anastasios the reconstruction of the kindergarten of Muçaj was made. Practically everything had to be made from the beginning, only the external walls remained. The external walls had to be re-plastered, the insulation and tiles replaced, a new roof, new doors and windows, electrical installations and lighting, as well as completely new plumbing installations, landscaping and railings, etc.
Conciliatory Contribution in Situations and Problems within the Country and the Albania-Greece Relations
During the various crises of our country in 1994, 1997, and 1999, the Church, under the leadership of Archbishop Anastasios, has been a mediator in seeking solutions to the problems experienced in the country during these periods. Numerous public addresses in Churches and in the media for peace can be cited, urging people to turn away from violence in the years 1997-1998, participating in joint meetings of the heads of religious communities with leaders of the local and central government for the stabilization of the country, in 1999, with Archbishop Anastasios’ classic expression: "The oil of religion should not be used to stir hatred, but to soften hearts and heal wounds."
Archbishop Anastasios has been on numerous occasions a mediator in the tensions that developed in 1993, 1994, and 1996 between Albania-Greece: for instance, on the issue of the expulsion of Albanian immigrants from Greece (the so-called "clean sweep"), on the issue of respecting and supporting Albanians in Greece in its prisons and borders, meeting with Greek and Albanian state personalities and the media.
Archbishop Anastasios also mediated, offering his contribution to solving the problem of electricity in 2005, when he held a special meeting with the Greek Minister of Energy to help our country to overcome this problem.
Social, cultural and educational contributions in Kosovo
During the war in 1999, when our country received waves of refugees from Kosovo, the Orthodox Autocephalous Church of Albania, in cooperation with donors and international religious organizations (especially the ACT program and the World Council of Churches), organized a broad program of assistance raising more than 12,000,000 US Dollars. It became possible to assist more than 33,000 thousand immigrants from Kosovo with food, clothing, household assistance, medicine, housing (in both camps, etc.). The last camp to accommodate them, which closed in June 2001, was administered by the Orthodox Autocephalous Church of Albania.
Thus the experience of cooperation among young Orthodox Christians of Albania and Kosovar teachers, and their students has proved a fruitful message. The cooperation has further deepened this friendship, year after year expanding and being materialized in significant assistance and logistical materials for the development of culture and education in Kosovo.
In addition, the summer camps that take place each year, which are both educational and recreational, bring together around 1800 children from Kosovo, and numerous festivals and cultural activities take place. The contribution of our Church has also been to provide some computers for the laboratories of these schools, equipment of didactic materials, training in modern methods of working with children and working in groups, and investment in school infrastructure programs and projects.
Being a signatory of the Bologna System, it was necessary for the educational work to be in groups, and in graded education levels, thus in this sector the Church gave its contribution. Also, every year a group of teachers from Kosovo come to Albania at the invitation of our Church to be trained in seminars on, "Modern methods of teaching" by lecturers from the United States who have diverse experience and qualifications in education.
Social Contributions by Young People
The Orthodox Churches in various areas of Albania, together with the offices that work with youth and children in activities and major projects: camps for boys and girls, youth conferences, and social excursions, have oriented the youth to humanitarian action. Often young people and students in Tirana, Durrës, Korça, and Gjirokastra, etc, as well as the students of the Theological Academy have made visits in hospitals, in homes, to sick people of all ages, with different illnesses; to the homes for the elderly, and to orphans offering them love, along with gifts and material aid.
All these and other social efforts have provided tremendous employment opportunities to thousands of people in our country, and we must not forget that all of this has been taken place over time, during the transition from social, economic, and political difficulties in our country .