Albanian Orthodox Diocese of America
The Albanian Orthodox Diocese of America is a jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in the United States. Its current leader is Bishop Ilia (Katre) of Philomelion (Vicar General since 1982 and bishop since 2002) , who lives in Boston, Chicago, and Las Vegas.
In the first half of the 20th century, the Orthodox Albanian communities in America were loosely affiliated with one another, with six of fifteen communities claiming "independent" status and the others not incorporated as dioceses until after the Second World War. The return of Bp. Theofan (Noli) from exile in Germany in 1932 had reopened the discussion of the need for a canonical Albanian diocese in North America. (Metropolitan Theofan had been consecrated in 1922 as Bishop of Durres by the Church of Albania, which did not claim any jurisdiction in North America, and thus could not gain recognition as head of a diocese in the Americas.)
With the controversy around Bp. Theofan's status, the end of WWII, and the increasing suppression and manipulation of the Church of Albania by the new Communist government, a significant portion of Orthodox Albanian-Americans petitioned the Patriarch of Constantinople, Athenagoras (himself of Albanian ancestry), to send a canonical bishop. The Rt. Rev. Mark (Lipa) organized the Diocese in 1949-1950 and accepted into it the large community in Chicago and an older parish, the first of three Albanian Orthodox parishes to locate in South Boston. Bp. Mark immediately took his seat as a full member of SCOBA.
Ten other Albanian Orthodox parishes incorporated under Bp. Theofan's Archdiocese and two parishes persisted in an "independent" status.
In 1965 at the passing of Bp. Theofan, without an Archdiocesan nomination and under the cloud of Communist influence, the Church of Albania consecrated his successor, Bp. Stephen (Lasko), who was not accepted throughout the Archdiocese and who likewise could not gain canonical recognition by the other Orthodox jurisdictions in North America. The situation was further irritated by the complete public suppression of all religious communities in Albania, with only the most stalwart Orthodox believers maintaining a clandestine liturgical life.
Bp. Mark and the Albanian Orthodox Diocese of America reasserted their status as the lone canonical Albanian Orthodox jurisdiction in the Americas. By October 1971, with the acceptance of Bp. Stephen and the Albanian Orthodox Archdiocese in America as a constituent diocese of the OCA, the canonical controversy was ended.
The Albanian Orthodox Diocese of America played a crucial role in the resurrection of the Church of Albania. In 1990, the Diocesan clergy and laity petitioned the Ecumenical Patriarch, Demetrios, during his visit to North America, to prepare a plan for the restoration of the Church of Albania. In 1991, the (then) Protopresbyter Ilia Katre, who had served for many years as Dean of Students at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, MA, took up residence in Albania, organized and opened the Resurrection of Christ Seminary with the blessing of the newly-arrived Patriarchal Exarch, Anastasios. The Very Rev. Ilia also directed the enthronement of Anastasios as Archbishop of All Albania in August 1992. Individuals and delegations from the Diocese made major financial contributions to the Church of Albania as well as applied pressure on the government for the return of confiscated property to the Church. In 2002, His Grace, Bp. Ilia, returned to lead the Seminary for three years during which he expanded, strengthened, and lengthened the course to a full four year programme.
In North America, the Diocese has successfully integrated many pious, talented, and successful Albanian Orthodox immigrants into positions of leadership in her established communities. In addition, the Diocese has made outreach to new communities in Toronto, Montreal, Washington, and Baltimore a priority with the hope that they may also be able to form permanent Albanian Orthodox churches in the near future.