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Albanian Orthodox Diocese of America

{{diocese|

name=Albanian Orthodox Diocese of the Americas (formerly "Albanian Orthodox Diocese of America")|

jurisdiction=Constantinople|

type=Diocese|

founded=1949|

bishop =[[Theophan (Koja) of Philomelion|Bp. Theophan]| see=Philomelion|

hq=Boston, Massachusetts|

territory=Western Hemisphere|

language=English, Albanian|

music=Byzantine Chant|

calendar=Revised Julian|

population=1,000|

website=https://albaniandiocese-ep.org — }}

The Albanian Orthodox Diocese of the Americas is a jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in the United States. Its current leader is Bishop Theophan (Koja) of Philomelion (bishop since 2023), who lives in the Boston Metro region.

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) of Levka 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, the then Rev. 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. He regularly published the newspaper "Drita e Vertete" with the help of diocesan clergy such as Rev. Ilia Katre. By October 1971, with the acceptance of Bp. Stephen and the Albanian Orthodox Archdiocese in America as a constituent diocese of the OCA, the primary canonical controversy between the two organizations was ended.

Bp. Mark fell asleep in the Lord in 1982. The Rev. Ilia Katre was appointed as Vicar General of the Diocese from then until 2002.

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, Rev. Ilia was elevated to Bishop of Philomelion to lead the Diocese. He organized a chancery office from Philomelion House in Las Vegas but soon returned to Albania at the request of the Ecumenical Patriarch and the Church of Albania 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 Boston, Chicago (the Albanian Orthodox community with the largest number of members in North America), and Las Vegas. In addition, His Excellency served a Mission Parish in Toronto and made repeated outreach to other communities in Waterbury, CT, Montreal, Washington, Baltimore, and Florida with the hope that they would also be able to form permanent Albanian Orthodox churches in the near future. For the time being, however, it only consists of three parishes in the United States and a mission in Canada. Additionally, a chapel in Stowe, Vermont was dedicated by His Excellency to St. Katharine of Alexandria on private land for use by one of the clergy families and local residents. The Most Reverend Ilia also accepted under his omophorion the St. Nicholas Orthodox Academy of Reno, NV which has been served by diocesan clergy.

In 2019, in recognition of the numerous contributions of Bishop Ilia to Orthodoxy in North America, Albania, and elsewhere, the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople elevated him to titular Metropolitan of Philomelion. Unfortunately, His Excellency fell asleep in the Lord on October 6th 2022. The final Divine Liturgy he celebrated was for the ordination of another priest for the Diocese. The Metropolitan was deeply mourned throughout the world by all of those with whom he had shared Christ's love for His creation.

After 40 days, the Patriarchal Exarch convened two assemblies of the clergy and lay leaders of the Diocese to discuss the serach for a new hierarch. The names of two multilingual candidates were brought forward and the Exarch began to discuss the situation with them and the Holy Synod. On the 28th of June 2023, the Synod unanimously elected the Rev. Archimandrite Theophan Koja as Bishop of Philomelion and ordained him to the episcopate on the 25th of July 2023.

Bishop Theophan was born in Tirana, Albania in 1966 and completed his theological education in Romania where he was ordained and served as both a missionary priest and as the abbot of the Aninoasa Monastery. Fluent in six languages, he then served close to twenty-five years in the United States prior to his elevation to the rank of bishop for the Albanian Diocese. He is currently assisted by six priests, a deacon, one seminarian, and numerous chanters all of whom serve in the Byzantine tradition using English, Albanian, and other languages based upon the pastoral needs of the faithful.

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