- Returning Home to Rome. The Basilian Monks of Grottaferrata in Albania
The new book by Ines Angeli Murzaku, an associate professor of church history at Seton Hall University, has added a new chapter to the understanding of the land on the other side of the Adriatic Sea, so close to the important cultural centers of Greece and Italy and yet so different from them. It presents the contribution of the community of the Basilians in Albania in a broad context, ending with the year 1946, when the Communist Party seized power in Albania, expelled foreigners, and began the process of annihilation of the religious element in the daily pulse of the nation.
Murzaku may humbly describe the survey as an "interesting case study" (p. 9), but there is much more to it than that. Based on the rich archival material from the Albanian and Italian archives and the extensive literature, [End Page 745] she gives an in-depth overview of the history of Christianity on the ground of the present-day Albania—especially its southern part, in the slow death of Christian communities after the occupation of the land by the Ottoman Empire, and in the formation of the Albanian refugee communities in Italy. In addition, she outlines the relationships between Eastern and Western Christian churches that met in the area settled by the Albanian tribes and in southern Italy. This is the setting of the Basilian monastic community and its unique historical role. Monasticism brought from the East to southern Italy all the wealth of the East, becoming a bridge between East and West and thus enriching the communities in the Western Church. With the settlement near Rome in Grottaferrata shortly after the end of the first millennium of Christian history, the Basilian monks became "'as a bridge between East and West, as a living memory of the undivided Christendom'" (p. 31).
The Eastern origin, organization, and discipline of the Basilian monks made them, in the opinion of the church leadership, the most appropriate individuals to strengthen the Christian communities on the border between the Greek and Latin worlds settled by the Albanian tribes and to establish links between the two Christian traditions. They took over this task twice in history. Their role was to maintain the image of the Church as it had been before the Great Schism, to sustain the wealth of both communities, and to point to the goal ahead of them. Since they were the only living institution that had existed before the division, their testimony and standing were significant. When the Albanian population in the south started to show interest in greater integration with the Latin Church, the authorities felt that the Basilian monks were best equipped to perform the task of integrating and restructuring. The author clearly states that the Roman institutions and their leaders had poor knowledge of the traditions and spiritual wealth of the East, perhaps versed more in principles rather than practice, and their requirements and expectations were unrealistic. When the initiatives came from the Albanians, it often happened that they adopted the wait-and-see policy, which failed to reflect the interest shown by the people in the pope and in better integration with the West. Before World War II, the Basilian monks were again sent to the Albanians, but the opportunity had been lost. It appeared that, during the Italian occupation of Albania, which should have stimulated greater interest on the part of the Albanians for linking with the Roman Church, the expectations of the Holy See were too high. With Muslims assuming the dominant role in Albanian society, it was now the Albanians who adopted the wait-and-see strategy. Together with the Sisters of Saint Macrina, who focused mainly on education and social work, the Basilians did not have many opportunities to forge deep links with the people. Despite the Albanian roots of the Basilians, the authorities and the people considered them foreigners. At the time of the awakening...