From the editor: October 3, 2014
LAST WEEK I wrote about the conversion of Muslims in former Communist Albania and in the Middle East—many convert to Christ through visions or dreams. One family went to a priest saying that Jesus appeared to them and had instructed them to be baptized.
Just like Paul: Jesus told him to present himself to his people in Damascus, to Ananias, who baptized him. It wasn't enough that Saul be commissioned by Jesus on the Road. Jesus turned him over to his agents, for training, and commissioning—Paul was finally sent out from Antioch by the brethren, some time after he escaped Damascus under cover of darkness in a basket. It's a dangerous mission.
In Communist times in Albania, it was illegal even to privately worship. But some Christians carried on despite the threat of prison. One of them is Fr. Spiro Tola, the older man in the picture. Actually, he only became Fr. Spiro in 1995, after the fall of Communism. Before that he was a carpenter, who practiced his faith secretly with others. Baptisms would be performed under cover of darkness; in homes, blankets might be used to block windows from the eyes of secret police or informants.
One such baptism Fr. Spiro witnessed occurred in 1985, that of his younger cousin, Fr. Spiro Kostoli, standing next to him. Spiro the Younger has received the faith preserved and passed on from others. I heard his story in the Cathedral at Durres, dedicated to St. Paul and one of his disciples, St. Asti, a local early Christian martyr, crucified under Trajan.
From the cathedral we walked to Trajan's amphitheater of Durres, only recently excavated: a 20,000-seat theatre, one of the largest in the Balkans. Christians were killed here, long before Communism, and in the 6th c. a chapel was built here to commemorate them. I saw this original mosaic in the chapel.
The Christians who first produced the mosaic and prayed in the new chapel perhaps would have been surprised at the return of anti-Christian forces under the Ottomans and then the Communists so many years later.
But wouldn't Trajan the persecutor have been surprised by a Christian chapel being built in his amphitheater? While former Communists may now be surprised by the three young Christians I met on Sept. 17, openly expressing their faith on the grounds of the newly-built monastery of St. Vlash (Blaise) overlooking Durres. Trajan could not destroy the Faith, nor the Ottomans, nor the Communists.
These three young believers received the Faith in part because of the fidelity of the carpenter now known as Fr. Spiro, one of God's agents. Through all the years, the Lord of the Church sends his agents, who keep and pass on the Faith. Behold, a new generation, O Lord of the Harvest, springs from their sowing. In season, out of season. Let us Never Give Up.
Yours for Christ, Creed & Culture,
—James M. Kushiner