Raised without Christ in a brutal atheist nation, as a child he secretly listened to Christian radio broadcasts from neighboring countries. As a young adult he became a Protestant, got married, and started a family. Later, he discovered the ancient faith of Christ and the apostles, and he deeply desired to become an Orthodox Christian.
His family didn't want to convert. And if he became Orthodox, he knew he would lose his only source of income. He loved Jesus more than he loved money, and he knew that following Christ was even more important than pleasing his family, so finally, in the year 2019, he took a giant leap of faith and joined the Church alone . . .
Burning sacred books, imprisoning Christians, executing priests — this brutal communist nation was hell-bent on eradicating every shred of faith within its borders. Not long before, a young boy named Vangel had been baptized there as an Orthodox Christian. But now, the churches were being torn down, all across the country.
In central Europe, bordering Greece and situated a mere fifty-mile boat ride away from Italy, Albania had declared itself to be an atheist state. Having already languished for 500 years under Muslim oppression, the entire country was now suffering through a half century of communism. All churches and monasteries were destroyed, or were turned into warehouses or barracks. Clergy were defrocked, many of them were thrown into prison or sent into exile, and a number went to martyrdom. All forms of religious expression were forbidden. How can any child hope to find Christ, growing up in such a world?
Despite the state’s commitment to destroying the Church, some Albanian families continued practicing their faith in secret. The government cruelly labeled such families as “enemies of the people”. Other families, fearing persecution, lost all hope and departed from Christ.
Afraid that their young son might draw unwanted attention by saying something religious in public, Vangel’s parents did not raise him as a Christian. They did not tell him that he had been baptized. On rare occasions, he received faint hints of the remnants of faith. Sometimes during thunderstorms, his parents would exclaim, “Lord, have mercy!” Other than this, his spiritual roots were kept secret.
Like the boy Vangel, Albania itself had a hidden Orthodox past. The following photo shows Orthodox Christian mosaics in the ruins of the ancient Amphitheatre of Durrës, which had been built over a thousand years earlier.
Even though young Vangel didn’t know he had received the grace of baptism, God lit a spark within the boy. This fire burned in his heart throughout Albania’s long night of atheistic communism. Even as a young person, he had a special interest in religion, and he maintained an unquenchable thirst in the quest for truth.
Ignoring the government’s ban on Christianity, throughout the 1980s Vangel secretly listened to the radio, taking advantage of Christian broadcasts arriving on the airwaves from neighboring countries. For many years, this was his only opportunity to learn about Christ. Later, a friend gave him a copy of the Gospel of John. This added kindling to the spiritual fire that continued burning within him.
In 1991, political changes in Albania ended the open persecution of Christians, and the Orthodox Church of Albania slowly began to rise from its ruins.
Vangel, however, would not rediscover the Church until years later. He had not been raised in a Christian environment, and while his faith in Christ was strong, his understanding was limited. Over the next several years he would wander through various versions of Protestantism and Catholicism, before finally discovering the road home.
As a young man, eager to learn English, Vangel met some evangelical Protestant missionaries, and he joined a group they started in his home city of Durrës. He met a lovely young lady who came from a Protestant (Pentecostal) background, and they married in the late '90s. They eventually found their way into a Reformed Protestant (Presbyterian) congregation, where they stayed for several years. Treasuring life as a young married couple, they joyfully welcomed a precious baby girl into the world.
Vangel worked as a translator to support his wife and daughter. He was hired to translate Protestant Calvinist theological writings from English to Albanian. This income was a blessing, but it was also an obstacle to discovering the truth of Orthodox Christianity. As Upton Sinclair once quipped,
“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on him not understanding it.”
Thankfully, Vangel’s love for Christ was greater than his love for money. Though it was frightening to contemplate unemployment, he became interested in the Orthodox Church, and he sought to learn more about it.
Unfortunately, his new spiritual journey made his wife nervous. She had been raised Protestant, she had no connection whatsoever to the Orthodox Church, and she was very worried at the thought of losing her husband’s income. Other than his current position with the Presbyterians, there were no employment opportunities for translators. And they had already made it abundantly clear — if he did not remain a Protestant, then he would lose his job.
He had read some writings of the Early Church Fathers, and he had visited a few Orthodox Church services, but most of his theological studies had been from a Protestant perspective, so he still had many questions.
Vangel provided various comments about the direction his spiritual journey took at that point:
In the summer of 2019, for the first time, I came across the Russian Faith website. I decided to write a message to Fr. Joseph, the editor, letting him know that I was enjoying the articles, and that I was even reading some of them to my daughter. She had developed an interest in anything having to do with Russia, and she knew that I had a desire to contribute in some way.
I read about Geraldo Silva, his conversion to Orthodoxy, and his creation of the Portuguese section on the Russian Faith website. His story was very encouraging. He had come from a theological background similar to mine, in a land where Orthodox churches were few and far between, and still he managed to join the Church and to share the Faith with numerous people who speak his native tongue. Later, he even moved to Russia. I wondered if, somehow, I could follow a similar path. His story inspired me.
I volunteered, asking Fr. Joseph if I could translate Russian Faith articles into Albanian. He agreed. And he said that if enough articles were translated, then we could start an Albanian language section on the Russian Faith website. It felt good to have some way of sharing the Orthodox Faith with others, even though I hadn’t actually joined the Church yet. I felt like I was at least making steps in the right direction.
Vangel worked hard as a volunteer, translating articles from English to Albanian. As he did this, his attraction to Orthodox Christianity grew stronger. His desire to join the Church continued to increase.
During this time, one of his dreams came to fruition, when the Albanian language version of Russian Faith was published. Every article on the page has been translated by Vangel:
He said that many articles were helpful, but one in particular really drew his attention:
During this process, I translated an article called “Preaching Without a Bible”, and it made an enormous impact on my life. It really challenged my theology. It caused me to reconsider my understanding of Scripture and the Church, helping me to see both of them in a clearer light. I better realized just how deeply Orthodox Christians cherish Holy Scripture, and I better understood the specific ways that Scripture points us towards Orthodoxy. Indeed, I realized that without the Orthodox Church, we wouldn't even have the Bible as we know it.
Vangel's attraction to Orthodoxy proceeded to the point where he knew he had to make a decision. But taking such a great step alone — without your family following you — can be a very difficult thing to do. It finally got to the point where, from a spiritual perspective, he was living in two different worlds:
I reached a point in my journey where I was completely convinced of the Orthodox Christian Faith. I felt Orthodox in my heart, and I had even started attending some weekday Divine Liturgies. My family and I still attended the Protestant congregation on Sundays, but my heart wasn’t in it. I wanted my family and I to join the Orthodox Church at the same time, and I was just waiting for the right opportunity.
An Orthodox priest invited my family and I to meet with an elder in Albania, who was a spiritual disciple of two holy men — St. Amphilochios of Patmos and Elder Simon Arvanitis. This holy elder encouraged my wife and daughter to be baptized, so that my whole family could enter the Church together.
After meeting this holy elder, I became more inspired and challenged to do something about returning to the Orthodox Faith. But I thought I still had to wait until my wife would become interested in Orthodoxy.
Vangel was greatly encouraged by his meeting with the holy elder, and he hoped that his family would be encouraged as well. Unfortunately, though, his wife and daughter were still not ready to join the Church. So he had to make a decision for himself.
Would he enter the Church and follow Christ? Or would he wait around forever, hoping for his family to eventually agree? In his heart, he knew the right thing to do:
As time passed, I finally was convinced that I could take that step alone, instead of waiting for my family to come with me. I spoke with Fr. Joseph, and he said that by doing so, I would be a leader — setting an example, and showing my wife and daughter just how important the Orthodox Faith is.
So early this year — in 2020 — I was finally back home. My bishop (who is also my spiritual father) welcomed me into the Orthodox Church by chrismation. I feel happy to have taken the step at the right time, but I am still praying hard for my family. I want to see them enter the Church as well.
Truly, Vangel is a leader. He took a step of faith, and joined the Church alone. And his godly leadership is already bearing fruit. Not long after he became an Orthodox Christian, he received some very encouraging news from his daughter:
Already, my prayers are beginning to be answered. My daughter recently told me that she wants to be Orthodox too, and that she is ready to be baptized.
My wife isn’t quite ready yet, herself, but she supports our daughter’s decision. Truly, her support is a great blessing, because the first step to embracing Orthodoxy is simply not-being-opposed-to-it.
By the grace of God, I pray the day will soon come when our whole family will be in unity — worshiping together in the Orthodox Faith.
As a small child, Vangel had received the grace of holy baptism, and all those years of national atheism and communism were not able to snuff it out. The road was long, and the journey was difficult, but Vangel finally found his way home to the Orthodox Church. In the future, his daughter looks forward to receiving baptism as well. Glory to God!
UPDATE: Several months after this article was published, Vangel's wife and daughter were both baptized into the holy Orthodox Church. Thanks be to God!
Vangel's conversion came with great joy! It also came with a great price. When he became an Orthodox Christian, his Protestant employer fired him from his job. Now he has to find some other way to support his family.
And we want to help him! We are grateful for his hard work creating the Albanian version of Russian Faith, and we think it is time for us to give something back. He is doing an excellent job, as you can see here. He is faithfully translating articles about the Orthodox Christian faith, and we are praying for an increase of donations, because we want to be able to pay him for his work.
To make a donation specifically for Vangel and his family, first visit our donation page, and then send an email to the following address:
When you write to us, let us know the amount you contributed on our donation page, and let us know that you want this money designated to help support Vangel and his family.
Remember that this website is already supporting Geraldo & Karen, as well as the Gleason family in Russia. Now we are wanting to add support for Vangel and his family. This will require prayer, love, and generosity from you, our readers.
The Russian Faith website does not have any large donors, and is not owned by a large corporation. For continued survival, we rely on donations from you, our readers. Every $10, $20, and $100 donation helps keep us going a little longer. Without your continued support, the Russian Faith website will not be able to continue. And without increased support, we won't be able to pay Vangel what he needs to support his family.
Please do your part to help us, so that we can keep providing you with high quality articles, and also so we can keep you posted on the next chapter in the life of Vangel and his family.
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