Fan Noli in North America, 1906*/
In April, 1906, with a second-class steamship ticket paid for by Spiro Dine, Fan Noli set off via Naples, Italy, for the New World and stepped of the boat in New York City on 10 May, 1906. After working in a lumber mill in Buffalo for three months, Fan Noli went to Boston where he first operated a can-labeling machine. Publisher Sotir Peci (1873-1932) gave him a job at a minimal salary as an editor of the Boston newspaper “Kombi” (“The Nation”), the first Albanian-language newspaper in the USA. He was promoted to Associate Editor of the newspaper, where he worked until May, 1907. During this time, Noli published articles and editorials under the pseudonym Ali Baba Qyteza. These were financially and personally difficult months for Fan Noli, who did not feel at all at home in America. He seriously considered immigrating to Bucharest. With time, he found his roots in the Albanian community and in early January 1907, he co-founded the “Besa-Besën” (“The Pledge”) society in Boston.
Hudson Incident and Noli’s Ordination in New York City
Some Albanian Christian families of Boston were part of the Greek Orthodox Church, which vehemently opposed the Albanian nationalist cause at that time when the Greek Orthodox Church served for Greek Orthodox Christians in North America. Tensions between community and church grew to the point where in 1907, a Greek Orthodox priest refused to officiate at the burial of Kristaq Dishnica, a member of the Albanian community from Hudson, MA, who had died from influenza. The priest had taken the position that as a nationalist, the deceased had excommunicated himself. This position reflected a political foundation, rather than a canonical one. As a consequence the body of Kristaq Dishnica was laid to rest in a Worcester cemetery without any religious service. The incident aroused the indignation and ire of the Albanians in Massachusetts, and Fan Noli recognized his calling as an opportunity to serve the spiritual needs of his own community and to champion the cause for religious and political freedom in Albania. He convoked a meeting of Albanian Orthodox people throughout New England. At the meeting, the delegates resolved to establish a separate, autonomous Albanian Orthodox Church. Fan Noli was selected to be its first clergyman. In New York, Fan Noli met with Archbishop Platon of New York and Father Alexander Hotovitzky. The former agreed to ordain Fan Noli. On 9 February, 1908, Archbishop Platon Rozhdestvensky ordained Theophan Noli to the Holy Diaconate, at Saint Nicholas Cathedral in New York City. One month later, on 18 March, 1908, Archbishop Platon ordained Deacon Theophan Noli to the Holy Priesthood at Saint Nicholas Cathedral in New York City.
First Divine Liturgy in Albanian 1908
On 22 March, 1908, the young Priest Theophan Noli celebrated the first Divine Liturgy in Albanian in the Knights of Honour Hall in Boston, using his own translations. This ordination laid the foundation for the development of a specifically Albanian Orthodox mission within the North American and Aleutian Diocese of the Church of Russia. Noli served in other localities nearby, and for the next several years, he nurtured the Albanian Orthodox community.
Paralleling his life of service in the Orthodox Church, Father Theophan was active in Albanian politics. From February, 1909, until July, 1911, he was the Chief-editor of the newspaper Dielli (“The Sun”) – which began as a publication of the Boston Albanian society “Besa-Besen”.
Before and after his ordination, Father Noli had recognised the need for liturgical texts in Albanian, and he set about translating Orthodox services and Divine Liturgies, which were published in two volumes: “Librë e shërbesave të shënta të kishës orthodoxe” (“Book of Holy Services of the Orthodox Church”, Boston, 1909), and the 315-page “Libre e te kremteve te medha te kishes orthodoxe” (“Book of Great Ceremonies of the Orthodox Church”, Boston, 1911). Other religious translations followed, in an elegant and solemn language befitting such venerable “Byzantine” traditions. Father Noli considered these translations to be his most rewarding achievement.
Beginning in August, 1911, Father Theophan toured the Albanian communities throughout Europe for four months, where he offered church services in Albanian in Odessa, Bucharest, and Sofia.
Permanent Residence in US 1932
In 1932, Metropolitan Theophan was granted permanent resident status and he returned permanently to the US. He had spent eight years in Germany while he waited for this visa. After his return to the USA, he withdrew from political life, and he returned to his duties as the head of the Albanian Orthodox Church in North America without breaking ties with the Albania Orthodox Church.
Despite all that had previously occurred, in late 1933, it was King Ahmet Zog who gave 3,000 gold francs to help pay for a treatment that Metropolitan Theophan could not afford. Through this gift, much of the animosity between them was reconciled. He was also reconciled with his old compatriot, Faik Konitza. In 1935, Noli returned to one of his earlier “passions”, music. At the age of 53, he registered at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, from which he graduated in 1938 with a Bachelor of Music degree.
Albanian Autocephaly 1937
On 12 April, 1937, Metropolitan Theophan’s dream of an Albanian national Church was fulfilled, when the Patriarch of Constantinople recognized the autocephaly of the Orthodox Church of Albania.
University Studies and Writing
Metropolitan Theophan (Noli) conducted research at the Boston University Music Department, and subsequently published a biography of Ludvig van Beethoven. He also composed a one-movement symphony called “Scanderbeg” in 1947. Soon after his graduation from the Boston Conservatory, Metropolitan Fan Noli turned to post-graduate studies at Boston University. He completed a Ph.D. there in 1945, with a dissertation on George Castriot Skanderbeg.
Following the end of World War II, Metropolitan Theophan maintained reasonable relations with the new communist government in Albania. He tried to persuade the USA to recognize the new state earning for himself the “red bishop” label. His attempts only generated enmity and polarized relationships amongst the US émigré circles, as the communist government campaigned to uproot all religious beliefs in Albania.
Retirement and Repose
Metropolitan Theophan spent the remaining years of his life as an academician, religious leader and writer. In 1953, Metropolitan Theophan moved to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where he bought a house, for which he used part of a $20,000 grant from the Vatra Federation.
At age 83, Metropolitan Theophan Noli fell asleep in the Lord in his Florida on 13 March, 1965. After the Funeral Services for the Burial of a Hierarch at the Saint George Cathedral in South Boston, his body was interred in the Forest Hills Cemetery at Jamaica Plain, Suffolk County, Massachusetts.
Editor’s Book Comment: An unsurpassed multitalented figure of influence, Fan Noli has been a subject of volumes of publications and research. One work that focuses on Noli’s American Years is authored by Avni Spahiu, Kosovo’s first ambassador to the US in 2009. An experienced translator and writer, Spahiu penned a biography that offers a “multisided work that sets to synthesize the modern history of the Albanian people through the life and deeds of the founder of the Albanian Orthodox Church Prime Minister of Fan Stilian Noli”. Further, the review of the 2009 English translation printed by Jalifat publishing states: “A Harvard alumnus and later dual citizen who spent most of his life in the United States, Fan Noli outshined in many walks of life: literature, journalism, publications, translations, theology, religious leadership, diplomacy, politics, music and helped shape the foundations of the Albanian nation. Master of 14 languages, a distinguished Shakespearean scholar and translator as well as an accomplished historian. Blessed by the American freedom of expression, which Noli admired, Spahiu is unbound to previous censorship and restrictions that the communist regime in Albania and the foreign occupation of Kosovo imposed on scholarship.” The author delivers a neutral point of view on Noli’s life and activities as a leader of the Albanian-American community in “a work purported for a wide and diverse audience.”
*Avni Spahiu – Fan Noli’s American Years -Notes on a Great Albanian American Paperback – 2009