Audio length: 73:23 minutes
The past few years have seen their controversies within the Self Ruled Antiochian Archdiocese of North America. On September 30, 2010, Kevin Allen and John Maddex traveled to Englewood, NJ to visit the headquarters of the Antiochian Archdiocese and the home of it’s Archbishop Metropolitan Philip Saliba. Our purpose was to seek clarification on several key areas that have become a concern to many, and fodder for the blogosphere. His Eminence warmly welcomed us and gave Kevin the freedom to ask any question he thought would be helpful to our audience in understanding several critical issues. There were four specific topics we wanted him to address:
1. The meaning and future of self rule in the Antiochian Archdiocese.
2. The status of the Bishops in North America and the meaning as well as the ramifications of the title “Auxiliary Bishop.”
3. The finances of the Antiochian Archdiocese and in particular the status of an audit.
4. The view point of His Eminence on the Episcopal Assembly, SCOBA, and the future of Administrative Unity in North America.
We have left the Metropolitan’s remarks intact and unedited to make them available to the audience for their own evaluation and conclusions.
This episode provides the entire interview. If you are interested in listening to the individual topics, we have also divided it up into 4 sections and those are available on The Illumined Heart page of Ancient Faith Radio. A free transcript is also available.
Kevin: Your Eminence, I would like to begin by thanking you for taking the time to meet with us at Ancient Faith Radio for this wide-ranging interview on recent events within our archdiocese and the Orthodox Church at large. With your permission, I’d like to begin with the status of self-rule, which was granted to our archdiocese by the Holy Synod in 2003. And my question is, Sayedna Philip, in 2000-2003, there was an enormous emphasis on being granted autonomy or self-rule. Some people now think that it was in name only. I’m wondering what specifically did Your Eminence intend to accomplish by pressing for autonomy and eventually gaining self-rule for the archdiocese?
Metropolitan Philip: Well, first of all, I am delighted to welcome both of you here, John and Kevin, and I want you to feel at home, and feel relaxed during this interview as I do. The question of self-rule would we received self-rule 2003 or 2004, something like that. And I insisted on autonomy, but the patriarch did not like the word autonomy. Finally, we had a little conference, the Metropolitan of Beirut, Elias Audi, the patriarch and myself, and I told the patriarch if you don’t like the word autonomy, what do you think if we call it self-rule? He said, oh! That’s the word I want! Self-rule. And I said to myself, this is wonderful because that’s what autonomy means. It means self-rule. And then he was so moved, so we went back to the table where the members of the synod were sitting, and he chanted a Troparion which we chant on Holy Saturday, Rise oh God and judge all nations, you know, because you inherit the earth. It was a very, very moving moment in my experience with the Synod after a great deal of debate and work and explanation. Finally, they gave us self-rule, and we still have that self-rule. And all the decisions of the Holy Synod which were taken in 2004, in 2003, in February 24, 2009 and in June, also 2009 and in August 19, 2010, if you read these resolutions, you do not find any reference whatsoever to the negation of self-rule. We still have self-rule. It hasn’t been touched. If you gentleman read the decision of the Holy Synod, which I have a copy of it, we can read it together if you want, or you can look at it, maybe you already did, there is no mention of self-rule being cancelled at all. So we still have self-rule.
Kevin: But your eminence, the Holy Synod also made its statement in August 2010, they made it clear that the Holy Synod in Damascus, the Holy See of Antioch is the ultimate authority on all matters pertaining to the archdiocese. So to some the question is, what does self-rule really mean? What were we granted and do we retain, as you say, that we did not have before?
Metropolitan Philip: Well, administratively, we are self-rule. But dogmatically, as far as the dogmas of the Church are concerned, and the Holy Traditions of the Church are concerned, and doctrinally, you know, we are still as a self-rule church, we are still under the Holy Synod of Antioch. Now, how many dioceses we can create in America, all though the Constitution of the Patriarchate says that the creation of dioceses and archdiocese etc, it’s a prerogative of the Holy Synod of Antioch, but we did. We created our diocese here. I was the one who created this diocese, and no one is touching them at all. We still have the diocese of the West. We still have the diocese of Wichita, and mid-America, etc, and the rest of the dioceses.
Kevin: If I may ask, how does the selection of bishops and even an archbishop work within the context of self-rule?
Metropolitan Philip: This is very, very interesting. We select our own bishops. We nominate them and we elect them.
Kevin: Entirely in the local synod here?
Metropolitan Philip: Absolutely, entirely in the local synod here. This hasn’t been changed at all. It was the wish of the patriarch from the beginning when we sent bishops to Damascus to be consecrated there. It was his wish to consecrate these bishops in the Cathedral of the Patriarchate, and I didn’t want to deny him. It wasn’t nice to deny him this privilege, this right, to ordain these bishops. The important thing was that the bishops were nominated in this country, and were elected in this country, and were consecrated in Damascus by the patriarch.
Kevin: And how does it work, not wishing any time soon, of course, but when the archbishop, the primate of the archdiocese, how does that work? Is that also a local decision or will that be a patriarchal decision?
Metropolitan Philip: This is a very interesting question, and I think it should be clarified. As far as the metropolitan of this archdiocese is concerned, we have the right to nominate three of our clergy. They could be bishops, they could be archimandrites, they could be priests, they could be deacons or lay people. It happened in history of the church. We have the right to nominate, but we do not have the right to elect. The primate of an autonomous church or a self-ruled church is elected by the Mother Church in all autonomous churches, in Finland and Japan and all over.
Kevin: So this is part of the process of being autonomous? This is not unusual?
Metropolitan Philip: No, no no. This is a process of being autonomous. Even before we became autonomous, the Antiochian Archdiocese always met in a General Assembly of the Archdiocese and nominated the archbishop. I remember how I was nominated in March 1966. After the falling asleep in Christ of my predecessor, Metropolitan Antony Bashir, we met in a convention in Manhattan in New York City. And we were 10 or 12 nominees, and the priests and the people, that’s the Church, they gathered there, and it’s very nostalgic for me to think of those days. I wish they didn’t do me this favor. (laughs)
Kevin: Many of us would probably not be here today had they not though.
Metropolitan Philip: But I received the highest amount of votes, I mean. I received 262 votes. The second nominee received 59 votes, and the third nominee received 49 votes. This is history. So even in those days, we had the right in this archdiocese to nominate, and this is an old practice in the church. Unfortunately it is not the same in the patriarchate of Antioch today. I mean the Holy Synod meets, and elects a person to a vacant archdiocese or to a widowed archdiocese because an archdiocese is married to the metropolitan, and a metropolitan is married to the archdiocese, you see.
So, we had a constitution for the Patriarchate of Antioch which was approved in 1955. I remember that very vividly, and this constitution gave the laity and the Patriarchate of Antioch a great deal to say in the election of patriarchs and bishops. But in 1973, Patriarch Elias IV of Blessed Memory did not like that constitution and changed it completely that all authority in the church is vested in the Holy Synod of Antioch. I felt this was a setback, you know because I believe, and I firmly believe, in the role of the laity in the church. I always said that the Church is the priest, the bishop, and the lay people working together. Now the title of arch-deacon and arch-priest and archbishop, and patriarch, all these are administrative. I don’t really like this. The basic orders in the church are three. Deacons, priests, and bishops.
Kevin: Speaking about the change in the synodal constitution and the authority vested in the Holy Synod, is it possible, Your Eminence Metropolitan Philip, that the Holy Synod could, for example, unilaterally decide to override the constitutional provision for the election of our bishops in this country since to some people I’ve heard them say that our constitution does not appear to have much teeth since certain unilateral decisions have been?
Metropolitan Philip: It’s not possible at all because the Holy Synod of Antioch and the patriarchs, all the patriarchs, learned about the role of the laity in this archdiocese, and I have told them once in the Synod. I said, don’t play games with us because the Archdiocese of North America was established by laity. The lay people established this archdiocese. They came from the Middle East to this country penniless. They had no money. They did not speak the language. They had no friends. Some of them slept in the streets of New York City after they passed through Ellis Island with difficulties.
We have a family in Pennsylvania called the Cross family. How did that family become the Cross family, very nice English word? It happened that this man was a Saliba and Salib in Arabic means cross. So they kept asking him what is your name? Finally, I don’t know how he understood. So, he took a pencil and made the sign of the cross on the piece of paper. They said oh, you are Mr. Cross then. So the early years of the archdiocese were really difficult. We didn’t have priests, we didn’t have bishops. We had lay people that were peddling their goods and working throughout this country. For example, they would arrive through Akron Ohio, and they couldn’t walk anymore.
Kevin: This was the days of Saint Hawaweeny?
Metropolitan Philip: Before.
Kevin: Even before?
Metropolitan Philip: Even before. And St. Raphael came to this country in 1895, and he was consecrated bishop in 1904. But the church existed here before St. Raphael came to this country, and these simple people from the Middle East, used to gather in, I would call them, ghettos like that and said well we are Orthodox and we want to pray, so they would go to Kevin’s house and gather there and say their prayers. Of course, they did not celebrate the Eucharist, but they said their prayers as much as they could remember because they had no books, and then some priests came to this country and started working as missionaries. They went all the way to Beaumont, Texas. The church in our parish in Beaumont, Texas is one of the oldest parishes in the archdiocese. They went to Iron Mountain and discovered these Orthodox people there.
They baptized their children. They married their young people. They prayed for their diseased and then left, but the church continued to grow that way. People continued to come from the Middle East because of so many factors there. The Middle East was still under the tyranny of the Ottoman Empire. And many, many people came to this country between the year 1900 and 20 for example, and then Lebanon and Syria became French Mandate after the first World War, and people continued to come to this country. So I have told the Holy Synod many times, the Church in North America was established by the lay people. And the lay people are not going to give up their role in the life of the church and the administration of the church. Boards of trustees do not exist in the old country.
Metropolitan Philip: They do not exist at all.
Kevin: Looking back from where we sit today, and given the fact, Sayedna Philip, that there were such high expectations by many people about self-rule. Some people thought it might be the first step towards autocephaly or merging with the OCA. You have heard all of these speculations I’m sure. Is there anything you would have done, perhaps, differently vis-à-vis the process of obtaining or perhaps communicating what self-rule meant so that there might be less confusion or lower expectations or more clarity on that or…?
Metropolitan Philip: Well, I think, Kevin, that we have explained self-rule many times at our conventions when we were voting on self-rule. I don’t know if you were with us in those days, but this self-rule was explained many, many times to our people. And as far as the second part of your question, our relationship with the OCA and what was the meaning of the self-rule. I believe the meaning of self-rule was a first step toward an eventual autocephaly. Autonomy is not enough for this country. I believe that the unity of Orthodoxy in America is inevitable. I want these other jurisdictions to put their homes in order. You know what was happening in the OCA, and I don’t think our people would have gone along with me if I told them, let’s join the OCA which was in courts, which money was embezzled, and it’s a fact. It’s a fact.
So they were not ready for autocephaly. As far as we are concerned, we were not ready to merge with them. Under such conditions, you see, you take the Greek Archdiocese today. Under Iakovos, there was unity in the Greek archdiocese. Today, they have an archbishop, my brother Archbishop Demetrios in New York. He has no authority whatsoever. He has metropolitans. Patriarch Bartholomew divided the archdiocese, actually, into metropolitanates. You have the metropolitan of Boston who severed communion with the OCA…
Kevin: I’ve heard that.
Metropolitan Philip: With the OCA because they ordained a bishop, and they called him the bishop of Boston. Well, I am called the Archbishop of New York, and we have so many archbishops of New York. It’s not a big deal. This is our situation which we have to correct in the future. It will remain with us until God wills. We cannot unite, for example, with the Greek Archdiocese right now. You know how they commemorate? I was told. I haven’t heard it, but I was told, that instead of commemorating the Archbishop in New York, they commemorate Patriarch Bartholomew in their services. This is nothing but a fragmentation of Orthodoxy in this hemisphere. I don’t like it. I will not stand for it, and I will not permit this Antiochian Archdiocese to be fragmented.
Kevin: Sayedna Philip, with your permission, this moves me into the next section. I appreciate the segue. I’d like to move to the status of Antiochian bishops over which is, Your Eminence is aware, there’s been some anxiety expressed and the status of Antiochian bishops seems to have changed over three times over an 18-month period from auxiliary to diocesan and as recently as August 2010, back to auxiliary and assistant to the metropolitan. Could you first explain, please, the difference between an auxiliary and a diocesan bishop? ‘
Metropolitan Philip: There is no difference because the nature of the episcopacy is one. As I said before, we have three orders in the Church. We have deacons, priest, and bishops. These are the three orders that we have in the Church. So there is no difference in the nature of the episcopacy. A bishop is a bishop, you see. It depends on how much authority you give this bishop. If you make him a metropolitan, then you have a multiplicity of metropolitans in this same archdiocese. If you give him enough authority to say I am wedded to the Diocese of Toledo in the Midwest, we don’t have polygamy in the Orthodox Church. This archdiocese has one metropolitan. When I was consecrated as metropolitan in Lebanon in 1966, I was consecrated as the Archbishop of New York and all North America. Toledo and the Midwest is a part of my archdiocese. I am the metropolitan of this archdiocese and Wichita in mid-America are a part of this archdiocese.
So you cannot say that these bishops are wedded. You know, there is polygamy in Islam, but in Christianity, there’s no polygamy. Muslims can marry four wives, but four wives cannot marry four Muslims you see. So, I mean, we have to put our house in order. We don’t have to fall in the trap of the Greeks. And in the OCA, I understand they have a problem of discipline there. One thing I despise very much is chaos and the lack of discipline in the Church. Our Church is a hierarchical Church. It is not a congregational church. We have people who came to us from congregational background who were in congregational churches. You can hire the bishop and fire him. You can hire the priest and fire the priest. We don’t have that in the Orthodox Church.
Kevin: But if I may ask, isn’t the, or correct me where I’m wrong, isn’t the synodal structure of our ecclesiology different from the more rigidly hierarchal structure, say of the Catholics, where you, where I’ve heard some people claim that with due respect, that Your Eminence is seeking some sort of a more papal-like authority. I’m glad you’re smiling as I ask that question by the way. (laughs)
Metropolitan Philip: Somebody told me that Mark Stokoe used that on his website.
Kevin: I didn’t see it there, but I’ve read some of the comments. So, I’m wondering what is the balance between the hierarchal nature of our ecclesiology and the synodal and diocesan nature?
Metropolitan Philip: I think we practice the canons of the Church perfectly in this archdiocese. I tell you what is the difference. In a papal church, the people do not vote, and the priests do not vote. In the election of bishops and cardinals, have you heard that they get together in the Roman Catholic Church and vote? They don’t vote. The pope appoints bishops and appoints cardinals. He gives them that red hat, and they become cardinals. So, that’s not the practice of this archdiocese. Therefore, I am not a pope. I am the least among my brothers. I am the servant of God’s servants. So we are a hierarchal church. We have certain rules which we have to follow in order to keep order and not permit fragmentation.
Kevin: And it appears to me from things I’ve read and as you’re speaking now, Your Eminence, that perhaps the condition in the state of our archdiocese when you first came into it, being a fragmented one, does that have a lot of influence on how you think in terms of centralization versus decentralization?
Metropolitan Philip: Absolutely.
Kevin: Maybe our listeners would be interested in understanding that.
Metropolitan Philip: When I came to this country, as a deacon in 1956, I came from a fragmented Arab world. That country, the 300 million Arabs are the same people. They have the same faith, Islam, we have some Christians in the Arab world in Egypt and Lebanon and Syria, and I want to tell the listeners in this session that the Christians in Syria are treated very, very, very well. At every Christmas, the president of Syria visits the patriarchate to wish the patriarch Merry Christmas. We have two holy places near Damascus, the Convent of Seidnaya, which was built in the 5th century by Emperor Justinian, and we have another ancient convent called St. Thecla of Maalula. This Syrian president takes his wife and his children three, four times a year to visit the convent of Seidnaya and the convent of Maalula. So, this Islamophobia which exists in America is just, there is a lot of fundamentalism. Fundamentalism everywhere. Fundamentalism among the Muslims which I despise deeply.
Kevin: Do you think it will pass? This fundamentalism within Islam? I mean, you lived with it, and your brother is a historian and so on?
Metropolitan Philip: Yes, yes. This fundamentalism. We are responsible for it as a country. The United States and the western world, Britain, France, the Arab world was thriving, was moving toward unity. Even under the Turks, the Turks ruled the Arab world for 400 years. And they were told, I’m talking about the first World War now, they were told by Britain and France, if you revolt, if you rebel against the Turks and join the war with us, after this war is over, we will give you independence for all the Arab world.
Kevin: This is T.E. Lawrence and that whole Lawrence of Arabia.
Metropolitan Philip: Yeah. At the same time, Mr. Sykes, the foreign minister of Britain and Mr. Picot, the foreign minister of France, met together secretly and divided the Arab world into different spheres of influence. For example, Lebanon and Syria became colonies under the French Mandate, and Palestine and Egypt and Iraq and you know, they were given to Britain. That was a deceit, you know. So, the Arab people don’t feel good about that. Then later on in 1948, under the influence, of course, of some many people and under the influence of many people, especially the British, the French, the Americans, the United Nations divided Palestine. And all the problems of the Middle East which we have today, all this fundamentalism which we have today in the Middle East, is the result of the creation of the State of Israel.
I want to state here that the Jews were persecuted in Europe. They were persecuted in Spain. They were persecuted in France, the famous Dreyfus case. They were persecuted in Germany with the Nazis in Poland, and Russia, except among the Arab people. We had a flourishing Arab community in Morocco, a flourishing Jewish community in Morocco, and a flourishing Jewish community in Damascus, a flourishing Jewish community Iraq and all these countries, and they have lived together because they are cousins.
They are Semitic, both, even the Hebrew language and the Arabic language have many words in common. The word “bayit” for example which means in Arabic “house”, in Hebrew, it’s “beth”, beth. The word peace in Arabic is Salaam, in Hebrew it’s shalom, and I could give you many, many examples about this similarity between the Hebrew language and the Arabic language. Similarities in traditions, similarities in everything, but when you take a country like Palestine and you divide it, of course this is going to - - I mean Jerusalem is a holy city for Jews, for Christians, and for Muslims, and unfortunately, I think we have only 2000 Orthodox Christians left in Jerusalem. We used to have more than 30,000, more than 30,000. These people are leaving because of pressure, because of tyranny. Look what’s happening in Gaza, for example. And then in Istanbul even, in Istanbul, we have 2000 Greek Orthodox left under the throne of the Ecumenical Patriarch.
Kevin: Your Eminence, I would just like to conclude with a question. You have stated that there were some innovations made or attempted by some of the bishops that threaten the unity of our archdiocese. Would you be willing to talk about what some of these innovations were, and how it was perceived that they threatened the unity of the archdiocese, and were any of them canonical offenses?
Metropolitan Philip: Of course, of course, for example, when one of the bishops said that he was wedded to the diocese. This diocese is my wife. You can’t be wedded to my wife. I am the Archbishop of New York and all North America. Period. You cannot call yourself the bishop of this and this and this, and you are wedded. And this was written in letters by these bishops, letters not only to me but to the old country, to the patriarch and the Holy Synod. And the Holy Synod and the members of the Holy Synod were very upset. They said what is this? Did we create a monstrosity in North America? We have only one metropolitan and auxiliary bishops.
Kevin: So this is how the process began of changing back to auxiliaries? It was out of concern for fragmentation?
Metropolitan Philip: Yes, yes. Concern for fragmentation, and we don’t want to be a fragmented archdiocese. I will not stand for that at all. If we want Orthodox unity in America, how can we be fragmented? If the Antiochians are fragmented, and the OCA have some kind of a loose system there, and the Greeks are fragmented, they have an archbishop and so many metropolitans, which is in my opinion is contrary to our ecclesiology, to the Orthodox ecclesiology.
Metropolitan Philip: Of course. You cannot have a metropolitan here, I mean an archdiocese, a Greek archdiocese of North America, and you have metropolitans commemorating the Patriarch in Istanbul. They should commemorate the archbishop of the archdiocese.
Kevin: I must say, in fairness to the GOA, I was at a Greek service recently, and they do commemorate His Eminence Eurasimos who is the local bishop, but I don’t know about the New York area and how that works, but I have heard them commemorate the local…
Metropolitan Philip: They should commemorate the local bishop. And I am going to even though the Holy Synod of Antioch said only the metropolitan is commemorated in these services unless the auxiliary bishop is present. Now I’m going to violate this rule, and tell my clergy to commemorate the bishops whether they are present or not present, in their diocese. And I will inform them of my decision in Jacksonville when we meet in October.
Kevin: You’ve mentioned, in closing on this topic, Your Eminence, you had mentioned being wedded to a diocese and the problems with that, so therefore bishops can be transferred and do you (I hope I’m not pressing too hard by asking this question), do you expect to transfer any bishops?
Metropolitan Philip: I want you to ask any question.
Kevin: Well, thank you. I appreciate that, and I know our listeners will too. Are you expecting any bishops to be transferred in the near future?
Metropolitan Philip: Maybe. For the well-being of the archdiocese.
Metropolitan Philip: And this is not an innovation. It happened in the history of our church many times. It’s happening in Russia, it’s happening in Romania. It happened in the Church of Antioch. The patriarch who consecrated me, for example, Theodosius the VI, he was for almost 30 years, the Metropolitan of Tyre and Sidon, an ancient city in south Lebanon. Well, the Holy Synod saw fit at one time to transfer him from Tyre and Sidon to the city of Tripoli, from South Lebanon to North Lebanon. And the reason was: for the well-being of the church.
If I transfer a bishop from one diocese to another, I will do that not out of vindictiveness, God forbid. I will transfer him for the well-being of this archdiocese. When you go to the convention in a certain diocese and you will find only 250 people present, while in the past we used to have 1500 people, a minimum of 1000 people, then sometimes 2000 people, and you go to these parish life conferences as we call them in our Archdiocese, and we don’t see people there. You have to ask the questions why? Who is responsible? So, I have decided that next year, it’s very possible that I will go and preside over the convention of this diocese to bring the people back because they have left. They have no inspiration. And this same bishop at one time, he changed the financial law of the diocese which is the financial law of the entire archdiocese without informing me because there was…
Kevin: Some issues raised in regards to a particular parish as I recall, in the funds.
Metropolitan Philip: Some embezzlement which happened in his cathedral actually, in the cathedral of this bishop. I don’t know where was the bishop and where was the priest of the church because they should oversee. The priest and the parish council should watch over the finances of the church.
Kevin: Well, I very much appreciate your candor and your openness on that. I wonder if I might move us to a question or two, not too long, on this issue of financial disclosure that you alluded to and that has come up in the wake of the financial scandals as you pointed out, of the OCA. I understand, and please correct me if I’m wrong, Your Eminence Metropolitan Philip, that the archdiocese board has decided to conduct a regular financial audit of the archdiocese. Is that correct?
Metropolitan Philip: Internal audit.
Kevin: It’s going to be an internal audit?
Metropolitan Philip: There was a disagreement in Houston between two concepts. Internal audit which will not cost the archdiocese a penny and an external audit which would cost the archdiocese at least 150,000 dollars.
Kevin: Would that be including all of the parishes, is that how it would mount to that or would it just be…
Metropolitan Philip: Just the archdiocese and its departments including the Antiochian Village . . . some people suggested that all parishes should be externally audited. I don’t think, uh . . . that would cost more than a million dollars. Instead of spending a million dollars for this, I would rather spend it on my seminarians, on my clergy retirement fund, on the poor. Why go and spend your money foolishly? We are like an open book in this archdiocese. There is one thing. There is only one red light. I told the committee of internal audit, you can audit everything in this archdiocese except one thing. The money which I have accumulated from my stipend and from gifts that general people gave me, and this money, I can show you the papers if you want, this money is entitled in the name of the archdiocese, Archbishop Philip Saliba.
And I have checked with very brilliant lawyers. I checked with the highest, highest, highest taxation authority in this country, and they said you have no problem. You don’t own anything. And I don’t own anything. I don’t own even this jacket. So, I told them, you can audit everything except this: the money which I am supervising and which I will leave to the archdiocese, and the archdiocese will be in good shape. I don’t have hundreds of millions of dollars. I have a few million dollars, OK? I am going to leave it to the archdiocese. You know, after the death of my predecessor, Metropolitan Antony Bashir, wherever I traveled in this archdiocese, the main question was, how much money did Metropolitan Antony leave? And my answer to them was, he left everything. OK? He left everything, and I’m going to leave everything also. I cannot give it to my family, I cannot give it to my nephew who serves on the board of trustees on the archdiocese. I cannot give it to anyone because I’m not paying tax. How can you give it? You land in jail.
Kevin: You think that will satisfy those who think an external audit, Your Eminence, is appropriate for any large church or charitable institution, doing an internal audit? Obviously, you made the decision and I understand that, and I appreciate you being clear about it. Do you think that will settle the issue, us having an internal audit?
Metropolitan Philip: I hope it will settle the issue. If it doesn’t settle the issue, I will tell these people something which I will not mention on the air. They can go and jump, OK? I mean this is my money which I have accumulated, and I have the right to designate this money where to go, and it is going to this archdiocese.
Kevin: Understood, and I wasn’t referring to that. I was referring to the internal versus external audit of those archdiocesan income and expenses that you have allowed the board to audit. Do you think an internal audit of those areas will be sufficient to satisfy the critics who say we should have a completely transparent, open, external audit?
Metropolitan Philip: I have full confidence in the people that I have appointed to do an internal audit of this archdiocese. They are very, very good people. Some of them are converts to the faith. Some of them are people who are born in the faith, and they have met so many times. I have never met with them, and I didn’t want to meet with them. I want them to be free to look at every book in the archdiocese, and they did. They did. I instructed Peter Decales and the people in my office to make everything available for them. Except one thing, the red line that I have mentioned before. How much money I have is my business, how much money I have. But I want the whole world to know that I am leaving this money to the archdiocese. You know in the Book of Acts we read that the early Christians used to bring their offerings to the church and lay it down at the feet of the apostles. If you entrust the bishop with your soul, you don’t trust him to have his own money and give it to the archdiocese in the future? This is ridiculous.
Kevin: Your eminence, I’d like to move to the final subject of our wide-ranging interview which is one that I think our listeners, I know our listeners all over the world will be very interested in understanding your input on and that is the Episcopal Assembly that was formed in 2010 of which you are co-chair of the Executive Committee. Several hierarchs, I’ve heard Metropolitan Jonah, Bishop Basil, Bishop Maxim of the Serbs characterize this as a very historic event that will lead to a plan for the formation of one administratively-unified, canonically-ordered Orthodox Church in America, prior to a Great and Holy Council planned, I’ve heard, for 2013. Do you think your Eminence Philip, that we are closer to a unified Orthodox Church in America today than a year ago?
Metropolitan Philip: I would say no. No. Because we are still facing the same problems. And the . . . .I don’t know if you have read on the media, my presentation to the Episcopal Assembly.
Kevin: Yes, very carefully.
Metropolitan Philip: I heard a rumor that there was an agreement between Istanbul and Moscow. That Istanbul will leave Eastern Europe and the Ukraine and Estonia and so forth, and Russia will not object if they put the diaspora under the ecumenical throne, as if we are toys in this country. They can play with us however they want. We’re not toys. We’re grown-up people, and why did they change SCOBA? Let me tell you something. I have been a member of SCOBA since 1966. OK? SCOBA was established in 1961 by the late Archbishop Iakovos and the late Metropolitan Antony Bashir of the Antiochian Archdiocese and the late Metropolitan Leonty, and all the heads of our jurisdictions of this country. I hate to use this word jurisdiction because this is a fact, and this SCOBA had a constitution. Where is the constitution of the Episcopal Assembly?
Kevin: It’s not in the documents themselves?
Metropolitan Philip: And the documents gives the right to the Patriarch of Istanbul to veto any decision we make. And actually the decisions which we made in May, in Manhattan, instead of the Antiochian Village, in Manhattan, they were sent to His Holiness in Istanbul to approve them. To approve them. So what kind of progress is that?
Kevin: But if I may ask Your Eminence then, why then did the Mother Church in Antioch approve and agree to the documents in the preconciliar process that led to the formation of the Episcopal Assembly?
Metropolitan Philip: This is a very, very good question. For your information, I raised the same question at the Holy Synod of Antioch, and I directed my question to Metropolitan Johannan, John.
Kevin: He was the representative was he not?
Metropolitan Philip: Yes, of western Europe. The meeting took place at Chambesy in the Ecumenical Patriarchate center in Geneva. I said to Archbishop Johannan how come you didn’t send us a report about the meeting which took place in Chambesy between June 6 and June 12 2009. He said, I sent the report to the patriarch.
Kevin: Do you think they understood the consequences, perhaps or the implications, perhaps, of this process?
Metropolitan Philip: No, they did not understand because they haven’t read it.
Metropolitan Philip: They did not read it.
Kevin: My word.
Metropolitan Philip: And if anything is going to happen in the future, we want it to be according to our Orthodox ecclesiology. What I would hope for is for the patriarchs of the autocephalous churches to meet some place. If it is Istanbul, let it be Istanbul, and let the meeting be chaired by the Ecumenical Patriarch, fine, he is first among equals. That happened many, many, many years ago when the Byzantine Empire was flourishing. I would like these patriarchs to decide to send a message to their representatives in the United States of America, to me, to Archbishop Demetrios, to everybody else giving us the right to be called a synod, a synod of bishops in North America. They must form a synod of bishops, not an Episcopal Assembly or SCOBA, although I thought SCOBA did a wonderful job, the IOCC for example. The OCMC, SCOBA did wonderful work, and we had a constitution.
Kevin: Your Eminence, am I hearing then, please don’t allow me to put words in your mouth, and in getting to know you a little bit, I don’t think you would, but am I hearing you say that this is somewhat of a setup in a sense to wrest control of the diaspora by the Phanar, and will it lead then, in your opinion, to the Church in North America coming under the first among the bishops of the Ecumenical Patriarchate as a fait accompli?
Metropolitan Philip: I heard this from many bishops in the Middle East, and this is still to be seen. I don’t think it would work because you have an autocephalous church in North American called the OCA.
Kevin: Whose autocephaly though, even our own Mother Church does not recognize, is that not so?
Metropolitan Philip: Well, this is not really an issue that Antioch does not recognize the OCA.
Kevin: But the EP, with respect, claims. one of their representatives told me, that the reason that Metropolitan Jonah, an example, wasn’t seated on your executive committee was because it’s not a canonically-approved autocephaly.
Metropolitan Philip: I was very upset about that, and I am surprised that Metropolitan Jonah did not say a word about it. Neither Metropolitan Jonah nor his bishops. They were silent all the time despite the humiliation. They seated Metropolitan Jonah on the left of the table. They gave him the last seat. And they seated all these metropolitans and bishops before Metropolitan Jonah. I don’t think that was fair at all. The question of the OCA’s autocephaly, the autocephaly of the OCA was granted in 1970. And I remember, Archbishop Iakovos was not very happy about it, nor the Ecumenical Patriarchate because they feel that they have the right only to grant autocephaly and no one else, and no one else. In the history of the Church, we know that the Church of Antioch gave autocephaly to Georgia.
Kevin: Unilaterally. In other words, without having to go through some process involving the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
Metropolitan Philip: That’s right. I mean, historically speaking, this word ecumenicalism is an innovation. In the early church, there was no ecumenical, there was no second Rome, there was no new Rome, there was no first Rome, there was no third Rome. This is not biblical. I mean, show me in the Bible where it says Rome is first Rome and the Phanar in Istanbul is the new Rome, and then after the fall of Constantinople in 1452, they started talking about Moscow being the third Rome. We don’t have in the Church. If any Church should be first, it should be Jerusalem because that’s where Christ taught, preached, suffered, died on the cross and was resurrected from the dead. And I hope the expectation of some bishops and some people will come true. I will rejoice. But we want this church to be established on the right ecclesiology. We don’t want the primate of this church or the patriarch of this church imposed on us, neither from Antioch, nor from Istanbul, neither from Moscow, nor from Belgrade or any place.
Kevin: I’m wondering as a practical matter, Your Eminence, if the process of this Episcopal Assembly proceeds and if a plan is put forth where those hopes and dreams are say, not met, what would our Holy See’s reaction or response be to that? What could be done if everybody agrees that everybody is going to be merged under the first among equals say of the Ecumenical Patriarchate? What can we do about it?
Metropolitan Philip: I don’t think Moscow would agree to that. I don’t think Antioch will agree to that. I don’t think other autocephalous churches like the Church of Serbia, Patriarchate of Serbia, the Patriarchate of Romania. This is a very complicated issue.
Metropolitan Philip: It’s not easy to be solved. The only people who can solve this problem is us here in America, if we get together and form a synod of bishops and tell the Mother Churches that’s where we stand.
Kevin: And this will work?
Metropolitan Philip: This will work.
Kevin: But I’m curious, Your Eminence, at your opening remarks at the Episcopal Assembly among other comments, you called for the Ecumenical Patriarch to quote” to leave Istanbul and move to Washington D.C. or New York City and head a united Orthodox Church in this hemisphere” end quote. Did you call for this because it is your conviction that only someone of his stature could unite the Orthodox or what was your reasoning for making that statement?
Metropolitan Philip: This is a part of it. I feel that if he moves to Washington or New York, we would still call him the Ecumenical Patriarch, even though he is not residing in Istanbul. We will give him this honor by calling him the Ecumenical Patriarch. Patriarch of Antioch used to live in the city of Antioch. Then he moved to Damascus, and we still call him the patriarch of Antioch. And His Holiness could move to Washington D.C. or to New York, and we would still call him the Ecumenical Patriarch. He can be first among equals. At least he would be presiding over a living church, a thriving church. I have traveled in Europe, I have traveled in the Middle East, I have traveled in Russia.
Although they have throngs of people, big crowds of people in their churches. But you don’t feel the dynamism which exists in North America, in our parishes. I always said individually, we have done marvelous jobs. Look at the Antiochian Archdiocese, it grew from 65 parishes to 265 parishes. The percentage is 400% growth because we opened the door. We opened the window. We let everybody in, and this is the essence of Christianity. To go therefore and make disciples of all nations, not only Greeks, and Russians and Serbians and Bulgarians and Romanians and Syrians and Lebanese, of all nations, and I think if Orthodoxy in America is well-organized physiologically. If it’s well-organized we can convert—one of my dreams is to convert America. We can convert the whole country into the Orthodox faith. We can because our Orthodox faith appeals to the American people. It has order, vis-à-vis chaos on the other side, and you know what I mean.
Kevin: I came from there.
Metropolitan Philip: Right.
Kevin: Question, why if 65% of adherents to Eastern Orthodox Christianity in this country are in the GOA, why would the GOA consider allowing an autocephalous church to be run by anybody but the Greeks?
Metropolitan Philip: Well, first of all, I doubt these statistics.
Kevin: By the way, this is by a report that’s going to be coming out by Alexei Krindatch.
Metropolitan Philip: Well, the things which I hear are because of the imposition of the Greek language on the Greek people in this country. You have thousands, tens of thousands of young people who do not go to church, especially those who are married, and Archbishop Demetrios told me one time that a great number of younger Greeks are marrying outside the faith. If you marry a woman and you take her to a church where she doesn’t understand anything, she’ll tell her husband, honey, we have to go to a church where we can understand the sermon or understand the liturgy, understand the service, therefore I have heard that tens of thousands of young Greeks are leaving the Greek church, the Greek Archdiocese. They don’t go to church. You see big crowds at the cathedral in New York because the cathedral, the Greek cathedral, is not that huge and you have thousands of Greeks in New York City, thousands, thousands of Greeks in New York City.
Kevin: The question is will they cede control of a large population of faithful?
Metropolitan Philip: If we reach this point, and we want to elect a patriarch for this autocephalous church, I will vote for the Greek archbishop just to keep peace.
Kevin: As long as it’s an organic, North American decision?
Metropolitan Philip: As long as it is ecclesiologically correct.
Kevin: Better said.
Metropolitan Philip: OK, I will. I have nothing against the Greeks.
Kevin: Of course. I hope no one misunderstands our conversation about this.
Metropolitan Philip: Exactly, I went to a Greek school in Boston and I was not allowed to speak English.
Kevin: You had to speak in Greek?
Metropolitan Philip: I had to speak in Greek.
Metropolitan Philip: I was not allowed to speak in Arabic, and I had a deacon with me who did not speak one word of English or one word of Greek, and we’d be going to the chapel, for example, and the dean of the school was the late Archbishop Athenagoras. Whenever he heard us talking in Arabic or in English, he would say “Ellinika, paidia mou”, (Greek my children, Greek!). So we spent some difficult time.
Kevin: And this is a concern, frankly, to many of us who are neither Arab nor Greek and came to the church because of its universal application in all cultures across all periods of history, which was open to us through Your Eminence’s…
Metropolitan Philip: Exactly, exactly. Christ went from village to village and from city to city preaching the good news and healing, this is what the Scripture says, every malady and infirmity among the people. He never rested. He was a missionary, and the early Church was a missionary church par exellance. From Jerusalem to Antioch, to Rome, to the whole Mediterranean, basically. When the Church ceases to be a missionary church, it dies.
Kevin: You’ve said that I so much appreciate the emphasis on that in our archdiocese as well. Your Eminence, as we’re coming to a close, could you perhaps render a projection of what the Orthodox landscape might look like in your opinion in 10 years based on what you’re saying. Will it be one church? Continue to be many separately administered churches? Are you optimistic, etc?
Metropolitan Philip: Ten years are not enough.
Kevin: Episcopal Assembly notwithstanding.
Metropolitan Philip: Episcopal Assembly. I wish we kept SCOBA. But we have the Episcopal Assembly. We will try our best to work with the Episcopal Assembly and see where the Episcopal Assembly will lead us. By the way, I am not co-chair. I am vice chairman.
Kevin: Vice chairman, good thank you. I appreciate the correction.
Metropolitan Philip: I am vice chairman of this assembly and my brother Bishop Basil of Wichita is the secretary of this assembly. So we want to work with this assembly, to see where is this assembly leading us? If we are going to be ruled from some Mother Church, it means we have not done anything because there is a gap in the mentality between the way we think, the way we work, and the way they think and the way they work.
Kevin: Your Eminence, I can’t tell you how much I personally appreciate your candor and on behalf of Ancient Faith Radio and the thousands of listeners who will hear these interviews internationally, I want to thank you for giving us the time and the permission to conduct this wide-ranging interview.
Metropolitan Philip: Well, Kevin and John, again I welcome you here and I bless your ministry and I give my blessings to all our listeners. Thank you for coming.