Metropolitan Philip - His Life and Legacy - Part 1
February 23, 2009 Length: 36:33In part one, Fr. Peter asks His Eminence about health, family, his most significant accomplishments and his biggest disappointments.
Fr. Peter Gillquist: Let me say as we begin that I’m interviewing today one of the heroes of my life because were it not for His Eminence Metropolitan Philip, there are 2,000 of us who came to the faith from an Evangelical background that would not be part of the church today. We came at a time before many converts were entering the church, and it was you Sayidna opened the doors of this glorious church to us at a time when others were very hesitant to do so. I say that because I am not objective. I am partial to both you and to this archdiocese, and I thank God for the way that you have extended the grace of the Holy Spirit to us.
Let’s start the interview on a personal level. Tell us how your health is these days.
Metro PHILIP: Well, my health is very good, thank God. I watch my food very carefully. There is a Near Eastern proverb which says, "Whatever we eat is two parts: a part to sustain us and a part to kill us." So I watch my food and second, I exercise. I have a treadmill upstairs in my bedroom and I have a bicycle. When the weather is nice, because we live in the Northeast here and we usually have storms and snow and et cetera, so when I cannot walk outside, I walk on my treadmill in order to keep myself in good shape. After I had my heart attack in 1968, subsequently I had open-heart surgery in 1972. Some of my doctors at that time– ‘72 is many years ago– some of the doctors said, "We give you 10 years to live, or 15 years at the most." In those days, open-heart surgery was an adventure. I am sorry to tell you that some of these doctors are dead who told me that and I’m still around.
I remember when I had my heart attack in Washington, D.C., for 15 days in the hospital, I refused to believe that I had a heart attack because I was young, I was proud of my youth (the sin of pride), very proud of my youth. My schoolmates remember me in school to be the strong Philip, you know. After 15 days, my doctor in Washington came to me with charts to explain to me that I really did have a heart attack. After that, I became convinced I had a heart attack, and I had a very good encounter with God. I said to God, "I am here to serve you, to serve the church. If you want me to live, I am willing to. If you want me to go, I am ready. Therefore, thy will be done. You do whatever with my life."
Fr. Peter Gillquist: What routines do you follow to stay informed and to stay spiritually focused, given the busyness of your life?
Metro PHILIP: I read. I read a lot. Unfortunately, I have discovered that I have dry macular degeneration; therefore, I cannot read small print. I depend on bigger print and when I write something, write a lecture, for example or a long talk or– I usually don’t write my sermons, I just make a mental outline and speak from the heart, but I rely on books and on information which I receive from here and there and, of course, prayers. I have a system of private prayers that I follow, and that keeps me spiritually fit and informed.
You know, the Orthodox Church is worldwide. I am aware of what is going on in Russia and in eastern Europe; of course, in the Middle East because my roots are there, my spiritual roots are in Antioch and in Jerusalem and Damascus, and so I keep myself informed of what is happening in the life of the church because the church is one with other churches in America or in China or in Russia or in the Middle East, and I believe in one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.
Fr. Peter Gillquist: For those who don’t know, please tell us about your family and where they are scattered here in the new world.
Metro PHILIP: My family, we originated in Lebanon about– actually, in the heart of Lebanon about 20 miles east of Beirut in the mountains, in the mountains of Lebanon. We are neighbors to a very famous mountain, one of the highest mountains in Lebanon, Mount Suneen. Mount Suneen was and still is a subject for poets, for writers, and it’s a beautiful mountain, and my– the village where I was born is a neighbor to that mountain. My mother passed away in 1964 and my father passed away in 1985, during the visit of Our Father in Christ, Patriarch Ignatius, to this country, and we had a memorial service for him in Boston during the Archdiocese convention. I have lost one of my brothers, an older brother of mine, and I have lost my sister during the Lebanese War. Her home was bombed during the war and she grieved so much that she had a stroke and she died after the stroke.
My oldest brother still lives in Lebanon. My youngest brother lives in Massachusetts. He’s a professor of history and political science, and he gave one of the lectures at our symposium this year, at the Antiochian Village, about Judaism and Christianity under Islam. His lecture was published recently in The Word magazine. Some people liked it; some people didn’t like it and we’re going to publish one of the letters that criticized his lecture because The Word is an open magazine for all opinions. So I have nieces in this country. My brother Najib has two children, Philip, who serves on the board of trustees of the Archdiocese– on Thanksgiving, I baptized his daughter, Zara, here in my chapel in the Archdiocese, and Leslie, who is not married, Philip and Leslie, Najib’s children. She works for Saks; she’s a buyer for Saks. And then I have nieces, I have two nieces in Connecticut and three other nieces, one in Michigan, at Ann Arbor (she’s married to Dr. Gregory Dalack) and two nieces in California (one is a lawyer and the other one is a homemaker. They both live near San Francisco).
Fr. Peter Gillquist: What are your personal plans for the next five years? I know that the Lord orders our steps, but what do you envision?
Metro PHILIP: My plan for the next five years is to continue working. I remember the Irish author, Bernard Shaw, once said, "The harder we work, the longer we live," so I live with this motto. Do your best and leave the rest to God. So I’m going to continue the work which I have been doing, pacing myself, as my doctors tell me to do, and we still have many things to do, many things to do. So I plan to live, if God wills, and do my work in the church for the church.
Fr. Peter Gillquist: In that connection, what are your most gratifying accomplishments in your episcopacy?
Metro PHILIP: This is a very good question. Let me mention only three. I mean there are many, but I would like to mention three. One, the reunification of the Antiochian Orthodox in North America in 1975. We started the process in 1973. I was in Toledo, Ohio, presiding over a parish life conference and the late Archbishop Michael– as you know, he lived in Toledo; his home was in Toledo– on Sunday afternoon after the conference, I told one of my priests, Father George Rados, "Call Archbishop Michael on the phone and tell him that I would like to come and visit him," and we were not talking at that time. And Father George was shocked, actually. He said, "Do you really mean it?" I said, "I do."
He did call Archbishop Michael and Archbishop Michael said, "Well, the Metropolitan would be welcomed here." So we drove to his house and we knocked on the door, he opened the door for me and we embraced, and I said to him, "You know, we must unite this archdiocese. If you want to be the metropolitan, I’ll serve you as your assistant, as your auxiliary." Immediately, he said, "No, no, no, no. I have only eight parishes and you have 65 parishes." In those days, 65 parishes. "I think you should be the metropolitan and I will help you." I said, "Okay, we’re going to appoint a joint committee to work on the reunification." We did that, and two years later, there was a beautiful encounter in Charleston, West Virginia. I gave a speech at their Labor Day banquet in Charleston and I said, "We all belong to Christ. We are not for Paul or for Apollos." I quoted Saint Paul’s– the Corinthians, I believe, and we started the meetings.
After a few meetings, we found ourselves in agreement. So in June of 1975, I and Archbishop Michael met in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and we signed the Articles of Reunifications in August, 1975. We took this agreement to the Holy Synod of Antioch and, to my surprise and to Patriarch EliasIV’s shock, some bishops (one or two, you know) asked the question, "Who gave you permission to unite?" and Patriarch Elias, God rest his soul, was very indignant. He said, "Instead of presenting them with bouquets of roses, you’re criticizing them because they united our people in North America? They have been divided in North America for 60 years. This is a blessed moment. This is a bright moment in the history of the Church of Antioch and we should rejoice with Father Philip and Archbishop Michael." So this reunification, I consider it one of the great achievements.
The next one, I would say the founding of the Antiochian Village. I lived during the ‘60s, as you, Father Peter, did and you were very active in working with youth, the campus crusades, etc. I saw what was going on in our society. I saw the rebelliousness of our youth. I saw the– I mean rebelliousness had so much idealism in it. It was not a kind of nihilism. It was not. It was a protest against the war in Vietnam. We were losing our young people in Vietnam. I think we have lost about 58,000 young Americans in that senseless war there, and the young people rebelled against the war and against other things, you know. Most of the time, I felt that they were justified. But I felt how important the youth are in our church and they were facing serious problems. Drug problems, sex problems, etc. I said, "We need a place. We must establish a place for them where they can escape society, escape the cities for a while, and go to a remote place, to a little mountain, and pray. Pray in the morning, pray in the evening, pray before they go to bed, have Christian education, and play, too."
I didn’t expect them to be monks but to live in a milieu, in an environment conducive to spirituality, to give them the opportunity to meet each other from all over the archdiocese, and to meet God, you see. I mean the mountain is so important in the history of salvation. We know of so many great events which took place on mountains. The Sermon on the Mount, the transfiguration on Mount Tabor, receiving the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai, and so many things. So I took the youth to the mountains by founding the Antiochian Village, and we have been very, very successful. I thank God today that in our archdiocese, we have so many little Antiochian Villages. In the Southeast, in the Midwest, in the Diocese of Wichita and Mid-America and the Diocese of the West and in Canada. In Alaska even, we have a camp there in Alaska sponsored by St. Johns’ Cathedral. The second major event, I would say, was the founding of the Antiochian Village, which has become a center for our spiritual renaissance, and we are making this place available to everyone, not only to Antiochians but to all those who seek quietness, to seek communion with God and communion with each other. It has been serving a wonderful purpose in our archdiocese. We thank God for that.
And the third thing which I would like to mention, the third thing is the reception of the former Evangelicals, and you are one of them, Father Peter. You played a tremendous role in this process. It was in this room where we are conducting this interview where I think about 40 of us met. You and your people (and now you and your people are our people) and I had a few Antiochians with me, a few theologians, and that was a very, very deep and emotional encounter. If I could add the reception of the former Evangelicals to orthodoxy, to the Book of Acts, I would add it because it was such an experience, such a moving spiritual experience in my life. I will never forget that after our long meeting here and after many questions and many good answers from you, I think Father Gordon Walker got emotional. He started crying– I saw tears on his cheek– and said to me, "Your Eminence, we have been knocking on many doors but there was no one in. If you don’t accept us in to the church, if you don’t take us in, where do we go from here?"
To me, that was a very, very touching and emotional moment. I paused for a while and I remember telling you, "Why don’t you go and meet tonight, meet together, reflect on our meeting today. Don’t trust yourself to anything. Meet with each other tonight and let me know tomorrow." I was, deep down in my heart, I was convinced that we were going to be together after the meeting. Then, the next day you called me and said, "We would like to come and see you," and I said, "You will be welcome," and the next day you came here and you said to me, "We voted unanimously to join Orthodoxy via the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of North America," and I said from the depth of my heart, "Welcome home." Welcome home. And this was one of the brightest moments of my life because the church started as a missionary movement. If we reflect on the life of our Lord, we know that He was– He never rested, He never stayed in one place. He was a missionary. He moved from one place to another in Palestine, even– he came to South Lebanon, and He was preaching the good news to the people, and as the scripture says, healing every malady and every infirmity among the people.
Last Sunday, I presided over the Divine Liturgy in Bridgeport and we read the story of the healing of the woman who was bent over for 18 years. Our Lord saw her and He had compassion on her and He healed her. So His mission to this world was a mission of healing, virtual healing and physical healing. I mean he healed our physical sickness and our spiritual sickness at the same time. And the church, which is the extension of Christ in time and in space, must do the same thing. The church cannot stand still, the church must missionize, the church must evangelize. Otherwise, the church would lose the raison d’être of her existence. I mean if we are satisfied with the few people that we have here, then we are betraying the famous commission of our Lord to "Go ye, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Teaching them whatever I have commanded you. And lo, I am with you until the end of the world."
So our Lord did not establish a church on this earth and left it to the wolves. You see, He is, He is still in the church, He’s still working in the church. That’s why, when people ask me about Orthodox unity, I tell them this is inevitable because the Holy Spirit is working in the church and this is going to happen. Doesn’t happen soon because of our human frailties. If it’s up to me and a few people will do it today or tomorrow. But I am dreaming of a whole united Orthodox church. All Orthodox in North America should be united. Otherwise, if some of us are united and some are not with us, then we would remain in the same spot.
So these three things which I have mentioned, the reunification of the Archdiocese, the founding of the Antiochian Village, and the reception of the former Evangelicals into orthodoxy. I could add establishment of the order of St. Ignatius of Antioch, Antiochian Women, the reorganization of the Department of Mission and Evangelism, which you, Father Peter, chair, and Conciliar Ministry, which is CMM now, chaired by John.
Fr. Peter Gillquist: If I can just reflect, that day you said, "Welcome home" was an indelible memory also for us, and to this very day, as I work with many Protestant churches that are en route to becoming Orthodox, on the day they decide, I always say to them, "Welcome home." So that movement continues Sayidna.
Metro PHILIP: That’s great.
Fr. Peter Gillquist: What have been your biggest disappointments in your service as Metropolitan?
Metro PHILIP: I would say the lack of progress toward Orthodox unity. Back in 1966, when I was consecrated Archbishop, in that beautiful monastery where I started my life in the church, St. Elias Monastery, I have been obsessed with two things. One, the unity of the Antiochian Orthodox people in North America. I was convinced that I must first put my house in order. Before I unite orthodoxy, I must unite the Antiochian people, people of this archdiocese. That was accomplished. The second burning desire which I have is the unity of orthodoxy in North America. Contrary to what many people believe, that I want to abolish all cultures, that’s not my intention at all. I have been preaching unity with diversity. Those who want to be Serbians and have a slava at every feast, let them have it. Let them do that. If the Greeks want to do the Greek dance, let them do that. If the Antiochians want to do the dabke, let them do that. (It’s a form of dance.) Let them do that.
We could be united if we could have a synod in this country, a synod of bishops in this country, and start experimenting. For example, take western Pennsylvania. We have many churches which belong to the OCA, we have Antiochian parishes. We have Greek parishes, we have Serbian parishes, Carpatho-Russian etc. We could put a bishop in western Pennsylvania to shepherd all these parishes there and if this bishop is wise, he can learn a little bit of Greek, a little bit of Russian. Our people are in this country and the language is English. They all understand English. When we go to work, we speak English, but when we go to church, we speak different languages. Why? It doesn’t make sense to me. Well, there are positive signs. For example, our young people are sold on this unity. I can speak of the– about the Antiochians, the Antiochian youth, and the Antiochian people in general. We pray for this unity, they are for this unity, but we would like others to join us in this spiritual venture.
My disappointment in this regard, that we have not made a great deal of progress at all. SCOBA is not very active really. SCOBA could have done much to enhance this unity but we did not do much through SCOBA. We did not even communicate with our clergy, telling them to have inter-Orthodox relations on the local level. In some places, our Orthodox people don’t know each other. Our clergy even don’t know each other on the local level. So we need a great deal of work in this area and we have not progressed much. This is precisely why I am disappointed.
Fr. Peter Gillquist: How have you changed personally since becoming Metropolitan? What has this responsibility done to you?
Metro PHILIP: I became more realistic when I became Metropolitan in 1966. You know, there is an expression in the, I think, either in the Book of Acts or in the Epistles of St. Paul that they were someplace preaching and the people said (this group of Christians), "They’re turning the world upside down." During the early days of my episcopacy, I wanted to turn the world upside down. I wanted to bring peace to the Middle East. And for your information, I had my heart attack in the State Department. When I was pleading the cause of the Palestinian refugees, and at that time I met with Lyndon Johnson and I was very disappointed with the meeting. I was very idealistic and I did not accept things the way they were. I had this drive, this drive to change, change, change according to my calendar. When I had my heart attack in Washington, D.C., in ‘68, I realized that things do not happen according to my calendar but according to His, to God’s calendar; that things are going to happen in His time, not my time. I reconciled myself to this fact, that Philip Saliba cannot change the world. He can help, but he cannot do it by himself. It takes the grace of God, it takes the power of God, takes the synergy, this work between us and God, I mean salvation is a cooperation between us and God, between the human and the divine. So I realized after my heart attack and open-heart surgery that I must pace myself and change what I can change and accept what I cannot change, and say "Thy will be done."
Fr. Peter Gillquist: Sayidna what gives you the most hope for the church in the decade ahead?
Metro PHILIP: Well, Father Peter, our church is a church of hope. Our Lord said, "Lo, I will be with you until the end of time." So as long as He is in the church, our Christ, the Savior is in the church, as long as the Holy Spirit is working in the church– I mean in every baptism, there is a Pentecost. In every wedding, there is a Pentecost. In every Divine Liturgy, there is a Pentecost. So the Holy Spirit is still working in the church. What happened in the life of the Antiochian Archdiocese– I don’t want to talk about others. Let me talk about the Antiochian Archdiocese. In 1966, we had 65 parishes. Today, we have 253 parishes. We almost quadrupled the size of the archdiocese. Why? We’ve been working. I mean through the Department of Mission and Evangelism, which you chair, and those who are working with you, those who are working with us, I think people know us know but they should know us more. Certain groups are being torn asunder, certain Christian groups, and I think they should know that we exist. They should know that we are the church, as you call it, the Church of the New Testament, the church which was born on Pentecost day. We are the Church of Christ and we’re here. Come and see, you see. Come and see. This is the church.
Fr. Peter Gillquist: What would see as a major concern about the church in the coming decade?
Metro PHILIP: We’re concerned about, again, Orthodox unity. We have a eucharistic unity. We can receive communion in other Orthodox churches, etc. But this unity should be fully expressed, not only eucharistically but in every aspect. Ecclesiologically. Our ecclesiology in North America is upside down and we should have a senate of bishops in this country in order to deal with canonical problems, in order to deal with ethical problems. The church is living in the 21st Century. We are not living in the 4th or 5th or 6th Centuries. The church lives today, today, in this environment in North America, and we must express the fullness of this Orthodox faith wherever we are, and this fullness, okay, the eucharistic experience is fine, but all aspects of the church are important. The unity of the episcopacy, we don’t have it in North America. We don’t have it.
According to our canons, there must be a bishop in every city. In New York City, we have 14, 15 jurisdictions and this is contrary to our canons. We have Antiochian Orthodox people in Athens, Greece, but they don’t have an Antiochian Orthodox bishop there. They are under the eccliastical authority of the Archbishop of Athens, of the local bishops. This is not impossible for us to achieve in North America. If certain ancient quarters leave us alone, we could do many things here.
"Thank you! An American friend of mine who lives outside Moscow suggested I listen to AFR. Thank you, thank you, thank you!"