In this historic interview on Ancient Faith Radio, Metropolitan Philip talks candidly about such things as Orthodox unity, music, our witness to the world, his most memorable accomplishments as well as his biggest disappointments. This two part interview was conducted by Fr. Peter Gillquist, Chairman of the Department of Missions and Evangelism in the Antiochian Archdiocese. It was Fr. Peter and a large contingent of Evangelicals who were received into the Orthodox Church by Metropolitan Philip over 20 years ago.
In addition to the HTML transcripts of the individual episodes below, Ancient Faith Radio is pleased to offer a nicely-formatted PDF transcript of the interview (2.4mb) for download.
Fr. Peter Gillquist: Recently, our sister jurisdiction, the Orthodox Church in America, went through a real crisis, as we know. What can we all learn from that?
Metro PHILIP: We can learn a great deal from that. I’m glad you mentioned that because last evening was a great moment for me because for the first time, I had the pleasure of meeting His Beatitude Metropolitan Jonah. I invited him for dinner. He came here with his chancellor and two deacons. We had dinner together and we talked about orthodoxy and our aspirations for the future. What can we learn from the crisis of the OCA we can learn much. We can learn, first of all, transparency in administration. In the Antiochian Archdiocese, all checks, to get down to earth, to the grassroots, all checks were signed by the archbishop.
When I started in 1966, I thought that this system must be changed. One check, one signature on checks. We have four people now who can sign checks in the Antiochian Archdiocese and every check must have two signatures. The archbishop and the assistant treasurer, the vice chairman and the treasurer, and so forth. This way, I did that in order to protect myself and to protect the archdiocese. And if we received $5.00, we reported it. We printed it in The Word magazine that Mr. So-and-so donated $5.00 to the archdiocese. I think transparency in financial matters is extremely important.
One time I remember a bishop telling me that our Orthodox people are stingy, they’re not generous. I told him, "I disagree with you. Our people are generous but you have to show them what you are doing. If you show them what you are doing, they don’t give you their money only; they’ll give you their hearts. They give you their lives." Look at our seminarians, how well they do when they– after they leave the seminary. How come they’re different from others? They’re different from others because we care for them in the Antiochian Archdiocese. We give every seminarian a full scholarship so that the seminarian does not leave the seminary worried about how to pay this $90,000.00 debt or $80,000.00 debt. Let him go to his parish with good feeling about his bishop, about the archdiocese.
So you know, you receive our financial report and you know how much money we spend on theological education. I was sharing this with the new Metropolitan last night, Metropolitan Jonah, that every bishop must be responsible about his seminarians, support them. Don’t let them go to the seminary worried about how to support their wives, if they are married, and many of our seminarians are married. Your son was one of them and it wasn’t easy for him. I mean despite our help and your help, I am sure, he had a difficult time at the seminary. Despite the fact that we gave him a full scholarship, but to have a wife and have children in this society today is not easy to survive without financial help.
So by being transparent, by being good stewards, we have done so much. So much. And we made our books available to everyone in the archdiocese. We sent our financial report to every parish, every year, to every priest, to every archdiocene trustee, let them see what is happening in the archdiocese. We can learn a great deal from that unfortunate thing which happened, and I hope this will be corrected by the new Metropolitan, and I think it will be because he gave me tremendous hope last night. I have a good impression, very hopeful about the future of the OCA under his leadership.
Fr. Peter Gillquist: How do you think his elevation will impact our quest for administrative unity as well as the advancement of the gospel?
Metro PHILIP: I think he is very, very much committed to the gospel. He kept saying last evening that we should preach the gospel of Christ, preach the gospel of Christ. That reminded me of something in Matthew. "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and everything else shall be added unto you." Consider the lilies of the field, I mean. He is committed to this theology and when Christ tells us "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and everything else shall be added unto you," He’s telling us the truth because He is the alpha and the omega. "I am the way, the truth, and the life." Therefore, the church, our preaching, and our work, everything we do, must be rooted in the gospel. In the gospel. So I think that he will contribute a great deal to the– the a new OCA. A new OCA.
Fr. Peter Gillquist: Do you think we’re closer or further away from unity, say, compared with five years ago?
Metro PHILIP: No, I think– I feel that we are closer. We are closer. As long as our people get together at the Antiochian Village and– in the West. I think His Beatitude– last night, he informed me that after his enthronement, he’s going to stop and speak to the young people at the Antiochian Village. I think you spoke to them there, at the Antiochian Village, between Christmas and New Year one time. They gather there every year and I think on the West Coast, they do the same thing. Even our teens SOYO our teens in the Antiochian Archdiocese are concerned. They have a Sunday, set Sunday, to speak about Orthodox unity and to invite non-Antiochians to dialogue with them about Orthodox unity.
Fr. Peter Gillquist: As the one who opened the door to we who were Evangelical Protestants some years ago, over 20 years ago now, what has the church gained from this entrance into the church?
Metro PHILIP: We gained a great deal. First of all, we translated the Divine Commission in the gospel to make disciples of all nations. We translated that into a reality. It’s not something abstract. It is real. This is the church, okay?
Fr. Peter Gillquist: Sayidna it seems as time goes on that we, as a society, keep embracing darker and darker things. How do you feel Orthodox Christians should engage the culture and try to bring the light of Christ into this world?
Metro PHILIP: Well, Father Peter, we cannot escape the culture. I mean we live in this world and the church, from the very beginning, has interacted with different cultures. In the early church, we had the– of course, we had the Aramaic culture. Our Lord spoke Aramaic, as we all know. The gospel of Matthew was written in Aramaic. So the church had to interact with ancient cultures and mainly with the Greek culture in those days. But today, we have a different culture altogether. Different culture. I believe that we cannot escape this culture. We are in it. We have to do everything we can to transform it, transform this culture, take from this culture what is useful to the church. For example, in the 5th Century, we could not transmit the Christian kerygma, the Christian message, through Ancient Faith Radio. Now we are using this medium.
We can use our culture, we can use the technological advance which this culture provides to us in order to enhance the message of the gospel. We can do that through radio, like Ancient Faith Radio. We can do it through television, we can do it through emails and through faxes. I mean modern culture, it has many blessings. Yes, it has many challenges. It poses many problems for the church. The problem of secularism, for example. The problem of humanism, humanism and secularism. The problem of not taking the church seriously. This is a problem. This is a problem. We have many peripheral Christians who don’t take Christianity seriously. This is a problem.
We have the drug problem, we have the family problem. We see many families being disintegrated. We went through the so-called sexual revolution. We still have that problem in our campuses, in our schools. We have– the church must transcend that and I don’t see how transcendence can be accomplished without the church, without this message, you see. It’s impossible. Therefore, there are good things about culture and bad things. Of course, we should not be slaves to any culture at all and take the problem, for example, the problem of nationalism. I mean the church must transcend that. Must transcend ethnicism. These are cultural issues.
Fr. Peter Gillquist: We touched earlier on the role of SCOBA, the Standing Conference of Orthodox Bishops in America. To what degree do you feel it has fulfilled or not fulfilled its mission?
Metro PHILIP: Well, I feel that SCOBA has not fulfilled its mission. When SCOBA was founded back in 1961, there was a constitution and that constitution, the original constitution of SCOBA, says that SCOBA must work for Orthodox unity in this country. SCOBA hasn’t done much at all to enhance Orthodox unity, beside getting together and spending two, three hours together and talking about peripheral issues, we haven’t done much. We have not reached out to our Orthodox people, all Orthodox people in this country. We have not told our clergy to be active on the local level, to bring our Orthodox people together through our clergy– inter-Orthodox clergy associations. I know in some cities, our clergy don’t know each other and our people don’t know each other. We move in our ethnic orbits and SCOBA did not really contribute much. We issue an encyclical every year for the Sunday of orthodoxy. I don’t think that’s enough. I feel that every Sunday must be the Sunday of orthodoxy.
Fr. Peter Gillquist: In your book, Metropolitan Philip: His Life and His Dreams, you said, quote, "We are not yet clear on what American Orthodoxy would look like because there is very little orthodoxy here that is indigenously, genuinely, visibly American," unquote. That was over 17 years ago. Do you feel we’re any closer to a model of what American Orthodoxy should look like today?
Metro PHILIP: Not yet, not yet. We’re still struggling with our own identity as a church in this country. I’m talking about North America. I’m not talking about Russia or Greece because there is a church in Russia and there is a church in Greece. Now, we are the church in this environment, in this North American society, okay? Is our external appearances– external appearances– is that conducive to this culture? I mean I dress like this, as you know me since we met, I dress like this.
Fr. Peter Gillquist: And since we’re not on TV, you’re wearing a suit.
Metro PHILIP: Yeah.
Fr. Peter Gillquist: With a collar, not a cassock.
Metro PHILIP: That’s right. Well, I saw pictures of St. Tikhon around the beginning of the 20th Century and he was dressed like me. He had a collar and suit and– black suit and black shirt. I don’t think we can relate to this culture, we can relate to these people, to the people in this culture, if we all have cassocks and black jibbees and the Turkish hat, the black hat, and go to Nashville, Tennessee, or to Appalachia or somewhere. People will think that we are somehow from outer space. How can they relate to us? I mean first of all, they wouldn’t approach us to say hello or something. They’ll get scared from us. This is about external appearance.
We have not decided yet what kind of dress we should adopt in this country. I see some of my own priests, you see, in the Antiochian Archdiocese, walking around with ponytails and with long beards. Is that necessary for salvation? What does that have to do with the history of salvation? We don’t know whether our Lord had a beard or not. They paint Him or they picture Him as he had a beard. Everybody in those days had a beard. Everybody. And everybody had a cassock and an outer garment over the cassock, and the Turkish hat is an innovation. I mean it entered the church during the Ottoman time. We have to agree on our external identity.
Our identity as Orthodox, liturgically, we have to. We’re still using the liturgies of the ancient world. I’m happy with it because I grew up in Lebanon and I am familiar with the liturgy of St. John Chrysostom and I wouldn’t change it with anything else because I am very familiar with it. But will the future Orthodox generation in this country accept this liturgy? This is up to them how to express themselves culturally, how to express their feelings, their culture, in the church. The music, for example. The music– we use Byzantine music. I like it, I am familiar with it but some people don’t like it. Is that the music which we should have for the church in this country?
These are questions, these are question marks. I cannot answer them right now. I think our future generations will answer these questions. But we should be very careful of how we dress, of how we interact with the people in this milieu, in this environment. It’s important.
Fr. Peter Gillquist: What do you see as the biggest threats to Christianity generally and Orthodoxy in particular?
Metro PHILIP: I think the biggest threat to Christianity in general is materialism, is secularism, and humanism. This is the biggest threat. And to Orthodoxy? Well, Orthodoxy all over the world, we still have this competition between Moscow and Constantinople, Istanbul today. We still have that going on and I think that what we have to do internationally as Orthodox is to transcend ethnicism. In 1872, I believe, philetism was condemned as a heresy. Well, we should– as Orthodox, we should examine ourselves today as we philetists? Are we? We should ask ourselves this question.
You see, is there something called American Orthodoxy or Greek Orthodoxy or Russian Orthodoxy or is there Orthodoxy in Russia, Orthodoxy in Greece, Orthodoxy in America? Those who want to Americanize Orthodoxy are wrong. We want one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church in America.
Fr. Peter Gillquist: Many who are already Christians here in North America have come into the Orthodox Church. What about the millions who do not follow Christ at all? What are some ways that we, as Orthodox, can reach out to them?
Metro PHILIP: Well, an example is Ancient Faith Radio, for example. The Department of Mission and Evangelism. You told me one time that while you’re flying on a plane, you talk to people and you convert them to Orthodoxy. You tell them about the Orthodox Church. People don’t know us. Let’s face it. Due to the lack of Orthodox unity, we have not– we should have one Department of Mission and Evangelism, a strong department. We should unify our departments and put our efforts together in order to leave an impact on this country, on North America, and we haven’t done that. We’re doing our own things in the Antiochian Archdiocese and the Greeks are doing their own things and the OCA is doing its own things and so we must reach out as one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church in terms of public relations, in terms of sacred music, Christian education, youth ministry, ministry for our clergy and their families.
We can do so much together. We can unify our theological education programs. We should bring our seminaries together, St. Vladimir, St. Tikhon, Holy Cross, The Antiochian House of Studies. Bring these entities together. Let’s unify certain things in our theological education. We must emphasize pastoral care, pastoral ministry, instead of teaching two, three semesters on Arius and Macedonius and let’s see what’s happening to our families in America in the 21st Century. We need pastoral theology. Unfortunately, our seminaries are not emphasizing the importance of pastoral theology, practical theology, applied theology, and the Antiochian House of Study– I call the Antiochian House of Studya university without walls. But we emphasize applied theology. Let the people work in their fields and then come at a certain time of the year to the Antiochian Village and learn something about mission and evangelism.
Do we give courses in our seminaries about mission and evangelism? How are we going to missionize these 70,000,000 unchurched Americans if we don’t teach our seminarians how to missionize and how to evangelize, how to talk to America. We’re not doing that and we must do that. It’s about time that we meet and we– these are some of the things that SCOBA did not do, for example. You see, theological education, spiritual formation– how are we preparing our priests, our future priests? These are big and important questions which we should address.
Fr. Peter Gillquist: Let me just ask one last thing, and this is personal. Say that a crowd of 50,000 was gathered at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh and half the crowd is Orthodox, half the crowd– from all jurisdictions, half the crowd is either non-Orthodox, maybe Evangelicals, or a group of them also non-believers, and you had the chance to speak to them, one time. What do you think you’d say?
Metro PHILIP: That’s a very, very challenging question, to speak to a mixed group like that. I would preach a sermon on the Beatitudes, for example. Take the Beatitudes. They apply to everybody. Don’t be dogmatic with them because they’re not going to understand. Maybe the Orthodox would understand your dogmatic theology, but the rest of the people will not understand. Therefore, that will not be the time and place– the time and place to preach doctrines and dogmas. You’ll lose your crowd. Bring them first; let them understand what you’re talking about, and everyone understands "Blessed are the peacemakers," all right? "Blessed are you if they persecute you" and, you know, etc., etc., etc. Everybody understands that. Talk to them in a language that all of them understand. If you’re going to preach to them about epiphany, the non-Orthodox there, they’ll say, "What is he talking about? What is this epiphany or theophany? What is that?" You see?
So in order to reach them, you’ll have, first of all, to understand where you are speaking and to whom you are speaking, you see? Where and to whom you’re speaking, and if we don’t take that into consideration, we lose our audience. We lose them. I am delighted that I have had this opportunity to speak to you through Ancient Faith Radio. I think this is a very important ministry for our church. We should support it and do everything we can to reach out to people in America and tell them, "Come and see," and when they come, we tell them, "Welcome home."
Fr. Peter Gillquist: Sayidna thank you so much for this wonderful time together at your home and appreciate again the wonderful leadership you’ve provided for people like John Maddex and me and all the others that have come from the outside of the church inside. Thank you very much.
Metro PHILIP: Thank you.