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Bishop Antoun Reflects on His Life in the Archdiocese, Metropolitan Philip, and Metropolitan Joseph

Bishop Antoun at the Antiochian Village LibraryBishop Antoun at the Antiochian Village LibraryThis reflection from the September, 2014 edition of The Word magazine begins with a brief introductory explanation by the Editor, Bishop John Abdalah.

We were at the Antiochian Village in July, 2014, for the Clergy Symposium, sitting in front of the portrait of Patriarch Alexander (Tahan), the Patriarch who ordained Bishop Antoun to the diaconate in 1951. Bishop Antoun began to reminisce about the late Patriarch and his ordination. Metropolitan Philip served this Patriarch as his Secretary and Deacon. Sayidna Philip found this portrait at St. John of Damascus Parish during a pastoral visit. "How important it is for us to remember those godly men who went before us, forming our spiritual lives through their witness and teachings," remarked our senior Bishop Antoun.

Sayidna Antoun has served the Archdiocese of North America for 60 years. He is part of the history of our Church, witnessing its growth and changes as a priest and bishop, as a pastor and as an administrator, as an immigrant and as an American. As we experience our transition from the leadership of Sayidna Philip to that of Sayidna Joseph, we are blessed to hear Bishop Antoun's reflections, visions and hopes.


I served as a teacher in the Orthodox School in Damascus, and later as the Principal of St. John of Damascus School in Syria. I then moved to San Paolo, Brazil, and served the Church there as a deacon before coming to the United States, where I studied at St. Vladimir's Seminary. Almost right away I was reunited by phone with my longtime friend, Metropolitan Philip, who was then a priest in Cleveland, Ohio. Because I missed my friend Fr. Philip, I went to visit him there. I had asked how long a trip Cleveland would be from New York. He told me it would be a few hours: just tell the Greyhound Bus [people] you want Cleveland and they will bring you here. The trip took overnight! I found my friend Philip waiting for me in the Church.

Upward, Inward

Excerpted from “Out Of The Depths Have I Cried: Thoughts on Incarnational Theology in the Eastern Christian Experience,” by Metropolitan Philip Saliba and Fr. Joseph Allen, Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1979

We are never totally aware of how God is moving in our lives, how He is active in our existence. We do know that He is there, that “in Him we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28). We are in Him and He is in us. But we are never totally conscious of just how He is there, and what are His motivations for our lives.

The Fathers of the East have known this truth of His “incomprehensibility” and have variously expressed it, remembering that we see, as Saint Paul said, “darkly, as through a glass.” Not understanding completely, we wonder in fact if we can lure Him into doing what we want. We make a “deal”: if this happens, I will do this or that. We sometimes make our faith conditional, even though our faith must be there in spite of what happens – not because of what happens.

We try to comprehend it all rationally, with our heads, but it does not work like that. We know such things not with our heads; we know them with our hearts – we intuit, we perceive, we sense, we experience. This is dangerous, as we will see, and yet it is truly the deepest kind of knowing.

But even with this kind of knowing, God’s existence in our lives remains only partially in our awareness; the rest is out of our awareness.

Attaining the Kingdom Of Heaven

By Metropolitan Joseph

This article is adapted from a speech given by His Eminence to a Northern California Antiochian Orthodox Christian Women of North America retreat in November, 2002.

How do we attain the Kingdom of Heaven? Where is it to be found? It is very easy for us in the Western world to view this Kingdom as something that one attains as a final destination or ending of a journey. As Orthodox Christians, we believe that the Kingdom of Heaven is Christ Himself, not a physical place or location.

It is within Christ that the Kingdom is to be experienced. For this reason, we cannot think of the Kingdom as something we are either “in” or “out” of. Through baptism and a life of repentance, we participate in the Life of Christ, and thus we participate in the Kingdom. The Kingdom is a dynamic state, wherein we grow in perfection through God’s grace. Our journey is not to the Kingdom, our journey is in the Kingdom.

As long as we are struggling to be Christlike, we are assuredly tasting of the Fountain of Immortality. When the struggle ends and the growth ceases, the Kingdom disappears. It is nowhere to be found. The moment we think we have achieved something, that we have earned our place, then we have lost the Kingdom. Our struggles are meaningless without Christ, and vice versa: without struggles, we are meaningless, because we will lose Christ.

Why Should I Pray

by Fr. Michael Keiser

The other Sunday, a friend of mine who is a pastor took an informal survey of his congregation during the homily. “How many of you struggle with your prayer life?” he asked. Every hand in this parish of nearly three hundred shot up! The priest admitted that prayer was his own greatest spiritual struggle. The fact is, practicing effective prayer is like fighting on the front lines in a war. Our greatest challenge is to pray!

This is an interesting time to be Orthodox. Our secular world provides little certainty for people’s lives, and the Orthodox faith issues an unchanging message of truth and stability. Orthodox Christianity may be the last firm footing on which to stand, yet it would be fair to say that very few Orthodox Christians are aware of the depth and richness of the Church’s spiritual tradition when it comes to personal devotion. We Orthodox are big on externals. Our liturgical worship is a drama of striking beauty and color, of scent and sound. But besides being beautiful, icons, vestments, chanting, and incense together constitute an important statement about God. He has created us as physical beings in a material world, and we approach Him using the elements of that material world. The way in which we Orthodox worship involves all of our senses and physical nature, so that we may respond to God with all of our being—our bodies as well as our minds and souls.

However, there is something else that is as essential to our spiritual growth as outward worship, and that is personal prayer. Anyone who wants to grow closer to God must develop a disciplined prayer life.

What Is Prayer?

Public worship and personal prayer are the twin support beams of the spiritual life for any believer. All our growing will take place within the framework they provide. But they are not the same thing, and they are not interchangeable.

Message for the New Year

By Archpriest George Shalhoub

Beloved,

The Spirituality of Moral Unity: Standing Together

by Fr. George Morelli
SSJC-WR President's Message Winter 20151

To borrow the opening lines of the famous 19th English novelist Charles Dickens in his A Tale of Two Cities (1859): "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness..." Though Dickens was referencing the pre and post-French Revolution state of political, social and spiritual affairs in London and Paris, we can well apply these words to the state of the contemporary world as we enter the 21st Century.

What Can We Do for God's Youth Today?

Metropolitan Philip installs SOYO officersMetropolitan Philip installs SOYO officersBy Bishop John Abdalah

From the October 2012 edition of The Word magazine

Metropolitan Philip has designated October Youth Month in the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America. Each October we highlight the contributions, activities, and needs of our youth. This year I would like to highlight their needs.

Our youth need Jesus Christ. The need: a real relationship with Christ that will sustain them when their faith is challenged by peers, academics, change, loss and fear. Our youth need pious and holy adults willing to share honestly. Our youth need mentors who will share boldly and unashamedly the Orthodox faith delivered to us from the Apostles and preserved in the Church without alteration or adulteration. Orthodox adults, our youth need you.

Our youth need liturgy. Liturgy is the cooperative work of God and His people. It is here that we join the angelic world at God’s throne to praise Him and interact with His Word, and to be fed in the Eucharist. Liturgy by its very nature can only happen as we gather as the Church. This Church prayer does not happen at the hockey rink or golf course. It doesn’t happen watching sit-coms on television or mowing the lawn. It only happens when we gather as the Church to be the Church. It only happens around the Eucharist and around the bishop or his designee. It is essential to knowing God in the biblical sense of sharing God’s Oneness and living in Him. We who are made one with God in baptism are nurtured by God through His Church in Sunday and festal worship.

Lent Is a Time For Parish Renewal and Growth

Photo by Christopher Humphrey PhotographyPhoto by Christopher Humphrey PhotographyLent is not only a time for personal renewal; it is a time for parish renewal as well. The Church is reborn every time someone enters the community. This is true even when the new member comes from another Orthodox parish, or a Christian communion outside the Orthodox Church, or is baptized as an infant or adult. The community is changed to make room for the new member who will build relationships, assume responsibilities, and even need to find a place to stand and sit in the worship.

To be deliberate about our parish renewal through this transition, the Church has appointed this Lenten time of fasting and intense prayers. We rediscover our roots with our new members as we read during the weeks of Lent from the Old Testament. We rediscover our innocence as the catechumens ask questions and express delight at the Orthodox perspectives. We regain our fervor as see the community grow and see how God is active in the lives of the catechumens and in our own.

We can not take this process for granted. Not every Lent sees catechumens in every parish. Not every parishioner is even aware that the Church is growing and that God is calling people to Himself. Perhaps at some places and at some times, communities don’t grow simply because the community is on “vacation” or asleep when people come knocking on our doors, or even when they sit in our pews. This is a great tragedy and we will be held accountable for this on Judgment Day. We really need to be deliberate about being ready to witness and care for those whom God is calling. Some prospective members are walking into our Churches unnoticed; others are working and playing with us all day long, waiting for our invitation to share in the life God has prepared for all. If this is too abstract, let me be more concrete:

Christ is Risen!

"Christ is Risen! Our dear Metropolitan Philip has reposed." With these words Bishop Nicholas began his telephone greetings to each of the bishops of our God-protected Archdiocese on Wednesday night, March 19, 2014, after hearing of the falling asleep of our Metropolitan. Metropolitan Philip  himself regularly shared that, in this greeting, "Christ Is Risen," is our hope and our consolation. We are a people of hope, we are the people of the Resurrection; in Christ we are God's own and God has made us free. Metropolitan Philip, expressing his thoughts on this freedom, writes: 

Man was not created to be a slave, neither to society nor to history, neither to science nor to technology, neither to communism nor to capitalism. Even though nature has limitations, these limitations can be overcome by the sacramental life of the Church. Each and every one of us can become Christlike through prayer, contemplation and action.

Metropolitan Philip was a true teacher of Antioch, stressing incarnational theology, which Sayidna described as theology in action. He called us to action, and asked us not to theologize but to serve the poor, clothe the naked and feed the hungry. He organized the Archdiocese into ministries and gave the people he served opportunities to serve on the parochial, regional and archdiocesan levels. His mission was to America and to the world.

Metropolitan Philip was the champion of Orthodox cooperation and unity in America; a unity that needs to be local and independent. Such a unity expresses the real missionary zeal of Orthodoxy, not a transplant of ethnic customs in a new world. He worked hard and long with many local leaders, as well as the leaders of the Mother Churches, and has contributed much to this work.

Our Time of Uncertainty: God Already Has It Figured Out

Metropolitan Philip's translation has left us with uncertainty. Change is always difficult, especially in the Church. Here we have grown to rely on things continuing for the most part unchanging. Feeling a little uncertain and afraid is at the very least understandable, but it is not a sign of weakness or faithlessness. How often in the scriptures does God tell us to "Fear not!"?

Now, I've been told often that I see the world through rose-colored glasses. I don't know if this is always meant as a compliment. Nevertheless, I prefer to see the world as a gift from God, with amazing opportunities and possibilities. I see the world as the means by which we develop our relationships with God and each other. This world is a place to discover and delight in God and all that He creates for us. I believe that everyone in our lives can help us stretch and grow. That which is negative or challenging can help us identify areas that need attention and will profit us. I also believe that, given everyone's needs, wounds, personalities and uniqueness, the world is the best it can be. I believe that God has brought every one of us together so that together we can come to know Him and return His love. The Church is a mother who fosters and builds relationships that bring us to God. God created and gave to us our Church, which is a Divine and human organization that allows us to be grafted to Christ and each other. She allows us to enter into Christ's own praise of the Father and care for His people. This action is fueled by God's Spirit and guided by the Holy Trinity. This life allows us to delight in God and for God to delight in us. This life allows us to discover the uniqueness and beauty of everyone and everything that God created; even when that which is created may be temporarily in disorder or dirtied up.