Metropolitan Philip in the View of His Bishops


His Grace, Bishop Antoun,

Diocese of Miami and the Southeast

 

I met Metropolitan PHILIP in December 1945 at the University of Balamand. For more than sixty-one years of my life I have known this man. When I met him, I did not even know his name. He played a joke on me when we first met. I went to the bishop at the time and told him what this man was doing to me. From that time forward we began to foster a relationship that would last a lifetime, one that is closer than either of us even have with our own families. From those simple and humble beginnings on that beautiful hill in Lebanon, neither of us could have imagined that both of us would come to the U.S and work together many years later.

Different paths, same ending

After our years at Balamand, we found ourselves serving as deacons in the Patriarchal Cathedral of the Dormition in Damascus. Then he left and went to London to study and later returned and taught at the Balamand. All the while I was still in Damascus and teaching in the local Orthodox school.

Later, he decided to immigrate to the United States through Archbishop Samuel David with our friend Father Emil Hanna. This would be a journey that would move him from his birthplace for the rest of his life. I went to Beirut to say goodbye to them, not knowing whether or not our paths would cross again. From 1945 to 1955 I knew him as a young man who was very ambitious, and I can say that, from the beginning, I saw in him the qualities of a leader that I have never seen in any other man.

We communicated while he was in America. After his departure, I went to Brazil and served for a time as a deacon. Not satisfied with my theological education, I asked and then was granted permission to come to the United States to study at St. Vladimir’s Seminary. Soon after my arrival, while he was a priest in Cleveland, he called me and asked me to come and see him. I asked him how far it was and he just told me to get on the bus and say “Cleveland,” and the driver would tell me where to get off—not to worry. So I took the bus and I kept asking every time the bus stopped, “Is this Cleveland?” It took more than twelve hours on the bus. When I arrived I said to him, “Why did you do that?” He said, “If I told you how far it was, you would not come.” He and his parishioners were so generous to me that they sent me back to New York by plane! This was in September, 1959. I was still a deacon and he was a priest at that time. On Epiphany the following year, I returned to Cleveland. The relationship between the two of us is one of a lifetime friendship. If I start to enumerate every step of my life with Metropolitan PHILIP, I personally would have to write a book.

His election and early episcopacy

After Metropolitan Antony fell asleep in Christ, we were all wondering who would replace him as leader of this vast Archdiocese of the United States and Canada. Among a few of the clergy, who had great trust in him, we talked and decided that the right man to replace Metropolitan Antony was Father PHILIP Saliba. We voted that he would become the Archbishop of this archdiocese. While his nomination and eventual election were not without problems, as was often the case during that period of our Antiochian history, I truly believe the Holy Spirit acted and chose this young Archimandrite. He called me on August 5, 1966, after the Holy Synod of Antioch met, to tell me he had been elected as the new Metropolitan. He asked me to go with him to Lebanon for the consecration; however, at that time I didn’t have the proper legal papers to travel, so I could not accompany him. Nevertheless, I was thankful to God that they elected him to shepherd this archdiocese.

The day after his consecration on August 14, 1966, he went to the Balamand to celebrate the Feast of the Dormition—the main Church’s patronal feast day there. They also broke ground for the new theological school. Both of us love the Balamand very much and have such beautiful memories and stories of that place, which we could talk about for years to come.

Suddenly with great zeal and determination, the new Metropolitan decided he wanted to visit every parish of the archdiocese during the first year of his episcopacy, and he killed himself trying to do it. In January 1968, he had his first heart attack. I was a priest in Toronto, Ontario at the time and I couldn’t believe it when I heard the news. How could this strong man I knew, the one who used to ring the bells at the Balamand with just two fingers, be stricken like this? For two weeks I couldn’t accept it, and in January of that year I flew to New York and took the train to Washington, D.C. I entered the hospital and saw him lying on the bed. I couldn’t help but cry for joy that he was still alive. Thank God, with help, he regained his health and in 1969 we invited him to come and visit the parish of St. George in Toronto. After receiving the invitation, he called the parish council chairman at that time and told the chairman to have me, Fr. Antoun, call him back. I called him and he said to me that he had some work for me to do. “By August, I want you to come here and help me in the archdiocese.” I couldn’t say no to him.

I came to Brooklyn, New York, and worked with him. That same year, I met a young lady named Kathy who moved from San Francisco to become his new secretary. Kathy is still with us in the office after all these years. She can also testify to the work we did in that old house, with the old typewriter that she used. He said to me one time: “Antoun, we hope to build a new headquarters for this archdiocese.” This is where Mr. Ted Mackoul began going to New Jersey and looking for a place. Finally, we found a place and moved from Brooklyn to Englewood, New Jersey, in 1971.

From heart attack to vision

In New Jersey, in 1972, he decided to have open-heart surgery. He checked around for different doctors and finally decided on the Miami Heart Institute, in Miami, Florida. I must share a story about the Miami Heart Institute. The night before the operation, in September 1972, he asked me to bring the Bible to him. We were alone in his room. He asked me to read Psalm 50 to him. I looked at his face and he said to me, “I put my hand in the hand of the man who calmed the sea—Christ. If he wants me to live, it is up to him and if my mission is finished, be strong, don’t ever give up.” Thank God, the next day the doctors called me to go to his room alone. I saw those tubes as he tried to talk to me. I knelt and thanked God; this was something that made my faith stronger because the man I saw in the bed had such a strong faith. Thank God he gained his health back.

After his operation in 1972, he was “dreaming dreams.” No one thought that these dreams would become reality in this archdiocese. This man had a vision. Christ wanted him to live and to continue his mission in this archdiocese. After he returned to health, he began organizing the archdiocese into departments and traveling again from parish to parish. In 1977, he invited Patriarch Elias IV, of thrice-blessed memory, to the United States. This marked the first time in history a Patriarch of Antioch set foot on the shores of North America. He later raised money for the Balamand in honor of the late Patriarch Elias IV whom we loved very much.

How could I write or tell all he has done? If one wants to know all he has done, go around the country and see. When he started, we had sixty-five or seventy parishes, maximum. Because of his vision and determination, this vast archdiocese has grown and prospered over the years.

A burning issue in the 1970s was the disunity of our Antiochian people in North America. He had seen the dead fruit of such divisions in the old country and read about them in the history of the Church. He felt it was his sacred responsibility to try to unify the two archdioceses in North America. He did indeed unite the two archdioceses, New York and Toledo, together with the late Archbishop Michael. Archbishop Michael became the auxiliary archbishop in 1975 and Metropolitan PHILIP was the Primate.

Another thing that was foremost in his mind was to better organize the growing archdiocese. It was quickly becoming evident that this was no longer a small one-man operation. In 1973, when we had the archdiocese convention in Atlanta, Georgia, he formed the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Women of North America. He organized them and they wrote a constitution. He worked very hard to have every parish form a chapter. All these women gladly served under his leadership. And without these women in the parishes we couldn’t have what we have today. They started to collect money for married seminarians as their first project. That project continues to this day. At Christmas time, each married seminarian receives a check from the women. This is but one of the many organizations and departments he developed to help serve the needs of the people of the archdiocese.

Not long after developing these organizations for women, youth and various departments, he was dreaming about another organization for the entire archdiocese: The Order of St. Ignatius of Antioch. Many people mentioned to him that he would be lucky if he got fifty or sixty members. He said fifty or sixty are better than nothing. He worked very hard and today there are over 3,000 members, all because of his leadership and because this money goes for projects and charities. I never thought that this Order would really become a charitable cornerstone of this archdiocese for many reasons; I was surprised!

Shaping history

Around this same time, he entered into negotiations to buy the Antiochian Village property from the Presbyterian Church. Many people criticized him saying, “What’s that crazy bishop doing buying all that land in the middle of nowhere?” Well, let me tell you, he proved them wrong once again and a revolution happened! Today, that place has planted the seeds for many lay leaders, future priests and countless young people who would meet each other and eventually marry. Three years later he built a center with a library, a chapel and fifty rooms. Later on, fifty more rooms were added. If you do not believe it, come and see. This is my motto: “Come and see,” like St. Thomas. You cannot imagine today what the Antiochian Village is all about. It is all due to his determination and the love he has for the children and the youth. This is what the Village is all about.

In 1987, he made the decision to accept the Evangelical Orthodox Church. Many jurisdictions in this country said he committed a big blunder by accepting them. Since that time, the Missions Department started in earnest. More than seventy-five parishes and missions exist today because of his challenge to America to “Come home, America” to the Orthodox Church. The challenge he put to them to establish Churches and bring converts is now a common experience. When I first came to this country, I very seldom saw people converting to the Orthodox faith. Today, however, it is happening all the time because of his commitment to evangelism.

In 2000, he experienced his second heart attack in Florida. I was with him and rushed him in my car to the hospital. People said he had little chance, and, in fact, the doctor told me to give him “last rights.” I promptly told the doctor we do not have last rights in the Orthodox Church and I will pray for his recovery. Thanks be to God, he recovered again and he survived to continue his dream.

I pray that his health stays strong after his third life-threatening experience of October 2005. Thank God he is back and determined more than ever to finish the work he has set out to do. I am very proud to have been his assistant, as a priest and later as a bishop, in this archdiocese all these years. I pray that God will give him long life so that he may continue to dream dreams and fulfill his Spirit-filled visions.

His life-long friend and co-worker in the Lord’s vineyard,

+ Antoun

 

His Eminence, Archbishop Joseph

Diocese of Los Angeles and the West

 

Metropolitan PHILIP’s profound leadership in America

On the occasion of the fortieth anniversary of His Eminence’s consecration to the episcopacy, I cannot help but reflect upon the great legacy he has built up for future generations, both in America and throughout the world.

Saidna’s place in the Antiochian legacy

 

In America, I have witnessed the foundations being laid for an ever-growing archdiocese that will change the face of America. Beginning with the ministry of St. Raphael almost one hundred years ago, the Antiochian presence in North America has steadily grown, both in number and influence. This ministry, which was once limited to the immigrant Orthodox, has grown under the direction of Metropolitan PHILIP. He has taken up the mantle of leadership amongst the various Orthodox communities.

Beginning with the decision of the late Metropolitan Anthony Bashir, of thrice-blessed memory, to translate the services of the Church into English, the Antiochian Archdiocese became committed to serving the people of America. When he passed into a Place of Rest, the Holy Synod of Antioch elected a young, missionary-oriented priest to take the lead.

It is a great challenge to work with His Eminence to balance out the needs of immigrants and their descendents with those of the ever-rising number of converts and non-Orthodox Americans marrying into Orthodox families. This trial often causes lesser hierarchs to fail, as they support one group to the detriment of the other. Metropolitan PHILIP’s vision of Orthodoxy in North America is one of inclusion, not exclusion.

Unity, the fruit of inspiration

Unity is not something imposed; it is the fruit of inspiration. His Eminence has succeeded in inspiring people to share their talents and resources with the Church, and we have developed ministries that are seen nowhere else in the Orthodox Church. From the Antiochian Village (by far the largest and most successful summer camping program in the Church) to the St. Stephen’s Program (bringing modern American directed reading learning into the Orthodox education experience), along with many other departments and organizations, our ministries are setting new standards in ministry.

As we celebrate this joyous occasion, we must remember that God has given us many blessings for which we are grateful. In gratitude to Him, we must be faithful to our Antiochian heritage and the path set forth by our beloved Archbishop PHILIP. We must continue to move forward as a missionary community, inspired by our Metropolitan’s visionary leadership. Though we are certain to have more necessary changes in how we do things, what we strive for must never change. Our calling is to continue to preach the Good News to this great nation and bring those who hear this message to God.

Openness to change

Our growth necessitates change. Certainly we cannot grow from a little over sixty parishes in 1966 to over 260 parishes now and not expect our ways of doing things to change. Our Metropolitan realized this and initiated the process, which led to our newly granted self-ruled status. With the establishment of dioceses and the consecration of new bishops for North America, the Metropolitan has built up a Synod of hierarchs who will continue to work with him in the vineyard of this archdiocese for years to come.

Since 1966 Metropolitan PHILIP has added greatly to the talents given to him by the Master of all. He has united the separated Antiochian communities into a single family and has built up the infrastructure of our archdiocese. He has worked hard to encourage the work of SCOBA, to spread the unity of our archdiocese to the rest of the churches in North America.

Saidna’s commitment and mission

When His Eminence recommended to the Holy Synod of Antioch that I come to America, I knew of His Eminence mostly by his reputation in the Middle East. There he is known as a leader who has maintained close bonds to our beloved Patriarchate and the people there. He has been ready to lend a helping hand to many institutes and organizations, and he has been very supportive of His Beatitude Patriarch Ignatius IV. He was also key in the creation and sustaining of the University of Balamand, one of the great educational institutes in the region. As I got to know him here, however, I became more and more aware of his acute sense of leadership in North America.

His greatest mission is to bring America to Orthodoxy. Following the footstep of Saints Peter and Paul, Metropolitan PHILIP’s mission is to reorient the American culture towards Orthodoxy. As the Bishop of Los Angeles and the West, I have been blessed to co-work with His Eminence in implementing this mission in the heart of a diocese in which the process of conversion was initiated by a group of beloved clergy and laity.

I believe the key of His Eminence’s success has been his commitment to the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ and to the Apostolic Tradition of Antioch. By never forgetting that we are an Orthodox Christian community, rather than a member of this or that ethnicity, he has been able to minister to all the varieties of needs of our diverse communities. However, relying on His Eminence’s vision of universal ministry and fearless evangelization, we find that outreach is not a difficulty for us. We keep “first things first,” never compromising the Gospel for the temptations of self-indulgence that has brought down so many others.

This bond of trust is the backbone of our Local Holy Synod. The cannons of the Church call the bishops and the metropolitan to be of “one mind,” which can only be if we trust the Lord and one another. I believe that our confidence in one another, and our Metropolitan’s trust in us, is central to the continuation of the good works the Lord has wrought in our archdiocese.

As do all the faithful of this God-protected archdiocese, I pray that His Eminence enjoys many more years of good health and fruitful ministry in North America!

With thanks to God,

+ Joseph

 

His Grace, Bishop Basil

Diocese of Wichita and the Diocese of Mid-America

 

So many miracles!

 

It’s strange. I can recall with absolute clarity (something that seems to get rarer and rarer for me with each year—clarity of recollection, that is) so many moments when the mighty river we know as His Eminence Metropolitan PHILIP overflowed the levy and came rushing into my life. Here are but a very few:

Upon first hearing Saidna’s name

It was Sunday, August 23, 1966, when, for the first time, I heard his name elevated during the divine services at my home parish of St. Michael in Monessen, Pennsylvania. “For our Father and Metropolitan PHILIP, for the venerable priesthood, the deaconate in Christ, for all the clergy and the people, let us pray to the Lord.” Having served at that holy table for thirteen years (ever since my paternal grandfather, Giddoo Slabey, first took me into the sanctuary when I was four years old) I had never until that moment heard any other name elevated as “our Father and Metropolitan” except that of the late Metropolitan Antony, of thrice-blessed memory.

It was not very long after that that the new “Father and Metropolitan” of our archdiocese was coming for his first archpastoral visit to southwestern Pennsylvania—not to our tiny parish in Monessen, but to our sister parish of St. Michael in nearby Greensburg, Pennsylvania. Since the Esseys made up a good portion of the choir in Monessen, none of my family could go to Greensburg for the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy, but my Godfather (my paternal Uncle George), Uncle Emil and other uncles and aunts invited me to go along with them for the grand banquet. I can still see the banquet room with the young and vibrant bishop (until then I thought one had to be old to be a bishop). I can even still see the thick black frames of his eyeglasses—thick black frames were way cool in 1966! And most of all, I can still hear his clear voice booming to the furthest reaches of that vast banquet hall. I remember that I hung on every syllable and wished that he would never stop speaking those words of Holy Orthodoxy!

My first meeting with him

It was on Saturday, July 4, 1970 that I traveled to the Eastern Region SOYO Convention (the title hadn’t yet been changed to Parish Life Conference) at the Seven Springs Resort in southwestern Pennsylvania to be interviewed by Metropolitan PHILIP concerning my desire to enter St. Vladimir’s Seminary that fall. I was so nervous—after all this was the Archbishop of New York and AAAAAAAAAAALL North America—that I couldn’t drive myself, so I asked Afif Elias, son of my parish priest, to go with me.

I remember the drive there; I remember waiting in the hotel lobby and purchasing a three-barred silver neck cross for my father; I remember going up to and into the Metropolitan’s suite; I remember seeing him sitting on the couch, and then I remember leaving Seven Springs. For the life of me I can’t remember one second of the interview itself! You’ll say, “After all, that was thirty years ago,” and you’d be right. But I clearly remember that even when I was driving away from Seven Springs those thirty years ago, I had no idea what he had said to me or what I had said to him. To be honest, I didn’t even remember breathing while I was with him.

As a seminarian and youth director

Fast-forward to early November 1970, and I recall so very clearly driving with other Antiochian seminarians from St. Vladimir’s Seminary to the old archdiocesan chancery at 239-85th Street in Brooklyn. We went down Henry Hudson Drive, past two very tall buildings that had just been built (the ‘Twin Towers’ of the World Trade Center) and large sheets of ice blew off the upper floors of those buildings and onto our windshield. I remember going through the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel and pulling up to the modest house where we were warmly greeted by His Eminence Father Antoun Khouri and Miss Kathy Meyer. We first went upstairs (was it to the third floor?) where in the tiny chapel we chanted Vespers. We then retired to the dining room on the first floor for what was to be my first “Seminarian Dinner” with Metropolitan PHILIP.

I clearly remember the day (June 10, 1975) I arrived at the new archdiocesan chancery in Englewood, New Jersey, to work for His Eminence as the first director of the Department of Youth Affairs. He sat me down in the living room and said: “You are welcome to live here with Father Antoun and me, but we live a very simple life like monks. Since you are a young man, you should have your own apartment.” I did find my own place on East Edsall Avenue in nearby Palisade Park—and twenty-eight years later I was tonsured a monk!

Other recollections

Like so many others who know and love Metropolitan PHILIP, I could go on and on with personal recollections—like that summer day in 1976 when, during a lay-over at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, His Eminence (at that time the sole bishop serving our archdiocese) shared with me his vision that one day a synod of bishops would serve our Antiochian Archdiocese; or his announcing to me in August of 1979 that I was to be ordained a celibate deacon on September 30 during the first St. Thekla Pilgrimage at the Antiochian Village; or my ordinations to the subdeaconate, the deaconate, the priesthood, my elevation to the episcopacy; or that wonderfully liberating conversation with him in his suite at the Village about my desire to be tonsured a monk.

So many memories! Memories of a young Metropolitan who over the past forty years has become the most venerable and esteemed leader of Holy Orthodoxy in our nation, and memories of a young college student who over the past forty years became a devoted son and now serves as a fellow bishop with him whose name we all still elevate with love at each divine service—“Our Father and Metropolitan PHILIP.” May the Lord God remember his High Priesthood in His kingdom always. Many years, Saidna, “Many Years!”

+ Basil

 

 

His Grace, Bishop Thomas

Diocese of Oakland, Pennsylvania and the East

 

Metropolitan PHILIP is one of the great leaders of our Church. During the last century into this century there have been many great men and women of faith. But none of them have done more to further the cause of Christ than this bishop, who was born in Lebanon. Trying times require the best of men and the best from men. That is exactly what the Church has gotten from Metropolitan PHILIP. During our times the Church has faced insidious heresy, and during our times this man has done combat against it. On several occasions his great struggle for truth has brought him near peril. However, such was not God’s will. Instead he has spent the last forty years of his adult life in a courageous fight for the truth. He is one of the great Fathers of Orthodoxy. During his lifetime he has written several books, many of which were penned as pastoral works. His biography is a best seller. As one of the greatest leaders of our time his legacy, like a beacon, continues to shine.

To speak of and admire him fully would perhaps be too long a task. Metropolitan PHILIP is noble in action, humble in mind, unapproachable in virtue, very approachable in conversation, gentle, sympathetic and sweet in words, angelic in appearance, more angelic in mind, calm in rebuke and persuasive in praise. His disposition has sufficed for the training of his spiritual children with very little need for words. His life and habits form the ideal of a bishop.

To his spiritual children, whatever he thought, was law, and whatever, on the contrary, he disapproved, they renounced. His decisions have been to us the tables of Moses and we have paid great reverence to him. Let all of the Antiochian Archdiocese praise him in our prayers. Let all the Antiochian faithful of this archdiocese thank him for his tirelessness. Let the archdiocese thank him for his support of the needy. Indeed let us thank him for his unyielding stance toward the powerful and for his condescension to the lowly. Let the virgins celebrate the friend of the Bridegroom. Let the unfortunate celebrate their consolation. Let the simple folk celebrate their guide. Let the contemplative celebrate their theologian. Let the elderly celebrate their staff. Let the youth celebrate their instructor. Let the poor celebrate their resource. Let the wealthy celebrate their steward. Even the widows I think praise him as their protector. I know the orphans will proclaim him their father. The poor proclaim him as their benefactor. The strangers proclaim him as their host. The sick proclaim him as their physician.

And now as he reaches the fortieth year of his episcopacy he is gathered to the fathers of the Church: Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles and martyrs who contend for their faith.

+ Bishop Thomas

 

 

 

His Grace, Bishop Alexander

Diocese of Ottawa, Eastern Canada and Upstate New York

 

Saidna as a man of courage and determination

I first heard of Saidna during his first trip to the Holy Synod as Archbishop of New York. He and his entourage were on the plane headed to Beirut. Dr. George Malouf became alarmed when the skin color of the Metropolitan’s face turned to blue. He checked his pulse; there was none. The Metropolitan gasped for oxygen. It sounded as if he was breathing his last. He was only thirty-something of age, and had just begun his ministry as Archbishop. The doctor asked for oxygen and oxygen was brought.

When the plane landed in Turkey, Dr. Malouf informed the Metropolitan that he had just had his first heart attack, and that he should be taken to a local hospital. Of course, Metropolitan PHILIP refused saying that he had to go to Lebanon because everyone was expecting him. This was his first participation in the Holy Synod, and there were some important issues concerning the North American Archdiocese to be discussed. To show weakness was not acceptable to him. His life was not important; if he died he would have done his best. With God’s blessing he would make it to Beirut, and he did.

A local doctor was summoned. He insisted on keeping him in Turkey and wanted to give him an injection of sorts. Dr. Malouf said no to the injection and signed a document bearing responsibility for any consequences to the rejection.

Upon arrival in Beirut, Metropolitan PHILIP was secretly taken to a hospital where he underwent an electrocardiogram. The ECG confirmed the heart attack. Again, he refused bed rest and went on to attend the Holy Synod. No one in the Synod knew about the attack. It was the best-kept secret at that time.

This is Metropolitan PHILIP. Selfless! Courageous! A man with a strong conviction of a mission! A man with an unwavering determination to bring this archdiocese to its current status! A leader par excellence!

May God grant him many years!

+ Alexander Mufarrij