Interview with Metropolitan PHILIP, page 2
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 Elias IV'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.