Interview with Metropolitan PHILIP, page 5
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 Study a 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 Maddox and me and all the others that have come from the outside of the church inside. Thank you very much.
Metro PHILIP: Thank you.