Metropolitan PHILIP Addresses Archdiocese Convention
Be ever mindful of the fruits of your labor
Your Eminence, Your Graces, Beloved Clergy, Esteemed Members of the Board of Trustees, Members of the Order of St. Ignatius of Antioch, Members of the Antiochian Women, Members of the Fellowship of St. John the Divine, Members of SOYO, Parish Councils and the Faithful of our God-protected Archdiocese:
The theme of our convention this year is taken from the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great and St. John Chrysostom: “Be mindful, O Lord, of those who bear fruit and do good works in thy holy churches and who remember the poor.” The prayer of the Anaphora continues, “Reward them with thy rich and heavenly gifts; give them things heavenly for things earthly; things eternal for things temporal, things incorruptible for things corruptible. Be mindful, O Lord, of those in the desert, the mountains and in caves; be mindful, O Lord, of all those who live in chastity and godliness.” And in the Ektenia of fervent supplication at Vespers, we sing, “Again we pray for those who bear fruit and do good works in thy holy and all-venerable temple, for those who serve and those who sing.”
Some theologians reduce the perfect Christian way of life to pure contemplation (theoria), and some reduce it to pure social action (praxis). In my humble opinion, both approaches are wrong. St. Basil and St. John did not differentiate between these two ways of life. This kind of reductionism is alien to Orthodox theology. They admonished us to be mindful of those who bear fruit, do good works and remember the poor, and also to be mindful of those in the deserts, in the mountains and in the caves. I believe that contemplation should lead to action, to the conduct commended in Matthew 25, that is, to feed the hungry and give water to the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned and welcome the strangers. I also believe that social action, that is, being on the streets of New York, Los Angeles or Chicago, feeding the poor, helping drug addicts and clothing the naked, giving hope to the hopeless, will ultimately lead to contemplation.
“For whatsoever you have done to the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me” (Matthew 25:40). Social action and contemplation complement each other. The story of Martha and Mary is a good example. Perhaps poor Martha was preparing lunch for our Lord in the kitchen,
while Mary was sitting at His feet listening to His words. “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion which shall not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:40–41).
I am sure that Jesus meant to say to Martha, “Now is time to hear the word of God; do your work later.”
In the Epistle of James 2:14, we read, “What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him?
If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” Holy Orthodox tradition is against theological reductionism. This means that we cannot reduce the Gospel of Jesus Christ to pure social action, nor to pure contemplation or some kind of “spiritual coma,” completely detached from the problems of this broken world.
We have many examples in the history of the church of saints and fathers who withdrew to the wilderness, to prepare themselves spiritually first, and then to return to society and to contemplate Jesus in the faces of the poor, the oppressed, the naked and the imprisoned. Basil the Great, John Chrysostom and Gregory the Theologian, the three hierarchs, are a wonderful example. Our Lord himself withdrew to the wilderness, where he was tempted by the devil, and then returned to society to preach the “good news” and heal their infirmities (Luke 5:15). St. Gregory Palamas contemplated the “uncreated light” while shepherding the flock in Thessaloniki, Greece. This great saint contemplated God while serving, and served while contemplating. The church sings a beautiful hymn while celebrating the memories of these great saints who received martyrdom while serving: “Thou hast become like the Apostles in their states, a successor to their throne, finding indeed the ladder to theoria, O thou God-inspired one, thou hast followed the Word of truth in righteousness and shed your blood for the faith.” Therefore, contemplating God through prayer, fasting, repentance, and participation in the sacramental life of the church, combined with the action commended in Matthew 25:31, is the ideal Orthodox way of life.
Ladies and gentlemen, Basil the Great and John Chrysostom both asked the Lord “to be mindful of those who bear fruit and do good works in His holy Church and to remember the poor.” After the rise of monasticism in the early church in the West, some monks wrote on the entrances of their monasteries these words: “Ora et labora” (Pray and work). Your Archdiocese is a good example of faith and work, contemplation and action. Here at this convention, we begin our days with prayers and we finish our days with prayers. When we say: “Be mindful, O Lord, of those who do good works and help the poor,” we cannot help but think of the multitudes of women, men, and young people who labor in the vineyard of this Archdiocese.
Just think where we were in 1966 and where we are today. I have been blessed to work throughout the years with a wonderful Archdiocese Board of Trustees. All of them are active members of their own local parishes and at the same time active on the Archdiocesan level. Every year they contribute hundreds of thousands of dollars to help this Archdiocese realize its spiritual and humanitarian goals. Someone once said: “Blessed are those who give without remembering and those who receive without forgetting.” Surely, we will never forget the generosity of our Archdiocesan trustees and their unwavering commitment to the eternal ideals and principles of our Church.
In one of my Arabic poems, I said, “Some people build monuments by struggle and some build monuments with words.” The late sixties and the decade of the seventies were bright moments in the history of our Archdiocese. In 1968, I had the pleasure of establishing the Clergy Retirement Fund. In 1973, I had the honor of founding the Antiochian Women of North America. St. Basil the Great and St. John Chrysostom asked our Lord “to be mindful of those who bear fruit and do good works.” The Antiochian Women, these wonderful ladies, who have been totally dedicated to the cause of the poor, orphans, widows, our clergy and seminarians, deserve our utmost respect and gratitude. Since their inception, they have raised more than two and a half million dollars for the cause of charity. The poet Khalil Gibran said: “The penny which you give for the cause of charity is the link which connects you to heaven.”
In 1976, we had the first induction to the Order of St. Ignatius of Antioch. Since its inception, the Order has raised twenty-one million dollars for projects in this country and abroad and especially for our Clergy Retirement Fund.
Every organization in our Archdiocese is contributing its share to the building of the Body of Christ. Since its reorganization, the Fellowship of St. John the Divine has done much to provide leadership for our parish life conferences. Events such as the Bible Bowl, and the Oratorical Contest, which take place at our Diocesan Conferences and Archdiocese Convention, are organized by the Fellowship. I would like to take this opportunity on behalf of myself and the Archdiocese to thank Joan Farha, who has provided excellent leadership to the Fellowship of St. John the Divine, during her term as president. I hope that the young person who will succeed Joan will emulate her example.
Since our theme this year admonishes us “to remember the poor,” I would like to take this opportunity to thank a young lady who has devoted thirty-five years of her life for the cause of the poor through our program “Food for Hungry People.” Under the dedicated leadership of this young lady, Robin Nicholas of St. Nicholas Cathedral of Los Angeles, California, this program has raised more than four million dollars for the poor and needy. In 1997, we awarded Robin the Antonian Gold Medal.
Last, but not least, we are fortunate to have one of the most organized and most active youth departments in the Orthodox world. Our SOYO or Teen SOYO, as you call them, are the heartbeat of this Archdiocese. I cannot keep up with all their activities. What I like most about them is their total dedication to the cause of Orthodox unity in North America.
Ladies and gentlemen, this last segment of my message was not intended to be a part of my message to this convention. The events, however, which have taken place since the Holy Synod’s contradictory decisions of February 24, 2009, and June 16, 17 and 18, 2009, convinced me that our problems in North America must be solved on this continent and not in the Middle East. Earlier this month, on July 9, the Archdiocesan Synod was convened in a special meeting by telephone conference, and all seven of the hierarchs who are members of the Synod were in attendance. The purpose of the meeting was to resolve the issue of the status of the bishops in the Archdiocese of North America.
The Archdiocesan Synod, by a vote of six out of seven bishops, approved the titles which are to be used for our bishops. These titles reflect two important realities within our Archdiocese. First, our bishops are indeed bishops of a specific city. Second, we are one Archdiocese which is unified under one Metropolitan. As such, our bishops have the role of assistant to the Metropolitan in the administration of our united Archdiocese. The titles of the bishops are as follows:
+ANTOUN, Bishop of Miami and Assistant to the Metropolitan
+JOSEPH, Bishop of Los Angeles and Assistant to the Metropolitan
+BASIL, Bishop of Wichita and Assistant to the Metropolitan
+THOMAS, Bishop of Charleston/Oakland and Assistant to the Metropolitan
+MARK, Bishop of Toledo and Assistant to the Metropolitan
+ALEXANDER, Bishop of Ottawa and Assistant to the Metropolitan
In addition, the following two decisions were approved by the Metropolitan and members of the Archdiocesan Synod:
- The commemoration of bishops is to be restored to what it was before the archpastoral directive dated March 3, 2009. That is, effective immediately, both the Metropolitan and the bishop are to be commemorated at all divine services regardless of whether or not the bishop is physically present.
- As soon as possible, the Manual of Hierarchical Duties and Responsibilities will be updated to reflect these other decisions.
It is expected that all bishops and priests will strictly adhere to this directive.
Ladies and gentlemen, from February 24 to June 16–18, 2009, certain web sites and certain anonymous priests and certain so-called sons of Antioch have published some accusations against me. Such accusations are ridiculous, unsubstantiated, laughable and outrageous, to say the least. I suspect that such accusations are not coming from Antiochian clergy who have received full scholarships from the Archdiocese to study theology at various Orthodox seminaries. If these accusations are indeed coming from Antiochian priests, my response to them is the famous words of the American author, Mark Twain: “If you give a dog a piece of bread, he will never bite you. This is the fundamental difference between dogs and some human beings.”
Permit me to share with you a sample of these accusations. One is that I have “absolute power.” No one has “absolute power” except the Almighty God. Please ask the members of the Board of Trustees of this Archdiocese with whom I have been working for the past forty-three years, whether I exercise “absolute power.” If you exercise leadership, you have “absolute power,” and if you do not, you are a wimp and a failure. I assure you, Metropolitan PHILIP is no wimp. But ask the Antiochian Women of North America, whether I exercise absolute power; ask the Order of St. Ignatius of Antioch, whether I have absolute power; ask Father Michael Ellias, Chairman of the Clergy Retirement Commission, if I exercise absolute power over this commission; ask the members of St. John the Divine and SOYO whether I exercise absolute power over them.
It is also asked by some whether we still have, or do not have, self-rule. The February 24, 2009, decision of the Holy Synod did not touch our selfrule. It was a decision which strictly dealt with all bishops within the Patriarchate of Antioch. I would like to remind you that General Assemblies of our Conventions do not elect and consecrate bishops. They just nominate bishops and metropolitans. That was how my predecessor, Metropolitan ANTONY Bashir, was nominated in 1936 and that is how I was nominated in 1966.
A third complaint is the most outrageous accusation. Please listen to this: “Just like Syosset, Englewood has created a huge and looming credibility gap.” What a stupid analogy! We all know that the problem in Syosset was embezzlement of funds. I would like to ask, Who embezzled funds in Englewood? It is the same scandalous Web site that made the accusation that I bribed the Patriarch and members of the Holy Synod of Antioch to adopt the decision of February 24. How can any decent individual make such a demeaning accusation against the Patriarch and the Holy Synod? How low can you get? Besides, the money that we raised in Boston last November is still in the bank in New England, allocated for scholarships for needy and worthy students at the University of Balamand. I would like to call on one of our Trustees and the Treasurer of the Balamand Foundation, Mr. Fawaz El Khoury, to tell you how we bribed the Patriarch and the Holy Synod. Fawaz, come to the podium.
Ladies and gentlemen, your Metropolitan does not embezzle the money of the Archdiocese. I would like to call on our Treasurer, Mr. Robert Laham, and his Assistant Treasurer, Mr. George Nassor, to tell you how we bribed the Patriarch. I would like to state publicly and for the first time since 1966, before this assembly, that I do not own anything and whatever I have saved from my allowances and the gifts, which you generously gave me, all belong to you, to this Archdiocese, including the one million dollars that I contributed to the Clergy Retirement fund three years ago. Moreover, all of you must know this: after the departure of Metropolitan ANTONY, of blessed memory, I and the late Mansour Laham and the late Ted Mackoul devised a financial system for this Archdiocese which does not permit anyone to embezzle a penny of your money. Every check that leaves the Archdiocese must have not one, but two signatures. The same system was recommended to our parishes in order to preserve the integrity of our priests and parish councils. I am happy to inform you that, through the cooperation of our esteemed members of the Board, the Order of St. Ignatius of Antioch, and the Antiochian Women, your Archdiocese is very healthy, both financially and spiritually.
One of the lies which Mark Stokoe placed on his web site is the accusation of a fictitious man called Abdallah Khoury. Abdallah Khoury claims that I have “betrayed you.” This is indeed laughable and ridiculous. I do not know who is more ridiculous, Abdallah Khoury or Mark Stokoe. Ladies and Gentlemen, did I betray you when I established the Clergy Retirement Fund in 1968? The letters which I have been receiving from our retired clergy and clergy widows tell a different story. Did I betray you when I established the new headquarters of the Archdiocese in Englewood, New Jersey, in 1971 and founded the Antiochian Women of North America in 1973? Did I betray you when I founded the Order of St. Ignatius of Antioch in 1976? Did I betray you when I invited the first Antiochian Patriarch, ELIAS IV, of blessed memory to visit this Archdiocese in 1977?
Did I betray you when I granted more than 300 scholarships to seminarians in order to study theology at various Orthodox seminaries? Did I betray you when I welcomed home more than two thousand former Evangelicals and gave them the opportunity to discover the depth and beauty of Orthodoxy? Did I betray you when I established the Antiochian Village in 1978? Did I betray you when I started the camping program at the Antiochian Village in 1979? I cannot tell you how happy I feel when I am visiting our parishes in this Archdiocese and when our young children and teens come to me and say, “Thank you, Sayidna, for the Antiochian Village.” A simple thank you from a little girl, somewhere in this Archdiocese, makes me forget all the garbage which appears on the Internet.
Some of the anonymous priests use the Web site to play a very dirty and racist game, that is, pitting immigrant priests against non-immigrant priests. Please listen carefully: Any deacon, or any priest or any bishop who plays this racist game will have no place in this Archdiocese. If you reflect on our history, you will find that it was immigrant priests who planted the seeds of Orthodoxy in North America. Such seeds were watered and nourished by immigrant and non-immigrant priests alike. We do not have Arab priests and American priests in this Archdiocese. We just have priests. Our Archdiocese has been blessed and enriched by a multitude of convert priests who have served Pan-Orthodox and traditional parishes in our Archdiocese for many, many years. Father Paul Schneirla, for example, a highly educated and highly respected priest, does not speak or write Arabic, but has served St. Mary’s Parish of Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, for fifty years. St. Mary’s does not have, to my knowledge, any converts, and yet Father Paul served St. Mary’s all these years and was very much loved and respected. Race and language are not problems in the Antiochian Archdiocese.
The last point I would like to make is related to my young age. An anonymous priest wrote that I am seventy-eight, I am old, and that I am ready to retire or die. Last March, I had my annual checkup in Florida. This year I was able to walk seven and a half minutes on the treadmill. Last year I walked only six minutes. There is nothing more certain than death in this fallen world. Sooner or later, all of us are going to die. But to anyone who would be happy to see me go, I will say this: “I will die whenever I want, but seriously, when God calls me home.” Death has never been a problem to me, but I do not like to depart before the time of departure.
Permit me to share with you the following story: in 1972, thirty-seven years ago, I had my open-heart surgery at the Miami Heart Institute in Florida. I had about six doctors on my surgical team. After the surgery, my doctors told me that I would have ten more years, or fifteen at most, to live. After thirty-seven more years of an active life, some of my doctors have died and the Heart Institute has closed, but I am still around.
Ladies and gentlemen, I would be remiss, before I conclude this message, if I did not thank my brother bishops; namely, Bishop ANTOUN, Bishop JOSEPH, Bishop BASIL, Bishop THOMAS, Bishop ALEXANDER and Bishop MARK. I would like, also, to thank the Vice-Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Dr. George Farha, the Treasurer of our Archdiocese, Mr. Robert Laham, our Assistant Treasurer, Mr. George Nassor and our comptroller, Mr. Peter Dacales. I would like to thank the Secretary of the Board of Trustees, Dr. John Dalack, and the Secretary of the Archdiocese, Father Michael Ellias, and all generous members of the Board of Trustees, all chairpersons of our departments and commissions, all presidents of our organizations and all members of our parish councils. Last, but not least, I want to thank my co-workers in this vineyard, our faithful clergy, especially those who serve small parishes and missions.
Finally, I would like to thank the members of my staff, namely, our hierarchical assistant, Father George Kevorkian, Archdeacon Hans and Deacon Charles Baz, Mrs. Joanne Hakim, administrator of the Order of St. Ignatius of Antioch, Mrs. Amy Robinson, and, last but not least, a lady who has dedicated forty years of her life in loyal service to this God-protected Archdiocese, Kathy Meyer. In conclusion, I would like to leave you with these words from the Second Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians: “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies” (4:8-10).