A Prophecy Fulfilled: A Remembrance of Metropolitan Philip
By The Very Rev. Constantine Nasr, Economos
The relationship of my father, the late Economos Zachariah Nasr of thrice-blessed memory with Metropolitan Philip, began when my father was on his way to the United State in 1955. He stopped in Beirut, Lebanon, where he was a guest at the Archdiocese of Beirut, which was then shepherded by the late Metropolitan Elia Salebe.
The one who embraced him with brotherly kindness, taking him to various consulates to obtain his travel documents, was Deacon Philip, the secretary to Metropolitan Salebe. My father was extremely impressed by the deacon's compassion, attentiveness and personality.
When my father came to the United States to assist the Orthodox school in Taybeh, Palestine, he heard that Deacon Philip had also come to America in order to further his studies at Fort Wayne University. My father was staying with his Aunt Helen Barham in Detroit, where Father Athanasius Saliba, who is now a retired bishop living in Lebanon, was the priest at the parish of St. George. It was in Detroit where my father and Deacon Philip were able to meet again and renew their friendship
Deacon Philip encouraged my father to stay in this country; in order to help him do so, he and Father Athanasius arranged a meeting between my father and the late Metropolitan Antony Bashir of thrice-blessed memory at the convention in Detroit. Before they introduced him to the Metropolitan, Father Athanasius and Deacon Philip convinced my father to shave his beard. This was very difficult for my father, but he complied, understanding that this was the standard in the Archdiocese. I was told by both Father Athanasius and Deacon Philip that, as he shaved his beard, tears were coming down my father's face. The friendship between my father and Deacon Philip was not damaged by the trauma of the shaving, however, but rather continued to strengthen year after year.
By 1965, Deacon Philip had been ordained priest, and was doing graduate studies at St. Vladimir's seminary. In the spring of that year, he came with seminarians Michael Abraham of South Glens Falls, New York and John Namie of Monongahela, Pennsylvania to visit our family in Albany, New York.
My mother, Khouria Nasra, was preparing for lunch when the seminarians arrived. I remember looking at Father Philip from the front window of our house and saying to my mom, "I see him, mom; he's a tall man!" I opened the door and Father Philip embraced each one of us and then said to mom, "I am the one who shaved your husband's beard! Does he not he look handsome?" We all laughed and then sat in the living room, where dad began to reminisce about the past life of the Church. When we sat to eat, Father Philip asked me if I wanted be a priest. I said, "No way! I want to become an architect!" Father Philip replied, "Well, Gus, you can be an architect and a priest." After all the meal, Father Philip asked to visit the church.
I remember we all squeezed into the car, and then returned home for some ice cream. Mom asked Father Philip to chant for all of us-because we had already heard his voice on a recording-which he kindly did. Later, he asked me to chant a hymn. I said, "I don't remember the words." Father Philip said, "I will help you." My father insisted that I chant I chant the first tone. When I finished, Father Philip said, "Gus, you come from a priestly family, you come from the Arabic heritage and tradition, you are a young man: the church needs young men to enter the seminary and become priests. Just think about it." Then all continued in fellowship.
When Father Philip and the other seminarians were ready to leave and I approached to kiss his hand, something moved me to utter these words aloud: "I hope that within seven years you will ordain me a priest." Everyone heard me. My dad just smiled. I knew that I would need four years of college and three years of seminary before I could be a candidate for ordination to the holy priesthood. After Father Philip left our home that day, my heart, mind and soul were attached to him. I do not know what happened that day, except that I continued to tell my dad that he would become a bishop and would ordain me.
On February 15, 1966, Metropolitan Antony reposed in the Lord. A few months after his burial, Father Philip was nominated, elected and called to the holy episcopacy as the Metropolitan of New York and All North America. On his way to Damascus many priests and laity from the Archdiocese came to greet him and proclaim "Axios" at Kennedy airport in New York. I went with my father to greet him and to receive his blessing. As I received his blessing, he said to me, "Are you still good on your word?" I said, "Yes, Your Eminence." "Then," he said, "On your way back home, stop at St. Vladimir's and register." And I said, "Yes, Your Eminence."
After we left the airport, my father drove me directly to St. Vladimir's seminary, where I registered for the fall semester. From that day forward I never turned back, nor regretted my decision. From that time, Metropolitan Philip took me under his wings, loved me, guided me, encouraged me and disciplined me. From 1966 until his passing, he was my father confessor. And, seven years after his visit to our family home in Albany, New York, Metropolitan Philip ordained me first a deacon on March 18, 1973, and then a priest on June 17 of the same year. I am grateful to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for His abundant mercy and love toward us, in that He chose for us a shepherd who knew no boundaries of love, compassion and mercy. He was a father of fathers, a brother of brothers, dedicating his life to serve with dignity and honor, not only the Archdiocese but world Orthodoxy.
His was a spirit of charity, justice, wisdom and council. His vision and his dream was to spread the Gospel, praying always for peace and goodwill among mankind. Although we mourn his passing, we must rejoice, for we now have an intercessor in heaven who knows and recognizes us by name as a Shepherd recognizes his sheep.