The Youth Work of Metropolitan Philip
The following address was delivered by the V. Rev. Dr. Joseph Purpura, Archdiocese Director of Youth, on the occassion of Metropolitan Philip's 40th episcopal anniversary.
Many years ago you challenged your young people in the opening message of their video on Special Olympics, with these words:
“For many years we Orthodox have been floating on the river of Orthodoxy. I have challenged my people this way ... I said … It is time that we plunge into the depth because the gems of Orthodoxy are not floating on the surface they are deep down and we have to plunge into the depth if we really want to discover what the Orthodox Church is.”
Teen SOYO – the teens of this great archdiocese have taken your challenge seriously. Because of your guidance and leadership the teens strive to live the Orthodox Faith and to plunge into those wonderful depths and bath in the Light, Life and magnificence of the Holy Orthodox Church to which you have led and welcomed your young people.
You have welcomed and challenged your young people to love Christ, His Church and all those around them and across the world – and they have done so.
You have challenged your young people to continuously reach new heights - and they have done so.
You have taught them to dream dreams and to make those dreams a reality - understanding that all things are possible to him who believes in Christ - and they have done so.
Across this continent we see our young people serving their church, their neighbors and those less fortunate than they. You have inspired your young people to serve. You have taught them in very real and concrete ways that it is better to give than receive – and they have done so through:
- Special Olympics
- Project Mexico
- in their local communities
- in homeless shelters
- and countless other ways
In the very early days of your episcopacy you allowed the programs of Sr SOYO (now the Fellowship of St John the Divine) to flourish and prosper so that they matured into active and dynamic departments of this archdiocese. You empowered and encouraged the Fellowship to be creative and they have created and continue to generate many of the new ministries of this archdiocese. As a good shepherd you let your young adults create and lead and they have done so.
You saw the need to organize and empower the teens of this archdiocese into a vibrant and life-giving movement. In 1968 you organized your teens on the regional level and in 1969 you organized them on the Archdiocese level with the election of Robert Laham Jr, as the 1st North American Council Teen SOYO President.
You challenged your young people to be a vibrant force in this archdiocese – and they have become so.
Your trust in your young people and your vision for a vibrant Orthodox Church on this continent gave birth to Teen SOYO – thirty-three (33) years ago. Because of your vision leadership and love - tens of thousands and even hundreds of thousands of lives have been transformed through Teen SOYO, which is imbued with your vision of Orthodoxy.
Many of the past Teen SOYO members are now serving you as Priests, Deacons, Khouriyies, Youth Workers, Church School Teachers, Parish Council Members, as Archdiocese Board Members and Members of the Order of St Ignatius.
So many young people have stayed in the Church through the relationships built during their Teen SOYO years. Many teens met and married one another through the youth programs. Many of our families in this archdiocese can credit your vision with their existence as Orthodox Christian Families rooted in Christ.
In 1990 you challenged your young people to once again look at the state of Youth Ministry in this Archdiocese and to prepare the youth and its ministry for the 21st century. You called your youth leaders to the Antiochian Village for four days of intensive meetings and you commented on those meetings, “After four days of meetings and sometimes heated discussions, our young people and spiritual advisors agreed on a new platform which they presented to me, and which I endorsed.”
Your trust in the youth and your immediate acceptance of the work they did in those four days at the Village in 1990 has led to a transformed and revitalized youth ministry in this Archdiocese over the past decade – A Ministry that is responsive to the needs of our young people and one that has allowed them “to plunge into the depths of the Orthodox Faith”. None of this would have been possible without your vision, encouragement and trust.
Your Eminence, this youth ministry platform was based on your vision and inspiration. During the first clergy Symposium in 1980 you shared with us the reasons why the early Church gathered - You stated: “(1) to worship the Triune God and celebrate the Eucharist (2) To preach the Good News and experience a genuine Christian koinonia,” (3) to glorify Jesus Christ through a life of witness and service.” You impressed upon us throughout your ministry that the Orthodox Faith is to be lived out daily in real people’s lives and that it must be rooted in the person of Jesus Christ and not simply theoretical. Therefore your ministry has taught us and inspired the current youth ministry platform of - Living the Orthodox Faith in Christ through Worship, Witness, Service and Fellowship.
You declared 1992 the Year of Youth Ministry, focusing the Archdiocese’s attention on elevating youth ministry and the needs of our youth to a level unprecedented in the history of Orthodoxy on this North American Continent.
Your Eminence - In your Consecration Address 40 years ago you stated: “We promise Your Beatitude that we shall work with you and our venerable brothers to encourage and to promote the youth movement here in North America, for the faithful youth are the heartbeat of the Church.” Your words and promise are fulfilled in the thousands of highly motivated and spirit filled young people of this great Archdiocese.
NAC Teen President Nadia Lawand states:
Metropolitan PHILIP has been a guiding light that has represented the past, present and future for the teens. He has given so much with the various youth programs. Teen SOYO and the youth programs in this Archdiocese have done so much for my peers and I - in helping us to battle all the challenges we face in today’s ever changing and tough world.
In your address to the convention in Miami in 1969 you mentioned your concern was, to “help our young people to find themselves in this turbulent time”, though these times in many ways are no less turbulent – there is much progress and much hope because of your desire to bring about change.
Jenna Zraick a current Eastern Region teen who will serve as an NAC Teen SOYO Special Olympics Coach writes:
I am so thankful for Teen SOYO. I've learned so much, not only about Jesus Christ and the Church, but also about myself and the person I want to be, from SOYO. I'm not sure it would be the same had it not been for the determination and work of Metropolitan PHILIP.
Fr Timothy Baclig – NAC Teen SOYO Spiritual Advisor states:
A Priority in Sayidna PHILIP’s Episcopate has been the development of youth leadership through the programs of Teen SOYO: Programs which involved young men and women in humanitarian projects, participation in liturgical services, Festivals which encouraged expressions of their faith through art, writing, poetry, orations, and catechism/bible bowls, all of which aim at deepening one’s personal understanding of our Tradition.
Fatin Jacob one of the youth in St Petersburg Florida shares
Thanks to Our Lord God for giving us such a wonderful role model in Metropolitan PHILIP. He has been extremely kind to all the Youth of this Archdiocese and has put his whole heart and soul into the work that he does for us, through our savior Jesus Christ.
You once stated, “Our young people are searching with anxiety and intellectual curiosity for new spiritual horizons and for a more meaningful life in Christ. I am very much encouraged by their search.” Your Eminence, your teens likewise have been very encouraged and free to search and reach new heights precisely because of your encouragement and guidance.
Fr. Anthony Yazge, One of your Teen Presidents from 1978, who now serves you as one of your Parish Priests and as a Regional Teen SOYO Spiritual Advisors - states:
While in college, my cousin Ken and I, presented an idea to Metropolitan Philip to use one week at the Antiochian Village for the teens of the Archdiocese to minister to the least of our brethren by conducting a camp for Special Olympics.
Most adults that heard the idea thought we were nuts.
However, Metropolitan Philip encouraged us and supported our efforts 100%.
More than twenty years later, our teens are still providing this wonderful Ministry to the Special Olympics Athletes.
You have given so much – the fruits of your labor of love are so evident across this North America Continent as we see an explosion of young people and adults nurtured by you, who now are serving the current youth. The staff members nurtured at Antiochian Village have gone out and multiplied your efforts by establishing camping programs across North America.
- The Northern California Deanery Camp (San Francisco Bay Area – serving the Northern California Deanery)
- St John Cathedral Youth Camp (Alaska)
- St Raphael Summer Camp Program (Southwest Region)
- Camp St George (Cedar Rapids, Iowa)
All are a direct result of your work in establishing Antiochian Village.
In 1973, as you prepared yourself for open heart surgery, you wrote in your reflections of that event, “The last thing I did before I left for home was visit with God at St John Chrysostom’s Chapel. If there are pieces of heaven on earth, the chapel of St John is one of them. As I was leaving the chapel, my eyes caught a glimpse of the words inscribed above the door: “Dedicated to Teen SOYO, June 3, 1972”.
I thought of our little children, Teen SOYO, the youth, our archdiocese, and all the beautiful things that we can live for, then suddenly a feeling of indescribable joy permeated my soul…”
Sayidna, know that we teens of those years raised the funds for that chapel because you were and are the joy of all the youth of this God protected Archdiocese. As the young people bring you joy, you likewise are their sunshine and inspiration!
On a personal note – As a teen who grew up in the early years of your episcopacy and was challenged to look into the depths of the Orthodox faith through some of your most cherished programs such as Teen SOYO and the Bible Bowl and was led to the priesthood through your vision of Youth Ministry and Orthodoxy and as a priest and youth worker for the past 23 years, who has seen first hand on a regular basis the deep commitment you have for Christ, the Church, and especially its young people, I am grateful, as so many others in this archdiocese that we have had this blessed opportunity to be led/shepherded by you in the vineyard of our Lord.
Metropolitan PHILIP – you have devoted much of your ministry to the well being of the young people of this archdiocese. Amongst all of the Bishops you stand out as a beacon of light, strength, promise, commitment, hope and most importantly as an example of what the Shepherd can do when he is motivated and filled with the love for his children and Christ as you are.
On behalf of all of the teens to whom you have ministered for the past 40 years, we thank you and pray that God will Grant You Many More Years as our Chief Shepherd!
Many Years Master!