Bishop Antoun Reflects on His Life in the Archdiocese, Metropolitan Philip, and Metropolitan Joseph
This reflection from the September, 2014 edition of The Word magazine begins with a brief introductory explanation by the Editor, Bishop John Abdalah.
We were at the Antiochian Village in July, 2014, for the Clergy Symposium, sitting in front of the portrait of Patriarch Alexander (Tahan), the Patriarch who ordained Bishop Antoun to the diaconate in 1951. Bishop Antoun began to reminisce about the late Patriarch and his ordination. Metropolitan Philip served this Patriarch as his Secretary and Deacon. Sayidna Philip found this portrait at St. John of Damascus Parish during a pastoral visit. "How important it is for us to remember those godly men who went before us, forming our spiritual lives through their witness and teachings," remarked our senior Bishop Antoun.
Sayidna Antoun has served the Archdiocese of North America for 60 years. He is part of the history of our Church, witnessing its growth and changes as a priest and bishop, as a pastor and as an administrator, as an immigrant and as an American. As we experience our transition from the leadership of Sayidna Philip to that of Sayidna Joseph, we are blessed to hear Bishop Antoun's reflections, visions and hopes.
I served as a teacher in the Orthodox School in Damascus, and later as the Principal of St. John of Damascus School in Syria. I then moved to San Paolo, Brazil, and served the Church there as a deacon before coming to the United States, where I studied at St. Vladimir's Seminary. Almost right away I was reunited by phone with my longtime friend, Metropolitan Philip, who was then a priest in Cleveland, Ohio. Because I missed my friend Fr. Philip, I went to visit him there. I had asked how long a trip Cleveland would be from New York. He told me it would be a few hours: just tell the Greyhound Bus [people] you want Cleveland and they will bring you here. The trip took overnight! I found my friend Philip waiting for me in the Church.
It was Metropolitan Anthony Bashir who invited me to serve in North America. With the permission of my bishop in Brazil, Metropolitan Ignatius (Ferzly), I made North America my home. I studied at St. Vladimir's Seminary, and soon Metropolitan Anthony ordained me in Boston during a Parish Life Conference hosted by St. George Church on St. George Street. He asked me to serve temporarily at St. George Church in Philadelphia, where I served seven years, and during which time we hosted two Parish Life conferences.
In 1967 Metropolitan Philip appointed me to serve St. George in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. During that time Metropolitan Philip suffered his first heart attack. He needed some help, so he asked me to move from Toronto to help him in Brooklyn, New York. For two years we searched for a new headquarters and we found a place, the present headquarters in Englewood, New Jersey. During these eight years at the headquarters I managed the bookstore, cut the grass, cooked meals and carried suitcases. I also taught our Antiochian students at St. Vladimir's. Among my students are Bishops Basil, John and Thomas, as well as many of our clergy.
In 1975 I witnessed the reunification of the Toledo and New York Archdioceses. This was a great day in the history of the Antiochian Church in America. In 1977, after the visit of Patriarch Elias IV, I asked to go back to parish life and went to St. George, Allentown, where I served one year. Then Fr. Gregory Abboud died, so I was appointed the Dean of the St. Nicholas Cathedral to replace him. From that time Metropolitan Philip asked me to serve as an Auxiliary Bishop. After some struggle within the Synod of Antioch, I was elected to serve as Auxiliary Bishop.
During my thirty years with Metropolitan Philip he sent me over all of the Archdiocese, visiting parishes and establishing missions. In 1987, after long discussions, Metropolitan Philip accepted the Evangelical Orthodox Church into the Antiochian Archdiocese. Traveling to all of these parishes and preparing them to serve within the traditions of the Antiochian Church was a highlight of my ministry. I witnessed the establishment of the Antiochian Women in Atlanta, Georgia. These women are the backbone of the Archdiocese. I was also there for the creation of the Order of St. Ignatius of Antioch, Teen SOYO, and the rebirth of the Fellowship. Metropolitan Philip and I worked so hard establishing, nurturing and supporting these organizations. We also worked hard supporting the clergy and encouraging the parishes. In the 1970s we found a camp in Pennsylvania. We fought hard to establish the Antiochian Village Camp, and then the Center, the Library and the Chapel at the Antiochian Village.
Since my consecration as a bishop, I traveled throughout the Archdiocese. All of my work brought me happiness. The love of my life is the Archdiocese, her people, and especially the clergy. With my partner, Metropolitan Philip, we established the Antiochian House of Studies. Here at the symposium we see around us the many deacons and priests and bishops prepared to work with us through the programs of the House of Studies.
My life as Deacon, Priest and Bishop of this Archdiocese was wonderful. Now at an age of reflection, I hope that this Archdiocese, under the leadership of our new Metropolitan Joseph, will remain blessed. He has a big job for the future of Antioch in this land. He has my support and my prayers.
I wish to express my gratitude to my life-long friend, the late Metropolitan Philip. I also thank the Archdiocese Board of Trustees, The Antiochian Women, The Order of St. Ignatius, and the youth, asking God to continue to bless them and keep them united in faith. I pray that we continue in unity in the Archdiocese under the leadership of the new Metropolitan. I love and admire this man.