Interview with Metropolitan PHILIP, February 2009
In this historic interview on Ancient Faith Radio, Metropolitan PHILIP talks candidly about such things as Orthodox unity, music, our witness to the world, his most memorable accomplishments as well as his biggest disappointments. This two part interview was conducted by Fr. Peter Gillquist, Chairman of the Department of Missions and Evangelism in the Antiochian Archdiocese.
Fr. Peter Gillquist: Let me say as we begin that I'm interviewing today one of the heroes of my life because were it not for His Eminence Metropolitan Philip, there are 2,000 of us who came to the faith from an Evangelical background that would not be part of the church today. We came at a time before many converts were entering the church, and it was you Sayidna opened the doors of this glorious church to us at a time when others were very hesitant to do so. I say that because I am not objective. I am partial to both you and to this archdiocese, and I thank God for the way that you have extended the grace of the Holy Spirit to us.
Let's start the interview on a personal level. Tell us how your health is these days.
Metro PHILIP: Well, my health is very good, thank God. I watch my food very carefully. There is a Near Eastern proverb which says, "Whatever we eat is two parts: a part to sustain us and a part to kill us." So I watch my food and second, I exercise. I have a treadmill upstairs in my bedroom and I have a bicycle. When the weather is nice, because we live in the Northeast here and we usually have storms and snow and et cetera, so when I cannot walk outside, I walk on my treadmill in order to keep myself in good shape. After I had my heart attack in 1968, subsequently I had open-heart surgery in 1972. Some of my doctors at that time – '72 is many years ago – some of the doctors said, "We give you 10 years to live, or 15 years at the most." In those days, open-heart surgery was an adventure. I am sorry to tell you that some of these doctors are dead who told me that and I’m still around.
I remember when I had my heart attack in Washington, D.C., for 15 days in the hospital, I refused to believe that I had a heart attack because I was young, I was proud of my youth (the sin of pride), very proud of my youth. My schoolmates remember me in school to be the strong Philip, you know. After 15 days, my doctor in Washington came to me with charts to explain to me that I really did have a heart attack. After that, I became convinced I had a heart attack, and I had a very good encounter with God. I said to God, "I am here to serve you, to serve the church. If you want me to live, I am willing to. If you want me to go, I am ready. Therefore, thy will be done. You do whatever with my life."
Fr. Peter Gillquist: What routines do you follow to stay informed and to stay spiritually focused, given the busyness of your life?
Metro PHILIP: I read. I read a lot. Unfortunately, I have discovered that I have dry macular degeneration; therefore, I cannot read small print. I depend on bigger print and when I write something, write a lecture, for example or a long talk or – I usually don't write my sermons, I just make a mental outline and speak from the heart, but I rely on books and on information which I receive from here and there and, of course, prayers. I have a system of private prayers that I follow, and that keeps me spiritually fit and informed.
You know, the Orthodox Church is worldwide. I am aware of what is going on in Russia and in eastern Europe; of course, in the Middle East because my roots are there, my spiritual roots are in Antioch and in Jerusalem and Damascus, and so I keep myself informed of what is happening in the life of the church because the church is one with other churches in America or in China or in Russia or in the Middle East, and I believe in one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.
Fr. Peter Gillquist: For those who don't know, please tell us about your family and where they are scattered here in the new world.
Metro PHILIP: My family, we originated in Lebanon about – actually, in the heart of Lebanon about 20 miles east of Beirut in the mountains, in the mountains of Lebanon. We are neighbors to a very famous mountain, one of the highest mountains in Lebanon, Mount Suneen. Mount Suneen was and still is a subject for poets, for writers, and it's a beautiful mountain, and my – the village where I was born is a neighbor to that mountain. My mother passed away in 1964 and my father passed away in 1985, during the visit of Our Father in Christ, Patriarch Ignatius, to this country, and we had a memorial service for him in Boston during the Archdiocese convention. I have lost one of my brothers, an older brother of mine, and I have lost my sister during the Lebanese War. Her home was bombed during the war and she grieved so much that she had a stroke and she died after the stroke.
My oldest brother still lives in Lebanon. My youngest brother lives in Massachusetts. He's a professor of history and political science, and he gave one of the lectures at our symposium this year, at the Antiochian Village, about Judaism and Christianity under Islam. His lecture was published recently in The Word magazine. Some people liked it; some people didn't like it and we're going to publish one of the letters that criticized his lecture because The Word is an open magazine for all opinions. So I have nieces in this country. My brother Najib has two children, Philip, who serves on the board of trustees of the Archdiocese – on Thanksgiving, I baptized his daughter, Zara, here in my chapel in the Archdiocese, and Leslie, who is not married, Philip and Leslie, Najib's children. She works for Saks; she's a buyer for Saks. And then I have nieces, I have two nieces in Connecticut and three other nieces, one in Michigan, at Ann Arbor (she's married to Dr. Gregory Dalack) and two nieces in California (one is a lawyer and the other one is a homemaker. They both live near San Francisco).
Fr. Peter Gillquist: What are your personal plans for the next five years? I know that the Lord orders our steps, but what do you envision?
Metro PHILIP: My plan for the next five years is to continue working. I remember the Irish author, Bernard Shaw, once said, "The harder we work, the longer we live," so I live with this motto. Do your best and leave the rest to God. So I'm going to continue the work which I have been doing, pacing myself, as my doctors tell me to do, and we still have many things to do, many things to do. So I plan to live, if God wills, and do my work in the church for the church.