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.
"Christ is Risen! Our dear Metropolitan Philip has reposed." With these words Bishop Nicholas began his telephone greetings to each of the bishops of our God-protected Archdiocese on Wednesday night, March 19, 2014, after hearing of the falling asleep of our Metropolitan. Metropolitan Philip himself regularly shared that, in this greeting, "Christ Is Risen," is our hope and our consolation. We are a people of hope, we are the people of the Resurrection; in Christ we are God's own and God has made us free. Metropolitan Philip, expressing his thoughts on this freedom, writes:
Man was not created to be a slave, neither to society nor to history, neither to science nor to technology, neither to communism nor to capitalism. Even though nature has limitations, these limitations can be overcome by the sacramental life of the Church. Each and every one of us can become Christlike through prayer, contemplation and action.
Metropolitan Philip was a true teacher of Antioch, stressing incarnational theology, which Sayidna described as theology in action. He called us to action, and asked us not to theologize but to serve the poor, clothe the naked and feed the hungry. He organized the Archdiocese into ministries and gave the people he served opportunities to serve on the parochial, regional and archdiocesan levels. His mission was to America and to the world.
Metropolitan Philip was the champion of Orthodox cooperation and unity in America; a unity that needs to be local and independent. Such a unity expresses the real missionary zeal of Orthodoxy, not a transplant of ethnic customs in a new world. He worked hard and long with many local leaders, as well as the leaders of the Mother Churches, and has contributed much to this work.
Your Eminences, Your Graces, Reverend Clergy, Esteemed Members of the Board of Trustees, Generous Members of the Order of St. Ignatius of Antioch, Energetic Members of the Antiochian Women of North America, Members of the Fellowship of St. John the Divine, Beloved members of SOYO, and members of our Parish Councils throughout North America and all faithful of our God protected Archdiocese.
Before I address the theme of our convention, first, I would like to convey to you some very good news about our Archdiocese. We have completed the purchase of property and buildings in York County, Pennsylvania for the establishment of the Convent of St. Thekla Monastic Community at a price of $885,845. The property is located in Glenville, Pennsylvania and consists of 51 acres of land which includes a four bedroom “move in ready” house, a two story barn, and a three car garage with an attached workshop. The property also has a pond, and includes 30 acres of farmland and 7 acres of woodland. Our original plan was to build this convent at the Antiochian Village. However, it became clear that the cost of building at the Antiochian Village would have been $4,091,907. This is a total saving of $3,206,062. The purchase was funded by money saved in the Archdiocese from an endowment fund by the late Archimandrite John Matthieson, money which has been raised by the Antiochian Women, and generous donations from individual members of the Archdiocese Board of Trustees.
Since the so-called Arab Spring began in Libya in 2011, we have seen the devastation and destruction of that Arab country by Libyan and NATO forces. This Arab Spring has since spread to Tunisia and Egypt, the most populated Arab country. This fire has burned relentlessly in Gaza and all of Palestine since 1948. It is spreading into Jordan, Bahrain, and Iraq and has caused the most devastation in Syria, where many of us have ancestral roots. Unfortunately, the American and European news outlets are not reporting such stories to the world, neither through the written word nor graphic photographs like the ones you see in this sad issue of The WORD magazine. The WORD has been able to obtain these pictures and information from reliable sources. Syria has been most victimized and experienced the most devastation by this seemingly endless war. The WORD believes that the only country that can bring peace to this most explosive region of the world is the United States of America, because America has leverage over Israel, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and Europe.
Patriarch Ignatius was born in Mouharde, Syria, a village in the Middle East similar to Bethlehem and Nazareth. This is why, when talking about Jesus, he often said, “Jesus was one of us. He talked our language (Aramaic-Syriac); He ate our food, and practiced our traditions.”
Primate’s Message Delivered at Biennial Parish Council Symposium
By Metropolitan Philip
From The Word, December 1994
Esteemed members of Parish Councils:
On behalf of the entire Archdiocese, I would like first and foremost, to welcome you to the Antiochian Village and especially to the Heritage and Learning Center. While here, I am sure that you will have the opportunity to see our camping facilities where your children spend some of their summer. You will also see our library which now houses more than twenty-five thousand volumes. Moreover, you will see our museum and School of Iconography, our beautiful dining room and the rest of our fine facilities. Surely, without your cooperation, the Heritage and Learning Center would never have existed. I am most thankful to you.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
by His Eminence Metropolitan Philip
from The Word, December 1968
It is easy to lose sight of the miracle of Bethlehem in our modern world of pressure politics and commercial Christmas. This annual reminder of the continuous presence of the Divine in our wayward world is a necessary thing for us all; nothing is more usual, nothing is more miraculous than the birth of a child: every child’s birthday is a reminder of the presence of God in the world.
The atheist forces of the world try to tell us that God does not exist, that there is no connection between man and the eternal cosmos, the eternal mystery; they tell us that we are slaves of the world and of the material forces of existence. And yet, our experience tells us that GOD IS: too many aspects of our life clearly reflect the presence of the divine, the presence of God, among us. The birth of a child tells us this truth; the birth of the Divine Child sums up the common experience of all mankind.
The present troubles of our world seem overwhelming; the sorrow, the injustice, the poverty, the wickedness of war, the inhumanity of man to man, the distortion of the divine image which we cause, is everywhere; we have lost sight of God, and we suffer; the renewal that comes with the birth of our Lord can restore us, if we perceive it with the eyes of faith, and the simplicity of a child.
The blessing of our incarnate Lord be with you all, this Feast of his Nativity, and throughout the coming year!
by Metropolitan Philip
from The Word, December 1966
With great joy and gratitude for God’s unfathomable love, we greet you at this Christmas season, praying and hoping that Christ will be born in your hearts. If we look upon the birth of Christ as a mere historical event, we celebrate this holy event in vain, for Christ’s birth must serve to renew our lives and make us comprehend God’s eternal love for man whom He created in His own image and likeness.
Man was created out of God’s love to be a partaker of the divine, and when he—deceived by the malice of the devil—rent that fellowship with God, God never ceased seeking him and stretching forth His hand to lead him back to the meadows of salvation. For God loves us despite our sins. He searched for man in Paradise when he had fallen victim to the deceitful one and established a dialogue with man to prepare him for the most decisive event in the history of man. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that all who believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) Christ’s birth, therefore, is more than an historical event for He was born to reconcile the human with the divine, to uplift man from the swamps of his lowly existence to the vastness of truth, beauty, and goodness. Christ was born to restore the purity of the image which was stained by sin.