CITY OF ANTIOCH on-the-Orontes was the most important city
of the Roman Province of Syria, and, as such, served
as the capital city of the Empire's civil "Diocese of the
East." The Church in Antioch dates back to the days of
the foremost apostles, SS. Peter and Paul, as is recorded in
the Acts of the Apostles. Scripture refers to Antioch as the
place where the followers of Jesus Christ were first called
"Christians" (Acts 11.26), and records that Nicholas,
one of the original seven deacons, was from that city -- and
may have been its first convert (Acts 6.5). During the persecution
of the Church which followed the death of St. Stephen the Proto-Martyr,
members of the infant community in Jerusalem sought refuge in
Antioch (Acts 11.19), and while St. Peter served as the first
bishop of the city, SS. Paul and Barnabas set out on their great
missionary journeys to Gentile lands (Acts 13.1) -- establishing
a tradition which would last for centuries, as from Antioch
missionaries planted churches throughout greater Syria, Asia
Minor, the Caucasus Mountains, and Mesopotamia.
the first Ecumenical Council, convened in the year 325 by Emperor
Constantine the Great, the primacy of the bishop (patriarch)
of Antioch over all bishops of the civil Diocese of the East
was formally sanctioned. The Great Schism of 1054 resulted in
the separation of Rome, seat of the Patriarchate of the West,
from the four Eastern Patriarchs of Constantinople, Alexandria,
Antioch, and Jerusalem. During the reign of the Egyptian Mamelukes,
conquerors of Syria in the 13th century, the Patriarchal residence
was transferred to the ancient city of Damascus, where a Christian
community had flourished since apostolic times (Acts 9), and
which had succeeded earthquake-prone Antioch as the civil capital
of Syria. The headquarters of the Patriarchate, which has jurisdiction
over all dioceses within its ancient geographic boundaries (Syria
and Lebanon) as well as others in the Americas, Australia, and
Western Europe, are located in Damascus on "the street
called Straight" (Acts 9.11).
ARCHDIOCESE OF NORTH AMERICA
the late 19th century, events in their homelands forced Antiochian
Christians to join the ranks of Europeans who emigrated to other
parts of the world. The spiritual needs of those who settled
in North America were first met through the "Syro-Arabian
Mission" of the Russian Orthodox Church, which has had
a presence in North America since 1794. in 1895, a "Syrian
Orthodox Benevolent Society" was organized by Antiochian
immigrants in New York City, with Dr. Ibrahim Arbeely, a prominent
Damascene physician, serving as its first president. Conscious
of the needs of his fellow countrymen and co-religionists, Dr.
Arbeely wrote to Raphael Hawaweeny, a young Damascene clergyman
serving as Professor of the Arabic Language at the Orthodox
Theological Academy in Kazan, Russia, inviting him to come to
New York to organize and pastor the first Arabic-speaking parish
on the continent. Fr. Raphael, a missionary at heart, went to
the imperial capital of St. Petersburg to meet with His Grace,
Nicholas, ruling bishop of the Russian Diocese of the Aleutian
Islands and North America, who was then in Russia to recruit
new missionaries. After being canonically received under the
omophorion of Bishop NICHOLAS, Father Hawaweeny arrived in the
United States on November 17, 1895.
his arrival in New York, Archimandrite Raphael established a
parish at 77 Washington Street in lower Manhattan, at the center
of the Syrian immigrant community. By 1900, approximately 3,000
of these immigrants had moved across the East River, shifting
the community center to Brooklyn. Accordingly, in 1902, the
parish purchased a larger church building in that borough, at
301-303 Pacific Street. The Church, assigned to the heavenly
patronage of St. Nicholas, the Wonderworker of Myra in Lycia,
was renovated for Orthodox worship and consecrated on October
27, 1902, by NICHOLAS' successor, Archbishop TIKHON. St. Nicholas
Cathedral later relocated to 355 State Street, Brooklyn, and
is today considered the "mother parish" of the Archdiocese.
the request of Archbishop TIKHON, Hawaweeny was elected to serve
as his vicar bishop, to head the Syro-Arabian Mission. His consecration
as "Bishop of Brooklyn" took place at St. Nicholas
Church on Pacific Street on March 12, 1904. Bishop RAPHAEL thus
became the first Orthodox bishop of any nationality to be consecrated
in North America. He crisscrossed the United States and Canada,
and even ventured deep into Mexico, visiting his scattered flock
and gathering them into parish communities. He founded al-Kalimat
[The Word] magazine in 1905, and published many liturgical books
in Arabic for use in his parishes, in the Middle East, and in
emigration around the world. After a brief but very fruitful
ministry, Bishop RAPHAEL fell asleep in Christ on February 27,
1915, at the age of fifty-four. Not long afterwards, the tragedy
of the First World War and the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia
brought financial and administrative ruin to the Orthodox churches
in North America, and shattered the measure of unity they had
enjoyed. Movements arose in every ethnic group to divide it
into ecclesiastical factions. Deprived of its beloved founded
and bishop, the small Syro-Arabian Mission fell victim to this
divisiveness, and it would take sixty years from the death of
Bishop RAPHAEL -- in June of 1975 -- for total jurisdictional
and administrative unity to be restored to the children of Antioch
in North America. Some communities desired to remain under the
jurisdiction of the Russian Church, while others opted to be
received into the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Antioch.
The hierarchs of that period were: Metropolitan GERMANOS (Shehadi),
Archbishop AFTIMIOS (Ofiesh), Archbishop VICTOR (Abo-Assaley),
and Bishop EMMANUEL (Abo-Hatab). By 1936, all of the parishes
were in one or two Antiochian archdioceses -- the Archdiocese
of New York, headed by Metropolitan ANTONY (Bashir), and the
Archdiocese of Toledo, Ohio, and Dependencies, headed by Metropolitan
pioneer in the use of the English language in the Orthodox churches
in the New World, the Antiochian Archdiocese has since 1917
kept in print and available Isabel Hapgood's pioneering English
Service Book; it printed the first English music books for choirs
in the 1920s; and its Father Seraphim Nassar produced in 1938
the first - and still the only - comprehensive collection of
texts needed for the chanting of complete services in English
(The Book of Divine Prayers and Services). A full-fledged publishing
department was established in 1940, and it has produced and
distributed numerous titles in religious education sacred music,
and liturgical services. Thousands of people of various ethnic
and racial backgrounds have "come home" to the Orthodox
Church and have found a spiritual home in the parishes of the
Antiochian Archdiocese, joining with Americans and Canadians
of Middle Eastern descent to make the Antiochian Orthodox Christian
Archdiocese of North America a vibrant witness for Christ and
June 24, 1975, Metropolitan PHILIP (Saliba) of the Antiochian
Archdiocese of New York and Metropolitan MICHAEL (Shaheen) of
the Antiochian Archdiocese of Toledo, Ohio, and Dependencies
signed the Articles of Reunification which restored administrative
unity among all Antiochian Orthodox Christians in the United
States and Canada. This document was presented to the Holy Synod
of the Patriarchate, which ratified the contents on August 19,
1975, recognizing PHILIP as Metropolitan-Primate and MICHAEL
as Auxiliary-Archbishop. Archbishop MICHAEL fell asleep in the
Lord on October 24, 1992. Auxiliary bishops serving the Archdiocese
are Bishop ANTOUN (Khouri), consecrated January 9, 1983, at
Brooklyn's St. Nicholas Cathedral; Bishop JOSEPH (Zehlaoui),
consecrated May 8, 1991, at Damascus' St. Mary Cathedral; Bishop
BASIL (Essey), consecrated May 31, 1992, at Wichita's St. George
Cathedral; and Bishop DEMETRI (Khoury), consecrated March 12,
1995, at Damascus' St. Mary Cathedral. v
on the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese
of North America website, March 25, 1999
and Christian Orthodox
Unity in America"
Richard H. Curtiss
Article taken from the July/August 1999 issue of
THE WASHINGTON REPORT ON MIDDLE EAST AFFAIRS
of the most frequently asked questions of the editor of an America
magazine about Middle East affairs is, "When are you going
to write something about Metropolitan Philip Saliba?" This
year, whenever I have answered, "We've already published
two separate articles about him," the response was, "But
when are you going to write about him yourself?"
realized, finally, that there was something very special about
this always cheerful and reassuring archbishop of the Antiochian
Orthodox Christian Church in North America, who was born in
Abou Mizan, a village in the hills 15 miles east of Beirut and,
by the time he was 35, had become the formally ordained leader
of an American flock that now numbers some 500,000 people, half
of them of Middle Eastern extraction and the other the other
half converts of differing backgrounds, including other brands
of Christian orthodoxy.
admirers, whether other clerics or congregants scattered from
Toronto to Los Angeles to Tampa to Boston, are possessive and
proud of Metropolitan Philip. All whom I know seem to feel that
he is their personal friend, and clearly want to acquaint others
with his unique leadership abilities.
was a lot easier to decide to see for myself what makes a particular
spiritual leader so beloved by his followers that to arrange
the logistics to do so. Whenever I found I was going to be in
the greater New York area, he was going to be somewhere else.
I wanted to see him in his own surroundings, either at his headquarters
on Englewood, New Jersey, only a mile from the George Washington
Bridge leading into Manhattan, or at the 300-acre former Presbyterian
camp he purchased for his church in Western Pennsylvania and
turned into a conference center and youth camp renamed Antiochian
certainly didn't want to try to sandwich an interview into one
of his frequent visits to Washington, DC. These are crowded
with officiating at church services, sessions with some of the
large number of Antiochian Orthodox in the national capital
area, and meetings with U.S. political leaders or visitors from
the countries from which his flock or their ancestors originally
migrated to North America. These are Lebanon, Syria, Jordan,
Egypt and Palestine/Israel, but by now Antiochian Christians
are working in many other countries of the Middle East, particularly
in the Arab countries of the Gulf. And for the archbishop, there
also are courtesy calls to make and joint ceremonies to attend
with the hierarchies of the affiliated Bulgarian, Egyptian,
Ethiopian, Greek, Romanian, Russian, Serbian and Ukrainian Orthodox
churches in North America.
the second unsuccessful try, when I suggested an interview on
the evening of a day when he was flying back from California,
his protective secretary, Kathy Meyer, who at the urging of
her Antiochian pastor in San Francisco left a comfortable hotel
job 34 years ago for what she thought might be a temporary stint
to help set up the archbishop's office in New York, confided
that she did not want to overschedule the Metropolitan because
he had had a heart attack at 38 and had quadruple by-pass surgery
four years later in 1972. Thinking of his crowded travel schedule,
all I could reply was, "No wonder." Finally it was
arranged that I would interview him after attending his keynote
speech at a Palestinian Heritage Foundation dinner honoring
Professor Edward Said, a world-renowned spokesman for the Palestinian
people, a former member of the Palestinian National Council,
and a Christian Orthodox congregant.
visit to the New Jersey residence which serves both as the archbishop's
home and North American headquarters for the Antiochian Christian
Orthodox Church, proved to be a congenial introduction to Auxiliary
Bishop Antoun Khouri, who shares the office and residence and
who attended the Balamand seminary in northern Lebanon with
Metropolitan Philip, Ms. Meyer, and her assistants, who keep
the flow of visitors, calls and correspondence flowing at a
pace that somehow seems both relaxed and efficient.
already knew from the many, many times my magazine has quoted
him, that Archbishop Saliba is a remarkably outspoken man. He
alludes frankly to the problems of his own denomination, primarily
because he plans to solve them. And he is equally frank in his
assessments of U.S. presidents, all of whom he has met starting
with President Eisenhower, and their Middle East policies. For
him, obviously, politics do not stop at the water's edge. His
parishioners are in the New World, but their church retains
its direct lineal ties to Antioch, where the followers of Jesus
first called themselves Christians, and its patriarchs, who
have lived in Damascus since the 15th century, when Antioch
was conquered by the Turks.
Antiochian parishioners in the U.S. and Canada, like Metropolitan
Saliba himself, have families in the Middle East, some of whom
are living under military occupation in Jerusalem and the West
Bank, and all of whom are adversely affected by the ongoing
dispute between Israel and its Arab neighbors. Clearly the archbishop's
thoughts are never far from his afflicted co-religionists in
the Middle East, and he aims to show his own followers in the
U.S. how to alleviate those problems by financially supporting
charitable and educational work overseas and politically supporting
an even-handed U.S Middle East policy.
the same time, he clearly has had his eyes on two other internal
church problems. A short-range goal is the assumption by Arab
clergy of the leadership position in the Christian Orthodox
hierarchy in the Middle East now held by Greeks, whom he blames
for selling church properties that have fallen into the hands
of Israelis. A longer-range but top-priority goal is the unity
of the Christian Orthodox churches in the United States.
none of these Orthodox churches are separated from each other
in terms of doctrine or significant ritual, at present they
are divided by the languages in which their services are conducted,
because Christian Orthodoxy came to the New World with different
ethnic groups. How strongly the Metropolitan believes in strength
through unity is illustrated by the manner in which he led the
two archbishoprics into which the Antiochian Orthodox believers
were divided in the United States and Canada into unifying within
9 years of his consecration as archbishop and only 19 years
after he first set foot in North America in 1956.
story of the rapid rise of the son of a Lebanese stone cutter
and traditional stone bridge builder began, according to the
archbishop, in 1944 when, at age 13, he accompanied his father,
Elias, to present a gift of fresh grapes from the family vineyard
to the Antiochian Patriarch upon his arrival from Damascus at
his summer residence at a nearby Lebanese monastery. During
the visit father and son attended services at a nearby church
where the priest asked the son, then named Abdullah (servant
of God), who already taller than other boys his age and favored
not only with good looks but also a beautiful speaking and singing
voice, to read the epistle. Afterward, over coffee, the Patriarch
complimented Abdullah on his voice and invited his father to
enter the boy in the Balamand seminary in northern Lebanon to
study to become a priest when it reopened after the war.
three years at the Balamand seminary, where he received the
equivalent of a high school education, Abdullah was accepted
into an Orthodox school in Homs, Syria. There he spent his pocket
money on books-biographies, fiction, poetry, and literature
dealing with the Arab nationalism that was unleashed during
World War II and by the deep frustration of the Arab defeat
Abdullah was 19 the same Patriarch Alexander who had arranged
for him to begin studying for the priesthood six years earlier
called him to Damascus to be his personal secretary. There he
was renamed Philip and ordained a deacon in the church at Dour
es-Shouer, by his home village, while the Patriarch was at his
nearby summer residence.
carrying out his duties in Damascus, Philip also enrolled in
Assiyah College there. It was at the end of three years as the
Patriarch's secretary that Philip asked not to follow the usual
career path by going to Greece or Russia to study theology,
but instead to go to England to study literature. His request
was rejected so he asked to return to Balamand to work as a
teacher of Arabic and dean of students. After a year there,
in which his reforming streak manifested itself in his dealings
as intermediary between the students and the school hierarchy,
he had saved enough money to travel to England to accept a one-year
scholarship at the Kelham Theological School in Nottinghamshire.
a year he transferred to the University of London for the study
of 18th and 19th century English literature. There he had no
scholarship, so he worked as a waiter to make ends meet. Despite
his lack in funds, he liked beautiful, cosmopolitan London and
during this period he went through a period of deep, personal
introspection, seeking to reconcile himself to the seeming inability
of the church which he had chosen to serve to guide the divided
Arab people through the economic, social and political crises
they faced in the post-war period.
period of self-doubt as a lonely student in a foreign country
has helped Philip to understand the later generations of bewildered
or disillusioned students who have come to him for guidance.
"As a matter of fact, I identify with them still,"
he told a biographer in 1991. "When people go through doubt
and restlessness, I understand because I went through the same
experience. These things do not worry me. What does worry me
is indifference. There is nothing worse. As long as people are
sincerely questioning, I don't mind at all if they come to me
asking about the existence of God, about ritual, about the Church
or our music. You don't like this? Fine. Let's talk about it."
long after he returned to Beirut in 1955, he met Archbishop
Samuel David of Toledo, Ohio, who was one of the two archbishops
in the then-divided Antiochian Church in North America. Archbishop
David invited him and another young deacon to come to America.
Philip accepted, but on condition that he be allowed to finish
his theological education. He arrived in the United States in
January 1956, and enrolled in the Greek Orthodox seminary in
America, Holy Cross School of Theology in Boston.
the end of his first semester Holy Cross changed its language
of instruction from English to Greek. Philip and some of the
other non-Greek students chose to transfer to St. Vladimir's
Seminary in New York City, where English was the medium of instruction.
The decision, however, cost him his sponsorship by Archbishop
David and, astonishingly, brought on an interview with the FBI.
A wealthy patroness of Holy Cross University, angry about his
departure with the other "Syrian boys," spotted a
poem by Philip published in an Arab-American newspaper, and
called the FBI to charge that he "might be a communist."
His first and only such detention ended after only three hours
of questioning, but no one offered him carfare back to his apartment.
was no laughing matter since he also had lost his job after
only three days as a waiter in a French restaurant. Fortunately,
after this low point in his life, he found a $50 a week summer
job in a Boston factory and, in the fall, moved to Michigan.
There he received a scholarship to Wayne State University, enrolled
as a junior and was employed as a deacon at St. George's Antiochian
Orthodox parish in Detroit.
received his B.A. in history early in 1959 and became a parish
priest in Cleveland. He soon was offered an appointment of bishop
but instead, in 1964, he took a sabbatical year to complete
a master's degree in divinity, which he felt he needed as preparation
for the higher appointments in the church which are open only
to unmarried clergy. He obtained the degree in June 1965, but
not before he had started a church with some immigrant families,
which endures to this day as St. Mary's Church in Yonkers, New
York. He had been back at his church in Cleveland for only a
few months when the archbishop of New York died and, in ensuing
elections by 300 members of the clergy and laity from all over
the United States, Father Philip Saliba received 260 votes as
the first choice to succeed the archbishop. The top three names
were submitted to the Patriarch in Damascus for the final selection.
Damascus, the choice of the American communicants ran head-on
into Cold War politics. There were Antiochian bishops under
the influence of the Greek Patriarch of Constantinople and others
under the influence of the Patriarch of Moscow. Few of either
persuasion were enthusiastic about the young and innovative
American parish priest who had declined to do his advanced studies
in Greek and also had criticized Marxist doctrine and those
who seemed captivated by communism.
the other hand, a visiting delegation of American Antiochian
clergy warned against rejection of the slate, promising that
a new election in the U.S. would produce the same result. Finally,
after four months of deliberation, Father Philip was chosen
and ordained in traditional ceremonies in the Middle East.
he returned to the U.S. Archbishop Saliba sought simultaneously
to organize his new office, which had no staff, and to visit
as many parishes as possible in the archdiocese. In his initial
calls he was blunt, criticizing his church's inability to expand
in North America for lack of strong missionary work, and opposing
the use of foreign languages in Orthodox churches in North America.
feel that the sooner all the Orthodox churches in America start
using English, the better our chances of achieving administrative
unity will be," he said. In the same spirit the new metropolitan
changed the title of the archdiocese from "Syrian Orthodox"
to "Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North
America," reasoning that prospective converts would be
delighted to be part of the original church of the apostles
Peter and Paul.
Saliba was equally outspoken about events in the Middle East.
He rejected terrorism, by Israelis or Palestinians, out of hand.
But he made it clear that Orthodox Christianity also rejects
the doctrine of 20th century Zionism, supported by a segment
of modern evangelical Protestantism, that the people of Israel
are destined to return to the Holy Land. Instead it accepts
the traditional Christian view that the Christian Church is
the New Israel.
Philip is comfortable with explaining why this is so, and in
supporting the contention of the Christians of the Middle East
that there is no biblical justification for the suffering and
displacement that the Zionists of Israel have inflicted upon
them. One of Metropolitan Philip's most familiar comments is
that "God is no longer in the real estate business."
He also has said, "My plea is that modern Protestant theologians
and students of Scripture take a critical and objective look
at how the Church has interpreted the Bible throughout history."
excellent authorized biography, Metropolitan Philip: His Life
and Dreams, by Father Peter E. Gillquist, an Orthodox convert
to the Antiochian church, outlines the church's stand on this
matter, from both a theological and human rights viewpoint,
clearly and convincingly in a chapter entitled, "Middle
East Madness" (pp. 131-144).
Saliba's strong convictions in this regard gave birth to his
1968 proposal for a Holy Land state in Jerusalem where Christians,
Muslims and Jews live in peace under a democratic form of government,
with the new state protected by the major powers. The proposal
also called for an end to Arab belligerency and plans to destroy
Israel, Israeli withdrawal from the territories it occupied
in 1967, and return of refugees to their homes. The proposal
received a strong endorsement from former President Dwight D.
Eisenhower and Pope Paul IV.
pursuit of his convictions, Metropolitan Philip visited President
Lyndon Johnson in the Oval Office in January 1968, but the conversation
deteriorated after Johnson erroneously stated that Arabs had
started the 1967 war. The following day, during an appointment
at the State Department to discuss the same topic, Metropolitan
Philip suffered his first heart attack. Looking back, he says
he realizes now that he was trying "to change history in
a matter of two or three years. This heart attack was a reminder
that it simply would not be so."
was after his heart attack that he prevailed upon a friend of
his youth, Father Antoun Khouri, to leave his parish and come
to New York. That was also when Antiochian communicant Kathy
Meyer arrived from San Francisco to help the church's national
the subsequent years Archbishop Saliba of New York and newly
consecrated Archbishop Michael Shaheen of Toledo healed a split
that had divided Antiochian Christians in America for 60 years,
with Archbishop Michael becoming auxiliary to Metropolitan Philip.
Archbishop Philip Saliba also raised funds in America to endow
the seminary at Balamand, where he had studied and later worked,
and launched a trust fund for Arab refugees and a number of
other charitable activities overseas.
the U.S. he encouraged birth of a women's movement, the Antiochian
Orthodox Christian Women of North America, and resided over
the first and subsequent visits by patriarchs of Antioch to
North America. He also increased the number of parishes in the
U.S. from 65 when he became archbishop in 1966 to 220 at this
Archbishop Saliba also discussed the Middle East with U.S. Presidents
Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and George Bush. Of
the former, whom he described as "extremely gracious and
friendly to us," he says, "I feel Carter found the
wrong solution to the Middle East crisis by isolating Egypt
from the rest of the Arab world and asking only that nation
to sign the Camp David Accord. That step, though admirable,
has never worked."
President Reagan he says, "He was taken with prophecy,
almost to the point of date setting, but was not much taken
with the Middle East problem as such."
Philip's overseas travels took him to Russia, where his desire
for Orthodox Christian unity was reinforced, and to the Middle
East, where he met with Presidents Hafez al-Assad of Syria and
Amin Gemayel of Lebanon.
particularly heartening development for his long-term dream
of Orthodox Christian unity was the accession to the Antiochian
church of some unaffiliated non-ethnic parishes with some 2,000
congregants who called themselves collectively the Evangelical
Orthodox Churches. He called this unexpected increase in his
flock "the brightest chapter in my entire life."
pursuit of this dream of unity he has called for the transfer
to the New World of the Christian Orthodox ecumenical patriarch
"who continues to live like a prisoner in Istanbul"
in the interest of denominational unity. "Let us prevail
on him to leave Turkey, come to America, and unite our various
jurisdictions," Metropolitan Philip proposes. "We
have unlimited opportunities in this free land, but if we do
not move forward with faith and courage, our Church on this
continent will remain an insignificant dot on the margin of
asked by congregants if he is depressed over the lack of progress
in this field despite his efforts, he answers, "I would
be, were it not that our unity as Orthodox into one American
jurisdiction is inevitable. History is clear in that, and certainly
the Scriptures are clear. Therefore we will simply continue
our work for unity until our shameful division is overcome."
echoed a similar philosophical state of mind in an April 3rd
talk when he said of current setbacks to Middle East peace and
Arab unity: "I remain optimistic for one reason: history
is not static; it is alive and dynamic. The last 50 years, in
perspective, are but a brief moment in the vast span of Arab
history. Furthermore, I believe that the Palestinians and the
Arabs in general will emerge in the new millenium, picking up
all the modern tools of science and technology to rebuild and
rewrite the future for their posterity. Thus, beyond the long
and dark night, there is a new dawn, a new day and a new history."
the "dark night" ends, it is certain that through
his unremitting efforts to unify his people and integrate them
into a much greater whole, Archbishop Philip Saliba will have
contributed mightily toward making that new day dawn.
on the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese
of North America website, July 16, 1999