by Archpriest Joseph Antypas
On Thursday, October 12, 1995, His Eminence Metropolitan PHILIP (Saliba), Primate of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America, arrived at Beirut International Airport, accompanied by Mr. Ernest Saykaly, the Vice Chairman of the Archdiocesan Board of Trustees, Mr. Nicola Antakli, a member of the Archdiocese Board, and was later joined by The Very Reverend Joseph Antypas, pastor of St. George Church of Troy, Michigan. Metropolitan PHILIP had previously received an invitation to participate in the regular Holy Synod Meeting, from His Beatitude Patriarch IGNATIUS IV. This meeting was to take place at the St. John of Damascus Theological Institute, Balamand, Lebanon, from Monday, October 16 thru Sunday, October 22, 1995.
Prior to the Synodial meetings, His Eminence had the opportunity to visit the President of Lebanon, Elias Hrawi, to whom Metropolitan PHILIP expressed the greetings of all immigrants, Lebanese and Arabic Americans, and commended the President’s balanced leadership for the way he is handling all efforts to bring political stability and economic revivalism to Lebanon. During his stay in Beirut, His Eminence visited with the Prime Minister of Lebanon, Mr. Raffie Hariri. He referred to Mr. Hariri as a great asset to Lebanon and commented on the signs of growth and construction that is booming all over Lebanon.
On Friday, October 13, his Eminence Metropolitan ELIAS (Audi) of Beirut, held a special banquet in honor of His Eminence Metropolitan PHILIP at the Riviera hotel, attended by Orthodox Hierarchs, non-Orthodox religious leaders, politicians, and representatives of the Balamand University. Metropolitan ELIAS reflected on the dynamic leadership of His Eminence Metropolitan PHILIP and on the recent Centennial of the Antiochian presence in North America. He recalled his personal experience in North America as a seminarian, a deacon and as a parish priest, who was inspired by the love, encouragement and support of Metropolitan PHILIP. “Metropolitan PHILIP is a bishop who loves his priests and respects them regardless of any shortcomings, and he loves his flock like a father loves his children,” Metropolitan ELIAS recalled. Sayidna PHILIP, in response to Metropolitan ELIAS, thanked him for his love, kindness and hospitality and commented again on the growth and progress in the reconstruction of Lebanon. He also affirmed his faith that in the history of salvation nothing is accidental; there will always be a definite “love story” between the Archdiocese of North America and all the other dioceses within the Antiochian Patriarchate. Dr. Elie Salem, President of Balamand University and the former President, Mr. Ghassan Tueni, speaking on behalf of the Board of Trustees of the University, both welcomed Metropolitan PHILIP and thanked him for his great leadership, trust and support of the Balamand University, especially the role the Antiochian Village at Balamand plays as a model of the life of the University of Balamand Campus. They thanked Metropolitan PHILIP for his vision, his love, all his special efforts, especially financial, which enables the University to remain a viable and dynamic institute of higher-learning, a special status; reflecting genuine Orthodox spirituality in the Middle East.
On Sunday, October 15, Metropolitan PHILIP and his delegates attended Divine Liturgy at St. George Cathedral at Amyoun, the capital of the Koura District, with His Eminence Metropolitan ILYAS (Kurban) officiating. Metropolitan PHILIP delivered a “fiery” sermon, recalling his years at the Balamand Seminary. He responded to some pertinent requests to comment on the plight of the Church and its peoples within the Patriarchate of Jerusalem. Following the Divine Liturgy, Metropolitan PHILIP was the guest at Metropolitan ILYAS’S generous and gracious table at the newly built Archdiocesan Headquarters in Tripoli, Lebanon.
During his stay in Lebanon, his Eminence and his delegates were graciously hosted by many prominent political leaders, including Mr. Nasib Lahoud, Mr. John Obeid, Mr. Samir Mokbel, and Mr. Beshara Merhej, former ministers and present parliamentarians. They all wished Sayidna PHILIP a fruitful mission in his pilgrimage to Lebanon and Syria.
The Holy Synod meetings were held at Balamand Theological Institute from Monday, October 16 thru Monday, October 22, 1995. All members of the Holy Synod, with the exception of Metropolitan IGNATIUS of Brazil, were present at the meetings. The issues that were discussed during the meetings included: establishing methodology in planning future Holy Synod meetings, the status of the Church of Jerusalem, ecumenical discussions and other topics concerning the Orthodox youth. This includes some pastoral, educational and academic concerns within the Patriarchate.
On Tuesday, October 17th, Metropolitan ILYAS of Tripoli, held a special banquet in honor of Metropolitan PHILIP at the La Salinas Resort in North Lebanon, attended by religious, political and military leaders of North Lebanon and representatives of various charitable, social and educational institutions. Also present was the former Prime Minister of Lebanon, Omar Karami. Metropolitan ILYAS commented on Sayidna PHILIP’S contribution to the maintenance and support of the St. John School of Theology and of other institutions, and for his relentless efforts to serve all Arabs in their search for lasting peace and justice. Metropolitan PHILIP eloquently responded to this gesture and thanked His Eminence Metropolitan ILYAS for his kind words and generosity. He also commented on being positive and optimistic about the future, for our next battle is that of peace. We have to become aware of how to confront that battle.
One of the major highlights of Sayidna’s visit was perhaps an evening with the seminarians of the Theological Institute, which was held on Thursday, October 19. Prior to the meeting with the Seminarians, Sayidna PHILIP met with the faculty of Balamand University, with Dr. Elie Salem president. The focus of the meeting with the faculty was discussing the role of Balamand University as an oasis of interaction and dialogue between Christianity and Islam. At the meeting with the Seminarians, Metropolitan PHILIP recalled some 50 years ago his witness as a student and a teacher at Balamand. He urged the seminarians to be committed to their ministry as future leaders of the Church. He shared with the seminarians his pastoral experience as a priest in Cleveland, Ohio, and emphasized love and compassion as the driving factors for the priest to get out of his “ivory tower” and bring Christ to the faithful believers, especially the sinful, oppressed and the heart-broken. He said that the Church is made up of clergy and laity working together for the building up of the Body of Christ. The spiritual emptiness must be overcome by the ministry of the pastor to his flock. Metropolitan PHILIP explained in detail the role of the priest in North America, on Mission and Evangelism in the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America, and on the Task Force that was established by him to discuss the challenges of the 21st Century and how the Church is preparing itself to face these challenges.
Before Sayidna left Lebanon, he visited the head of the Lebanese Parliament, Mr. Nabih Berri. They discussed various political and religious issues, especially the recent discussion that took place in the U.S. Congress concerning South Lebanon and the plight of Jerusalem. He was feted at a banquet hosted by the former Interior Minister, Mr. Beshara Merhej and attended by many notable political and religious leaders. Sayidna’s message to them was one of optimism and hope. He referred to Jerusalem and Lebanon as “twins”, both sharing dreams of peace and harmonious living among the various religions, He called for the hope of establishing a “United Arabic States”, and he urged all the Patriarchs of the East to meet at a Summit to discuss the plight of Jerusalem.
During Sayidna’s visit in Syria and Lebanon with family, friends, religious and political leaders, he was truly treated with love, respect and appreciation of all his time and efforts. He was graciously met and entertained by these many notable people. We cannot forget the special efforts made by Metropolitan ELIAS (Audi) of Beirut and his staff to insure our comfort and to Mr. Adib Kassis of the Middle East Airlines in New York, for the special care and accommodations that they graciously extended to His Eminence and his entourage.
Now our hopes are focused on the continued leadership of Sayidna PHILIP to establish an atmosphere of cooperation and dialogue so he may continue to lead us from “glory to glory”.
As to those who accompanied Metropolitan PHILIP, it was indeed an honor to be able to provide companionship, comfort and support to him on this momentous visit. MAY GOD GRANT HIM MANY YEARS!
Archpriest Joseph E. Antypas is pastor of St. George Church in Troy, MI.
From Word Magazine
Publication of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America