I did not personally know Metropolitan PHILIP (Saliba). Oh, of course, I have met him. After all, I am an Antiochian priest, and I have attended clergy conferences. Realistically, other than greeting him in passing, I never knew him. But, I know people who knew him, and, more important, I am an Antiochian priest because of Metropolitan PHILIP.
I knew Father Peter Gillquist (Memory Eternal). I know Father Gordon Walker. I have known both of them since shortly after becoming a Christian at a place called Grace Haven Ministry Center in Mansfield, Ohio back in 1970. At that time, it was known as Grace Haven Farms and a Southern Baptist pastor named Gordon Walker was resident there (along with a Grace Brethren pastor named Ray Nethery). Both Father Peter and Father Gordon (and Ray) were former Campus Crusade for Christ staffers who were high in that hierarchy, but had left it because of some disagreements and questions about the directions that the organization was taking at that time.
Many of you have read the story of how they became Orthodox in the book Becoming Orthodox. Part of their story was the search for the Church. But, a later part of their story was the story of searching for a true Orthodox connection. Here were dozens of congregations convinced that they needed to become Orthodox, and unable to do so. In one move that now sounds incredibly audacious, the top leaders in the non-canonical Evangelical Orthodox Church traveled to Constantinople to ascertain whether the Ecumenical Patriarch would receive them into Orthodoxy. But, it was not to be.
Finally, they were connected to Metropolitan PHILIP. He opened his heart to them and brought them into Orthodoxy. He caused great upheaval at the time, since many were shocked at the mass chrismations and ordinations that took place. Some charged him with violating Orthodox Holy Tradition. Some charged him with violating the canons. Various thought that he ought to be disciplined. But, Orthodoxy in America changed. To know how much has changed, it is only necessary to look back.
Two Wednesdays ago, I was at the Lenten services of Holy Trinity Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Birmingham, AL. As part of the Lenten study that followed, a council member shared about his commitment to Orthodoxy. When he was a child, only Greek was used in the services of the church. Even the homily was preached in Greek. There were no service books. You either knew the Liturgy, or you did not. One never heard the Gospel in anything but Greek. He ended up leaving the Church for a while. When he came back, English was being used for most of the service.
The change from Greek to English was, I am convinced, in large part because Metropolitan PHILIP received a large group of Evangelicals into the Church. They brought into Orthodoxy the commitment that the worship ought to be in the language of the people, the commitment that evangelism needed to be part of any Church’s call, and the commitment that evangelism needs to be part of the calling of the Church. An Orthodox Study Bible in English did not exist before the influx of the new Orthodox.
The years after the influx of Evangelicals were strong years of growth for Orthodoxy in America. All the major jurisdictions switched to mostly English (except the OCA, which already fully used English), and began reaching out to non-Orthodox in a way that had not happened before in the continental USA. Even the availability of desktop-publishing-friendly liturgy books and literature dates from after the entrance of the Evangelicals. On top of that, many of the former Evangelicals were now priests and participating freely in the life of the Church at its highest sacramental levels.
Yes, the work of Metropolitan PHILIP had a surprising result. And, it is that legacy that will probably be the thing for which Metropolitan PHILIP is most remembered. He will be remembered as the man who opened the doors of Orthodoxy in America. In the eyes of the Evangelicals who were brought in, and many others, he is the superhero supporter of Orthodoxy in America.
As we prepare to celebrate the funeral of Metropolitan PHILIP, that is what I most remember. No, they are not immediate personal memories. They are the memories of those Evangelicals who knew Metropolitan PHILIP, who knew of his love of them, who knew of his desire for evangelism.
And, some of them are my memories as well. Had it not been for Metropolitan PHILIP’s receiving the Evangelicals, the Antiochians would not have been as open to converts. And, had they not been as open to converts, I may never have become an Orthodox priest.
So, Metropolitan PHILIP, I wish you Memory Eternal. Because of you, I was able to become Orthodox. Because of you, my godfather-for-ordination was led into the Church and was later able to lead me into his ministry. Because of you, Orthodoxy in America has changed. Pray for me. Pray for all of us. Intercede for the Church which you have helped to build here in America. We need your prayers.