by George Michaelopoulos
I will ask indulgence of you Dear Reader as I am in the process of writing something commensurate with the man. No doubt I will fail in the task but bear with me anyway as we try to sift through the meaning of his life and legacy. More will be written later on as time and events warrant.
Metropolitan Philip was the Dean of American Orthodoxy, of this, there can be no doubt. He came into this role because of the unfortunate and ill-advised expulsion of Archbishop Iakovos Coucouzis of the GOA, who viewed him as an equal and a visionary. Even under such an inauspicious start, there was no doubt that he rose to the task and became the preeminent figure in North American Orthodoxy. Some may scoff and say that that bar is an exceedingly low one. Even if true, there is no doubt that his accomplishments would still place him in the top tier of hiearchs even if men of greater stature populated the ranks of the American episcopate.
It is not too much to say that it was he more than anybody else who changed the face of Orthodoxy in America. Some may look askance at the audacity of such an assertion –didn’t Iakovos put Orthodoxy on the map when he marched with Dr Martin Luther King? Indeed he did. But Iakovos was not allowed to finish his ministry in a justifiable way; thus his legacy will be forever diminished.
Of course he had his critics. Yours Truly on occasion took him to task for one or two things. No doubt, he made mistakes. He valued loyalty and as long as one was loyal, he had your back. I don’t fault him for that, there are few worse things than ingratitude. He took big chances and he led his archdiocese into uncharted territory. He could do this because he was a man of tremendous faith, and though he thought deeply about his actions –measuring twice, cutting once as they say–in the end he was able to go ahead regardless of the consequences. He was not one for half-measures. In retrospect, his faith in the Gospel stands in sharp contrast to the Byzantine intrigues that the Phanar played when they used bait-and-switch tactics with the Evangelicals.
And then of course, there was Ligonier, quite possibly the high point of American Orthodoxy. It couldn’t have happened without his strong hand at the helm.
A master strategist, he always kept his eye on the big picture. He picked his battles carefully and as a result he won every one. He wasn’t always up to snuff on rubrics and what many of the more rigorous among us would consider correct protocols but that didn’t matter. Early on he saw that the Episcopal Assembly was a sham and would ultimately implode because of its internal contradictions. Regardless, he was a team player and went along for the ride for appearance’s sake. Luckily, events have proven him correct.
More can be said. He had an unerring sense for choosing talent. The explosion in growth for his archdiocese is a testament to that. He also could spot troublemakers and was adept at getting rid of them. Bad ideas didn’t stand a chance in his presence. As Fr Patrick Reardon has commented on my blog, when a gay activist spoke up at a public setting about homosexuality, Philip cut him off at the knees, saying
“we don’t discuss abominations.”
He certainly wasn’t a hostage to political correctness.
Likewise, he pulled the Antiochian archdiocese out of the National Council of Churches. He saw that it had degenerated into an odious organization more concerned with fads-of-the-moment rather than the Gospel. He didn’t suffer fools, or foolish ideas gladly.
Sleep beckons. I will close by saying that his death is one of those monumental events in American Orthodoxy. To my mind his repose is more epochal than that of any other American (or American-based) hierarch. It will be felt more keenly than the deaths of the other Primates, of this I am confident. Perhaps among his signal accomplishments will be his ability to leave behind an intact and vibrant archdiocese, one forged in his image. If the Antiochian archdiocese continues his legacy then it will continue to be the main source of creativity and growth in North America.
May his memory be eternal.