Obituary: Arab Christians Mourn passing of Orthodox Leader Metropolitan Philip Saliba (1931-2014)
By Ray Hanania
The Anthochian Orthodox Christian Church and community worldwide are mourning the passing of a remarkable leader who helped forge the religious community’s identity and activism and served as an inspirational representative of their Christian faith in Jesus, the Christ and Son of God.
A graduate of Wayne State University in Detroit, Metropolitan Saliba served at St. George Church there and later was elevated as the representative of all Antiochian Orthodox Christians in North America. Metropolitan Saliba gave a voice to the Antiochian Orthodox Christians who have a long history dating back to Biblical times, and uniting the Antiochian Orthodox Christians under one combined Archdiocese in the 1970s.
Metropolitan Philip Saliba was a voice for Christians who suffered oppression throughout the Middle East, not just in Israel where the oppression was extreme, but also throughout the Arab and Muslim Worlds.
Saliba’s fight to protect Christians of the Middle East was uncompromising. He wrote critically of the “Arab Spring” calling it a tragedy on Christians in the Arab World:
“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 WORDhas 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.”
The History of the Antiochian Orthodoc Church is distinguished. The Antiochian Orthodox followers were originally cared for by the Russian Orthodox Church in America and the first bishop consecrated in North America, Saint Raphael of Brooklyn, was consecrated by the Russian Orthodox Church in America in 1904 to care for the Syro-Levantine Greek Orthodox Christian Ottoman immigrants to the USA and Canada, who had come chiefly from the Vilayets of Adana, Aleppo, Beirut and Damascus (the birthplace of the community’s founder St Raphael).
After the Bolshevik Revolution threw the Russian Orthodox Church and its faithful abroad into chaos, the Syro-Levantine Greek Orthodox Christian faithful in North America, simultaneously shaken by the death of their beloved bishop St Raphael, chose to come under the direct care of the Damascus-based Patriarchate of Antioch. Due to internal conflicts, however, the Antiochian Orthodox faithful in North America were divided between two archdioceses, those of New York and Toledo.
In 1975 the two Antiochian Orthodox archdioceses were united as one Archdiocese of North America (now with its headquarters in Englewood, New Jersey).
Metropolitan Philip was born on June 10, 1931, in Abou Mizan, Lebanon, the fourth of five children to Elias and Saleema Saliba. After completing his primary education at the Shouier Elementary School, he entered the Balamand Orthodox Seminary, near Tripoli, Lebanon, at the age of fourteen. He subsequently attended and was graduated from the Orthodox Secondary School in Homs, Syria, and the Assiyeh Orthodox College in Damascus, Syria.
Ordained to the holy diaconate in 1949, he was assigned to serve as secretary to His Beatitude, Alexander III (Tahan), the Patriarch of Antioch and all the East. In 1952, he was appointed lecturer in Arabic language and literature and student advisor at the Balamand Orthodox Seminary.
While a deacon, Metropolitan Philip was awarded a scholarship and invitation to undertake studies in Great Britain at the Kelham Theological School and the University of London. In 1956, he arrived in the United States and enrolled at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, Massachusetts. Assigned to a position at St. George Church in Detroit, Michigan, he entered Wayne State University from which he was graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1959.
One of his most important roles in the Antiochian Orthodox Church is to make appointments of priests to oversee congregations and churches in the Orthodox Community in North America.
Father Saliba will be greatly missed by the Orthodox Church, the Christian Arab community and by me.
(Ray Hanania is an award winning former Chicago City Hall reporter and columnist. He is the editor of the Arab Daily News at www.TheArabDailyNews.com.)