“I’ll die when I feel like it.”
Another reflection by an anonymous Antiochian “dog”
When I heard these words from Metropolitan Philip, my inner being shuddered. I’ve never heard such a thing from anyone in authority in the Church. There was something ominous in his deliberate dare, not to his detractors, but to God Himself.
It caused me to reconsider my opinions of Metropolitan Philip. Before this utterance, I saw him in light of my own family patriarchs. Yes, Philip is much more of an Old School Arab father than a ‘modern’ American full of concern for other people’s feelings.
But, this brazen statement departed from that. My own family would never dare to say such a thing. Call it piety or superstition, but no Arab, Christian or Moslem, would ever say such a thing. All of them know that life and death belong only to God.
But, as I look back over the Convention from that moment, I realized that Philip was claiming far more than Immortality. Yes, he declared that he would only die when he wanted to, thus claiming power over his own life. But, he also usurped Divine Providence in several other ways.
First, Metropolitan Philip claimed perfection. Literally.
During his presentations both to the clergy and the public, he took no responsibility for any of the public relations disasters that have beset the Archdiocese. He had a long list people to blame: Anonymous Clergy, Fr. George Kevorkian, Doug Cramer, Mark ‘Stookey’, Peter Decales, Bishop Mark, the ‘North American Ambassadorial Team’, Patriarch Ignatius and the entire Holy Synod of Antioch. Yes, they all were to blame for the various complications in this twisted tale.
Never did he mention his own misstatements or misjudgments, such as characterizing the necessity of the Episcopal demotions as being for the unity of the Archdiocese or the secrecy surrounding Bishop Demetri. Not once did he express any regrets, but instead blamed and blamed some more.
In fact, he had to be pressed hard to even admit that the other Bishops had Dioceses and actual pastoral responsibilities. Why he would resent them so deeply is utterly unfathomable other than as an expression of his significant distrust in otherwise intelligent and pious men. I’ve really come to believe he only trusts his own judgment and wisdom. Everyone else is ‘less perfect.’
Second, Philip routinely presented himself as the source of all blessings. He literally spoke of ‘his’ accomplishments, never mind the fact that everything he has comes from the hard labor of countless laymen and clergy alike. While he talked of his initiatives, he hardly mentioned God or anyone else.
His frequent historical narratives had only a single purpose, and that was to extol his own virtues at the expense of others. Simply put, he was more than willing to imply that everything in the Archdiocese came from him and his ‘visionary’ leadership. No seminarians would have been educated, no camps purchased, no converts received, were it not for him.
Again, my own relatives have the same propensity to brag, but this repeated story began to look more and more like an appeal to some type of ‘super-human’ abilities to see what should have been obvious to anyone. If converts come, you receive them. If you need clergy, you educate men. It’s not rocket science. However, Philip spoke of his own story as if these were all fantastic accomplishments that God appeared to be uninvolved or disinterested in.
Third, and just as frightening, were his demands for personal loyalty. In characterizing his clergy-critics as being beneath dogs, he kind of let the cat out of the bag that those who are loyal are acting appropriate to dogs. Yes, the most faithful priest knows his place… at the heel of the master.
We are certainly called to obey our bishops and respect them, but are the priests dogs when compared to Metropolitan Philip? I’m not sure his most ardent supporters understand that they were applauding their own debasement. A dog obeys for physical rewards (i.e. Scooby snacks), but does a priest maintain loyalty to the Metropolitan just to get an education and a paycheck?
I thought most clergy were willing for forgo high salaries and proud worldly titles for the sake of their salvation? The question remains whether a priest can be a good and faithful servant of God without personal loyalty to or even personal affection for his Bishop? I believe a good priest can still act appropriately even if he dislikes his bishop, so long as he remains mindful of God and obedient to the teachings of the Church.
Philip’s presentations left no room for that. It was an all-or-nothing approach. The clergy and faithful owe him the same faithfulness that God demands of those seeking His Kingdom.
I felt sorry for those ‘true believers’ in Philip, since they obviously don’t get that fact that once Philip is gone they will more than likely be under a new Metropolitan who was mistreated by Philip. What will they do then? A few of us have come to realize that their personal loyalty trumps their loyalty to the unity of the Archdiocese. They will more than likely destroy the Archdiocese than have to humiliate themselves further by making an open ‘switch.’ After all, many of them have had a hard time accepting the local Bishops.
When you take Philip’s claims of perfection, providence and fecundity, then add his ‘I’ll die when I feel like it’ statement, you have a picture of a man with an ego out of control. Some criticize the clergy and laity for remaining quiet in his presence, but I have come to realize that part of the silence comes from shock at his audacity.
However, another part of the silence comes from years of gradual compromising with his ever-increasing self-esteem. We now find ourselves after 20 or 30 years of incremental expansion of his ego doing things that we think are ‘normal’ which are abnormal. We have gone along with this cult of personality so much we can hardly think of life without sycophantisms.
At the Convention, Philip entered the room and the people began singing ‘Many Years.’ He then said, ‘Do it again’. The crowd responded, and no one hesitated. He never said why, but merely wanted them to praise him a second time. To an outsider, such behavior on Philip’s part is ill-mannered, but the crowd was equally guilty of enabling him to become narcissistic. He demands praise (most of his public statements in Palm Springs were designed to elicit praise for his ‘mighty acts’) and we give it on cue.
Philip has in effect claimed divinity. He answers to no one, not even God. His later mumbled retraction was hardly out of fear of God as much a realization of the overconfidence of what he had just done and how bad it might look.
I don’t know if I will ever be able again to look at Metropolitan Philip the same way as I did before that moment. In an instant, what were once character foibles of my ancestors became far more ominous.
I saw a man claim immortality, and I saw some of my brothers and sisters cheer.
Now I am scared.