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July 5, 2009

Metropolitan Philip and the Future of Monasticism in the Antiochian Archdiocese

Metropolitan Philip of New York

The Antiochian Archdiocese of North America has for a long time been controversial regarding its liberal attitude in discarding what many Orthodox consider to be precious and sacred traditions. This attitude has most often been traced to its current Metropolitan, Philip. The fact that he wrote the foreword to the misleading book Orthodox Fundamentalism published by Conciliar Press should give the more traditionally minded Orthodox an idea of what he stands for.

Metropolitan Philip prides himself in trying to be a "progressivist" by relating to the common American in his attempt to win people to Orthodoxy. Of course, he is most famous for bringing into the Orthodox fold the "Evangelical Orthodox" en mass, and even this move is looked upon as controversial the way he went about it. And his attempt to fit in with the common man has gone so far as to even appear shamelessly in a cowboy suit, complete with a bandana and a six-shooter (his episcopal panagia was tucked in his shirt pocket) at the Archdiocesan convention that was held in Dallas, Texas in 1982 (there is a picture of this in the Word magazine in 1982 with the Metropolitan pointing the six-shooter at a Reader, with the inscription "Pay your diocesan assessment, or else," or something similar).

Besides the ludicrousness of the above, however, his extremes have reportedly even gone over canonical boundries. One issue has been that he has allowed clergy to be remarried while continuing to serve as priests. Another concerns the abolishment of all fasting from the feasts of Pascha until the Ascension, though this is more of a modern innovation of the entire Antiochian Patriarchate than of the Metropolitan himself.

Perhaps the most controversial innovation of Metropolitan Philip is his complete prohibition for Antiochian clergy in America to walk around outside of church property wearing the rasson (cassock) with an untrimmed beard and hair in a pony-tail. He considers this unbecoming for clergy in America and insists on clergy adopting his style of wearing a suit with a collar, being completely shaven or with a very trimmed beard, and short hair. The controversy over this decision in the 1990's caused many traditional Orthodox clergy in the Antiochian Archdiocese to leave and enter more traditional jurisdictions like ROCOR. His justification for this, besides his "common man" argument, has been the example of St. Tikhon, Enlightener of America. He claims to possess a photograph of this Saint from 1905 walking around in a suit with a collar in San Francisco and argues that St. Tikhon encouraged this look for all his clergy in America. However, besides the fact that there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that St. Tikhon sought to impose Papist or Episcopal attire on his clergy (Fr. George Florovsky evidently disputed the authenticity that St. Tikhon made such a directive), it is almost certain that this photo is taken out of context and used as a means to justify his innovation. We know that for St. Tikhon it was the norm for him to walk around in a blue cassock while in America. Fr. Feofan Buketov recorded the travels of St. Tikhon in 1906 (a year after the photo) and describes Archbishop Tikhon with a blue cassock and hat from which flowed long hair. He says that he would travel like this on public trains throughout America and it would not only catch peoples attention, but they would stand up in his presence out of reverence and would go up to him to shake his hand (so much for Metr. Philips comment that Americans would never approach a traditional looking clergyman to say hello) . For all we know, the picture of St. Tikhon from 1905 could have been a one-time incident and it may have something to do with the vast amount of Uniates who were converting to Orthodoxy at the time, for whom St. Tikhon went to great lengths to win them over to Orthodoxy. Whatever the case may be, the early mission to America allowed certain practical accomodations as Orthodox were in the process of forming their identity in the New World. The facts are that we are no longer a new mission, nor are we living in a country where everybody dresses the same as they did in the beginning of the twentieth century. Contemporary diversity in America allows for the acceptance and educational value of traditional Orthodox clerical attire.

Currently there are over 70 Orthodox monasteries in America among all the canonical jurisdictions, and it should be of little surprise that until now there has only been one monastery under the jurisdiction of the Antiochian Archdiocese. The Skete of Saint Paul in Memphis, Tennessee is under the omophorion of Metropolitan Philip and it is administered by Bishop Basil of Wichita (this same Bishop Basil is considered the only monk in the entire Antiochian Archdiocese by Metropolitan Philips own admission a few years ago), though it is considered a dependent of the Holy Dormition Monastery in Rives Junction which is under the OCA. Apparently there is only one monastic in the monastery, Mother Nektaria, and it has failed to attract others. Recently news has come out (see below) that Metropoitan Philip has established another monastery known as the Convent of Saint Thekla in Antiochian Village in Pennsylvania with one schema-nun named Mother Alexandra.

Many have claimed that the reason the Antiochian Archdiocese lacks a monastic presence in America is because Metropolitan Philip is anti-monastic. I don't think this is entirely true. I believe that Metropolitan Philip comes from the old school of Orthodoxy in the 1950's and 1960's America where the priority of the Church in America was to establish missions and parishes and ordain as many clergy as possible, leaving monasteries to be established in the future. This was the same attitude of Archbishop Iakovos of the Greek Archdiocese. The two also had a fear of extremist attitudes arising within their jurisdiction with the presence of monastics. This fear, however, has always proved to be an unhealthy symptom of being an over-controlling hierarch. This same attitude can also be seen in Metropolitan Methodius of Boston today who is the only hierarch in the GOA that opposes the establishment of an Orthodox monastery in New England unless it is under his direct control. This unhealthy attitude however is one of the greatest threats to the spiritual development of Orthodox christians in America, as all the Holy Fathers can attest to.

Metropolitan Philip has described his vision for the future of monasticism in the Antiochian Archdiocese in his official biography. In it he basically describes the good memories of his youth being around monastics and he wants to transfer this same feeling he had to America by establishing a monastery at Antiochian Village where monastics could interact with the youth. Interestingly this is the same attitude of Metropolitan Methodius who plans to build a monastery on the campgrounds of the Boston Metropolis Camp. Just like Our Lady of Balamond in Lebanon has youth programs, Metropolitan Philip envisions the same for this monastery. He also says that once this monastery is established other monasteries will be established under his omophorion. Time will only tell if this truly comes about, but it seems to be slowly coming along. The Antiochian Archdiocese is strongly in need of a monastic ethos that in more recent years has been a very positive influence in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese through its monasteries established by Elder Ephraim.

Mother Alexandra

His Eminence Metropolitan PHILIP Announces the Establishment of the Convent of St. Thekla at Antiochian Village

It is with great joy that His Eminence Metropolitan PHILIP announces the establishment of the Convent of St. Thekla at the Antiochian Village. The Acting Superior of the convent will be Mother Alexandra (Magan), and we welcome her with joy to the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America.

Mother Alexandra will take up residency at the Antiochian Village during the first week of July, and will live in temporary housing until such time as the residence building is constructed on the proposed site for the convent, which is on the main property at the Antiochian Village. This will allow her to experience a good part of the camping season, and to interact with our children.

She also has plans to attend the Archdiocese Convention in late July, and to have a presence at the St. Thekla Pilgrimage which will be held at the Antiochian Village in September.

There will soon be a website established for the convent, where all important news and information will be posted.

A brief biography of Mother Alexandra follows below.

Biography of Mother Alexandra

Mother Alexandra was born on October 11, 1965 in New Bedford, MA and is oldest of two surviving children. She was baptized in Saint James Roman Catholic Church and confirmed at the age of 13 at Our Lady of Fatima Parish. She attended public schools in her home town, graduating from New Bedford High School in 1983. After a short attendance at the University of Massachusetts in South Dartmouth, Massachusetts, she left the world and entered a Cistercian or Trappistine Convent where her introduction to Orthodoxy occurred. In 1990, she left primarily to pursue her education, working at several jobs to finance her education and attending Orthodox parishes. In 1994, she was granted a Bachelor of Arts equivalency from Saint Thomas Seminary in Denver, Colorado. When that school closed, she moved and restarted her theological education at Saint John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota. In 1997, she was awarded Masters of Arts Degrees in Systematic Theology and Church History. While in graduate school, she served as the Assistant Director at the Episcopal House of Prayer in Collegeville. After graduating, she accepted a position at Montini Catholic High School in Lombard, Illinois, where she served as Campus Minister, retreat director, instructor of Theology and Chairperson of the Theology Department for eight of her nine years at the school. After her move to Illinois, she attended Holy Transfiguration Antiochian Church in Wheaton, Illinois where she was formally received into the Orthodox faith and chrismated on Theophany 1998. When the parish moved, she attended Saint Joseph Church in Wheaton, Illinois. Having paid her school loans, she resigned her position at the high school in 2006 to return to a normative monastic life at Holy Myrrhbearers Monastery in Otego, New York. In May of 2008 Bishop Tikhon of the Diocese of Eastern Pennsylvania received Mother Alexandra as a schemanun.

Mother Alexandra is named after Alexander, one of the Holy 40 Martyrs of Sebaste and her name’s day is March 9.

She can also be reached by email at