The Arena
The Arena

Episode · 9 years ago

Interview with Bishop Alexander of the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America


AFR podcaster Fr. Josiah Trenham serves as a member of the Secretariat of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America. He was commissioned by that body to conduct interviews with each of the Hierarchs in the Assembly of Bishops over the course of the next year.

The Secretariat of the Assembly of CanonicalOrthodox bishops of North and Central America, in cooperation with Father Josiah Trennon,a member of the Assembly Secretariat and director of Patristic Nectar Publications, present conversationswith our bishops, hierarchical interviews on the nature and work of the assembly ofBishops, and now the interview. It is a joy and an honor tobe able to sit with an interview his Grace Bishop Alexander Today, and yourgrace, if you don't want to, like to make just a short introduction. His Grace Bishop Alexander comes from a highly respected Orthodox family from north Lebanon. He was born in Nineteen fifty six. He attended the Tripoli Boys School andthen the American University in Beirut before moving to the United States of America. Here in our land, he attended the University of North Texas where hegraduated with a BA in nineteen seventy eight and then an MBA in nineteen eighty, in nineteen eighty one and following he worked in the business world from nineteeneighty one to nineteen eighty five with an importer in Lebanon and then, followingnineteen eighty five, he return into the United States, where he worked forquite a number of years in the same fields of work before he felt thecall to the Sacred Ministry and obtain the blessing to attend seminary. He attendedseminary at St Vladimir's Orthodox the alleged theological seminary and Chris with New York,from which he graduated. He was ordained to the holy priesthood in April ofthe year two thousand and assigned to the pastorate of St Mary's Church in HuntValley, Maryland, which he served from two thousand to two thousand and four. He was consecrated to the sacred episcopacy on the fifth of December two thousandand four by his beatitude, Patriarch ignacious, the Fourth of Antioch and All theEast, in the Patriarchal Cathedral in Damascus and was enthroned as the first. They also send Bishop of Ottawa, Eastern Canada, and upstate New Yorkfor the Antiochan Orthodox Christian Arch Diocese of North America, in which position BishopAlexander continues to serve to this day. Your grace, thank you for doingthis interview. Thank you for this as your grace, would you describe forour listeners your perception of the ethos of the assembly of Bishops? What wereyour impressions? How did it feel? While the first meeting in New Yorkwas was wonderful, I thought it was a very nice meeting. We hadnever met all these bishops. What I thought my impressions were? It's thatthe best thing for the meeting was that we all got together, we gotto meet each other, we got to speak to each other facetoface and toknow each other, and at that point in time I thought that if thisassembly accomplished anything, it would be to...

...bring us all together. So thiswas my impression that meeting your Greece, did you find yourself able to haveconversations with bishops that you had not previously met before, and it makes somecontacts that are abiding? Yes, not a whole lot, but but yes, I mean gradually. You know, if we keep on meeting and we'llget to know each other more and more and see each other, then youcan build a relationship in some trust. Your grace, would you share withus what your understanding of the mandate from the mother churches is for the existenceof the assembly what is exactly happening? Well, as you know, Ihaven't been a bishop very long, so I wasn't involved in Scoba and thenwe got this mandate that, after a meeting in Switzerland, we were supposedto there's a whole new, I suppose, organization or if you want to callit that. You know, of the bishops and in the Diaspora andthat the mother churches wanted us all to meet. And so I don't knowmuch about what went on in Geneva. I had the that information that wastransmitted to us, but I understood that we would all mandated more or less. And when we were at our first meeting there were some bishops there thatthey just came to attend the meeting because they were mandated. But what waspositing was that many of them that not may have a commitment to the assemblyand the work of the assembly. So they were just there but with nocommitment, or I would say pre commitment, to what the assembly would accomplish.And did you have any sense of that changing over the last several years? Do you feel like that? Well, we only had one meeting after NewYork and I'm not sure that changed. I don't know but the second meetingwas not as exciting as the first meeting. Let me that's my feeling. We will find out more of the commitment. Will find it. Willfind out. Yeah, as your grace, your perception of the work of theAssembly, would you share with us what do you think is the mostimportant reason for the assembly's existence? Is the most important work? I'm notclear on what the assembly wants to accomplish, to be honest with you. Forme, just being with the bishops and meeting these bishops and forming relationshipsand was good enough at the time. But if, if there's a,if there's a another you know, like...

...objective for the assembly, I thinkit should be accomplished soon. Because you know, when you when you keepmeeting like this and slow progress, and I understand everything is slow and thechurch and all that, you use a you do sight of what you wantat the end and people get tired of you. You know, we goto these meetings and nothing happens. Why should we go anymore? So onand so forth. And so is it your is your sense and that theleadership of something really has an articulated it's reason for existence? Clearly enough.Yet when my understanding is that the they want the churches of North America todetermine what they want. This is what I understood, that we were supposedto meet and form these the committees and we are to communicate to the motherchurches of what we want in North America. That's my understanding. So, andI said, anybody has, you know, anybody as any idea ofwhat we want, and nobody has an idea of what we want. SoI would say that we should form an opinion very quickly of what we want. Perhaps that will happen in the upcoming meetings. I hope so, andin September. Yes, your grace, what is the greatest obstacle to thesuccess of the assembly articulating itself like this? If the greatest goal is to isto make your desires as bishops for the state of the Church in NorthAmerica clear to the mother churches, what would be the greatest obstacle to keepthat from happening? The mother church is not letting go. I think thatwould be the I mean if there is a clear, honest objective or mandateof what they want us to do. I mean they should have, Ithought that they would have an idea of what the mother church, that is, of what they want from the assembly. If they do and it hasn't beencommunicated to us, that's one thing. If they don't and then we reachan objective and they don't accept it, and then then the should there willbe a problem. I mean in the sense that we've gone and metand other than the fact that we get to know each other, then wewould have accomplished anything. Sure. So for right now, from the motherchurches itself, you haven't sense that there has been a clear expectation set outto the bishops of the the US well, from the Church of antiall. No, nothing. I can only speak about the PAT archet or anything also. So I'm nothing has been communicated from the Patriarchate to us as to whatwe want, or we were just talk to go a grace. How muchyour own personal ambitions, do you have much hope that the assembly could affectsomething good? Much? I don't know. I have hope, but I likeI don't just told you I think it should happen sooner. I thinkwe've waited a long time and if and...

...people are waiting, people are watchingand people are hopeful about this assembly. Every time we have a meeting.I get letters from different groups and different people, you know, praying forus. So people want something from a disassembly and if this assembly doesn't accomplishsomething then we would have disappointed the people and without the people we don't havea church. Will spoken. Well spoken. So I hope something happens very soonand the assembly if we got to drag on meeting and and committees meeting, and we all know, and I worked in the business world, weknow, that meetings don't go anywhere. Yeah, your grace, you serveon one of the thirteen committees of the assembly, on the Committee for recommendicalrelations. Yes, would you tell us a little bit about what your roleis on that committee? What's that committy all about? Well, to behonest with you, that was my third choice on the list and I wasput on this Committ Committee and it took a while for us to communicate orto meet, because my understanding was that the metropolitan of Pittsburgh, maximums yes, was supposed to convene the committee and then he was not able to forbecause of the several reasons. Then bishop with Mutrio Demetrios from Chicago called meand in April and we were supposed to meet in May. They met.Unfortunately I got sick and I wasn't able to drive to Boston to meet withthem and I'm I don't really know what happened there. I don't have aclear idea about what happened there. That's the story. If you have asense that the committee is functioning and working one. I've only had one meetingand I I don't really know. I mean, I don't know what theexpectations for that committee are. I haven't had much before with a cumenical dialogor but I do come from a country that has many religions, absolutely andwe've lived with these each other with dolerance. So so you bring personal experience.I yeah, it's a unique in a more or less I would say, and a positive experience. Your grace, you mentioned a few minutes ago thatyou've received letters and lots of communications from clergy and Laity and organizations expressingprayer for you and for the success of the assembly. Why should the clergyand lady actively support the Assembly and how? What can the priests do, whatcan the Laity do to help the bishops come together and form the solsition? Well, one thing they can pray...

...for the assembly and for the bishops. What should they pray? What should they pray? Pray for unity,a spirit of cooperation, a spirit for us to say, send our owninterests for the interests of the Church and spreading the message of Jesus Christ inthis in this land. There's a lot we can pray for. Okay,for us to reach a decision, for us to have better communication and ifthe clergy and the people support this at the bishop goes back. I mean, of course, unfortunately, we have lost the sense of where the churchis. The people. Now it's the church is the mother church us inand they with they ment, like you be what you said before. Whatwas their mandate? And in fact, in the old days it used tobe the people that mandated and not the hierarchy. So if the people mandate, and hopefully the hierarchy would read with hear the voices of the people cryingout for change and for improvement. Not that there's anything wrong with how weare right now, but there's always room for improvement. Sure then perhaps thehierarchy would listen to what the people and the clergy what the Church itself is, the Church speaking. Your grace, do you feel that the people andthe and the clergy are are communicating and crying out to the bishops? Idon't think as much as they should. I think each priest and each communityis busy with itself and with their own issues and all problems, you know, local that at the I think a lot of our communities have lost sightof what they want, what what, what the church should be in thiscountry. Will preoccupied with daily life and tidy life in the church, dailylife and our lives. You know. So. And then there's this ethnicitybusiness. You know, the question of ethnicity, and talk to us aboutthat. How do you see that that's Toff, especially there's continuous immigration fromthe mother lands, that it's hard to lose this ethnicity we have? It'sthe biggest dilemma which language to have the liturgy, and you have people stillcoming from the Middle East. I speak of our own churches and they comeand they want there, you know, there to hear the liturgy and theirmother tongue. And what we don't feel anything, you know, for herethan English. But when we hear it and how big, you know,it speaks to us, it speaks to our hearts and we always have this, but at the same time we have all these young people who don't understandthe liturgy and there's this gap and this dilemma of what do you want todo? What should we do? We don't want to lose people at thesame time, you know, we don't want to anger people who are,you know, just arrived and they want to feel this connection still to theso it's really a it's a big puzzle.

And in our in our world,your grace, the Antiochian world, in your world, is that agrowing problem, a lessoning problem? What's the immigration stream like? Well,I can talk about Canada, and the immigration is unfortunately alive, especially withwhat's happening right now in the Middle East. You have a lot of immigration actually, and we have like, for example, Attic Montreal. We havethree churches. Two of them were known to be English churches for the immigrantsthat came in the end of the Nineteen Century earlier twentieth century, and thosechurches are having to do some Arabic now accommodate some of the immigrants. Andwe have one church that that would have everything in Arabic because it was whatis known as new immigration. That was in the early s and the lateS, that is nineteen s and nineteen N s. That was doing Arabic, and now we're encouraging the church to do more in French, because theyoung people don't understand the ATRABIC of the church and they can't read. Thata big you know. So then they all that. The older people getupset. They want to hear friends. So it's I don't know how toyou can never please anybody. Goodness, if you took take these factors allinto account here race and you look to the future, yes, maybe tenyears or twenty years, what can you imagine the church looking like in Earth? Could you envision that these various Orthodox from various countries will come some later, some sooner, could actually form a common church, common North American church? I think they can, at least if the administration of the church isunited, if we're under one administration in North America, whether it's an archbishopand metropolitan or a patriarch, whatever it is, with tolerance for the differentethnic groups, because unfortunately the immigration is not going to stop right now,whether it's from Eastern Europe, whether it's from the Middle East or other area, other areas. I think what's most important is is that the administration ofthe church is united and and effectively moved towards a united orth folks church.And this is why you have all these committees of the liturgy and all that. Because you know, you you have among the antioken churches, one priestdoes one thing, another priest as something different. Then you go down thestreet to the great, Great Church and then they do things different. Thenyou go down the street to the Russian church and they do things differently.And if we're going to attract people from,... know, natives or other fromthis land, they're gonna get confused. And you, you yourself, wouldknow how confusing yours to have all these traditions. So you do seethat possibility of this taking place, which you see it really as a decisionthat the bishops need to make to unite? Yes, definitely it can happen.I think if the bishops are willing for it to happen, if wetranscend our ethnic, I would say, necessities, or our ethnic back whateveryou want, going forth is, you know, our ethnic identity, towardsa common worth folks church in North America, I think it can happen. But, like we say, all in good time and God's time. Actually, can I ask you about that, about God's time? I'm interested.What? What? Why? Should know about God's stuff? I'm trying todeserve that your grace. I really am. I forgive me for for throwing thisthought. It's just a thought for your judgment about God's time, becauseI hear this a lot and you know we've been interviewing the Bishous for sometime, for a year now. You're the twenty first bishop to make aninterview about these questions and many of the bishops have have said something like thatthat you know we have to temper our expectations and are our wishes, ofcourse, according to God's will. And so here's my thought. My thoughtis that this has nothing to do with God's will, that God's will isthat the church be united, and then, if we're going to followup his will, we should have been united a very long time ago, because hehas made clear the canonical structure of the church, which we are violating inour practice by having all these bishops on top of each other in different cities. So can we really say, this is my question to you. You'rethe judge. Can we really saying God's will or should we say that reallyis, I said, in God's time, or could we see it think God'stime, or could we say it's the bishops time, the God's time? Can you force a teenager to become an adult, or can you forcea child to become a teenager or an adult? They have to take theirtime to grow and make sure, and the same thing has to happen hereto this church. There are a lot of, probably bishops and clergy andDeity, who have not matured in the fact that we have to leave ourethnic identity or not leave it, rather than just put it on the sidefor the for the common good. So we have two mature in this.If we cannot mature in this, then whatever we do might end up beinga failure if we have to do it and the Bishop's die. So ifGod is controls everything, then God will let us know when he thinks thatthis is good time for us to do this. Okay, that's my takeon it. Okay, you might disagree, but that's not that's your you're verygracious to allow me to have to...

...take you down that road. Yourgrace and thank you for the comments. Is there anything that you'd like tosay in closing to our listeners. You're right. Well, I think theywhatever we need to achieve in this assembly has to be achieved with the spiritof humility. I think every single bishop, from the archbishop down to Metropolitans,to the bishops, if they're not approaching this assembly and its objective withhumility and a willingness to communicate and cooperate with each other, then none ofthis will happen. I think humility with is the ground for for our workin this assembly and if we're not going to be willing to speak to eachother, I'm going to think I'm better than the other person, then we'renot going to get anywhere. So beautiful. Thank you your grace for making atime for this interview. Certainly I know it took a long time,but very grank you for your patience your prayers. You've been listening to conversationswith our bishops, hierarchical interviews on the nature and work of the assembly ofBishops. Until next time,.

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