The Arena
The Arena

Episode · 10 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 Canonical Orthodox 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 conversations with our bishops, hierarchical interviews on the nature and work of the assembly of Bishops, and now the interview. It is a joy and an honor to be able to sit with an interview his Grace Bishop Alexander Today, and your grace, 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 and then 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 he graduated 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 nineteen eighty one to nineteen eighty five with an importer in Lebanon and then, following nineteen eighty five, he return into the United States, where he worked for quite a number of years in the same fields of work before he felt the call to the Sacred Ministry and obtain the blessing to attend seminary. He attended seminary 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 of the year two thousand and assigned to the pastorate of St Mary's Church in Hunt Valley, 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 thousand and four by his beatitude, Patriarch ignacious, the Fourth of Antioch and All the East, in the Patriarchal Cathedral in Damascus and was enthroned as the first. They also send Bishop of Ottawa, Eastern Canada, and upstate New York for the Antiochan Orthodox Christian Arch Diocese of North America, in which position Bishop Alexander continues to serve to this day. Your grace, thank you for doing this interview. Thank you for this as your grace, would you describe for our listeners your perception of the ethos of the assembly of Bishops? What were your impressions? How did it feel? While the first meeting in New York was was wonderful, I thought it was a very nice meeting. We had never met all these bishops. What I thought my impressions were? It's that the best thing for the meeting was that we all got together, we got to meet each other, we got to speak to each other facetoface and to know each other, and at that point in time I thought that if this assembly accomplished anything, it would be to...

...bring us all together. So this was my impression that meeting your Greece, did you find yourself able to have conversations with bishops that you had not previously met before, and it makes some contacts that are abiding? Yes, not a whole lot, but but yes, I mean gradually. You know, if we keep on meeting and we'll get to know each other more and more and see each other, then you can build a relationship in some trust. Your grace, would you share with us what your understanding of the mandate from the mother churches is for the existence of the assembly what is exactly happening? Well, as you know, I haven't been a bishop very long, so I wasn't involved in Scoba and then we got this mandate that, after a meeting in Switzerland, we were supposed to there's a whole new, I suppose, organization or if you want to call it that. You know, of the bishops and in the Diaspora and that the mother churches wanted us all to meet. And so I don't know much about what went on in Geneva. I had the that information that was transmitted 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 that they just came to attend the meeting because they were mandated. But what was positing was that many of them that not may have a commitment to the assembly and the work of the assembly. So they were just there but with no commitment, 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 New York and I'm not sure that changed. I don't know but the second meeting was not as exciting as the first meeting. Let me that's my feeling. We will find out more of the commitment. Will find it. Will find out. Yeah, as your grace, your perception of the work of the Assembly, would you share with us what do you think is the most important reason for the assembly's existence? Is the most important work? I'm not clear on what the assembly wants to accomplish, to be honest with you. For me, just being with the bishops and meeting these bishops and forming relationships and 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 think it should be accomplished soon. Because you know, when you when you keep meeting like this and slow progress, and I understand everything is slow and the church and all that, you use a you do sight of what you want at the end and people get tired of you. You know, we go to these meetings and nothing happens. Why should we go anymore? So on and so forth. And so is it your is your sense and that the leadership 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 to determine what they want. This is what I understood, that we were supposed to meet and form these the committees and we are to communicate to the mother churches of what we want in North America. That's my understanding. So, and I said, anybody has, you know, anybody as any idea of what we want, and nobody has an idea of what we want. So I 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, and in September. Yes, your grace, what is the greatest obstacle to the success of the assembly articulating itself like this? If the greatest goal is to is to make your desires as bishops for the state of the Church in North America clear to the mother churches, what would be the greatest obstacle to keep that from happening? The mother church is not letting go. I think that would be the I mean if there is a clear, honest objective or mandate of what they want us to do. I mean they should have, I thought 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 been communicated to us, that's one thing. If they don't and then we reach an objective and they don't accept it, and then then the should there will be a problem. I mean in the sense that we've gone and met and other than the fact that we get to know each other, then we would have accomplished anything. Sure. So for right now, from the mother churches itself, you haven't sense that there has been a clear expectation set out to 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 what we want, or we were just talk to go a grace. How much your own personal ambitions, do you have much hope that the assembly could affect something good? Much? I don't know. I have hope, but I like I don't just told you I think it should happen sooner. I think we've waited a long time and if and...

...people are waiting, people are watching and people are hopeful about this assembly. Every time we have a meeting. I get letters from different groups and different people, you know, praying for us. So people want something from a disassembly and if this assembly doesn't accomplish something then we would have disappointed the people and without the people we don't have a church. Will spoken. Well spoken. So I hope something happens very soon and the assembly if we got to drag on meeting and and committees meeting, and we all know, and I worked in the business world, we know, that meetings don't go anywhere. Yeah, your grace, you serve on one of the thirteen committees of the assembly, on the Committee for recommendical relations. Yes, would you tell us a little bit about what your role is on that committee? What's that committy all about? Well, to be honest with you, that was my third choice on the list and I was put on this Committ Committee and it took a while for us to communicate or to 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 for because of the several reasons. Then bishop with Mutrio Demetrios from Chicago called me and 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 with them and I'm I don't really know what happened there. I don't have a clear idea about what happened there. That's the story. If you have a sense that the committee is functioning and working one. I've only had one meeting and I I don't really know. I mean, I don't know what the expectations for that committee are. I haven't had much before with a cumenical dialog or but I do come from a country that has many religions, absolutely and we'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 that you've received letters and lots of communications from clergy and Laity and organizations expressing prayer for you and for the success of the assembly. Why should the clergy and lady actively support the Assembly and how? What can the priests do, what can 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 own interests for the interests of the Church and spreading the message of Jesus Christ in this 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 if the clergy and the people support this at the bishop goes back. I mean, of course, unfortunately, we have lost the sense of where the church is. The people. Now it's the church is the mother church us in and they with they ment, like you be what you said before. What was their mandate? And in fact, in the old days it used to be 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 crying out for change and for improvement. Not that there's anything wrong with how we are right now, but there's always room for improvement. Sure then perhaps the hierarchy 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 and the and the clergy are are communicating and crying out to the bishops? I don't think as much as they should. I think each priest and each community is 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 sight of what they want, what what, what the church should be in this country. Will preoccupied with daily life and tidy life in the church, daily life and our lives. You know. So. And then there's this ethnicity business. You know, the question of ethnicity, and talk to us about that. How do you see that that's Toff, especially there's continuous immigration from the mother lands, that it's hard to lose this ethnicity we have? It's the biggest dilemma which language to have the liturgy, and you have people still coming from the Middle East. I speak of our own churches and they come and they want there, you know, there to hear the liturgy and their mother tongue. And what we don't feel anything, you know, for here than 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 understand the liturgy and there's this gap and this dilemma of what do you want to do? What should we do? We don't want to lose people at the same 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 the so 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 a growing problem, a lessoning problem? What's the immigration stream like? Well, I can talk about Canada, and the immigration is unfortunately alive, especially with what's happening right now in the Middle East. You have a lot of immigration actually, and we have like, for example, Attic Montreal. We have three churches. Two of them were known to be English churches for the immigrants that came in the end of the Nineteen Century earlier twentieth century, and those churches are having to do some Arabic now accommodate some of the immigrants. And we have one church that that would have everything in Arabic because it was what is known as new immigration. That was in the early s and the late S, 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 the young people don't understand the ATRABIC of the church and they can't read. That a big you know. So then they all that. The older people get upset. They want to hear friends. So it's I don't know how to you can never please anybody. Goodness, if you took take these factors all into account here race and you look to the future, yes, maybe ten years 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 is united, if we're under one administration in North America, whether it's an archbishop and metropolitan or a patriarch, whatever it is, with tolerance for the different ethnic 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 of the 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 priest does one thing, another priest as something different. Then you go down the street to the great, Great Church and then they do things different. Then you 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 from this land, they're gonna get confused. And you, you yourself, would know how confusing yours to have all these traditions. So you do see that possibility of this taking place, which you see it really as a decision that the bishops need to make to unite? Yes, definitely it can happen. I think if the bishops are willing for it to happen, if we transcend our ethnic, I would say, necessities, or our ethnic back whatever you want, going forth is, you know, our ethnic identity, towards a 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 to deserve that your grace. I really am. I forgive me for for throwing this thought. It's just a thought for your judgment about God's time, because I hear this a lot and you know we've been interviewing the Bishous for some time, for a year now. You're the twenty first bishop to make an interview about these questions and many of the bishops have have said something like that that you know we have to temper our expectations and are our wishes, of course, according to God's will. And so here's my thought. My thought is that this has nothing to do with God's will, that God's will is that 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 he has made clear the canonical structure of the church, which we are violating in our 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're the judge. Can we really saying God's will or should we say that really is, I said, in God's time, or could we see it think God's time, 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 force a child to become a teenager or an adult? They have to take their time to grow and make sure, and the same thing has to happen here to this church. There are a lot of, probably bishops and clergy and Deity, who have not matured in the fact that we have to leave our ethnic identity or not leave it, rather than just put it on the side for 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 being a failure if we have to do it and the Bishop's die. So if God is controls everything, then God will let us know when he thinks that this is good time for us to do this. Okay, that's my take on it. Okay, you might disagree, but that's not that's your you're very gracious to allow me to have to...

...take you down that road. Your grace and thank you for the comments. Is there anything that you'd like to say in closing to our listeners. You're right. Well, I think they whatever we need to achieve in this assembly has to be achieved with the spirit of 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 with humility and a willingness to communicate and cooperate with each other, then none of this will happen. I think humility with is the ground for for our work in this assembly and if we're not going to be willing to speak to each other, I'm going to think I'm better than the other person, then we're not going to get anywhere. So beautiful. Thank you your grace for making a time 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 conversations with our bishops, hierarchical interviews on the nature and work of the assembly of Bishops. Until next time,.

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