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My Uncle, His Eminence Metropolitan Philip, of Thrice-Blessed Memory

By Leslie Saliba Nasr

It's been one year since my uncle, Metropolitan Philip of thrice-blessed memory, passed away. A year ago, we remembered him in ceremonies and in speeches, and we celebrated the achievements of his life. I listened to every word that was spoken, as if remembering him intensely and intently would bring him closer. So much was said, and yet so much was left to say.

My uncle loved living. Most of all, he enjoyed engaging with you. He loved serving you, as he did tirelessly until the day that he died. Metropolitan Philip valued work and he sought its rewards. He appreciated other people's work, and he held everyone to a high standard, no matter their role. If you had an education, you had to use it. If you had an ability, you had to apply it. He never saw the mountain's peak; he saw its height, and he kept climbing, inspiring, challenging, building, and giving his best along the way.

Metropolitan Philip loved life in ways big and small. He loved the ocean. He would say that he loved to feel its power. He loved a glorious summer day. He loved to swim, and he always challenged me to swim more laps. He didn't like it if I didn't want to try. He liked football and carrot cake. He liked Christmas carols and all kinds of music. Celebrating the holidays with him was always joyful, because he truly was. He loved his family and he was always there for us.

He was sensitive. He could relate to us because he lived life through his own experiences. There were times when he was lonely. As a young man, he studied in London, away from his family, with very little in his pocket. He would go to the museum and stand in awe in front of El Greco's Purification of the Temple. It moved him. He was a restless young man who dreamed of doing great things. He related to people through the lens of his experience, through the lines of literature, through the brushstrokes of art and through the teachings of the church. He was a complete person, armed with the knowledge of the faith and blessed with the ability to impart it.

I was fortunate enough to have spent time with him just before his last devastating heart attack. He was as intellectually rigorous as ever. He explained to me the history of Russia's involvement in the Crimean peninsula, and his then recent decision to make Holy Unction a sacrament to be administered solely by the clergy. He was preparing for my father's visit to put the finishing touches on a project that they were working on. He was seeking the return of our bishops in Syria. He had been advocating on behalf of our kidnapped nuns. In short, he was working and praying for peace until his last breath, which I witnessed, on March 19th, 2014.

The process of grieving is tumultuous, indeed. I think of him every day. I close my eyes and remember his advice or the comfort of being in his presence. I remember the Christmases of my childhood, immersed in the spirit of the church which was incarnated in the man that I knew as my uncle, my godfather and my best friend. I remind myself every day that he is always with me and my family. I keep one of his books by my bed. We read poetry together from it once. He liked this poem when I read it aloud and so I will share it with you today. It's by Pablo Neruda and its translation in English is as follows:

I Will Come Back
Some time, man or woman, traveller,
afterwards, when I am not alive,
look here, look for me here,
between the stones and the ocean,
in the light storming
in the foam.
Look here, look for me here,
for here is where I shall come, saying nothing,
no voice, no mouth, pure,
here I shall be again the movement
of the water, of
its wild heart,
here I shall be both lost and found -
here I shall be perhaps both stone and silence.