Orthodox leader calls for Iraq withdrawal
By Bob Schwarz
The longtime North American leader of an Orthodox Christian church said Saturday
that President Bush shouldn’t have invaded Iraq and should pull American
troops out by next spring.
Metropolitan Philip Saliba, archbishop of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian
Archdiocese of North America the last 40 years, came to Charleston this weekend
to proclaim St. George Orthodox Church a cathedral. Saliba will make the
official proclamation at the morning service today at St. George, where he
spoke with a reporter Saturday.
After growing up in a village in Lebanon, Saliba is one of 20 archbishops
of the Antiochian (Lebanese-Syrian) strand of the Eastern Orthodox rite,
that part of Christianity that broke from the Roman Catholic Church in the
When the 20 Antiochian archbishops gather for a synod in Damascus every few
years, Saliba goes back to Syria and the Middle East for a fresh look.
He doesn’t like what he sees.
“I want our president to play an active and evenhanded role in bringing peace
to that area,” Saliba said. “Unfortunately, his policy has brought a disaster
to our own country and the Middle East.”
Saliba said he opposed the invasion of Iraq from the outset.
“We have many voices against the war today,” he said. “Where were they when
the war started? Where were all the pundits?”
Saliba said he was no defender of ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, but
he didn’t see why Bush wanted to invade Iraq to replace him. “Under the dictatorship
of Saddam, they had a semblance of order,” he said. “Now they have utter
Saliba said the number of young Americans killed so far in Iraq is nearing
3,000, and the number of Iraqis killed since the invasion is 600,000.
(The latter figure is a point of contention. A Johns Hopkins University study
recently pegged the Iraqi death toll at 600,000, while Bush put the figure
at 30,000 last December, and Iraq’s Health Ministry has estimated 50,000
violent deaths through June.)
America’s leaders should pull American soldiers out within six months and
stop the spilling of American and Iraqi blood, Saliba said.
Saliba came to America in his mid-20s, settling in Detroit and attending
Wayne State University, where he graduated in 1958 with a major in history
and a minor in English literature.
He became an Orthodox priest the next year, having begun his theological
studies in 1953 in England. He became archbishop in 1966, presiding over
a network consisting then of 65 parishes.
“I’m not a one-man show anymore,” he said. “Now I have six bishops who help
The 112-year-old archdiocese extends from Miami to Alaska, from New York
to Los Angeles and from Montreal to Beaumont, Texas. The number of parishes
has grown to roughly 250. Saliba directly runs the Diocese of New York and
Washington. His bishops run the other six dioceses.
He said he expects the various national strands of the Eastern Orthodox rite
to someday unite.
“It’s inevitable, but when I don’t know,” he said. “My archdiocese has been
totally committed to this. But we can’t do it by ourselves. We have to convince
the Greeks, Bulgarians, Serbians, Ukrainians, Romanians and others.”
Saliba, 75, has met with most U.S. presidents since Dwight Eisenhower, though
Eisenhower was an ex-president by then. The exceptions are Presidents Nixon
and Kennedy, who “died too soon,” he said.
When Saliba retires or finds the time, he wants to write a book titled, “My
Meetings with Presidents of the United States,” he said.
He had glowing words for the members of the Charleston church.
St. George has contributed more than its share of businessmen, doctors and
professionals to the community, Saliba said. “They made their marks on the
sands of time. I, as their bishop, am proud of them.”
As of today, Bishop Thomas Joseph will preside over a five-state diocese
that has one cathedral here and one in the Oakland district of Pittsburgh.
Besides West Virginia, the diocese covers Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania
To contact staff writer Bob Schwarz, use e-mail or call 348-1249.