AOCC History

The need for a truthful history

Many articles have been written about this Church but most contain errors. This article details the truth.

Many of the ethnic attempt to re-write history such as Fr. Serafim Surrency's book, The Quest for Orthodox Church Unity in America (1973) which offers its own version or account of the formation of the American Church "THEOCACNA" and includes numerous false claims as shown below. It also documents actions taken by the ethnic churches as well as a failure to act (tribunal) that violated the canons. Most of this false informaton was found on the site (A/K/A Wikipedia) about this Church. Their copyright page seems to allow fair use of their published information but is confusing in regards to some issues such as their change from cc to gfdl etc.

It should be noted that the general attempts of writing the history of this Church by orthodox from other jurisdictions has mainly been one sided to favor the other jurisdiction. Our history is on this website (domain) and has a Registered Copyright. Since we are legally and morally who we claim we are the others must exercise their writings of false history and changes to history to what they want people to believe and as often stated "what this author believed" or "what must have been in his mind..." to make history what they want to favor their Church which in their mind gives them authority where no true authority ever existed.

It appears this work is by (or at least he is one of the editors of the pages about this Church) a student at the Orthodox seminary and member of the Antiochian clergy. He has made some claims in an email and objects to our use of some of this material yet he has violated our (registered) copyrighted material on these same pages. The problem here is we have a member of the Antiochian Church clergy telling us he owns a copyright on a site that allows you to use their material and he demands we remove "his" property. The material does not clearly show a copyright notice and since we have registered copyrights we asked the Paralegal who is looking into this. Anyone can claim ownership of a copyright but if the material has been published at all w/o a copyright notice, according to information we received, no copyright exists and this material has been published w/o a prominently displayed copyright notice. To avoid any legal problems we have decided to obtain a legal opinion of our position and use of material from these sites before we decide on how to resolve this matter.

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The Beginning

On Feb. 2, 1927 this Church was Chartered by the Russian Synod of Bishops in North America. The canonical American Orthodox Church had the blessing of the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church and with the hope that world Orthodoxy would recognize the legitimacy of the new body. The initiative for this attempt belonged to Bishop Aftimios (Ofiesh) of Brooklyn and a member of the Council of Bishops in his capacity as Diocesan for the Syrians (Arabs) which acknowledged the authority of the Russian Church.

In this project, Aftimios had the assistance of two American-born Orthodox clerics who had been ordained to the priesthood in the early 1920s, Hieromonk Boris (Burden) and Priest Michael Gelsinger. Both men were particularly concerned about the loss of Orthodox young people to the Roman Catholic and Episcopal churches in the US the Episcopal Church was of special concern, as it was a liturgical church in some ways similar to Orthodoxy and generally enjoyed a special status of prestige in American society.

At the outset, the new venture appeared quite successful within the space of only four years, with the support of the synod of the Russian Metropolia, four bishops were consecrated and an impressive charter was granted from said synod, titled An Act of the Synod of Bishops in the American Dioceses of the Russian Orthodox Church.

The charter itself referencing the authority of a letter from Metr. Sergius locum tenens of the Patriarchate of Moscow indicated that autonomous Orthodox churches could be founded outside Russia granted to the new church body the full name The Holy Eastern Orthodox Catholic and Apostolic Church in North America, with The American Orthodox Catholic Church as its "short name."

Part of the Charter

We hereby, on this 2nd day of February (new Style) in the year 1927, charge one of our number, His Eminence the Most Reverend Aftimios, Archbishop of Brooklyn, with the full responsibility and duty of caring and providing for American Orthodoxy in the special sense of Orthodox Catholic people born in America and primarily English speaking or any American residents or parishes of whatever nationality or linguistic character or derivation not satisfactorily provided with proper and canonical Orthodox Catholic care, ecclesiastical authority, teaching and ministrations of the Church or who may wish to attach themselves by the properly and legally provided means to an autonomous, independent, American Orthodox Catholic Church.... a distinct, independent, and autonomous branch of the Orthodox Catholic Church...

Read the Charter in full by clicking the link higher up on this page.

Signed by the entire Metropolia synod at the time Metr. Platon, Aftimios, Theophilus, Amphilohy, Arseny, and Alexy it further named Aftimios as the primate of the new church and elected and gave order for "the Consecration of the Very Reverend Leonid Turkevitch to be Bishop in the newly founded [church]... as assistant to its Governing Head...". Fr. Leonid eventually did get consecrated to the episcopacy, though not in the new church body, and is better known as Metr. Leonty (Turkevich) of New York, primate of the Russian Metropolia. His refusal at the time was based mainly on a "press of family obligations" which led to his insistence on "a specific stipulated salary which could not be met". To replace Fr. Leonid as the first assistant to Aftimios, Platon chose Archimandrite Emmanuel (Abo-Hatab), who was consecrated on September 11, 1927, by Aftimios, assisted by Theophilus and Arseny.

The constitution which was drawn up for the church by the Metropolia is twenty-eight pages long and quite detailed, indicating a great deal of thought went into its drafting. Though it was dated December 1 of 1927.

The following should be noted:

From Article III: "This Church is autocephalous and autonomous in its authority in the same sense and to the same extent as are the Orthodox Patriarchates of the East and the Autocephalous Orthodox Churches now existing."

From Article IV: "This Church has original and primary jurisdiction in its own name and right over all Orthodox Catholic Christians of the Eastern Churches and Rite residing or visiting in the United States, and Alaska and the other territories of the United States, in Canada, Mexico, and all North America".

It has been stated that to anyone knowledgeable in Canon Law, these two sections just quoted are absurd. But this again is another attempt to re-write Church history since the Russian Bishops under Metr. Platon did in fact have authority to set up an autocephalous Church. It has also been suggested that Metr. Platon and his Bishops should have subordinated themselves to the new Head of the North American Church, Archbishop Aftimios, due to the communism in the homeland. It is believed this broad action was taken in an effort to protect the Church in the New World (America) from the communist in Russia.

To further worsen matters, in 1928, Archbishop Victor (Abo-Assaley) was sent to America by the Church of Antioch and then began to encourage Orthodox Arabs to come under Antiochian jurisdiction rather than that of the Russians or the new American church. He did not, however, make much headway in his endeavours. In the same year, Aftimios and his group mainly focussed on the establishment of their church's legal status and had some initial success. On May 26, another bishop was consecrated, Sophronius (Beshara) as bishop of Los Angeles, given responsibility "not only for the parishes who still considered themselves within the jurisdiction of the Russian Mission but also those parishes who comprise a part of the new Church and as a Missionary Bishop as well he was responsible for all territory west of the Mississippi River".

With three Bishops the fledgling Church would appear to have achieved a solid foundation but such was not the case. It became more and more apparent that Metr. Platon had changed his mind about the wisdom of establishing an American Orthodox Catholic Church. Not only were some of his Episcopalian allies against the new venture but it was increasingly clear that no recognition for the new Church would be forthcoming from any Autocephalous Church. In any case it has been stated that Metr. Platon categorically forbade Archpriest Leonid Turkevitch to accept consecration in the new Church.

Early in 1929, Aftimios attempted to gain support with the Greek archbishop Alexander (Demoglou), the first primate of the newly formed Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America. The [Greek] archbishop's response was that he had authority over not only all the Greek Orthodox in America but over all Orthodox Christians in America. There is no canonical authority for such a claim They were apparently "vexed over the fact that the Reverend Demetrius Cassis, an American of Greek parentage, had been ordained by Abp Aftimios for the new American Church".

Aftimios no doubt had in mind as he wrote such a letter that Platon had, at least in writing, already given him authority over all English speaking" Orthodox Christians in North America. Aftimios's denunciation of Platon's authority had "little or no effect" in the Russian parishes and on their clergy; "presumably they knew of the 1924 Ukaz of Patriarch Tikhon suspending Platon but specifying that he was to continue to rule the Archdiocese until such time as a Bishop was sent to relieve him". The announcement also had a negative effect on some members of the American Orthodox Catholic Church, as well, because two weeks after its being made public, Bp. Emmanuel (Abo-Hatab) requested canonical release from Aftimios and then went over to Platon and with his direction tried to bring Syrian parishes away from Aftimios and back under the Metropolia. This shows the uncanonical attitude of Bp. Emmanuel and others and appears to have been an attempt to uncanonically withdraw the Charter and authority after the fact.

Deserted by the Russian Bishops under Metr. Platon (another canonical no-no), with two rival Syrian Bishops, we find Abp Aftimios appealing to the successor of Greek Archbishop Alexander, Archbishop Damaskinos "as the special Representative and Exarch of the Ecumenical Throne of Constantinople" in view of the "present chaotic and helpless state of the Church of Russia" that the "Holy Great Church which you represent" could "bring about a united and disciplined Orthodoxy in America for greater and more profit to Orthodoxy than any other settlment of the Hellenic divisions in this country".

At nearly the same time (October of 1930), Aftimios sent a letter to his clergy indicating they were to keep their distance from Bp. Germanos (Shehadi) of Zahle, who had come from Antioch (without its authorization) mainly to attempt to gather funds from Arabic Orthodox parishes but had also worked at encouraging such parishes to come under Antioch's jurisdiction. While in America, he also accepted, without the canonically required letters, under his omophorionone Archpriest Basil Kherbawi, "one of the most zealous and loyal priests of the Syrian Mission of the Russian jurisdiction who had been "suspended" by Abp Aftimios.

In 1932, by a decision of a New York State court, Contrary to the Canons Aftimios's cathedral was taken from him and given over to the Metropolia, as its charter stated that it could only be used by a hierarch subject to the authority of the Russian church. Nevertheless, Aftimios consecrated two more bishops, Ignatius (W.A.) Nichols (a former Episcopal cleric who had become an Old Catholic and Joseph (Zuk) for the Ukrainians, who had the allegiance of perhaps a half dozen such parishes.

NOTE: By taking such action in Court they again violated the Canons.

Armed with new bishops at his side but probably quite discouraged over the state of his jurisdiction both internally and externally, Aftimios then made the decision that altered Orthodox Church history and tradition:

...on the 29th of April 1933 Abp Aftimios, in contrary to Orthodox Tradition married in a civil ceremony (not recognized by the church) to a young Evangelical Syrian born in America and despite the efforts of concerned parties, he refused to resign as Archbishop of the new Church. His action did not violate Holy Scripture and as reported in the newspapers stated "God told him to marry". Since no tribunal was ever called over his marriage and he remained a married bishop for over 33 years it would appear the Church tradition reverted to the early Orthodox Church tradition in the old world.

The three bishops under Archbishop Ofiesh voiced their support of Aftimios's marriage, stating that "inasmuch as it is merely a Canon of the European and Asiatic branches of the Holy Eastern Orthodox Church, that a Bishop should not be married, such has no valid weight on the American Church where conditions are dramatically opposite and therefore the North American Holy Synod congratulates His Eminence on the moral courage in the step he has taken".

When rumors surfaced that the bishops attempted to overthrow Archbishop Aftimios Bp. Joseph denied the rumors. He was already a sick man (and died on the 23rd of February 1934)". Ignatius then left the Church and got married in June of 1933 and became a pastor of a small Congegational Church in Middle Springs, Vermont, but not before starting multiple small religious bodies [without any mandate or authority from this Church], many of whom claim "Apostolic succession" from him.

Burial place of St. Raphael of Brooklyn, Bp. Emmanuel (Abo-Hatab), and Bp. Sophronius (Beshara), Antiochian Village

The only bishop, aside from Abp. Aftimios, left to the American Orthodox Catholic Church was Sophronius (Beshara).

Emmanuel died on May 29, 1933, being buried by Platon (his gravestone reads May 30).

Some like to claim that Sophronius acted contrary to the canons and tried to remove and suspended Aftimios in October (1933) and depose Ignatius in November. This is false.

The Holy Eastern Orthodox Catholic and Apostolic Church in North America continues today under its own name and the leadership of the North American Holy Synod. In 2003 the Synod voted this Church to be the "American Orthodox Patriarchate".

Sophronius, according to many, died in 1934 in New York but some again try to rewrite Church history and claim the church no longer exists and that Sophronius died in Los Angeles and that he died in 1940. (The date of his has been reported as 1934, though his gravestone reads 1940.) He is now buried at the Antiochian Village in Pennsylvania alongside St. Raphael of Brooklyn and Emmanuel (Abo-Hatab).

It would be most unjust to blame the failure of the "Holy Eastern Orthodox Catholic and Apostolic Church in North America" solely or even primarily on Protestant Episcopal opposition. The various Orthodox groups in America at that time simply were not ready in terms of church consciousness for the establishment of an American Orthodox Church. They also treated the Clergy and members of this Church as unorthodox and in general turned their backs on this Church. The only reason believed for this was the greed of the individual church organizations and clergy. The wealth in America enticed them to violate the canons and to set up various ethnic parishes with bishops sharing a See in the same cities (contrary to Canons).

Aftimios Ofiesh lived quietly with his wife Mariam Namey Ofiesh, fathering a son named Paul. After living in Wilkes-Barre and New Castle, towns in eastern Pennsylvania, the Ofiesh family finally settled in Kingston (near Wilkes-Barre). In 1937 he was asked by parishioners in Allentown to return to active leadership in the Orthodox Church and made an effort. He continued to dress as a bishop and was busy with the many unofficial visits he received from clergy over the years. He died in Kingston on July 24, 1966, a few months before his 86th birthday, leaving instructions that he should be buried quietly without any orthodox clergy.

In 1995, A new synod was established for "The Holy Eastern Orthodox Catholic and Apostolic Church in North America" (THEOCACNA) and the locum tenens turned the Church authority over to this new synod. Mariam Namey Ofiesh was one of the members of the board of trustees. The Synod has since declared itself successively a Metropolitanate (1997) and then a Patriarchate (2003).

This synod has had some rough times because of its lack of ties with the old world Churches. The clergy have shared the altar with some SCOBA clergy and they have a letter that recognizes their sacramental authority to offer Holy Communion to Roman Catholics. In 1999 it suffered a minor internal schism when three of its bishops broke from it and claimed the name for themselves. In the same year, Mrs. Ofiesh retired from the board and has since departed this life (2000).

Since the ethnic Orthodox appear to no longer view the Canons as Sacred and Divine and have allowed priests to marry after ordination it appears the marriage of Abp. Aftimios should be acceptable. Remember Bishops were married in the early Church and the canons must consider it permissable since one canon comes to mind that states a bishop may not put away his wife... Holy Scripture states that a Bishop shall be the husband of one wife.

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Corrections to false reports
and Facts that can be proven

The Russian Synod could not legally, canonically or morally close this Church after we were Chartered so they turned their back on this Church to make its existance doubtful.

Sophronius was a true Orthodox Bishop and did not attempt to remove any of the bishops of this Church. To act alone against another bishop would have violated the Canons.

Aftimios wanted to be called before a "Tribunal" but never was.

It was reported in the newspaper that Abp. Aftimios stated "God told him to marry" and this was never disproved since the tribunal was never assembled.

Since no tribunal was ever called, because the orthodox leaders were in violation of canons [before Abp. Aftimios married], a new american tradition was established.

Aftimios remained the presiding Archbishop of this Church until his death. He did not resign and was not removed from office.

Ignatius was never removed from office either. He did leave the Church as did Bp. Joseph.

Some in the Independent Movement claim Abp. Aftimios to be a saint. We do not.

The "Living Church" mentioned above also came to a standstill after a few years. The surviving clergy of that Church contacted THEOCACNA and after about a years discussion merged with THEOCACNA and took the THEOCACNA name. The reasons were mainly due to claims by some in the independent movement to be the "continuation" of that Church and a fear some might attempt to take over the Church. The clergy were old, some had already gone back overseas while others were wanting to retire. Their membership had also dwindled to a few elderly followers.

Please remember that we are the only canonical Orthodox Church in North America acting within our rightful jurisdiction, with full sacramental authority.

We can document that the ethnic orthodox, from the Ecumenical Patriarch, refuse to uphold and support the Sacred and Divine canons unless it benefits them. They prefer to use the canons against other Orthodox churches and clergy when it suits them.

Copyright - 2010 Victor Prentice
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