Aftimios Ofiesh

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Aftimios Ofiesh

Aftimios Ofiesh (né Abdullah Aftimios Ofiesh, sometimes spelled variously as "Oftimios" and/or "Ofiesch") was an early 20th century Orthodox bishop in America, serving under the auspices of the Church of Russia. He held the title Bishop of Brooklyn from 1917 until April of 1933, when he married, thus deposing himself from the episcopacy. He is perhaps best known in our day as being the source of numerous lines of succession of episcopi vagantes. He died in 1966.


Life

Following the untimely death of St. Raphael of Brooklyn in 1915, Archimandrite Aftimios (Ofiesh) was elected to serve as his replacement in caring for the Arab Orthodox faithful in America under the Church of Russia's canonical authority. He was consecrated by Archbishop Evdokim (Meschersky) as an auxiliary bishop in 1917 with the title of Bishop of Brooklyn. In 1923, in recognition for his work in America, he was elevated by Metropolitan Platon (Rozhdestvensky) of New York to the rank of archbishop.

In 1924, in the canonical chaos of American Orthodoxy following the onset of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, the Arab Orthodox faithful split into two factions, one which wished to go under the canonical authority of the Church of Antioch and another which wished to stay faithful to the Church of Russia. The former group was organized by Bishop Victor (Abu Assaly) of New York, thus beginning the official presence of the Church of Antioch on American soil.

Aftimios in mantiya

In 1927, Aftimios was commissioned by the Russian diocese in America to form an English-speaking "American Orthodox Catholic Church," which, despite Aftimios' leadership and vision, only lasted for six years. During this time, however, Aftimios consecrated two bishops for his new jurisdiction, Sophronios (Bashira) of Los Angeles and Joseph (Zuk) for the Ukrainians. [1] Additionally, 1931 the Society of Clerks Secular of St. Basil, a Western Rite group, was established under the auspices of this diocese.[2]

In 1932, Archbishop Aftimios was invited to come to St. Mary's Syrian Orthodox Church in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, to arbitrate a dispute regarding the transfer of its priest, Fr. Constantine Abou-Adal. When Fr. Constantine left St. Mary's in November of 1932, the parish was without a pastor, and so Archbishop Aftimios served in that capacity until February of 1933, organizing a choir and Sunday School at the parish. During this time, he met and became involved with one of St. Mary's parishioners, Mariam Namey, then subsequently married her in a civil ceremony in April of 1933.[3]

Reports vary at this point as to what happened regarding Aftimios' episcopacy. According to the parish records of St. Mary's, he "was retired" and lived in nearby Kingston until his death in 1966. With the withdrawal of support for the American Orthodox Catholic Church, it lost its canonical status. According to the book Orthodox Christians in North America 1794-1994), however, Aftimios "resigned his episcopacy and married."[4]

One of the groups which now traces itself to Aftimios characterizes the situation differently: "We are not under and do not have a patriarch as head of this Church since the ethnic patriarchal orthodox bodies all turned their backs on this Church and use the marriage of Abp. Aftimios as the reason, although most had already refused to recognize this Church and its authority in the New World."[5]

Whatever the case, relations between the small jurisdiction created by Aftimios and the mainstream Orthodox Church were not regularized following his marriage and de facto deposition from the episcopacy. Since that time, numerous and still multiplying lines of succession of episcopi vagantes continue to persist which all trace their roots to Aftimios, many of whom regard him as a saint. Some of those bishops are married men, as well, which is a continual stumbling block to their unity with the mainstream Church, which has for centuries maintained a celibate episcopacy.

Following his death in 1966 at age 85, Aftimios was buried in Maple Hill Cemetery across from St. Mary's Orthodox Cemetery in Wilkes-Barre. His widow Mariam subsequently wrote his biography, published in 1999.

Sources

Book

  • Mariam Namey Ofiesh, Archbishop Aftimios Ofiesh: A Biography Revealing His Contribution to Orthodoxy and Christendom, (Sun City West, AZ: Abihider Co., 1999) (ISBN 0966090810)

External links

Groups claiming succession from Aftimios Ofiesh