Posts tagged Aftimios Ofiesh
Fr. Ingram Nathaniel Irvine, the great convert priest who was ordained by St. Tikhon in 1905, may well be the most quotable figure in American Orthodox history. You can expect lots of Irvine-related material on this website well into the future, but I thought that today, I might offer some particularly great quotations from the man who was once nicknamed, “The Spurgeon of Brookhaven,” and who, in my opinion, might justifiably be called, “The Prophet of American Orthodoxy.”
On the modern world (1895): “People have to-day lost sight of Scriptural facts and become afraid of the old ritual. [...] I do not care who may criticise me when I say that there cannot be found a more idolatrous age, full of Satanic cunning; an age governed more by loud talk, gold and allurement than by pure Christianity.”
On the Episcopal Church: “The Anglican Church is not the true platform of unity. She is too political and diplomatic, always compromising for expediency and shading like a chameleon to attract each Protestant Sect. [...] She allows her Bishops in some respects to be more papal than the Pope of Rome and she gives to her laymen the casting vote in Doctrine, Discipline and Worship.”
On the Orthodox Church: “It may without controversy be truly said that she is the parent Church of all Christian Churches, whether they be Roman or Anglican or Protestant, and that as such she ought to take her place in every land, in every city, in every hamlet, so that those Churches which have either added to or taken from the Faith of the first seven General Councils [...] may correct their creeds, articles and charts by her original and scriptural standard of ‘the Faith once for all delivered to the Saints.’”
On the teachings of Orthodoxy: “The Holy Eastern Church says just what she means; and means what she says.”
On his conversion the Orthodox Church: “God the Holy Ghost, on the morning of Whitsunday [Pentecost], 1905, in St. Mary’s Church, Philadelphia, in response to the inquiry of my soul, ‘Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?’ commanded me in an irresistible way, ‘Go and work for the Holy Eastern Church.’ And I was obedient unto the voice.”
On prayer: “Heaven, is nearer to us than Boston is to New York. I can speak from New York through a telephone to a friend in Boston. Why not through prayer – God’s own ancient telephone, never out of order – speak with a friend in a nearer place? Heaven is where Christ is present. The spiritual law of Religion surely is as great as the physical law of Science. To doubt it would be folly.”
On St. Tikhon: “To see the Archbishop celebrate at the Liturgy was an inspiration. In every word, act and posture he was perfect, yet unconscious of self because of his reverent and natural spirit.”
On St. Raphael’s death: “We see him now in his true light, great and good, learned, and, yet humble as a little child, a brave champion for the Orthodox Faith, yet filled with love for all mankind.”
On Orthodox unity in America: “Let it be hoped that, at least here in the United States, where children of parents unfriendly to each other in the old world intermarry and love each other, the sons and daughters of all the Orthodox Confederated Churches of Europe, Asia and Africa may realize that in unity of organization there is strength.”
To negligent Syrian parents: “Oh, foolish parent, who hath bewitched you! What demon is it which has blinded your eyes, dulled your understanding and filled you with unnatural love for your children? Do you think that love only means the satisfying of the eye, the ear, the palate and the body? Alas, these are the last to be thought of.”
On translator Isabel Hapgood: “That vixen Miss Hapgood. What a liar – she has damned the Church for years.”
In response to an article by Hapgood: “Our Archbishop was not called by the Holy Ghost to consecrate our Choir Leaders for roving Singing-Bands to help and please new Orthodox churchgoers. Music is a luxury, but the ‘Bread of Life,’ distributed through ‘twenty little new parishes,’ is a necessity.”
On the Old Calendar: “It is a standing protest against the encroachments of Rome on the rights of Christendom and suggests investigation on the part of seekers after Ancient ways and truths amongst Protestants.”
On Freemasonry: “If a Bishop of the Church is a Freemason then every priest had better be a Mason in his Diocese, for otherwise it may follow that a Jew, an Infidel, an Atheist etc. or the lowest saloon keeper, or house of ill fame manager, as a member, would have more influence as a Mason with the Masonic Bishop than the priest who was not a member of the Order.”
On Fr. (later Archbishop) Aftimios Ofiesh: “I will never recognize him as a Bishop. I can not serve God and Mammon in the Episcopate.”
In defense of the use of English: “Here are our thousands of young Orthodox of the parentage of every nationality who are being educated in our public schools and entering into our Mercantile and Professional life. They look upon the language of their parents as only an accomplishment, but not as a medium of either religion, politics or business. Are you and I, as Orthodox going to starve them both soul, mind and body simply because we love too well but not wisely, our mother tongue? I am not fighting for the English language as a tongue. My words would fit any other country with its mother tongue as well as that of North America. I am fighting for a principle and Orthodoxy.”
More on English in the services: “I am convinced that the Russian Holy Orthodox Church in America and every part of the Orthodox Church under her jurisdiction cannot prosper as she and they should unless we use English more freely in her and their services. I venture to say that in the recital of every Liturgy, we ought to have one or more Ektenias, etc. in English and until this is carried into effect we will be losing hundreds of youth as we are now irrespect of claims to the contrary.”
On himself: “From without and within, there may be some who would like to have me brushed aside. Yet be it so, still clearly, fearlessly, loudly but lovingly and respectfully, I proclaim, we need Aggressive Orthodox Catholicity for the Truth’s Sake.”
One of the curiosities of studying American Orthodox history is that a number of the “firsts” are largely unknown. Matthew Namee has done a lot of work in introducing the first black Orthodox priest in America, Fr. Raphael Morgan. With this post, we’re going to look briefly at the first convert bishop in Orthodox America, Ignatius William Albert Nichols.
Never heard of him? It’s probably because his time as an Orthodox bishop lasted just about ten months (more or less). It’s probably also because the vast majority of information about him available is regarding his career as an episcopus vagans, which bracketed his brief stint within Orthodoxy.
William Albert Nichols (b. Cambridge, Mass., Dec. 4, 1877) started out his ordained ministry as an Episcopal deacon in 1908 in Arkansas, having received theological education at Union Theological Seminary in New York. He was ordained as an Episcopal priest two years later in Colorado and also trained and worked as a chaplain and journalist, eventually becoming religion editor for the New York Sun and the Brooklyn Standard Union (1926-28) and later The New York World-Telegram (1929-43). He served as an Episcopal parish priest in Brooklyn for two years (1927-29).
Things were going fairly “normally” up until he decided to leave the Episcopal priesthood and was in 1929 consecrated as a bishop of the so-called “American Catholic Church” by Bp. Arthur Edward Leighton. Someone must have told him that his orders were “invalid,” however, because in 1930, he was ordained again to the priesthood and consecrated again to the episcopacy, though this time by Abp. Samuel Gregory Lines of the “Apostolic Christian Church.” Sometime between 1930 and 1932, he became interested in Orthodoxy.
From the sources I’ve read (mainly secondary), it’s not clear when Nichols was received into Orthodoxy or by whom. But we do know that in 1932, he was part of the American Orthodox Catholic Church under Abp. Aftimios Ofiesh, probably having founded with Aftimios in 1931 the Society of Clerks Secular of St. Basil.
The AOCC was at that time of questionable canonical status, though it had been founded in 1927 with the blessing of the Russian Metropolia in America (itself of questionable canonical status since 1924, when it declared itself independent of its mother church). By 1932, though, Aftimios had made multiple enemies within the ecclesiastical world, as well as suffering the (rather quick) withdrawal of the support of the Metropolia. Despite its isolation, it seems that communion was not broken between the AOCC and other jurisdictions (though Platon in 1930 did say that Aftimios was no longer a Metropolia bishop but a bishop in another jurisdiction), and clergy were readily received from it (typically back into the Metropolia). In any case, by 1932, the AOCC had few parishes.
Aftimios’s general vision was modeled on that of St. Tikhon, who attempted to form a multi-ethnic jurisdiction under the Russian archdiocese, with bishops for each ethnic group. Aftimios likewise appointed bishops for the Syrians (Sophronios Beshara and Emmanuel Abo-Hatab, St. Raphael’s former archdeacon) and Ukrainians (Joseph Zuk). He also attempted to appoint a bishop for the Russians, one Fr. Leonid Turkevich (whose consecration as such had been specifically blessed by the Metropolia at the founding of the AOCC, but the blessing was later withdrawn).
The last bishop whom Aftimios consecrated was William Albert Nichols, who took the name Ignatius. The consecration took place on September 27, 1932, and Ignatius was appointed as Archbishop of Washington and auxiliary to Aftimios, specially charged with evangelizing “Americans” in English. Ignatius’s work with the Western Rite via the Society of Clerks Secular of St. Basil continued with him as its bishop. Thus, Ignatius is also history’s first (and so far, only) modern Orthodox bishop solely dedicated to the Western Rite.
In 1933, Aftimios’s spiral away from any semblance of ecclesiastical stability finally swirled totally out of control, and in April he got married in a civil ceremony to a Syrian girl from Wilkes-Barre some 30 years his junior. A synod was held by Ignatius with Joseph Zuk (Emmanuel had since returned to the Metropolia) in which they congratulated Aftimios on his marriage and declared him retired. Ignatius later sent a message of congratulations to Aftimios, telling him, “Wind will winnow chaff out of your brave act. Orthodoxy will begin new life in America. God bless you both.”[*]
Clearly inspired by his former primate, in July, Ignatius himself married a woman named Emily Chasman. In November, Sophronios declared Ignatius deposed from the episcopacy. Totally isolated from even the fringes of Orthodoxy, Ignatius nevertheless continued his work with the Clerks Secular.
He functioned independently until the time of his death in 1947, consorting with multiple episcopi vagantes along the way (even briefly going into communion with John Kedrovsky and his son Nicholas of the Soviet “Living Church”). During this time, he (often with other episcopi vagantes) consecrated six different men to the episcopacy. One of these men was Alexander Turner, who in 1936 took over headship of the Clerks Secular. From 1959-61, Turner succeeded in bringing many of his flock into the Antiochian Archdiocese, thus founding the Antiochian Western Rite Vicariate.
Through Ignatius, there are now dozens (perhaps more) of lines of episcopi vagantes who trace themselves back to Aftimios.
[*]“Marriage Wins Bishop’s O.K.,” Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader, 10 May 1933, Archives of St. Mary Antiochian Orthodox Church, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.
(The general outline for this post was taken from the biographical sketch by Bertil Persson found at this link, with some material added from my own research. I’m not sure who Persson is, exactly, but he seems to have done work on various personages in the world of episcopi vagantes and to have some academic standing in Europe. The link contains references to Persson’s sources.)
One of my odd hobbies in historical research is wandering the strange hinterlands of episcopi vagantes on the Internet. I think I first became interested in the phenomenon as I studied Abp. Aftimios Ofiesh (as previously mentioned, the subject of my M.Div. thesis). When I first encountered Aftimios’s name, it was in some offhand remark about his being an episcopus vagans himself. I later discovered that not to be true, that he had effectively retired when he got married in 1933. But right near the end of his ministry, he consecrated one William Albert Nichols as Bp. Ignatius, who almost immediately went vagans and started consecrating people left and right. It is Ignatius who is the real culprit in the ever-stretching family tree of episcopi vagantes. He does, however, have the fascinating distinction of being the first convert consecrated an Orthodox bishop in America (though he left the Church soon after). (And he also started the group that in 1959 found its way into the Antiochian Archdiocese as the Antiochian Western Rite Vicariate.)
Aftimios also consecrated Sophronios Beshara (who, incidentally, is buried in the same grave as St. Raphael, though the stone gets his death year wrong—it’s actually 1934). Sophronius, it turns out, was one of the consecrators (along with Theophan Noli) of Christopher Contogeorge, who gave the Greek Archdiocese many headaches around the middle of the 20th century, and may have had some sort of status as an exarch for the Patriarchate of Alexandria. (That, my friends, is a story for another day.) Contogeorge went into communion with the Living Church for a bit (as had Ignatius some time before), consecrating Nicholas Kedrovsky (son of John Kedrovsky) to the episcopacy.
Kedrovsky eventually consecrated a man named Joachim Souris, who himself consecrated a Ukrainian immigrant named Walter Myron Propheta (regarding whom I have a number of notes-to-self to look into). Propheta was a powerhouse when it came to consecrations and is looked upon as something of a saint by many in the episcopi vagantes world. He eventually consecrated a gent named John Christian, who consecrated a fellow named Richard Morrill. (Don’t get too confused here—these sort of consecration lists account for nearly 90% of the information on the websites of episcopi vagantes.)
Now, all of this would probably be of little real interest to serious Orthodox Christians interested in historical research, except perhaps (as it is for me) as a hobby. But perhaps there is some whimsical weirdness deep within you which might find it fascinating that Morrill (who was rather flamboyant in his consecrating habits and went by “Patriarch Mar Apriam I”) in 1977 married a couple named Mike and Carolyn. In 1982, he consecrated Mike to the episcopacy. Mike’s last name? Warnke. In 1982, Warnke founded a religious body known as the Holy Orthodox Catholic Church in Kentucky, Inc.
Former Evangelicals like me probably instantly recognize the name Mike Warnke, renowned 1980s Evangelical comedian who claimed to have been a Satanist high priest and made a lot of money making that claim. His celebrity empire came crashing down around his ears after a major exposé was published on him by Cornerstone magazine in 1992. Before that happened, he had quite a lucrative career doing comedy tours, books (including his most famous, The Satan Seller), and tape recordings of his comedy. My family traveled a lot when I was a kid (my parents are missionaries), and we would listen to his tapes in the car. He’s still going strong, it seems, though with a drastically diminished audience and a festive new title (“Bishop Abbot”) and snazzy outfit.
And that’s how the tape deck from my ’80s childhood roadtrips linked up with my Orthodox M.Div. thesis.
In the late 1920s, after Abp. Aftimios Ofiesh (the successor to St. Raphael in the see of Brooklyn and the subject of my M.Div. thesis and possible future book) had in 1927 established, with the blessing of the Russian Metropolia, the so-called “American Orthodox Catholic Church,” he engaged in something of a debate via correspondence with Abp. Alexander Demoglou, the Greek archbishop for America. In the debate, he repeatedly made the claim that the Russians had for 130 years had jurisdiction in America, and that since 1927 his new autocephalous jurisdiction was the sole canonical authority for the United States, as the rightful successor to the Russian presence. He also asserted that all Orthodox in America had accepted Russian authority prior to the 1921-22 establishment of the Greek Archdiocese.
Alexander’s replies to Aftimios are consistent in asserting the now-infamous interpretation of Chalcedon Canon 28, namely, that the Ecumenical Patriarchate has jurisdiction in the “diaspora.” He also writes that Alaska, while it was Russian territory, rightly belonged to Moscow, but that it is another thing entirely to “jump” from there to Canada and the U.S.
As I was re-reading some of this correspondence, I was interested in note one element of Alexander’s arguments (quoted here verbatim from a March 4, 1929, letter to Aftimios [*]):
The Canons, which you mis-quote, do not apply in the case of the Orthodox Church in America. They regard certain provinces, particularly rural localities, outside the defined limits of established Patriarchates or autocephalous Churches or Metropolises. How could it be otherwise, since, in accordance with Canon 28 of the Fourth Oecumenical Council, (and as you confess in your letter) the Oecumenical Patriarhate (or as you rather contemtuously prefer to call it the Constantinople Patriarchate and the Constantinopolitan Bishops) “has the primary right to assert jurisdiction over the faithful in the Diaspora”, (which includes American as well). Such being the case, it makes no difference if our Russian brethren attempted to impose their ecclesiastical rule in a territory canonically accorded to the Oecumenical Patriarchate, no matter if these attempts lasted for 3, 30 or 130 years. Te lawful incumbent does not thereby lose his rights to the pretenders. The Russians were all this time conscious of their precarious un-canonical standing, and that is why they exercized, during the Tsarist Regime immense political pressure to bear upon the Oecumenical Patriarchate to force it to accept and recognize the Russian claims over the Orthodox in America. In selfdefense, the Patriarchate temporarily conceded the Churches of America to the Church of Greece. You are, no doubt, familiar with the sinister designs of the overthrown Tsarist Regime of Russia, and, especially, of the then powerful Pan-Slavistic Society, seeking to promulgate, under the cloak of religion, the abortive ends of the oppressing Tsarist Russian Imperialism. Being of Syrian descent, you must of course be aware of their intrigues in connection with the Patriarchates of Antioch and Jerusalem, with Mt. Athos and so on. Likewise, American Orthodoxy felt the weight of similar designs and intrigues. Therefore, you are not supposed to be taken by surprise, when we speak of Tsarist pressure.
This was new to me. I had heard of pressure from the Turkish government on Constantinople due to Greek priests in America engaging in anti-Turkish activities, but this is the first time I’ve read about there also being “Tsarist pressure.” No doubt this fell on fairly deaf ears, since the Tsarist government was looked upon by many Arab Orthodox Christians in the Middle East as a benefactor.
Alexander goes on in the same letter to rebut Aftimios’s claim that all Orthodox in America previously accepted Russian rule:
It is not true that any group of Greeks in America did ever willingly recognize the asserted Russian jurisdiction in America. On the contrary, it is historically true, that they fought staunchly these baseless claims, especially in 1907, when the Russian Church tried to legalize their pretentions by legislative act with the legislature of the State of New York. The Greeks rose as one man and happily annulled these designs. It is also a contravention of the true for you to assert that, at the time I came to this country, “I found one of your Syrian Priests (presumably the Rev. Joseph Xanthopoulos) in charge of a Parish of Greek people under your jurisdiction.” The Greek Communities of Wilkesbarre, Pa, and Scranton, Pa., where the said Priest has served, belonged always to the Greek Church. And not only the Greeks, but also the most important sections of other Orthodox nationalities in America, did and do reject the Russian jurisdiction. We had in the past, and, espesially after the war, we have numerous national Orthodox Churches in America, like the Serbian, Rumanian, etc. which ignore entirely the Russian authority and are under the direct jurisdiction of their respective Churches in Serbia, Rumania, etc. The same is true and even more so with the Syrian Church, where, perhaps the majority of the Syrian Orthodox in this country, opposed and still oppose you and your Russian superiors. There are more than one schisms in your own Church. Some remain faithful to the Patriarchate of Antioch and to its representative in America, Bishop Victor; others recognize the Metropolitan of Selefkia Germanos; still others are “independent”. Thus, your assertion that the Russian Church and its creations in America were universally accepted by the Orthodox people in America, and that they “governed the whole North American Province undisputedly, peacefuly and without opposition”, falls to pieces. I believe, one is justified to add here, without malice: My brother, before attempting to put in order your neighbor’s house, first, put in order your own household.
He also later writes that in 1921, the Russian-American hierarchy recognized his own jurisdiction:
…your superior prelates of the Russian jurisdiction, by an official communication of theirs, as far back as 1921, “look to me and to my Canonical Superiors as the head in America North and South of the interests of the Hellenic members of our faith” and “until further action by the Oecumenical Patriarchate at Constantinople … are in full Communion with me, as the only valid and Canonical head of the Hellenic Mission for care of the spiritual interests of citizens and former citizens of the Kingdom of Greece” etc.
That’s a particularly curious admission on the part of the Russians! Not only do they admit some sort of jurisdiction to Alexander, but they definite it as a “Mission” and particularly on ethnic/national terms. As you might imagine, Aftimios’s reply to this comment is that it was just a temporary “permission” granted by the Russians, though that doesn’t much square with their language of “until further action by the Oecumenical Patriarchate at Constantinople.”
In any event, the 1920s and 1930s remain, for me, one of the most fascinating periods in the history of Orthodoxy in America.
[*]Manolis, Paul. The History of the Greek Church in America: In Acts and Documents. Berkeley: Ambelos Press, 2003, pp. 1551-57.
Few photos from the early 20th century history of American Orthodoxy are so rich in significance as this one. This was taken during the 1921 visit of then-deposed Abp. Meletios (Metxakis) of Athens to America, beginning the process of founding the Greek Archdiocese. He came traveling with Bp. Alexander (Demoglou), who would become the first Greek Archbishop of America. Meletios and Alexander did a remarkable amount of work toward uniting the Greek parishes in America, which were numerous by this time and deeply divided along political lines, with factions supporting either the Greek monarchy or the Venizelist democratizers. Meletios was later elected as Ecumenical Patriarch in November of this same year.
1921 also saw the arrival in America of Metr. Platon (Rozhdestvensky), who had previously been the Russian primate in America but had returned to Russia and now subsequently fled back to America as a refugee. His see was in Odessa, but with the encroachment of the Red Army, he abandoned it and was later popularly acclaimed as primate again in America (a status later denied him by Patriarch St. Tikhon, though possibly under duress from the Soviets). He and Abp. Alexander Nemolovsky flank Meletios. Alexander was the Russian primate in America at the time, though he would later resign in 1922 and return to Europe. In 1923, Platon was acclaimed primate.
To the right of Alexander stand Bp. Aftimios (Ofiesh), the successor to St. Raphael Hawaweeny in the see of Brooklyn as head of the Syro-Arab diocese under the Russians. By this time, the Syrians were already deeply divided, with a rogue faction being led by Metr. Germanos (Shehadi), a renegade bishop who had abandoned his own archdiocese in Lebanon. In 1927, with the imprimatur of Platon, Aftimios founded the American Orthodox Catholic Church, the first attempt at an autocephalous church for America. When Platon eventually distanced himself from the project, Aftimios repudiated the former’s authority and declared that he had had no right to be acclaimed primate, since he was so without the patriarch’s sanction.
Next to Aftimios is Archdeacon Vsevelod (Andronoff), who was the cathedral deacon at the Russian cathedral in New York.
Who G. Polis is (far left) is not clear, but he appears in several photographs from Meletios’s time in New York. He may have been a prominent local layman accompanying the bishop in his travels.
This photograph was found in the archives of the Library of Congress. As yet, there have been no official documents that have surfaced detailing what this 1921 meeting must have entailed. It might have been only a courtesy call, with a photo op at the end. Whatever it may have included, it’s at least clear who is regarded as the senior cleric among them (Meletios), despite his status at the time as having been deposed from the see of Athens. (Update: This last sentence should not be misconstrued to suggest that they regarded Meletios as having jurisdiction in America, just that they recognized him as canonical and, it would seem, as the first in seniority among them.)