Posts tagged Russian Metropolia
Once upon a time, it was the norm for American men to be members of fraternal organizations. These were especially attractive to new immigrants, who wanted to be integrated into American society and make progress in business. And in that earlier era, fraternal membership was the best and quickest way to achieve both goals. They joined the Rotary Club, the Lions, the Elks, the Odd Fellows, the Knights of Columbus, and a host of others. But the most famous — and infamous — of them all was Freemasonry. Countless men in American Orthodox history, including priests and bishops, have been Freemasons. This, despite the fact that membership in secret societies is widely viewed as incompatible with Orthodoxy.
For some background, let’s first look at the relevant canons. Now, I am not a canonist, nor am I a historian of the Eastern Roman (or “Byzantine”) Empire. But, as best I can tell, the key canons are Canon 18 of Chalcedon and Canon 34 of Trullo. Let’s take the latter one first:
But in future, since the priestly canon openly sets this forth, that the crime of conspiracy or secret society is forbidden by external laws, but much more ought it to be prohibited in the Church; we also hasten to observe that if any clerics or monks are found either conspiring or entering secret societies, or devising anything against bishops or clergymen, they shall be altogether deprived of their rank.
The Trullo canon was referred to as simply a renewal of Canon 18 of Chalcedon:
The crime of conspiracy or banding together is utterly prohibited even by the secular law, and much more ought it to be forbidden in the Church of God. Therefore, if any, whether clergymen or monks, should be detected in conspiring or banding together, or hatching plots against their bishops or fellow-clergy, they shall by all means be deposed from their own rank.
On their face, these canons seem to be focused on prohibiting clergymen from conspiring against other clergymen. I don’t think that the bishops who composed the canons had in mind groups like the Freemasons. That isn’t to say that Freemasonry is acceptable in Orthodoxy, but I don’t think there’s an explicit forbiddance in the ancient canons themselves. If anyone knows of other relevant canons, please let me know, because, as I said earlier, I am definitely not an expert on this stuff.
Freemasonry and other secret societies were extremely prevalent in Russia, Greece, and other traditionally Orthodox countries in the 19th century. Meletios Metaxakis — the Archbishop of Athens who founded the Greek Archdiocese and later became Ecumenical Patriarch — was a Freemason. So was Archbishop Athenagoras Spyrou, who led the Greek Archdiocese for two decades and then became a hugely influential Ecumenical Patriarch. Likewise Metropolitan Antony Bashir, the longtime head of the Antiochian Archdiocese of New York. And these were just three of the biggest names; numerous other Orthodox bishops were Freemasons in the 20th century. (In the case of Athenagoras and Bashir, I’ve talked to people who knew them, and it was common knowledge that they were Freemasons. But I must admit that I don’t have any hard evidence to prove this fact. Unfortunately, evidence beyond word of mouth is hard to come by on this sort of thing.)
In 1917, Fr. Ingram Nathaniel Irvine argued strongly against the consecration of Aftimios Ofiesh as bishop for the Syrians. One of Irvine’s main contentions was that Ofiesh was a Freemason. I’ll quote Irvine’s letter at length here, because it’s directly relevant to the topic at hand. The letter, dated 2/5/1917, was written to the North American Ecclesiastical Consistory and is preserved in Irvine’s file in the OCA archives. All the emphases and misspellings are Irvine’s.
A Schism can be healed but the consecration of the wrong party for the Episcopate never. [...] Who is the candidate for the Syrian Vicar Bishoprick? A Freemason. It may be said that, he has given up Masonry. While I doubt it, it makes the matter more terrible than if he persisted in being an active member. And why?
First: Because by being an in-active member for the sake of a chance of being made a Bishop he must have lost the respect of both the Masonic Order and loyal Orthodox Christians.
Second: There is an old and well authenticated fact to wit: — “Once a Mason always a Mason.” An ignorance of the watchword because of delinquency of a member etc., for the time being, does not hinder the opportunity of having that ignorance remedied and the knowledge granted at an opportune moment. Insincerity under the first point would suggest the second idea.
The history of Freemasonry is a night-mare to Christianity in the West. Pardon a little bit of my own knowledge being interjected. Practical knowledge after all is the best.
[Irvine goes on to discuss his own negative experience with a Freemason bishop in the Episcopal Church.]
Freemasonry, today, is a mixture of spurious Christianity, agnosticism, infidelity, aethism [sic], Judaism, and in very many instances, immorality. I have carefully studied it for over fifty years. It’s [sic] nobility of long ago, while it has still had some noble men as members, has long since departed. It has damned the State and the Church by its under-hand influence and corruptive practices.
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 Aethiest 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.
One of the questions asked of me when I was a candidate for the Russian Orthodox Priesthood was “Are you a Freemason?” My reply was “I am not.” Have we changed? Are our conditions variable?
Now if the Episcopate is one, any member of it affects the whole. And if the Church is one, any member of the same may feel agrieved [sic] if he believes that a member of an alien and pernicious organization is permitted to rule in the high and sacred office of a Bishop in the Church of God Almighty.
The Orthodox Church has gained the Confidence and love of right-thinking people. Let us not tarnish her banner now by inserting amongst the title letters “Masonery.” Rome is marveling at our success and Orthodox Catholicity. Let us not give her a chance to say that, we have retrograded to rationalism and chicanery. Above all things let us guard the Episcopate from that which is worldly and earthly.
Therefore if all others keep silent, I for one, as a faithful priest of the Russo-Greek Holy Orthodox Catholic Church, most solemnly protest against the admission of Archimandrite Afiesh or any other Mason into the Episcopate.
And if he is admitted or any Mason, even under pain of Ecclesiastical penalties, I will never recognize him as a Bishop. I can not serve God and Mammon in the Episcopate. Masons as Laymen may be sinners, but as Bishops hypocrites and creatures of circumstances.
In spite of Irvine’s campaign against him, Ofiesh was consecrated a bishop. And his career did end badly — he exhibited erratic behavior and ended up marrying a young girl in 1933 — but I don’t think any of that was connected to his status as a Freemason.
Have any Orthodox Churches formally condemned Freemasonry? Yes, they have. The Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) condemned it in 1932. The Church of Greece followed suit the next year, issuing a rather lengthy statement. The Holy Synod of Greece had appointed a commission of four bishops to study Freemasonry, and on October 12, 1933, the commission presented its initial findings. The Holy Synod also heard reports from the Theological Faculty of the University of Athens. After this, the Synod unanimously adopted several conclusions.
- “Freemasonry is not simply a philanthropic union or a philosophical school, but constitutes a mystagogical system which reminds us of the ancient heathen mystery-religions and cults—from which it descends and is their continuation and regeneration.”
- “Such a link between Freemasonry and the ancient idolatrous mysteries is also manifested by all that is enacted and performed at the initiations.”
- “Thus Freemasonry is, as granted, a mystery-religion, quite different, separate, and alien to the Christian faith.”
- “It is true that it may seem at first that Freemasonry can be reconciled with every other religion, because it is not interested directly in the religion to which its initiates belong. This is, however, explained by its syncretistic character and proves that in this point also it is an offspring and a continuation of ancient idolatrous mysteries which accepted for initiation worshippers of all gods. [...] This means that by masonic initiation, a Christian becomes a brother of the Muslim, the Buddhist, or any kind of rationalist, while the Christian not initiated in Freemasonry becomes to him an outsider.”
- “On the other hand, Freemasonry [...] shows itself in this sense to be in sharp contradiction with the Christian religion.”
- “Thus, the incompatible contradiction between Christianity and Freemasonry is quite clear. [...] [T]he Orthodox Catholic Church, maintaining in its integrity the treasure of Christian faith [has] proclaimed against it every time that the question of Freemasonry has been raised. Recently, the Inter-Orthodox Commission which met on Mount Athos and in which the representatives of all the Autocephalous Orthodox Churches took part, has characterized Freemasonry as a ‘false and anti-Christian system.’”
I’ve truncated all of those conclusions; click on the above link to read the full statement. The Holy Synod of Greece concluded:
Freemasonry cannot be at all compatible with Christianity as far as it is a secret organization, acting and teaching in mystery and secret and deifying rationalism. Freemasonry accepts as its members not only Christians, but also Jews and Muslims. Consequently clergymen cannot be permitted to take part in this association. I consider as worthy of degradation every clergyman who does so. It is necessary to urge upon all who entered it without due thought and without examining what Freemasonry is, to sever all connections with it, for Christianity alone is the religion which teaches absolute truth and fulfills the religious and moral needs of men. Unanimously and with one voice all the Bishops of the Church of Greece have approved what was said, and we declare that all the faithful children of the Church must stand apart from Freemasonry…
This is an especially remarkable statement given the prevalence of Freemasonry in Greece, and its role in the Greek Revolution a century earlier. The Church of Greece didn’t (and doesn’t) have an American jurisdiction, but in 1949 the Holy Synod of the Russian Metropolia in America (today’s OCA) formally affirmed the statement of the Church of Greece. In 1960, the Metropolia’s Synod reiterated that affirmation (click here to read the 1960 affirmation).
As far as I know, those three bodies — ROCOR, the Church of Greece, and the Russian Metropolia (OCA) are the only Orthodox Churches/jurisdictions that have formally condemned Freemasonry. That isn’t to say that it is acceptable among the other Orthodox Churches, but it’s also a somewhat sensitive issue, given how many Orthodox men have been Freemasons over the past century.
This is all by way of introduction. There’s quite a bit of material online about Orthodoxy and Freemasonry, but unsurprisingly, most of it focuses on condemning Freemasonry, rather than talking about history. If anyone out there has more details on the historical side of things, please let me know.
Recently, I was alerted to several photographs of a visit Fr. Alexander Schmemann made to Detroit in the winter of 1962. Today would have been Fr. Alexander’s ninety-first birthday, so I thought this to be as good an opportunity as any to share these pictures with our readers.
1962 was a turning point in the history of Orthodox theological education in North America, and in turn was a major transition for Fr. Alexander as well. As our readers surely know, Fr. Alexander is best known for his involvement with St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary. Fr. Alexander arrived at the seminary as a faculty member in 1951, and was part of the institution’s growth into one of the major centers of Orthodox thought and scholarship in the western hemisphere by the end of the decade. By 1962, the seminary had grown to the extent that it was prepared to move into a permanent facility, the now-familiar campus in Crestwood, New York. The move to Crestwood also marked Fr. Alexander’s move to the position of seminary dean.
The two photographs shown here show Fr. Alexander at the cusp of these major developments, speaking at what appears to be either an event sponsored by the Federated Russian Orthodox Clubs (FROC, now the FOCA) or the Detroit Council of Orthodox Christian Churches (COCC), who have organized evening vespers services in Orthodox parishes around the Detroit area each Sunday evening during Lent since the late 1950s. The venue appears to be Holy Ghost Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Church, a parish founded in 1919, which in the 1960s was under the jurisdiction of the Metropolia, and subsequently the OCA (though later it was a part of ROCOR, and now is a parish of the Patriarchate of Bulgaria).
The early 1960s were a transformative time in the history of the Metropolia, with St. Vladimir’s Seminary and its faculty playing a key role. Fr. Alexander was instrumental in the early meetings of the Standing Council of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in America (SCOBA), which held its first meetings in 1960, and was an Orthodox observer to the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II), when it opened its sessions in 1962.
This era found the Metropolia, especially Fr. Alexander and his colleagues at St. Vladimir’s, interested in the jurisdictional trajectory of the canonical chaos which defined Orthodoxy in America in the wake of the Russian Revolution of 1917. Amongst the early academic explorations of the movement towards the granting of autocephaly to the Metropolia in 1970 was the publication of Alexander Bogolepov’s Toward an American Orthodox Church in 1963, early, tense encounters between the Metropolia and the Church of Russia that same year, and Fr. Alexander’s three-part exploration of the problems facing Orthodoxy in North America, which appeared in the St. Vladimir’s Seminary Quarterly in 1964.
When Fr. Alexander came to Detroit on a winter’s evening in 1962, he was at the cusp of a truly transformative decade in his own career. On November 30, 1962, following the institution’s move to its new Crestwood campus, Fr. Alexander was appointed to the position of Seminary Dean, replacing Metropolitan Leonty. For the Life of the World, the book for which he is perhaps best known, was published the next year, which was followed by a string of similarly seminal works of Orthodox thought in the West, including The Historical Road of Eastern Orthodoxy (1963), Introduction to Liturgical Theology (a reworking of his doctoral dissertation, first published in English in 1966), Great Lent (1969), and an edited anthology of modern Russian religious thought, Ultimate Questions (1964).
Of course, far removed from a Detroit church fellowship hall in 1962, the culmination of this decade of constant productivity was the granting of autocephaly to the Metropolia by the Patriarchate of Moscow in 1970. This was a process of intense negotiations (what he would later term “a meaningful storm”), in which Fr. Alexander was intimately involved at nearly every stage.
As Matthew pointed out in his post yesterday, this week marks the 47th anniversary of the death of one of the truly great Orthodox churchmen of the 20th century, Metropolitan Leonty Turkevich. With an ecclesiastical career in the United States spanning from 1906 to 1965, there are few figures in the history of Orthodoxy in America who can claim such longevity, much less a comparable length of time spent at the heights of church administration. From his first assignment in America, as Dean of the North American Russian Orthodox Theological Seminary in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to his last, as Metropolitan of All-America and Canada of what was then the Russian Metropolia, Leonty served as a key figure in nearly every moment and institution of note for nearly six decades.
When Matthew asked me to write a piece about Leonty, I kept coming back to a single moment at the end of his life, a story for which there is a rare corroboration of accounts from multiple sources (one from the Moscow Patriarchate, the other from the Metropolia) that each give a unique picture of who Leonty was, and how his personality, longevity, and the weight of his institutional memory impacted those around him.
In early 1963, at the height of the Cold War, the National Council of Churches invited a delegation from the Church of Russia to visit the United States for a goodwill visit to acquaint the American religious establishment with leaders of the living, breathing Church behind the Iron Curtain. Led by Archbishop Nikodim Rotov of Yaroslavl, head of the Patriarchate’s Department of External Relations, a side benefit of the delegation would be an opportunity for an informal assessment the true situation of the tensions between the Metropolia and the Patriarchal Exarchate as it existed on the ground, if not possible dialogue. Through the formation of the Exarchate in 1933, a longstanding lawsuit over control of St. Nicholas Cathedral in New York City, and stalled negotiations following the decision of the 7th All-American Sobor to renew the Metropolia’s administrative ties with Moscow in 1946, a bitter period of animosity between two jurisdictions with a shared history had dominated both local and national church life for decades. Aside from an informal meeting in 1961 at a World Council of Churches meeting in New Delhi, by 1963, no formal or significant dialogue between the two parties had occurred for over a decade.
As he would recall over a decade later, one evening in March of 1963, Fr. Alexander Schmemann, Dean of St. Vladimir’s Seminary, received a telephone call from an Episcopalian acquaintance announcing that Nikodim and the delegation wished to visit the seminary, and would be arriving on campus within a few hours. Schmemann quickly dispatched a call to Metropolitan Leonty to ask for permission to receive the delegation. Leonty quietly replied, “receive them with love.” The visit went well, and Schmemann arranged for Nikodim to meet with Leonty several days later over dinner at the Metropolia’s Chancery in Syosset.
Schmemann recalled the elderly Leonty descended the Chancery stairs that evening dressed in his trademark white cassock, “so majestic… and yet so simple and joyful, so obviously the head of the Church to which he had given his entire life.” After dinner, Leonty rose to give an informal speech, in part a narrative of his ministry in America, as well as an expression of what the events meant for the future of Orthodoxy in North America. His was an institutional memory that stretched back to the administration of Bishop Tikhon Belavin, the bishop who had invited the young Fr. Leonid Turkevich to the United States in 1906 to oversee the Minneapolis Seminary, which Turkevich repaid in turn by personally nominating his former bishop for the office of Patriarch of Moscow on the floor of the All-Russian Sobor eleven years later. In fact, it is likely many of the events he described that evening occurred before the relatively young Nikodim (born in 1929) was even alive. According to Schmemann, Leonty’s words movingly expressed his love for the Church of Russia, yet also his firm belief in the future of the Church in America. (Constance Tarasar, ed. Orthodox America, 1794-1976. Syosset, 1975. 262-3.)
Several years later, Nikodim would recall the events of the Syosset dinner to Archimandrite Serafim Surrency, a priest who served as an assistant to Metropolitan John Wendland (then head of the Patriarchal Exarchate) at St. Nicholas Cathedral in New York City. Surrency describes the elderly Leonty asking Nikodim firmly and directly, how he viewed Leonty and the other bishops of the Metropolia. Though Nikodim was clearly moved by his meeting with Leonty, and the momentum of the evening would carry into several more informal dialogues between the Metropolia and the Patriarchate (especially Nikodim) in the ensuing years, reality dictated he reply “as kindly as he could:”
“Your Eminence, forgive me, but I have no choice but to regard you and your bishops as schismatics.” According to Surrency, “…tears welled in the eyes of the aged Metr. Leonty.” (Archimandrite Serafim Surrency. The Quest for Orthodox Church Unity in America. New York, 1973. 78.)
As a historian, this moment in a lifetime of truly monumental moments offers a good entry point by which we can understand the broader picture and historical narrativity of Leonty’s impact in America. His role as a priest in the highest levels of diocesan administration, theological education, and publication shows the ambitious vision of the pre-Revolution North American Diocese to serve a rapidly growing, geographically expansive flock, and the extent to which the Revolution would fundamentally change this trajectory. Leonty’s episcopal career (and the process by which he became a bishop) is a lens by which we can explore the deep divisions of the jurisdictional fracture of Orthodoxy in America in the wake of the rise of Bolshevism. And in his final years, his hospitality and dialogue with Abp. Nikodim put in motion a series of sometimes tense, yet ultimately fruitful meetings leading to the granting of Autocephaly to the Metropolia in 1970, forming what is now the Orthodox Church in America.
In the months to come, I hope to further explore this dynamic figure, exploring how his roles within the Church found him intimately involved in some of the most controversial and heated moments Orthodoxy has seen on the North American continent, yet whose demeanor, deep spirituality, and kind and quiet disposition found him almost universally revered even in the face of discord.
May 17, 1870: The newly ordained convert priest Fr. Nicholas Bjerring celebrated his first Divine Liturgy in St. Petersburg, Russia. He didn’t know Church Slavonic, so he served in German.
May 19, 1884: Archimandrite Stephen Hatherly, a convert priest from England, arrived in Philadelphia. I wrote about Hatherly’s visit almost three years ago. The basic story is this: In 1883, the Russian government closed its chapel, and the priest, Bjerring, became a Presbyterian. Hatherly, a priest under the Ecumenical Patriarchate, heard about these events and asked for permission to make a go at his own New York mission. After getting the all-clear from Russia, he sailed for America in 1884, arriving in Philadelphia on May 19 — this week. But, as I explain in the article, the mission was a failure; the few Orthodox people in New York had little interest in attending a church. Hatherly returned to England disappointed.
One thing I’ve been meaning to do, but haven’t yet, is tell Hatherly’s own story, because it’s phenomenally interesting. He was an exact contemporary of the somewhat better known English convert J.J. Overbeck, an author and editor of the Orthodox Catholic Review. Overbeck wanted to establish a “Western Orthodox Church,” including union with the Church of England, and today he’s regarded as a sort of progenitor of the Western Rite. Hatherly, on the other hand, viewed a full-blown union between Orthodoxy and Anglicanism as unrealistic. Instead, he preferred simply to convert Anglicans to (standard Byzantine Rite) Orthodoxy — something that raised the ire of the Anglican hierarchy, who in turn induced Constantinople to forbid Hatherly from evangelizing his countrymen. On top of all this, Hatherly was an accomplished church musician. As I said, writing an article about his life is on my to-do list.
May 19, 1905: Bishop Tikhon Bellavin, head of the Russian Mission in North America, was elevated to Archbishop by the Holy Synod of Russia.
May 17, 1922: Ecumenical Patriarch Meletios Metaxakis issued a tomos, formally establishing the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America as a jurisdiction under the Ecumenical Patriarchate. As Archbishop of Athens, the controversial Meletios had been in America from 1918-1921, during which time he organized the Greek Archdiocese and convened its first Clergy-Laity Congress. While in America, Meletios was deposed by the Holy Synod of Greece, but soon after this, he was elected Patriarch of Constantinople. This 1922 tomos thus transferred the GOA from Meletios’ old see (Athens) to his new one (Constantinople).
How could he get away with such unilateral action? Well, back in 1908, the Ecumenical Patriarchate had “transferred” the Greek churches in the “diaspora” (particularly America) from itself to Athens. Which is sort of misleading, because a lot of the Greek churches in America were already under Athens, so the transfer affected only that portion of the Greeks who had been under Constantinople. Anyway, Athens didn’t really do much with America over the next decade, until Meletios, as Archbishop of Athens, came along in 1918. In issuing this 1922 tomos, Meletios was revoking the earlier 1908 transfer. And the GOA has been under Constantinople ever since.
May 14, 1957: Archbishop Jeronim Chernov of Eastern Canada (Russian Metropolia) died.
May 14, 1965: Metropolitan Leonty Turkevich, primate of the Russian Metropolia, died. Leonty is one of those giants of American Orthodox history, on par with Tikhon, Iakovos, and Bashir. Many think he’s a saint, and I strongly suspect that they’re right. One of the amazing things about Leonty is that he lived through so much. Originally known as Fr. Leonid, he was a key figure in the Russian Mission dating to the episcopate of St. Tikhon. He ran the seminary, succeeded St. Alexander Hotovitzky as dean of the main cathedral, and generally was the most important priest in the Archdiocese prior to the Russian Revolution.
Then, in 1917, he participated in the monumental All-Russian Sobor — one of the pivotal church councils in Russian history. He made it out of revolutionary Russia and back to the US, where he was, again, probably the key priest in the Russian Metropolia, which rose from the ashes of the Russian Mission. After being widowed, he was almost consecrated a bishop for Aftimios Ofiesh’s American Orthodox Catholic Church experiment, and he ended up becoming the Metropolia’s Bishop of Chicago. When the Metropolia’s primate, Metropolitan Theophilus Pashkovsky, died in 1952, Leonty was elected to be his successor.
Anyway, all that is ridiculously cursory, and I can only fit so much into this article. But Aram Sarkisian, who knows far more about Leonty than I do, will be running a full-length piece here very soon.
May 18, 1970: The Patriarchate of Moscow formally granted autocephaly to the Russian Metropolia in America, which changed its name to the “Orthodox Church in America.” This event reverberated throughout the Orthodox world, and it remains controversial to this day. While everyone recognizes the OCA as fully canonical, only a minority of the world’s Orthodox Churches acknowledge the OCA as an autocephalous Local Church.
May 14, 1972: Tragedy struck at ROCOR’s Holy Trinity Seminary in Jordanville, NY, where one seminarian stabbed another to death. Both men had been studying for the priesthood.
May 15, 1979: Bishop Dionisije Milivojevich, the Serbian Orthodox bishop whose battle with his mother church went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, died in Illinois.
May 18, 1985: Fr. John Karastamatis, a Greek priest in Santa Cruz, CA, was brutally murdered. Some of his admirers immediately declared him to have been martyred for the faith, and to this day, you’ll run into lists of saints that include “Hieromartyr John of Santa Cruz.” But the subsequent police investigation revealed that he was killed by the husband of the parish secretary, and at trial, witness testimony made it clear that Karastamatis was not someone who should be venerated as a saint. I don’t want to get into the gory details, mainly because this didn’t happen all that long ago and Karastamatis’ family is still around, but suffice it to say that while his murder was a great tragedy, the calls for his canonization were terribly misplaced.
May 18, 2000: Archbishop Sylvester Haruns of Montreal (OCA) died.
May 14, 2006: Conclusion of the ROCOR All-Diaspora Council, which approved reconciliation between ROCOR and the Moscow Patriarchate.
May 17, 2007: In Moscow, ROCOR signed the Act of Canonical Communion, re-establishing full communion with the Moscow Patriarchate.
May 18, 2008: Another big ROCOR moment — Metropolitan Hilarion Kapral was enthroned as First Hierarch of ROCOR.
In the half-dozen years before his wedding on April 29, 1933, Archbishop Aftimios Ofiesh had moved further and further away from mainstream Orthodoxy, setting himself up as the head of an “autocephalous” jurisdiction called the American Orthodox Catholic Church—which at its inception in 1927 had the official blessing of the Russian Metropolia in America (which would in 1970 become the OCA).
His wedding to the former Mariam Namey (no relation to our own Matthew Namee) essentially represented his final break with any official Orthodox ecclesiastical authorities. Aftimios continued to call himself an archbishop, and he even made occasional visits to Orthodox parishes, but his hierarchical career was effectively over the moment he tied the knot. He also became a pariah in the Syrian community in and around Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, where Mariam was from and where the couple lived (among other places) for years after their wedding.Before he met Mariam, there were indications that Aftimios had planned to marry, essentially to try to make a point about his opinions on episcopal celibacy—that it was a “man-made” institution that could be abrogated at any time, especially now that he was in the New World. Even though his own synod in the American Orthodox Catholic Church officially agreed with him, they also declared him “retired” in the same message with which they congratulated him on his nuptials.
Despite the ideological premeditation of his marriage, when Mariam later recounted their meeting in her biography of her late husband, she described it in endearing, romantic terms. Their marriage lasted until his death thirty-three years later, producing a son named Paul within a couple of years after the wedding.
Aftimios never served as a bishop of the Orthodox Church ever again, although he dressed as one, and members of the Namey family remembered him as Amo Sayidna (“Uncle Master”; sayidna is the Arabic equivalent of the Greek despota or Russian vladyka). His break with Church authorities was so bitter that in his will he stipulated that his funeral and burial were to involve no clergy of any kind. He died in 1966.