From Aftimios Ofiesh to The Satan Seller

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.

2 Replies to “From Aftimios Ofiesh to The Satan Seller

  1. Looking at the “festive new title”, I glanced at the first photo and thought they were all going to break out into a rendition of “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow”.

  2. Wow. Now that takes me on a strange detour of Memory Lane.

    I saw Mr. Warnke in concert in 1985, but hadn’t heard/read about him since. Since, in my mind, the summer of 1985 was “the Summer of Jack Chick Tracts,” my strongest memory of the show–other than the descriptions of ritual abuse, of couse–was his shaking the microphone at the audience as if he were sprinkling holy water in the manner of a Roman Catholic priest, “So I make sure that I offend all Christians here”…having been traumatized by the Chick tracts (about half of my family is/was Catholic), I felt surprise but also a strange relief that Mr. Warnke at least seemed to be including the Catholics among the “Christians.”

    PS: Thanks for the work you do on this site!

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