Aftimios Ofiesh (1880-1966) was an early 20th century Orthodox Bishop in America, serving as the immediate successor to St. Raphael of Brooklyn under the auspices of the Church of Russia. He held the title Archbishop of Brooklyn from 1917 until his death. He is perhaps better known in our day as being the claimed source of numerous lines of succession of numerous episcopi vagantes and he led the American Orthodox Catholic Church until his death in 1966.
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.
In 1927, Aftimios was appointed by the Russian diocese in America to form and head the newly Chartered English speaking "American Orthodox Catholic Church." Aftimios consecrated three bishops for his new jurisdiction, Sophronius (Beshara) of Los Angeles, Joseph (Zuk) for the Ukrainians and Ignatius (William Albert) Nichols in September of 1932 as his auxiliary bishop of Washington. Additionally, in 1931 the Society of Clerks Secular of St. Basil, a Western Rite group, was established under the auspices of this diocese and subsequently led by Nichols until he left the Church in 1933. After he left the Church many independents claim he assisted in ordinations of bishops thus claiming lines back to this Church. Any such acts were done independently of and without the authority of this Church (this is documented in our archives).
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 one of St. Mary's parishioners, Mariam Namey, then subsequently married her in a civil ceremony in April of 1933.
Reports by the ethnic orthodox vary at this point as to what happened regarding Aftimios' episcopacy. Some claim he retired, others say he deposed himself when he married and yet others claim Bp. Sophronius suspended him. According to the book Orthodox Christians in North America (1794-1994) Aftimios "resigned his episcopacy and married." All these claims are false. He headed this Church until his death. This was supported by his widow.
It is also claimed that the withdrawal of support for the American Orthodox Catholic Church caused the Church's loss of its canonical status. The Church was canonically established but ignored by the Majority of Orthodox jurisditions causing a Schism. This Church did not lose its canonical status since this Church did not cause the Schism created by the greed of others.
The ethnic patriarchal orthodox bodies all turned their backs on this Church and use the marriage of Abp. Aftimios as the reason although they had already refused to recognize this Church and its authority in the New World thus causing a Schism that continues today.
The biography by Ofiesh's widow Mariam say's that Aftimios fully functionrd as a married bishop. It should also be noted that the ethnic jurisdicions have even published statements showing the Synod never adopted the canon on married bishops and Orthodox writings clearly show that not all canonical Orthodox jurisdictions adopted that canon. The American Orthodox Catholic Church being one such canonically established Church.
Whatever the case, relations between the small jurisdiction headed by Aftimios and the mainstream Orthodox Church were never regularized prior to his marriage.
Over the years numerous and still multiplying lines of succession of episcopi vagantes continue to persist that they trace their roots to Aftimios (mainly through Ignatius Nichols) and some regard Abp. Ofiesh as a saint. Since Ignatius left THEOCACNA in 1933 without the required letters and was a synod member of another Church shortly after he left all acts were in the name of that Church. When he left he left all authority from this Church and any claims to our lines have no legal or moral basis.
Some of the independent (episcopi vagante) bishops are married men and some ordain women. As far as the Orthodox are concerned these individuals and their jurisdictions are not orthodox and have no sacramental authority.
The original canonically established Church that was Chartered by the Russian Synod of Bishops in the New World (North America) that Abp. Ofiesh headed was Chartered in 1927 and incorporated in 1928 and continues today as that same church and corporation. The ethnic Orthodox like to hide this fact and claim the Church no longer exists since it is an embarrassment to them. The Synod of this Church denies the claims of the Episcopi Vagantes and do not recognize the claims of these independents. We have also filed our Church name and logo as a Registered Service Mark of this Church.
The Synod also declared Archbishop Ofiesh to be a Martyr for the Faith due to the continued attacks and abuses by the ethnic Schismatic clergy.
The Society of Clerks Secular of Saint Basil was established in 1931 by the Synod of this Church and the Society of Clerks Secular of Saint Basil remained in this Church when members left. Any ordinations done after June 1933 were not done with any authority or rights of succession or lines to us.
The Constitution of this Church lists "American Orthodox Catholic Church" as the short name of this Church.