The American Orthodox Catholic Church or better known as The Holy Eastern Orthodox Catholic and Apostolic Church in North America was the first attempt by mainstream Orthodox canonical authorities at the creation of an autocephalous Orthodox church for North America. This church was canonically chartered in 1927 by Metropolitan Platon (Rozhdestvensky), primate of the Russian Metropolia and his holy synod, and its history in any real sense as part of the mainstream Orthodox Church ended in 1934. The Ethnic Orthodox claim that this Church no longer exists and write "During its short existence, it was mainly led by Aftimios Ofiesh, Archbishop of Brooklyn". They publish loads of false information based on undocumented claims and assumptions. The "clergy" who operate Orthodoxwiki have a conflict of interest amd will publish freely their false claims and when we attempted to post a page to publish the facts about Abp. Ofiesh they welcomed us to their site and immediately deleted our page. This by one of the same honorable clergy who continues to attack Archbishop Aftimios Ofiesh of blessed memory well over 40 years after his death. (This also violated the canons).
The constitution was drawn up for the new church by the Metropolia is twenty-eight pages, more as printed in booklet form, long and quite detailed, indicating a great deal of thought went into its drafting. Though it was dated December 1 of 1927, it was not made public until the following spring.
To further worsen matters, in 1924, Archbishop Victor (Abo-Assaley) was sent to America by the Church of Antioch and then began to encourage Orthodox Arabs to come under Antiochian jurisdiction rather than that of the Russians or the new American church. He did not, however, make much headway in his endeavors. In 1928, Aftimios and his group mainly focused on the establishment of their church's legal status ad incorporated the new Church as a legal entity and had some initial success. On May 26, another bishop was consecrated, Sophronios (Beshara) as bishop of Los Angeles, given responsibility "not only for the parishes who still considered themselves within the jurisdiction of the Russian Mission but also those parishes who comprise a part of the new Church and as a Missionary Bishop as well he was responsible for all territory west of the Mississippi River".
With three Bishops the new American Church appeared to have achieved a solid foundation but such was not the case. It became more and more apparent that Metr. Platon had changed his mind about the wisdom of attempting to establish an American Orthodox Catholic Church.
Early in 1929, Aftimios attempted to gain support with the Greek archbishop Alexander (Demoglou), the first primate of the newly formed Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America. Archbishop Alexander's response was that he had authority over all the Orthodox in America, a claim without any canonical merit. They were apparently "vexed over the fact that the Reverend Demetrius Cassis, an American of Greek parentage, had been ordained by Abp Aftimios for the new American Church".
At nearly the same time Aftimios sent a letter to his clergy indicating they were to keep their distance from Bp. Germanos (Shehadi) of Zahle, who had come from Antioch (without its authorization) mainly to attempt to gather funds from Arabic Orthodox parishes but had also worked at encouraging such parishes to come under Antioch's jurisdiction. While in America, he also accepted under his omophorion one Archpriest Basil Kherbawi, "one of the most zealous and loyal priests of the Syrian Mission of the Russian jurisdiction who had been suspended by Abp Aftimios for disloyalty".
In 1932, by a decision of a New York State court, Aftimios's cathedral was taken from him contrary to the canons and given over to the Metropolia, as its charter stated that it could only be used by a hierarch subject to the authority of the Russian church. Nevertheless, Aftimios consecrated two more bishops, Joseph (Zuk) for the Ukrainians, who had the allegiance of perhaps a half dozen such parishes and Ignatius (W.A.) Nichols (a former Episcopal cleric) as auxiliary bishop.
Armed with new bishops at his side but probably quite discouraged over the state of his jurisdiction both internally and externally, Aftimios then made the decision which some claim (or hoped) probably was the death-knell for the American Orthodox Catholic Church:
on April 29,1933 Abp. Aftimios, in defiance of all Orthodox Tradition, married in a civil ceremony to a young Evangelical Syrian girl born in America. Despite all the efforts of certain individuals, he refused to resign as Archbishop of the new Church.
It has been claimed by certain ethnic Orthodox writers that 3 days after Aftimios's wedding, the two new bishops of the church, Ignatius and Joseph, held a "meeting" by themselves, and believing that Aftimios had resigned, elected Joseph as the new "President Archbishop of the Church" with Ignatius being his designated successor. They voiced their support of Aftimios's marriage, stating that "inasmuch as it is merely a Canon of the European and Asiatic branches of the Holy Eastern Orthodox Church, that a Bishop should not be married, such has no valid weight on the American Church where conditions are dramatically opposite and therefore the North American Holy Synod congratulates His Eminence on the moral courage in the step he has taken".
Joseph denied making the agreement with Ignatius. He was already a sick man (and died on the 23rd of February 1934). Ignatius then left without letters and got married in June of 1933. In 1934 he was using the title Archbishop of the Holy Orthodox Church in America, thus acting independently as an episcopus vagans. In 1942 he became pastor of a small Community Church in Middletown Springs, Vermont where he died in 1947. Many in the independent movement claim apostolic succession from him and try to claim the Russian Orthodox lines from the American Church contrary to Canons. In Orthodoxy when a bishop leaves the Church he leaves all authority. Ignatius was acting independently as an old catholic and that is the only way to view such claims.
Bishop Sophronius was never the President or Locum Tenens of the North American Holy Synod or the Church. In fact Sophronius congratulated the couple on their marriage when they returned home.
Some ethnic writers would claim that later in 1933 Sophronios officially removed and suspended Aftimios in October. This is false simply because one bishop has no authority to act against another. They go on to claim he deposed Ignatius in November. The Antiochian Church moved the remains of some bishops from New York to Antiochian Village where they laid St Raphael to rest and Bp. Sophronius next to him. One minute they attempt to show some respect for this canonical bishop then claim he acted contrary to the canons to him look like he did not know the canons.
The ethnic writers like to claim the end of the "Holy Eastern Orthodox Catholic and Apostolic Church in North America" came when Sophronios died in 1934 (in Los Angeles). His date of death has been commonly believed to be in 1934, though his headstone reads 1940. No record of his death was located in L.A. but was discovered in New York.
Aftimios Ofiesh lived in relative obscurity with his wife Mariam Namey Ofiesh. Members of his wife's family in Wilkes-Barre record that he continued to dress as a bishop and was called by some of them "Uncle Sayedna." He died in Kingston on July 24, 1966, a few months before his 86th birthday, leaving instructions that he should be buried quietly without any clergy because of the treatment he received by the orthodox jurisdictions in America.
To show how unchristian the ethnic Orthodox are and how afraid of Abp, Ofiesh and his church they continue to be they refer to his church as no longer existing and his church today as an independent group claiming the corporate rights to the names "The Holy Eastern Orthodox Catholic and Apostolic Church in North America" THEOCACNA and "American Orthodox Catholic Church" (AOCC).
Mariam Namey Ofiesh sat on the corporate board of trustees. THEOCACNA has since declared itself successively a metropolitanate (1997) and then a patriarchate (2003). The ethnic also write that in 1999 it suffered a minor, they claim major, setback when four, actually 3, of its bishops broke from it and at first tried to claim the name for themselves. They has setup an altar apart from the Church which also violated the canons. In the same year, Mrs. Ofiesh retired from the board and departed this life the following year.
In 2008, the North American Holy Synod declared Archbishop Aftimios Ofiesh of blessed memory a Martyr for the Faith and list him as Martyr and Confessor of America. On the
*Archives of The Holy Eastern Orthodox Catholic and Apostolic Church in North America
*Secretary of the Commonwealth, Boston, MA. Corporate Records can be viewed online
*Biography of Archbishop Aftmios Ofiesh by Mariam Ofiesh
*Other websites also support this information