History of OCCA

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Mar Timotheus

It is a pity we have almost no information about the months Vilatte spent in Colombo in the company of Mar Julius. Given the similarities of their struggles with superiors and authorities, it is likely that they had much to say to one another. Certainly a careful examination was made into Vilatte's beliefs, and the resulting confession of faith was evidently referred to Antioch. No doubt his signature on documents of submission to Antioch were also required. Eventually, however, he was duly consecrated by the hierarchs already mentioned, in the Church of Our Lady of Good Death (Mar Julius' cathedral) in Colombo, in the presence of the American consul. The date was May 29, 1892. He was given the monastic name Timotheus and the title of Metropolitan of the Archdiocese of North America. Thereupon he returned to Wisconsin by way of France and Belgium. He remained in contact with the Patriarch Mar Ignatius Peter (III or IV depending on the numbering list) for many years.


George A. Kiraz, in an article in Hugoye: the Journal of Syriac Studies ("The Credentials of Mar Julius Alvares, bishop of Ceylon, Goa, and India Excluding Malabar" 7:2, July 2004) states, "A note given by Patriarch Afram I Barsoum to Mor Athanasius Yeshu Samuel upon his departure to the United States as Patriarchal Legate in 1949, in which Barsoum gives instructions and advice to his legate, states that Vilatte had lost his Syriac certificate. (Earlier, on December 10, 1938, Patriarch Barsoum, probably at the request of the Church of England, issued a statement in which he denied any relation with all schismatic bodies of the Vilatte line.)" This is the clearest information we have about later relations with the Church of Antioch; but it is worth noting that by 1938 Mar Timotheus had been dead nearly a decade and the severance of ties could have no formal effect, simply acknowledging a state of affairs time and distance had brought about.

Oddly enough, on his return he found that he had been deposed by Bishop Grafton of Fond du Lac, who found it necessary to receive the backing of the House of Bishops of the Protestant Episcopal Church, who declared that nobody but they had the right to consecrate bishops in the Diocese of Fond du Lac. It can only be said that this is a rather sweeping claim - surely the Roman Catholic, Lutheran, or Methodist bishops having jurisdiction over the same territory must have been surprised. Needless to say, since the original ground of dispute between Vilatte and Grafton was that Vilatte was not subject to Grafton, it is a remarkably audacious step to take. It is only worth mentioning because it continued to be, and in some quarters still is, used as evidence that Mar Timotheus was not a "real" bishop. (The Patriarch of Antioch who authorized his consecration probably believed the same of Bishop Grafton and the Episcopalian bishops who supported him.)

Mar Timotheus found his road rocky in more basic ways. The remainder of the nineteenth century and the first decade of the twentieth found him wandering, with relatively short stays, throughout North America and in Britain, France, Belgium, and Italy. His flock in Wisconsin, probably never more than 500, was poor and unable to support him, and in his absence gradually drifted away. His most lasting efforts were undoubtedly in consecrating bishops for various national churches in the United States and on the European continent. Of these, the most significant was the Polish National Catholic Church, which still thrives. At times he seemed to be tempted to reconcile with Rome - perhaps because of his persistent state of destitution - but at this stage it came to nothing.

After a period of wide travels in Europe and Canada as well as the United States, Mar Timotheus settled down in Chicago in 1907. In 1910, after some years with no communication from Antioch, the jurisdiction declared autocephaly. He continued to supply small groups of dissidents from larger jurisdictions with clerical orders. In 1915, Mar Timotheus received an Episcopal priest, Rev. Frederick Ebenezer Lloyd, into the Church and on December 19, 1915 consecrated him at Saint David's Chapel on East thirty-sixth Street, Chicago. During this consecration he addressed the congregation and his newly consecrated co-adjutor with the words, "needs no prophet to foretell for you and the American Catholic Church a great future in the Providence of God. The need for a Church both American and Catholic, and free from paparchy and all foreign denominations, has been felt for many years by Christians of all the denominations."

By this time Mar Timotheus, in his 60s, was slowing down. A Synod held in Chicago on April 10, 1920, elected Lloyd as his successor as Primate and Metropolitan of the American Catholic Church, and Mar Timotheus retired with the honorary title of Exarch.

He did come out of retirement in one significant way, however. This was in connection with the founding of the African Orthodox Church (AOC), with which our jurisdiction's history was to remain entwined for the next three decades.

Next The African Orthodox Church