Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Saint Athanasius the Great, Bishop, Doctor of the Church, Early Church Father




Saint Athanasius the Great (also known as Athanasius of Egypt; Athanasius of Alexandria; Champion of Christ's Divinity; Champion of Orthodoxy; Father of Orthodoxy; Holy Hierarch; Pillar of the Church) is a Greek Church Father, as well as a Doctor of the Church. 

He was born around 295 A.D. in Alexandria, Egypt. He studied the classics and theology in Alexandria and was deacon and secretary to bishop Alexander of Alexandria and as such attended the Council of Nicea in 325 where he fought for the defeat of Arianism and acceptance of the divinity of Jesus. 

Upon Alexander's death in 328, Athanasius succeeded him as bishop. He formulated the doctrine of homo-ousianism which says that Christ is the same substance as the Father; Arianism taught that Christ was different from and a creation of the Father, a creature and not part of God. 

Athanasius spent seventeen of the forty-six years of his episcopate in exile when the dispute over Arianism spilled over from theology to politics, and he fought for the acceptance of the Nicene Creed.

Refusing to readmit Arius to ecclesiastical communion, he was accused on false charges by Eusebius of Nicomedia, and brought to trial at Tyre, in 335, but, as he could not hope for a fair trial, he withdrew from Tyre, appealing to the Emperor Constantine who banished him to Trier. He returned to his see in 337 with the permission of Constantine II, but again met with opposition by the Eusebian faction, and fled to Rome, where his innocence was proclaimed by Pope Julius. 

After the death of Gregory, Bishop of Alexandria, in 345, Athanasius again returned to his see. He was condemned at a council in Milan around 355, in which his enemies predominated, and he was exiled to Egypt, where he lived among the monks for seven years. After another short occupancy of his see he was banished, in 364, by Emperor Valens. 

He was recalled by his flock after four months, and spent the remainder of his life proclaiming the Divinity of Christ, thus well deserving the title Father of Orthodoxy. His writings include History of the Arians and On the Incarnation.

Saint Athanasius died in Alexandria, Egypt in 373 A.D. of natural causes.

Saint Jerome included Athanasius in his book "Lives of Illustrious Men", and is as follows:

Athanasius the bishop

Athanasius bishop of Alexandria, hard pressed by the wiles of the Arians, fled to Constans emperor of Gaul. Returning thence with letters and, after the death of the emperor, again taking refuge in flight, he kept in hiding until the accession of Jovian, when he returned to the church and died in the reign of Valens. Various works by him are in circulation; two book Against the nations one Against Valens and Ursacius, On virginity, very many On the persecutions of the Arians, also On the titles of the Psalms and Life of Anthony the monk, also Festal epistles and other works too numerous to mention.


Below are some quotations from various works by Saint Athanasius the Great:

For the Son of God became man so that we might become God.

* * * * * * *

Brethren, how fine a thing it is to move from festival to festival, from prayer to prayer, from holy day to holy day. The time is now at hand when we enter on a new beginning: the proclamation of the blessed Passover, in which the Lord was sacrificed. We feed as on the food of life, we constantly refresh our souls with his precious blood, as from a fountain. Yet we are always thirsting, burning to be satisfied. But he himself is present for those who thirst and in his goodness invites them to the feast day. Our Savior repeats his words: If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.

He quenched the thirst not only of those who came to him then. Whenever anyone seeks him he is freely admitted to the presence of the Savior. The grace of the feast is not restricted to one occasion. Its rays of glory never set. It is always at hand to enlighten the mind of those who desire it. Its power is always there for those whose minds have been enlightened and who meditate day and night on the holy Scriptures, like the one who is called blessed in the holy psalm: Blessed is the man who has not followed the counsel of the wicked, or stood where sinners stand, or sat in the seat of the scornful, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.

Moreover, my friends, the God who first established this feast for us allows us to celebrate it each year. He who gave up his Son to death for our salvation, from the same motive gives us this feast, which is commemorated every year. This feast guides us through the trials that meet us in this world. God now gives us the joy of salvation that shines out from this feast, as he brings us together to form one assembly, uniting us all in spirit in every place, allowing us to pray together and to offer common thanksgiving, as is our duty on the feast. Such is the wonder of his love: he gathers to this feast those who are far apart, and brings together in unity of faith those who may be physically separated from each other.

from an Easter letter

* * * * * * *

The Word who became all things for us is close to us, our Lord Jesus Christ who promises to remain with us always. He cries out, saying: See, I am with you all the days of this age. He is himself the shepherd, the high priest, the way and the door, and has become all things at once for us. In the same way, he has come among us as our feast and holy day as well. The blessed Apostle says of him who was awaited: Christ has been sacrificed as our Passover. It was Christ who shed his light on the psalmist as he prayed: You are my joy, deliver me from those surrounding me. True joy, genuine festival, means the casting out of wickedness. To achieve this one must live a life of perfect goodness and, in the serenity of the fear of God, practice contemplation in one's heart.

This was the way of the saints, who in their lifetime and at every stage of life rejoiced as at a feast. Blessed David, for example, not once but seven times rose at night to win God's favor through prayer. The great Moses was full of joy as he sang God' s praises in hymns of victory for the defeat of Pharaoh and the oppressors of the Hebrew people. Others had hearts filled always with gladness as they performed their sacred duty of worship, like the great Samuel and the blessed Elijah. Because of their holy lives they gained freedom, and now keep festival in heaven. They rejoice after their pilgrimage in shadows, and now distinguish the reality from the promise.

When we celebrate the feast in our own day, what path are we to take? As we draw near to this feast, who is to be Our guide? Beloved, it must be none other than the one whom you will address with me as our Lord Jesus Christ. He says: I am the way. As blessed John tells us: it is Christ who takes away the sin of the world. It is he who purifies our souls, as the prophet Jeremiah says: Stand upon the ways; look and see which is the good path, and you will find in it the way of amendment for your souls.

In former times the blood of goats and the ashes of a calf were sprinkled on those who were unclean, but they were able to purify only the body. Now through the grace of God's Word everyone is made abundantly clean. If we follow Christ closely we shall be allowed, even on this earth, to stand as it were on the threshold of the heavenly Jerusalem, and enjoy the contemplation of that everlasting feast, like the blessed apostles, who in following the Savior as their leader, showed, and still show, the way to obtain the same gift from God. They said: See, we have left all things and followed you. We too follow the Lord, and we keep his feast by deeds rather than by words.

from an Easter letter

* * * * * * *

You will not see anyone who is really striving after his advancement who is not given to spiritual reading. And as to him who neglects it, the fact will soon be observed by his progress.

* * * * * * *

The Word of God, incorporeal, incorruptible, and immaterial, entered our world.

Out of his loving-kindness for us he came to us, and we see this in the way he revealed himself openly to us. Taking pity on mankind's weakness, and moved by our corruption, he could not stand aside and see death have the mastery over us. He did not want creation to perish and his Father's work in fashioning man to be in vain. He therefore took to himself a body, no different from our own, for he did not wish simply to be in a body or only to be seen.

By dying for others, he immediately banished death for all mankind. The corruption of death no longer holds any power over mankind, thanks to the Word, who has come to dwell among us through his one body.

from a talk


Copyright © 2012 Steve Smith. All Rights Reserved.


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