Athanasius of Alexandria has been highly regarded throughout Christian history, East and West. Today is one of his feast days In the Orthodox Church. I first heard of Athanasius when I was a Protestant, because his treatise On the Incarnation was recommended to me many times. I finally read it a few years ago at Christmastime, and found it very encouraging. I notice lots of discussion of Athanasius still going on in the blogosphere in this century.
Athanasius was born about 297 and was present as a deacon at the Council of Nicea in 325. It was he who suggested the word “consubstantial” (homoousion) to describe Christ’s relationship to the Father, in opposition to the Arians who believed Christ to be a creature. The word was immediately adopted and became an important point of sound doctrine from then on.
When Bishop Alexander of Alexandria died, Athanasius reluctantly consented to take the bishopric, and he remained bishop for 43 years, though he spent a total of 17 of those years in exile at the command of four different emperors, and was many times forced to leave the city under threats to his life. These incidents led to the phrase “Athanasius contra mundum” or “Athanasius against the world.”
I don’t need to repeat what I have written before, or tell you things about St. Athanasius that you can easily discover online, but I wanted to remember this important saint here. Here is are some excerpts from St. Nicolai in his Prologue for today:
Only for a while before his death did he live peacefully, as a good shepherd among his good flock, who truly loved him. Few are the saints who were so mercilessly slandered and so criminally persecuted as was St. Athanasius. His great soul patiently endured all for the love of Christ and, in the end, emerged victorious from this entire terrible and long-lasting struggle.
For counsel, for comfort and for moral support, Athanasius often visited St. Anthony the Great, whom he respected as his spiritual father. A man who formulated the greatest truth, Athanasius had much to suffer for that truth–until the Lord gave him repose in His kingdom as His faithful servant, in the year 373 A.D.
Through Athanasius, wisdom shone,
And the truth of God enlightened men.
The people recognized that wisdom is not bitter,
But, to all who drink it to the bottom, it is sweet;
To all who suffer for it, it is dear.