Tag Archives: St. Athanasius

They trample on it.

On my drive home yesterday, I listened in turn to both of the books that our women’s book group will discuss soon. This passage from On the Incarnation by St. Athanasius is one I’ve shared before; in its quiet way it reminds me of the enduring foundation of our Christian faith, that Christ has destroyed death. This is a thought and phrase that we Orthodox sing extravagantly every Pascha, but we don’t always act as though we believe it. St. Athanasius calls across the centuries to refresh our hearts by the witness of our brothers and sisters in the faith:

“A very strong proof of this destruction of death and its conquest by the cross is supplied by the present fact, namely this. All the disciples of Christ despise death; they take the offensive against it and instead of fearing it, by the sign of the cross and by faith in Christ trample on it as on something dead. Before the divine sojourn of the Saviour, even the holiest of men were afraid of death, and mourned the dead as those who perish. But now that the Saviour has raised his body, death is no longer terrible, but all those who believe in Christ tread it underfoot as nothing, knowing full well that when they die they do not perish, but live indeed, and become incorruptible through the resurrection. But that devil who of old wickedly exulted in death, now that the pains of death are loosed, he alone it is who remains truly dead.”

-St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation

Holy Martyr Gordius of 4th-Centry Cappadocia is one of those who took a fearless stance regarding death. He is commemorated on January 3rd.

Returning to non-existence.

“Instead of remaining in the state in which God had created them, they were in process of becoming corrupted entirely, and death had them completely under its dominion. For the transgression of the commandment was making them turn back again according to their nature; and as they had at the beginning come into being out of non-existence, so were they now on the way to returning, through corruption, to non-existence again. The presence and love of the Word had called them into being; inevitably, therefore when they lost the knowledge of God, they lost existence with it; for it is God alone Who exists, evil is non-being, the negation and antithesis of good.”

-St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation

St. Athanasius of Alexandria, d. 373.

Read the whole book online.

Busy being alive.

It was a drippy and drizzly morning when I drove to the post office to ship Christmas presents to a few of my family. I thought there would be a long line, so I gave myself plenty of time, because I wanted to go directly from there to the cemetery in time to pray with a friend at her husband’s interment.

But few people were at the post office, and three workers, so I finished that business and was out the door with time to spare. Before I got my car door open a man with a long and full beard said, “Hi, Gretchen!” but I didn’t recognize him behind his face mask. Actually, I wouldn’t have known him without the face mask, because I hadn’t seen him in six years, and never with such facial hair. I had to ask, “Who are you?” and as soon as he told me his name I gave him a big hug and a kiss. Mike doesn’t live in my town, but the last time we’d met was in the same shopping center, the year in which we both lost our spouses. Back then we weren’t in the talking mood, but this time we stood in front of the post office and caught up for half an hour. He told me that recently he has fallen in love — with the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom! What a joyous meeting we had.

I had another visit with friends yesterday, for which I made a big pot of chili beans; this afternoon a little tea time with a sister from church when I got back from the cemetery; and last week, a walk with two friends. It’s still fall here, but the colors are all turning to browns and grays, so I was surprised to see this mushroom, the brightest I’ve ever encountered. It was one of several of its kind popping up under bushes.

Some of my family are expected to arrive next week for a nice long Christmas visit. I need to hire a Christmas elf assistant, to help me accomplish all my projects — but that doesn’t sound likely, so I cheerily push one thing after another on to the list of what we can do together, after they arrive.

And for this month, our church women’s reading group has picked a great pair of books: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, and On the Incarnation by St. Athanasius. I am just amazed at us! Last month when Pippin’s family was down for Thanksgiving, the Professor and I were sitting around chatting about church history and doctrine, and he shared with me a paragraph from the first chapter of On the Incarnation. My response was that it was crystalline. That’s probably the first time I ever used that word, which just popped into my mind — that’s what Athanasius will do! And I told the Professor that since I was soon to start reading the book again, I would be sure to post that passage on my blog.

Beginning to read St. Athanasius again has been soothing and encouraging. I got the idea of posting a series of excerpts this month of Advent, when we anticipate The Incarnation. But as I looked over my past blog posts to make sure I didn’t repeat myself too much, I discovered that I have already posted that very paragraph the Professor read to me, plus many more long and short quotes. Maybe I will find something different, but not likely a series.

Tomorrow is the Feast of the Conception of the Theotokos. I’m looking forward to attending Liturgy for the feast. I feel very happy at the moment, thinking about it. The world is full of trouble and strife and unknowns, questions about what governments will do, and what I should do. But for at least many hours of every day, I know what to do, and I do it — one thing after another. My mind gets distracted constantly, but often when I bring it back to here and now, a great gush of joy falls on me, knowing that I am alive.

What appears to be harsh.

“The truly intelligent man pursues one sole objective: to obey and to conform to the God of all. With this single aim in view, he disciplines his soul, and whatever he may encounter in the course of his life, he gives thanks to God for the compass and depth of His providential ordering of all things.

“For it is absurd to be grateful to doctors who give us bitter and unpleasant medicines to cure our bodies, and yet to be ungrateful to God for what appears to us to be harsh, not grasping that all we encounter is for our benefit and in accordance with His  providence. For knowledge of God and faith in Him is the salvation and perfection of the soul.”

-St. Anthony the Great, 251-356

We are commemorating St. Anthony today, which prompted me to read a little about him. I learned about this book that looks like basic reading:

“The Life of the famed ascetic Saint Anthony the Great was written by Saint Athanasius of Alexandria. This is the first biography of a saint who was not a martyr, and is considered to be one of the finest of Saint Athanasius’ writings. Saint John Chrysostom recommends that this Life be read by every Christian.”

And one sentence from the story of his life jumped out at me:

“Saint Anthony spent twenty years in complete isolation
and constant struggle with the demons,
and he finally achieved perfect calm.”

Pray for us, Holy Father Anthony!