St. Athanassios the Great
Athanasius of Alexandria (Greek: Ἀθανάσιος Ἀλεξανδρείας), also called Athanasius the Great, Athanasius the Confessor or, primarily in the Coptic Orthodox Church, Athanasius the Apostolic, was the 20th bishop of Alexandria (as Athanasius I)
- im-mortal = a-thanassios
- mortal = thanassimo
Shining forth with works of Orthodoxy, ye quenched every false belief and teaching and became trophy-bearers and conquerors. And since ye made all things rich and with true piety, greatly adorning the Church with magnificence, Athanasius and wise Cyril, ye both have worthily found Christ God, Who doth grant great mercy unto all.
O great Hierarchs of piety and brave champions of the Church of Christ, you watch over all who sing, “Save us who in faith honor you, O Compassionate.”
Extract from Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
In the half-century after the First Ecumenical Council held in Nicea in 325, if there was one man whom the Arians feared and hated more intensely than any other, as being able to lay bare the whole error of their teaching, and to marshal, even from exile or hiding, the beleaguered forces of the Orthodox, it was Saint Athanasius the Great. This blazing lamp of Orthodoxy, which imperial power and heretics’ plots could not quench when he shone upon the lampstand, nor find when he was hid by the people and monks of Egypt, was born in Alexandria about the year 296. He received an excellent training in Greek letters and especially in the sacred Scriptures, of which he shows an exceptional knowledge in his writings. Even as a young man he had a remarkable depth of theological understanding; he was only about twenty years old when he wrote his treatise “On the Incarnation.” Saint Alexander, the Archbishop of Alexandria, brought him up in piety, ordained him his deacon, and after deposing Arius for his blasphemy against the Divinity of the Son of God, took Athanasius to the First Council in Nicea in 325. Saint Athanasius was to spend the remainder of his life laboring in defense of this Holy Council. In 326, before his death, Alexander appointed Athanasius his successor.
In 325, Arius had been condemned by the Council of Nicea; yet through his hypocritical confession of Orthodox belief, Saint Constantine the Great was persuaded by Arius’s supporters that he should be received back into the communion of the Church. But Athanasius, knowing well the perverseness of his mind, and the disease of heresy lurking in his heart, refused communion with Arius. The heresiarch’s followers then began framing false charges against Athanasius. Finally Saint Constantine the Great, misled by grave charges of the Saint’s misconduct (which were completely false), had him exiled to Tiberius (Treves) in Gaul in 336. When Saint Constantine was succeeded by his three sons Constantine II, Constans, and Constantius, in 337, Saint Athanasius returned to Alexandria in triumph. But his enemies found an ally in Constantius, Emperor of the East, and he spent a second exile in Rome. It was ended when Constans prevailed with threats upon his brother Constantius to restore Athanasius (see also Nov. 6). For ten years Saint Athanasius strengthened Orthodoxy throughout Egypt, visiting the whole country and encouraging all: clergy, monastics, and lay folk, being loved by all as a father. After Constans’s death in 350, Constantius became sole Emperor, and Athanasius was again in danger. On the evening of February 8, 356, General Syrianus with more than five thousand soldiers surrounded the church in which Athanasius was serving, and broke open the doors. Athanasius’s clergy begged him to leave, but the good shepherd commanded that all the flock should withdraw first; and only when he was assured of their safety, he also, protected by divine grace, passed through the midst of the soldiers and disappeared into the deserts of Egypt, where for some six years he eluded the soldiers and spies sent after him.
When Julian the Apostate succeeded Constantius in 361, Athanasius returned again, but only for a few months. Because Athanasius had converted many pagans, and the priests of the idols in Egypt wrote to Julian that if Athanasius remained, idolatry would perish in Egypt, the heathen Emperor ordered not Athanasius’s exile, but his death. Athanasius took a ship up the Nile. When he learned that his imperial pursuers were following him, he had his men turn back, and as his boat passed that of his pursuers, they asked him if he had seen Athanasius. “He is not far,” he answered. After returning to Alexandria for a while, he fled again to the Thebaid until Julian’s death in 363. Saint Athanasius suffered his fifth and last exile under Valens in 365, which only lasted four months because Valens, fearing a sedition among the Egyptians for their beloved Archbishop, revoked his edict in February, 366.
The great Athanasius passed the remaining seven years of his life in peace. Of his fifty-seven years as Patriarch, he had spent some seventeen in exiles. Shining from the height of his throne like a radiant evening star, and enlightening the Orthodox with the brilliance of his words for yet a little while, this much-suffering champion inclined toward the sunset of his life, and in the year 373 took his rest from his lengthy sufferings, but not before another luminary of the truth — Basil the Great — had risen in the East, being consecrated Archbishop of Caesarea in 370. Besides all of his other achievements, Saint Athanasius wrote the life of Saint Anthony the Great, with whom he spent time in his youth; ordained Saint Frumentius first Bishop of Ethiopia; and in his Paschal Encyclical for the year 367 set forth the books of the Old and New Testaments accepted by the Church as canonical. Saint Gregory the Theologian, in his “Oration On the Great Athanasius”, said that he was “Angelic in appearance, more angelic in mind; … rebuking with the tenderness of a father, praising with the dignity of a ruler … Everything was harmonious, as an air upon a single lyre, and in the same key; his life, his teaching, his struggles, his dangers, his return, and his conduct after his return … he treated so mildly and gently those who had injured him, that even they themselves, if I may say so, did not find his restoration distasteful.”
Extract from Orthodox Church in America
Saint Athanasios the Great, Archbishop of Alexandria, was a great Father of the Church and a pillar of Orthodoxy. He was born around the year 297 in the city of Alexandria into a family of pious Christians. He received a fine secular education, but he acquired more knowledge by diligent study of the Holy Scripture. In his childhood, the future hierarch Athanasios became known to St. Alexander the Patriarch of Alexandria (May 29). A group of children, which included Athanasios, was playing at the seashore. The Christian children decided to baptize their pagan playmates. The young Athanasios, whom the children designated as “bishop”, performed the Baptism, precisely repeating the words he heard in church during this sacrament. Patriarch Alexander observed all this from a window. He then commanded that the children and their parents be brought to him. He conversed with them for a long while, and determined that the Baptism performed by the children was done according to the Church order. He acknowledged the Baptism as real and sealed it with the sacrament of Chrismation. From this moment, the Patriarch looked after the spiritual upbringing of Athanasios and in time brought him into the clergy, at first as a reader, and then he ordained him as a deacon.
It was as a deacon that St. Athanasios accompanied Patriarch Alexander to the First Ecumenical Council at Nicea in the year 325. At the Council, St. Athanasios refuted of the heresy of Arius. His speech met with the approval of the Orthodox Fathers of the Council, but the Arians, those openly and those secretly so, came to hate Athanasios and persecuted him for the rest of his life.
After the death of holy Patriarch Alexander, St. Athanasios was unanimously chosen as his successor in the See of Alexandria. He refused, accounting himself unworthy, but at the insistence of all the Orthodox populace that it was in agreement, he was consecrated bishop when he was twenty-eight, and installed as the archpastor of the Alexandrian Church. St. Athanasios guided the Church for forty-seven years, and during this time he endured persecution and grief from his antagonists. Several times he was expelled from Alexandria and hid himself from the Arians in desolate places, since they repeatedly tried to kill him. St. Athanasios spent more than twenty years in exile, returned to his flock, and then was banished again.
There was a time when he remained as the only Orthodox bishop in the area, a moment when all the other bishops had fallen into heresy. At the false councils of Arian bishops he was deposed as bishop. Despite being persecuted for many years, the saint continued to defend the purity of the Orthodox Faith, and he wrote countless letters and tracts against the Arian heresy. When Julian the Apostate (361-363) began a persecution against Christians, his wrath first fell upon St. Athanasios, whom he considered a great pillar of Orthodoxy. Julian intended to kill the saint in order to strike Christianity a grievous blow, but he soon perished himself. Mortally wounded by an arrow during a battle, he cried out with despair: “You have conquered, O Galilean.” After Julian’s death, St. Athanasios guided the Alexandrian Church for seven years and died in 373, at the age of seventy-six.
Numerous works of St. Athanasios have been preserved; four Orations against the Arian heresy; also an Epistle to Epictetus, bishop of the Church of Corinth, on the divine and human natures in Jesus Christ; four Epistles to Serapion, Bishop of Thmuis, about the Holy Spirit and His Equality with the Father and the Son, directed against the heresy of Macedonius. Other apologetic works in defense of Orthodoxy have been preserved, among which is the Letter to the emperor Constantius. St. Athanasios wrote commentaries on Holy Scripture, and books of a moral and didactic character, as well as a biography of St. Anthony the Great (January 17), with whom St. Athanasios was very close. St. John Chrysostom advised every Orthodox Christian to read this Life.
The memory of St. Athanasios is celebrated on January 18 with St. Cyril of Alexandria.