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Who are the heroes of Orthodoxy? – St. Athanasius of Alexandria

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March 1, 2017

 Who are the heroes of Orthodoxy? – St. Athanasius of Alexandria

When we start speaking about heroes we can easily begin talking about the patristic fathers. They are the ones who stood firmly in their Orthodox faith and tradition and defended them till their last breath. In this series we will begin speaking about one hero who is recognized as a true defender of orthodoxy; St Athanasius the Apostolic.

St Athanasius of Alexandria was born in the late 3rd century (the year 298 AD). In the synaxarium of the saints of the Coptic Church we see how he quickly catches the attention of Bishop Alexander of Alexandria (the Patriarch at that time). Bishop Alexander notices that there is something special about St Athanasius. He notices how he knows the rites, rituals and prayers of the Coptic Church. St Athanasius was taken on as a disciple by Bishop Alexander and he was taught by some of the greatest theologians. St Athanasius was not only receiving a solid academic formation under Bishop Alexander, but he was also a disciple of one of the greatest of ascetics like St Anthony.

 

As a young man he began to contribute to the theological teachings of the church. In the year 325 AD (a crucial year in the history of the church when the council of Nicea was held) he was one of the people who Bishop Alexander took with him to argue against the Arian heresy. The contribution of St Athanasius was crucial in that council. Tradition also tells us he contributed tremendously to the formulation of the orthodox creed as we know it today.

The Aryan heresy was convicted and denied denounced at the council of Nicea. Upon the his return to Alexandria, Bishop Alexander knowing that the time of his departure was approaching, chose St. Athanasius to be the next Patriarch for the See of St. Mark. In humility the young man, who at the time was only 28 to 30 years old, tried to flee from this honor. However he was compelled by the entire congregation and the clergy to comply. He was taken and enthroned Patriarch and Bishop of Alexandria.He then spent 45 years as the shepherd of Christ’s flock in Egypt. Throughout those years he was fought against day in and day out. He spent almost 20 years in exile because he chose to stand firm in his faith. Also throughout this period he contributed greatly to the Orthodox faith. He wrote the biography of St Anthony and two great books held in very high esteem in the apostolic traditions; ‘Against the Heathen’ and ‘On the Incarnation of the Word’.

He wrote many letters where he combatted many heresies like Aryanism and heresies against the Holy Spirit. He also contributed with his contemporaries, the Cappadocian fathers in leading the church along the path of the Orthodox faith.

St Athanasius has also influenced other great fathers of the church, as it is evident from what St Gregory the theologian had to say about him:

“When I praise Athanasius, virtue itself is my theme: for I name every virtue as often as I mention him who was possessed of all virtues. He was the true pillar of the Church. His life and conduct were the rule of bishops, and his doctrine the rule of the Orthodox faith”

It is beautiful to see one of the heroes of the church (St Gregory the theologian) speak so highly of another hero like St Athanasius.

Our Coptic Orthodox church is honored to be the church of St Athanasius. In the doxology that is said for St Athanasius, the church venerates him saying:

“O you who are strong in managing the ship, O you the distinguished fighter, who is victorious in the wars, the luminous lamp. The Leader of Orthodoxy is Athanasius the Apostolic, the instructor of the eloquent sheep that is for Christ. Your truthful teaching pierced the hearts of the heretics like a double edged sword by the power of the Trinity”

We ask that he may remember us before the throne of God so that, like him, we may also stand firm and defend our faith till the very last breath.

 

Remember know your faith, live your faith and teach your faith

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