Athanasius: Bishop of Alexandria, Teacher of the Faith, 373 – Memorial, 2 May
Athanasius is one of the great heroes of the Christian tradition. As bishop of Alexandria from the year 328 until his death forty five years later, he defended the faith of the Church against a heresy known as Arianism.
The Arians taught that God’s only Son, the Word who became flesh as Jesus Christ, was not truly divine. Athanasius realized that this doctrine undercut the Christian assurance of salvation, because it meant that humans had no way of sharing in the very life and glory of God. But because the Word who became flesh was indeed true God, “one in Being with the Father,” all may enter into his own eternal union with the Father and the Holy Spirit. That is why Athanasius was so harsh against the Arians — he was fighting for the reality and the fullness of our salvation.
But the Arians had the support of several Roman emperors, and many other bishops saw nothing wrong in trying to reach a compromise which the Arians could accept. Athanasius stood firm — at times he even seemed to stand alone, and “Athanasius against the world” became a by-word of the age. He endured five periods of exile, yet his popularity among the citizens of Alexandria was so great that the Emperor once had to recall him in order to avoid insurrection in the city. The Church itself finally vindicated his stalwart witness, and it is due to him, more than to any other teacher, that we still have the Nicene Creed.
Prayer: O God, by the grace of your wisdom your blessed servant Athanasius stood fast against all error and false compromise in defense of the true divinity of our Saviour Jesus Christ. Stir our hearts to ponder your Word, and grant us never to faint or fear in our proclamation of your saving mystery; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who is one with you and the Holy Spirit, true God, now and for ever. Amen.
“The Word was with God, and the Word was God; and the Word became flesh and lived among us.” John 1.1, 14 (For All the Saints, The Anglican Church of Canada)