St. Athanasius

St. Athanasius the Apostolic was born in 298 AD to pagan parents. While at school, he saw some Christian children acting out the Christian rituals, some were acting as priests, some as deacons and one of them as a bishop. He asked to join them, but they refused saying: “You are pagan, and you are not allowed to mix with us.” He answered them: “I am from now on a Christian.” They rejoiced with him and made him a patriarch over them in the play, and treated him with honour and respect. At that time Pope Alexandros passed by, when he saw them, he said to those who were with him about Athanasius: “This child will take on a great position one day.”

When Athanasius’ father passed away, his mother brought him to Pope Alexandros, who taught him the principles of the Christian faith and baptised both Athanasius and his mother. They gave their money to the poor, and stayed with the Pope and Athanasius was then ordained as a deacon and was made the pope’s personal secretary. Before reaching the age of 20, Athanasius wrote a paper entitled ‘On the Incarnation’, explaining that Jesus was both God and Man. In about 319, when Athanasius was a deacon, a presbyter named Arias began teaching that there was a time before God the Father begat Jesus and before that time, Jesus did not exist. Athanasius responded by explaining that there was an eternal relationship between them. Thus began Christianity’s fight against the heresy of Arianism.

Athanasius fought consistently against Arianism all his life. As a deacon, he accompanied Alexander of Alexandria to the first council of Nicea in 325, which produced the Nicene Creed. The Coptic church maintains a tradition that Athanasius was the main author of the Nicene Creed, and has therefore given him the title of Defender of the Faith.

The gifts of the Holy spirit increased in him and Pope Alexanderos had recommended Athanasius for the Papacy, and after the departure of Pope Alexanderos, St. Athanasius hid himself in the mountains, as he believed that he was unworthy to take on such a position. The people sought him until they found him, and brought him to the bishops, and he was ordained Pope in 328 A.D.

After he became a Pope, he ordained for Ethiopia its first Metropolitan whose name was Bishop Salama. The church of Ethiopia have followed the church of Alexandria since that time. St Athanasius is also the first person to identify the same 27 books of the New Testament that are in use today. He also wrote a biography of St Anthony the Great that later served as an inspiration to Christian monastics in both the Eastern and the Western world.

St Athanasius held the position of Patriarch of Alexandria for 45 years, 16 of which he spent in exile. As a result of rises and falls in Arianism’s influence, he was banished from Alexandria only to be later restored on at least five separate occasions. During some of his exiles, he spent time with the Desert Fathers; monks and hermits who lived in remote areas of Egypt. The Saint departed in peace at the age of 72 and was originally buried in Alexandria. His holy body was later transferred to Italy but on 15th May 1973, after his historical visit to the Vatican, Pope Shenouda III restored the relics of St. Athanasius the Great to Egypt and these are currently preserved under St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Deir El-Anba Rowais, Abbassiya, Cairo, Egypt.