St. Athanasius the Apostolic
On this day, of the year 89
A.M. (373 AD) the great Pope Anba Athanasius the apostolic, the twentieth Pope
of Alexandria departed. He was born to pagan parents about the year 295-298 AD
It happened that when he was in school, he saw some Christian children acting
out the Christi rituals, some as priests, some as deacons and one of them as a
bishop. He asked their permission to participate with but they refused saying:
"You are pagan, and you are not allowed mix with us." He answered them: "I am
from now on a Christian." They rejoiced with him, made him a patriarch over
them in the play, enthroned him on a high place, and: offered him honor and
respect. At that time, Pope Alexanderos passed by. When he saw them, he said to
those who were with him about Athanasius: "This child would he in a great
position one day."
When Athanasius' father died,
his mother brought him to Pope Alexanderos, who taught them the principles of
the Christian faith and baptized them. They gave their money to the poor and
stayed with the Pope, who taught Athanasius the church subjects, and ordained
him deacon and made him a personal secretary. The gifts of the Holy spirit
increased in him. He was chosen Patriarch on the 8th. of Bashans, of the year
44 A.M. (May 5th., 328 A.D.), after the departure of Pope Alexanderos.
Pope Alexandros had
recommended Athanasius, his deacon, for the Papacy, who lived with St Antonios,
the father of the monks and fol-lowed his example in asceticism. He manifested
his brilliance in exposing Arius in the universal council. When Arius said
about Christ that he was "similar" in essence with the Father, St Athanasius
said: "One in essence with the Father." In this fashion he manifested his
excellence, St Athanasius hid himself in the mountains, after the departure of
Pope Alexanderos, for he believed of his unworthiness to this serious and
important position. The people sought him until they found him, and brought him
to the bishops, and was ordained Pope in 328 AD.
The historian Socrates
testified about him saying: "Athanasius fluency in speech and outspokenness in
the council of Nicea brought over Him all the hardships that he encountered in
his life." After he became a Pope, he ordained for Ethiopia its first
Metropolitan whose name was Salama. The church of Ethiopia has followed the
church of Alexandria since that time. The spiritual and religious Elate in
Ethiopia established and settled since that time.
St. Athanasius was exiled away from his Chair five
1. The First Exile:
Arius, after he had been
excommunicated, tried to return to Alexandria, by sending a misleading and
flattering letter to Emperor Constantine, which touched him. The Emperor asked
Pope Athanasius take him hack. Athanasius refused to accept him because that
would be a contradiction to the decision of the Universal Council. The Arians
accused Pope Athanasius with these charges:
That he supported Pope Philominus, who rebelled against the government.
That he broke the communion cup of the priest Eskira, and destroyed his altar.
That he killed bishop Arsanius, and used his arms in sorcery.
That he also raped a nun.
The Pope cleared himself from
the first charge. A council was assembled in Tyre. Most of the attendants
were Arians, and were against Athanasius to look into these charges. In the
second charge, the Lord moved the priest Eskira's heart, who had conspired with
them to testify falsely against him, and he cleared the Pope from that charge.
With regard to the third
charge, Arsanius the bishop, who had agreed with them to accuse the Pope
falsely for his murder, came to the coun-cil. Pope Athanasius kept him in an
adjacent room. The Arians brought two arms of a dead person and claimed that
they were the arms of Arsanius. Then Arsanius was brought in, and showed his
arms to the council and declared his regrets. The Arians said that Athanasius
was a sorcerer and he was able to make arms for him. They became violent
against Arsanius, who left the council and went to the Emperor.
Then they looked in the matter
of the rape. They brought a harlot who claimed that Athanasius raped her. One
of the entourage of Pope Athanasius, a priest called Timothy said to her: "How
dare you to say that I came to your house, and overpowered your will?" She
thought that the priest was Athanasius for she did not know him, and she
said: "You are." At once the false claim was exposed. Athanasius could
not meet the Emperor because of the interference of the Arians, who accused him
before the Emperor that he prevented the export of the wheat from Alexandria to
the Emperor. The Emperor gave his order to exile Athanasius to Trefe (Treves)
in France in February 5th., 335 AD, where its bishop had met him with great
Arius died a horrible death as
Socrates said: "God made Arius to die in a public washroom, where his bowels
poured out of his body, and the people regarded his death as a punishment from
the Divine Justice."
When the Emperor heard about
the death of Arius, he recognized the innocence of Athanasius, and recommended
while he was on his deathbed, in the year 337 AD that Athanasius be returned to
Alexandria. After the departure of Constantine, the Empire was divided:
Constantine II over France,
became under the rule of Constantius,
Constance over Italy.
With the mediation of
Constantine, the Pope returned in the year 338 AD The people of Alexandria
received him with great joy.
2. The Second Exile:
The Arians did not stop at
that, but assembled a council, where they excommunicated Athanasius. They
appointed instead someone called Gregory, and they sent their decision to
Julius, Bishop of Rome. Pope Athanasius assembled a council in Alexandria in
349 AD where he protested against the Arians. Then he wrote a letter to all the
churches to declare his innocence.
However, the Arians influenced
Philogorius to help to install their appointed Patriarch Gregory to take over
the churches of Alexandria, and they also influenced Emperor Constantius.
The people of Alexandria were
horrified and decided to resist, but the Arians attacked the churches in
Alexandria on Good Friday, raped and slain many worshipers.
Pope Athanasius sought the
help of all the churches in the world, left his Chair, and traveled to Rome. A
council was assembled in Sardica, where they:
Declared the innocence of Pope Athanasius
Confirmed the cannons and the Creed of faith of the Council of Nicea.
Excommunicated the Arian bishops.
Deposed Gregory from his office.
They delegated two bishops to
meet Emperor Constans, the ruler of Italy, who agreed on what the council had
decided, and threatened his brother Emperor Constantius with war if he did not
return Athanasius to Alexandria. At the same time, some Egyptian radicals rose
up and killed Gregory in 349 AD Athanasius returned for the second time to his
Chair, and the people received him with joy. Gregory the Theologian, the writer
of the liturgy, described this reception saying:
"The people came as the flood of the Nile," and
he also pointed out to the palm branches, the carpets, and the many clapping
3. The Third Exile:
The Arians did not like the
return of Athanasius to Alexandria, and waited unwillingly until the death of
Emperor Constans. The Arians accused Athanasius before Constantius that he
collaborated with Magneutius, who was the enemy of the Emperor. Constantius
obtained a condemnation of Athanasius and his exile from a council assembled at
Arles, and another one at Milan. The soldiers went to the church of St. Mary,
which was built by Pope Theonas (The 16th. Patriarch). Athanasius was praying
the Vespers service. The soldiers rushed inside the church to arrest him, but
God blinded them from recognizing him from the rest of the people and the lamps
were extinguished. Athanasius escaped and went to the desert, and remained for
sometime with the monks. The Arians appointed George of Cappadocia, bishop on
Alexandria, but the Orthodox refused to accept him and anathema-tized him. He
took over all the churches and its properties. Nevertheless, the pagans whom he
persecuted, killed him and burnt his body.
4. The Fourth Exile:
After the death of
Constantius, Julian his cousin became Emperor. He wanted to rally the people of
Alexandria so he returned Athanasius. Athanasius assembled a council in 362
AD., and provided conditions for the acceptance of the Arians that wish to
return to the church. He also gave special attention to the preaching among the
pagans. Emperor Julian, who loved and supported the pagans, did not appreciate
He ordered the arrest of
Athanasius. Athanasius went out of Alexandria and took a boat to Upper Egypt.
The Governor followed him in another boat, and when he approached the boat of
Athanasius, he asked about the boat of the Pope. They said to him that be was
not too far away. The Governor went on his way in hurry, but he did not find
Athanasius, for he hid himself in another place. Those around the Pope were
greatly saddened because of the much tribulations that befell him. Athanasius
told them that in times of persecution, he felt great inner peace and that God
took care of him and embraced him with His grace more than any other time in
his life. He also said: "The persecu-tion of Emperor Julian is like a summer
cloud that will go away. While they were in these conversations, the news came
to them that Julian was killed in his war with the Persians, he was killed by
St. Mercurius (Abu Sefain), and he said just before his death: "You have
overcome me, 0 You Son of Mary."
5. The Fifth Exile:
Jovian became Emperor after
Julian had been killed, then Valens became Emperor, and he was Arian. In 367
AD, Valens ordered the exile of Athanasius again. Athanasius was forced to
leave Alexandria and hid in the tomb of his father. Meanwhile, the Emperor
killed 30 bishops who were pro-Athanasius. The Emperor saw the determination of
the Copts and decided to lift the persecution and return Athanasius to his
Chair in 368 AD.
Although Athanasius reached the
age of seventy-two, he did not compromise in performing his duties. For his
steadfastness and his firm stand for justice, the world described him by the
saying: "Athanasius against the world."
He wrote several books about
the Arians, on the Incarnation, and other subjects. Abba Cosma (the
forty-fourth Patriarch) praised these publications by saying: "I ask anyone who
would find the books of Athanasius to write them on paper, and for those who
could not find paper, to write them on their clothes."
Athanasius was the first Pope
to wear the monastic tunic from the hand of St. Antonios. He made it the
uniform for bishops and patri-archs. He was the one who ordained St. Antonios a
priest, and then Archpriest.
He departed in peace after he
had been on the Apostolic Throne for forty five years.
His prayers be with us and
Glory be to Our God, forever. Amen.