On St. Athanasius

Greetings in Christ,

Athanasius Contra Mundum - Athanasius Against the World

May 2 is the Feast of St. Athanasius. While we in the West may not know much about him, he was a defender of true Christian Faith as was Martin Luther. This is a brief account of God’s Servant, Athanasius.

The Church has always faced challenges to its’ message of salvation through the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. While the Church in our age faces significant challenges, there was a time in the very earliest years of the Church’s life that it faced an even more significant threat. In the face of this threat, God raised up Athanasius as the champion of Orthodox Christianity.

In the early fourth century, the Church was faced with the double crisis of the Arian heresy and desire of the Roman Emperors to hold supreme authority over the Church. The Arian heresy holds that Jesus is not the eternal Son of the Father, of the same essence and being with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Arius and his supporters held that there was a time in which Jesus did not exist and that he was created when he was begotten by the Father. This denies that Jesus is God in the same manner that the Father and the Spirit are God.

This heresy gained popularity throughout the Church and was the source of much conflict among Christians. In a move to settle the dispute, Emperor Constantine called the First Ecumenical Council at Nicaea. Though not a bishop at the time of the Council and not allowed to sit in on the Council, Athanasius worked in the background helping to shape the work of the Council. The Council produced the Nicene Creed that we affirm to this day, but it did not end the support for the Arian heresy.

At the same time, the Arian heresy was gaining support in the Church, the Emperors who followed Constantine wanted to use the Church as means to consolidate their power. They enlisted the support of Arian bishops and theologians who affirmed the Emperor’s authority over the Church in exchange for imperial protection.

Athanasius, who was now bishop of Alexandria in Egypt, refused to affirm the Emperor’s authority over the Church and was steadfast in his opposition to the growing Arian heresy in the Church. His refusal led to not one, but five separate exiles for Athanasius. Yet, even the threat of imperial might against him and the widespread acceptance of the Arian heresy, Athanasius refused to yield. it was indeed for a time Athanasius against the world as empire and heresy threatened to take over the Church

His confession that Jesus is true God, Son of the Father from eternity and that the Church is not the puppet of the state earned him the honor of being called the Father of Orthodoxy. His courageous and faithful stand when it appeared that none were standing with him helped to return the Church the faith confessed in the Nicene Creed, the faith we affirm to this day.