St. Athanasius the Apostolic
the 20th. Pope of Alexandria
(Source: The Coptic Synexarion)
He was born to pagan parents about the year
295 - 298 A.D. It happened that when he was in
school, he saw some Christian children acting the Christian rituals some as
priests, some as deacons and one of them as a bishop. He asked their permission
to participate with 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, they made him a patriarch over them in the play, they
enthroned him on a high place, and they offered him honor 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 would be in a great position one day."
Learning with Faith
When Athanasius' father died, his mother
brought him to Pope Alexandros, 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.
Defending the Faith and becoming the 20th
Pope of Alexandria
Pope Alexanderos had recommended Athanasius,
his deacon, for the Papacy, who lived with St. Anthony the father of the
monks and followed his example in asceticism. He manifested his brilliancy 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 A.D.
The historian Socrates testified about him
saying: "Athanasius fluency in speech and his 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 Anba "Salama". The church of
Ethiopia have followed the church of Alexandria since that time. The spiritual
and religious state in Ethiopia had established and settled since that time.
"Blessed are you when they revile and
persecute you.. for My sake." Matthew 5:11
St. Athanasius was exiled away from his Chair
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 to
take him back. 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,
were against Athanasius to look into
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 of the third charge, Arsanius the
bishop, who had agreed with them to accuse the Pope falsely for his murder, came
to the council. 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 A.D. where its bishop had met him with great honor.
Arius Dies and the Truth Revealed
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 death bed, in the
year 337 A.D. that Athanasius be returned to Alexandria.
After the departure of Constantine, the Empire
was divided, Constantine II over France, Egypt became under the rule of
Constantius, and Constance over Italy. With the mediation of Constantine, the
Pope returned in the year 338 A.D. The people of Alexandria received him with
The Second Exile
The Arians did not stop at that, but assembled
a council, where they excommunicated St. 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 340 A.D. 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:
a. The innocence of Pope Athanasius
b. Confirmed the cannons and the Creed of
faith of the Council of Nicea.
c. They excommunicated the Arian bishops.
d. 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 A.D. 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 hands. T
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
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 anathematized
him. He took over all the churches and its properties. Nevertheless, the pagans
whom he persecuted, killed him and burnt his body.
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 A.D., and provided
conditions for the acceptance of the Arians that wish to return to the church.
He also gave a special attention to the preaching among the pagans. This was not
appreciated by Emperor Julian, who loved and supported the pagans. 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 he 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 persecution of Emperor Julian is like a summer cloud that will go
away." While they were in these conversation, the news came to them that Julian
was killed in his war with the Persians, and that he was killed by St. Mercurius
(Abu Sefain), and that he said just before his death: "You have overcome me, O
You son of Mary."
The Fifth Exile
Jovian became Emperor after Julian had been
killed, then Valens became Emperor and he was Arian. In 367 A.D. 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 to return Athanasius to his Chair in 368 A.D.
Although Athanasius reached the age of 72, 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
He wrote several books about the Arians, on
the Incarnation, and other subjects. Abba Cosma (The 44th. 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. Anthony. He made it the uniform for bishops
and patriarchs. He was the one who ordained St. Anthony a priest, and then
Archpriest. He departed in peace on the seventh day of the Coptic month
Bashons of the year 89 A.M. (373 A.D.)
May his prayers be with us, and glory be to
God forever. Amen.