Pope Saint Athanasius
He was the only one who earned the title 'Apostolic'. The church bestowed him with that title referring to and linking him to the great time and era of the apostles.
He is referred to as an orthodox saint with great character. He is also the greatest theologian saint and he is often referred to as the father of the science of theology. St Athanasius is well recognised and venerated without any exception by all church dominations for his sainthood and theology genius.
He was the one who formulated and instituted the "Christian Creed’ at the Holy Ecumenical Council of Nicaea in 325 AD.
What did St Jerome say about him:
“There has been a time when the whole world was about to be Arian but for Athanasius”. He was the one who lead with steadfastness the helm of theological thinking to stand firm against the Arian heresy which mushroomed in that generation a serious threat to the true faith.
What other fathers said about him:
"If you heard a speech of Saint Athanasius and could not find a paper to take notes write it down on your shirt so that you won’t forget it”
His greatness was not confined to the science of theology and his excellence in this area but moreover included the spiritual areas too. The following were the words uttered by another saint about him. “If you speak of Athanasius you speak of the virtue itself. Besides being a genius theologian he was also a pious saint”.
He lived in the fourth century; a century marked by the greatest Christians in both theology and monasticism areas. This century is also considered as the greatest era for Christianity after the apostles' era.
His early maturity:
Since his early youth, he was characterized by a depth of thought, knowledge and intelligence. His genius was obvious and was well recognised by the world during his youth and also during his time as pope of Alexandria. As a young youth he wrote two books "Against the Heathen" and "The Incarnation of the Word of God" together they constitute the first classic work of developed Orthodox theology.
His book "The Incarnation of the Word of God" :
This book is considered to be the greatest book produced on the subject of incarnation. In his book he explains convincingly, cogently and in logical sequencing the holy incarnation.
In his early youth, he was a deacon of Pope Alexandros 19th:
The famous saying about Stephanus, one of the first deacons, how he faced three gatherings of philosophers who were unable to resist the wisdom and the spirit which he spoke with (Acts 6) was said too of St Athanasius.
Pope Alexandros took him with him to attend the first Ecumenical Council of Nicea in the year 325, as the then deacon Athanasius stood in confidence to respond and argue Arius’s heresy even though Arius was the most famous preacher of his generation. Athanasius answers backed up with verses from the Bible and strong arguments defeated this heretic who puzzled and dazed his generation. He simply could not stand up to or resist the wisdom and the spirit, which was spoken by St Athanasius.
Emperor Constantine said to him: “You are a hero the church of Christ”.
His triumph was on one hand the reason for the admiration he gained from the world over but on the other hand also gained him the fierce and cruel enmity in treatment by the Aryans.
Pope Athanasius the Patriarch:
St Athanasius was crowned Pope of Alexandria in the year 328 AD, three years after the Holy Ecumenical Council of Nicea. He sat on the chair of St Mark at the age of 30, the youngest pope to sit on the chair of the Holy See of St Mark in Alexandria. One of his first jobs was to designate and ordain a bishop for Ethiopia Saint Ofromentos (meaning man of God). His action allowed Christianity to enter these areas of Africa for the very first time. This is why St Athanasius is considered as the spiritual father of this region.
His pontificate continued on the chair of Holy See of St Mark for 45 years making him the second longest patriarch sitting on that chair after Pope Cyril V whose pontificate lasted 52 years
He appointed St Didymus the blind as director and professor of the Ecclesiastic College who, in spite of his disability managed to invent an embossed way of writing on the wood fifteen centuries before even Braille came to be known.
Athanasius continued to fight and resist the Arian thinking even after the death of Arius not fearing his followers even though the Arians were getting even more virulent and violent. In his strife to stop their heresy he wrote a series of four books to answer the misperception of the Arians to some verses of the Holy Bible.
The steadfastness of St Athanasius:
One of the most serious dangers of the Arians was that they were able to recruit and gain some bishops to Aryanism. A second serious danger was that they had a strong connection with the Imperial Palace. In their fierceness to win they accused Athanasius of some very serious and compound charges that resulted in him being charged and sentenced by a council to an exile in some western countries. St. Athanasius continued to preach and explain the correct faith which gained him friends and supporters in his exile.
In fact St Athanasius was exiled four times. On the fifth time the soldiers who were about to execute the order of exile arrived to the cathedral where he was based only to be faced with masses of the population protecting their pope adamant not to allow the soldiers to reach him.
The standoff was strong and made it clear to the soldiers that the only way to reach the pope would be over their dead bodies. The commander retreated and went back to the emperor explaining that executing the orders will result in a massacre and a blood bath. As a result the order of exile was retreated.
He was told "the whole world is against you", he replied; "and I am also against the world."
On one occasion he wanted to meet with Emperor Constantine but was unable to do so. He resorted to disguising himself and dressing up as a simple peasant and went to the Imperial Palace. The Emperor was out on his horse. Athanasius grabbed the rein of his horse and said to him: "Constantine Stop, I need to have a word with you." The Emperor was amazed at who will act this way. As he looked closer he recognised him and dismounted his horse to talk to him.
Relastionship with Saint Anthony the Great Saint:
Saint Anthony was the spiritual father and the compassionate heart that St Athanasius confided in him and looked up to for support.
St Athanasius wrote a book on the life of St. Anthony and sent it to Rome where the book had a major influence in the spread of monasticism over there. Later on, the book also had an effect in the repent and conversion of St Augustine.
He wrote in this book, saying about St Anthony: "I myself poured water on his hands" meaning helped him wash his hands to emphasise on the fact that he was taught on his hands and being looked after by him.
During the Aryanism crisis against both the church and Athanasius, the great St Anthony left his solitary confinement in the mountain and came down to Alexandria to be with and support Athanasius. The presence of this blessed elderly (almost 100 years old) had a great impact in supporting Athanasius.
After a really exhausting long life struggle, he fell asleep in the good old age of 75 years around the year 373.
The Coptic Church commemorates him and celebrates his life on 15th May of each year.
May his blessings be with us all