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Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church, Linglestown, Pennsylvania, USA

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May 2 — Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, 373

Scripture

(And Jesus said) "When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes. A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household! So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows. Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven."

St. Matthew 10.23-32

Commemoration

Athanasius was one of the champions of Christian orthodoxy against the Arians, who denied that Christ was "one in Being with the Father" and claimed that "there was a time when the Son was not."

Born in Alexandria (Egypt) ca. 295, nothing is known of his family. His parents probably were Egyptians, and more than one commentator remarks about the unusual darkness of Athanasius' skin. He received a good education in the classics and in the Christian Scriptures and theology.

About the year 312, Athanasius entered the Alexandrian clergy and was ordained a deacon about 318. Athanasius accompanied Bishop Alexander to the Council of Nicaea in 325 where the view of Arius (see above) were condemned and the Nicene Creed was written. Alexander designated Athanasius to be his successor; although confirmed by the Egyptian bishops, he faced vicious attacks by the Arians who had opposed him. This opposition continued for over fifteen years, and at one point resulted in his being deposed and sent to the regions of Italy and Gaul.

In 346 Athansius was allowed to return to Alexandria, but again faced attacks of various kinds (depending on who was emperor at the time), and was forced to go into hiding for six years in the Libyan desert. In 361 a new emperor, Julian the Apostate, set the exiled bishops free. Athansius returned to Alexandria in 362 and convened an assembly which anathematized Arianism, supported the Nicene Creed, and made room for reconciliation with his opponents. Athanasius continued to be attacked, depending on the political/theological climate, and returned for the final time to Alexandria in 364 where he remained until his death on May 2, 373. During his forty-five years as a bishop, he was exiled five times and spent seventeen years away from Alexandria.

The writings of this dauntless man are of considerable importance; they provide some of the best sources of knowledge about Christianity in the years 300-350, and remain among the clearest and most forceful explanations of the unity of the triune God and of the Incarnation of Christ. It was Athanasius who produced our oldest surviving list of the twenty-seven books now in the New Testament, and declared them to be the New Covenant.

In Lutheran Churches, the creed named after him -- the Athanasian Creed (Quicunque vult) -- is used at services on Trinity Sunday. Athanasius did not write this Creed, but because of his tireless defense of the Trinity, it is named after him.

Because of his unrelenting defense of the faith, Athanasius earned the title "Father of Orthodoxy" and became recognized as one of the four great Greek teachers of the church.

from Festivals and Commemorations
by Phillip Pfatteicher

A Reading

Therefore the incorporeal and incorruptible and immaterial Word of God comes to our realm, even though he was not far from us before. For no part of creation is without him; he has filled everything everywhere, yet remains present with his Father. Nonetheless, in condescension he comes to show mercy to us and to visit us. And seeing the race of rational creatures on their way to perish and death reigning over them by corruption . . . he took pity on our race, had mercy on our weakness, condescended to our corruption, and . . . takes for himself a body -- a body no different from ours . . . And . . . he handed it over in death in the stead of all and in mercy offered it to the Father. . . . Let all marvel that by so ordinary a means things divine have been manifested to us and that by death immortality has reached us all, and that by the Word becoming flesh the universal providence has been known and its giver and maker the very Word of God. For he was made human that we might be made God . . . and he endured the insolence of mortals that we might inherit immortality.

from Athanasius On the Incarnation

Prayer

Almighty God, your Holy Spirit gives to one the word of wisdom, and to another the word of knowledge, and to another the word of faith. We praise you for the gifts of grace imparted to your servant Athanasius, and we pray that by his teaching we may be led to a fuller knowledge of the truth which we have seen in your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN

-- Pastor Stickley

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