St. Athanasius the
the 20th. Pope of
(Source: The Coptic
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
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
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 five times:
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
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 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 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
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 great joy.
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
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
b. Confirmed the cannons and
the Creed of faith of the Council of Nicea.
c. They excommunicated the
d. Deposed Gregory from his
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
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 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 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 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 the world."
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.