We have, in our Christian faith, those who have gone before us, those who have set forth life-lessons for us to follow after. They are witnesses of faithful service to our God, “a great cloud of witnesses” that we do well to always remember.
“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance that race that is set before us.” (Hebrews 12:1)
His name was Athanasius. In recalling this great saint to mind we must think back, far back, to the days of Constantine and the Roman Empire, to the very early days of the church.
Athanasius was born in A. D. 298 in Egypt. History records that he “became the bishop of Alexandria on June 8, 328 at the age of thirty.” He was recognized as the “bishop” by his beloved flock until he died on May 2, 373.” What is most interesting about this recognition and faithfulness to him is that during this span of years Athanasius was in exile for seventeen of the forty-five years. He was “driven out of his church and office five times by the powers of the Roman Empire.”
Why the exiles? Why the persecution by the Roman government?
In his “single-minded love for Jesus Christ” Athanasius was, during his years as “bishop of Alexandria,” given over to “a life-long battle to explain and defend” the deity of Christ, and to “worship Christ as Lord and God.”
During this time in the church’s history “there were times when it seemed” that orthodoxy had been abandoned by “the whole world.” In this abandonment, the very doctrinal truth of the deity of Christ was being undermined. In the midst of this most contentious battle for an essential truth of the Christian faith the phrase “Athanasius contra mundum (against the world) arose.”
Amongst the battles forged by Athanasius, for some forty-five years, he contended that scriptural truths not be overturned by the church. This was at a time when orthodoxy (correct doctrine) had not yet been firmly established. Athanasius battled faithfully, never faltering, despite the many exiles he encountered.
When a deacon in Alexandria named Arius challenged the eternality of Jesus by writing “the Son of God . . . . must have had a beginning . . . there must have been a time . . . when he did not exist,” a great debate ensued and overwhelming acceptance of this theory arose. Athanasius, despite the size and scope of the opposition, refused to accept what was termed “The Arian Cause.” He fought relentlessly to maintain the scriptural teaching of the deity of Christ, so much so that he was exiled five times for his failure to compromise.
In this most tedious time of “war” on doctrinal truth, the Council of Nicaea (A. D. 325) was organized and the Council “established the battle lines and staked out the deity of Christ.” Orthodoxy was given its “feet.” Athanasius, in his unwavering commitment to God’s truth, was at the forefront of establishing orthodoxy and he became known as the Father of Orthodoxy.
Athanasius was an Important witness for God and biblical truth in his time. May we be the same today.
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