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Historical Devotion for the Commemoration of Athanasius

Athanasius was a fourth-century bishop in Egypt. He is remembered for his conflict with Arius, during which he staunchly preached that Jesus is of one substance with God the Father. We read about Athanasius with a devotion from Great Leaders and Great Events.

Devotional Reading

Athanasius, at first archdeacon under Alexander, the bishop of Alexandria, and at the latter’s demise his successor in office when about thirty years old, was born apparently at Alexandria, in Egypt, about 296, and died there May 2, 373. Historians tell us that he was “a pure and sublime character,” that as a boy and youth he exhibited traits of seriousness and religiousness, becoming quite a master in the pagan literature of the Greeks, but above all well read in the Holy Scriptures and in the writings of the early fathers of the Church. The treatise on the incarnation of the Son of God was written by him while still a young man. When about 23 years old, he became deacon of the congregation in Alexandria, and his bishop often used the young man as his adviser, and was wont to take him with him on important missions.

Five different times he was forced to live in banishment and seclusion, aggregating a total of twenty years in exile. Four emperors of the great Roman Empire, Constantine, Constantius, Julian the Apostate, and Valens, each in his turn and time, stood against Athanasius and sent him into misery and exile, because they wanted peace in the Church for the sake of the State, abusing their power in regulating affairs that did not concern the State, but the Church. The Synod of Antioch deposed Athanasius, but the Synod of Sardis declared him orthodox; one synod protested against his reinstatement and condemned him, other synods upheld him.

Not only by fair, but also by foul means his opponents sought to ruin him. When they could not prove their charge of false doctrine against Athanasius, they attempted to fell him by trumped-up charges of murder, sorcery, confederacy in rebellion, collection of an unjust tax, illicit intercourse with women, and other abominations. He was accused of having murdered Bishop Arsenius and of having used his remains for purposes of sorcery. His enemies carried a human hand about which, they asserted, was the hand of Arsenius. Athanasius found the alleged dead bishop, and proved that he was very much alive. The scarlet woman who had been carefully trained to act her part well as a witness against, and a former intimate friend of, Athanasius, failed her confederates in the crucial moment and proved herself mistaken in the identity of Athanasius. Thus he was constantly in the fray, fighting without leave or let for the eternal Truth.

Even in the days of banishment his voice was still heard, for then his pen hardly ever rested, and letters and treatises went forth against the assailers of God’s Word. But in all his sore trials he seems to have retained his equilibrium of Christian courage and good cheer, for when, at the age of about 65 years, he was banished for the fourth time, he remarked to his weeping parishioners: “Nubila est, praeteribit,” that is, “It is but a cloudlet; it will pass away.”

Devotional reading is adapted from Great Leaders and Great Events, pages 34–36. Published in 1922 by Concordia Publishing House.

Psalm 42:9–11

I say to God, my rock:
    “Why have You forgotten me?
Why do I go mourning
    because of the oppression of the enemy?”
As with a deadly wound in my bones,
    my adversaries taunt me,
while they say to me all the day long,
    “Where is your God?”

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
    and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him,
    my salvation and my God.

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.

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