St. Athanasius: A Reluctant Champion

AJ an I are discussing our patrons on the podcast, so I began reading up on mine again. I have been negligent in my learning from my patron and I am committing to fixing that. I have in my possession a copy of one of his first writings. I will make it through all of them.

Athanasius is a saint that the average Christian probably doesn’t know much about. It isn’t until you begin to study Theology that you see his name brought up. It seems strange that I, not a Theologian by any stretch of the imagination, would choose Athanasius as my patron. As we discussed on this weeks podcast though, we choose our Saints based on who they patron, but also based on the life they modeled. The latter is why I was so drawn to Athanasius.

It is not uncommon in narratives that the greatest hero amongst us is the one most reluctant. I think of Aragorn, who was the rightful king, but chose the life of a ranger because he feared he would make the same mistake his forefathers did. Athanasius is much like that. He was a deacon and assistant to Alexander of Alexandria (who is kind of a big deal…heard of the Nicaean creed, yeah, that’s him). Alexander laid on his death bead and called for Athanasius, but he fled. His mentor called for him and he ran away. He knew what it would cost to take up the mantle.

He could not escape though. All of the bishops, along with the entire Christian population in Alexandria, joined together and called out, “give us Athanasius.” He was unanimously voted in as patriarch.

He served for 40 years, endured 5 exiles, had to hide with desert monks because people tried to kill him. All because there was a single truth that he could not, would not allow. Christ and the Holy Spirit are consubstantial with God the Father and he would not allow anyone to break what had been made creed in Niceae. He fought the good fight for 40 years and, to his dyeing breath, never relented.

I see in Athanasius a courage to hold conviction despite all odds. The emperor of Rome could not break him. Threats on his life would not cause him to retreat even a step. There was a world that wanted to wash Christianity upon the rocks with false doctrine and he stood (nearly) alone against it.

I do value the courage that was deep within a man afraid to answer the call, but that is not the main reason why I chose Athanasius as my patron. It is loyalty. Perhaps my story will change as I read more of his writing, but as I see it now, loyalty was the primary virtue of his life. He was loyal to his Lord and his mentor by answering the call that he feared. He was loyal to the doctrine of consubstantiation of the Trinity. He did not cheat on any of these. Not only that, but his people were loyal to him. He spent time with him people, so they brought him back from exile every time the Emperor died. The desert monks were loyal to him and helped hide him when soldiers were trying to kill him. Just as the Father begets the Son, loyalty begets loyalty.

Loyalty to my Lord, to my convictions, to my people and the courage to stand against all the world if necessary is what I aspire to. Saint Athanasius, pray for me.

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