ST. ATHANASIUS - DEFENDER OF THE FAITH
By The Right Reverend Father Michael D. Jordan
Often I purposely focus on the Historical Orthodox Christian Church. On this Web site we have a listing of the Seven Ecumenical Councils, (See "What is Orthodoxy" from our Home Page). History is important, because history validates the Eastern Orthodox Christian Church. St. Athanasius of Alexandria fought for the truth when the Arians introduced heresy in the early Christian Church.
The Arian heresy taught that Jesus Christ was created, not begotten, and that He was not God. Such a teaching was not only heresy, but against the Holy Scripture. St. Athanasias spent much of his time in exile because of the powerful influence of the Arians with the Emperor Constantine. During one of his periods of exile, and during a time of horrible persecution of the true Church of Christ when the Arians had taken control of the Holy Churches, St. Athanasius wrote to the faithful Bishops and Priests of the Church:
"God will comfort you. If they have the temples, you have the Faith of the Apostles. If they have the place, they are far from the Faith; but you, even if you are cast out from the churches, possess the Faith in your hearts. Which is greater, the place or the Faith? The place is good only when the Faith of the Apostles is taught there; it is holy only when it is the home of holiness."
Fortunately, the Arian heresy did not prevail, and the truth was upheld by the Ecumenical Councils. Why was the issue of the Arian heresy so important to St. Athanasius? First of all, it violated the premise of our salvation, by denying the Divinity of the Only-Begotten Son of God. The first part of the Nicene Creed was formulated by the first Ecumenical Council to dispel the Arian heresy.
"I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the Only-Begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all ages. Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten not created, of one essence with the Father, through Whom all things were made. For us and for our salvation, He came down from Heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit, and the Virgin Mary, and became man."
What Scriptures do we have as proof that Jesus Christ is God, and has been with God the Father forever? In the Gospel according to St. John, Chapter 10, verse 30, Jesus states: "I and my Father are one." From the Gospel according to St. John Chapter 17, verse 11: "And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to Thee. Holy Father, keep through Thine own Name those whom Thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are one." Later on in John Chapter 17, verse 22, Jesus continues: "And the glory which Thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one."
Clearly, these Holy Scriptures are proof that Jesus Christ was with God before He was born in the flesh, also He establishes that He is one with God. By being one with God, He is God. St. Paul supports the divinity of Jesus Christ in his first epistle to the Corinthians Chapter 8, verse 6: "But to us there is but one God, the Father, of Whom are all things, and we in Him, and one Lord Jesus Christ, by Whom are all things, and we by Him". These statements clearly say that it is by both God the Father, and God the Son that all things are brought into being.
In First John Chapter 5, verses 7 and 8, we have the Holy Trinity defined by John: "For there are three that bear record in Heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood; and these three are in one. The water is the water of Baptism, blessed and sanctified when the Son of God was received into it, forever making it life giving. The Spirit is the Holy Spirit, the gift that proceeds from the Father, Who together with the Father and Son is worshiped and glorified. The blood is the Blood of Christ, the Lamb of God, shed for the remission of sins.
John refers to Jesus Christ as the Word. Jesus is often called God the Word in the Eastern Orthodox Church, because He brought us the Words of God and by dwelling among us He was God the Incarnate Word of Truth. The Holy Spirit spoken of by John bears witness to the truth of God the Word, the very words of salvation given to us by God in the flesh.
Jesus Christ is also called the "Bread of Life", because He instituted the Sacrament of Holy Communion with bread as His Body, and furthermore offered the wine as His blood of the New Covenant for life eternal. These gifts of bread and wine are mystically transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ by the Holy Spirit when invoked by the Priest or Bishop during the Divine Liturgy. Orthodox Christians are partakers of One Lord, One Faith, and One Baptism, and also the One Bread as St. Paul states in his first epistle to the Corinthians, Chapter 10, "16 The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? 17 For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread."
I never have been able to understand how believers of the Arian heresy could read these Scriptures and not realize that Jesus Christ is indeed God. St. Athanasius knew full well the glory and divinity of Jesus Christ, and defended our Eastern Orthodox faith well against the attacks of the Arian heresy. Next time you recite the Nicene Creed, thank St. Athanasius for his part in preserving our faith by defending it against heresy.
How can we as Eastern Orthodox Christians today know that we are part of the same faith that St. Athanasius defended? If St. Athanasius were to somehow be transported in time to our present day, and find himself in our church, he would be able to know exactly what was going on, and would be able to follow the Divine Liturgy with ease.
On the other hand, suppose he were to appear in a Protestant Church, or a Roman Catholic Church? He would be completely lost, most all of the points of reference that are so important to our faith would be missing, or changed beyond perception. In the very words of St. Athanasius, "The place is good only when the Faith of the Apostles is taught there; it is holy only when it is the home of holiness." St. Athanasius passed peacefully into the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ he defended so well in 371 AD, five years after learning that no Bishop could be consecrated without holding the Nicene Creed as the truth. Truly the gates of hell shall not prevail against Christís Holy Church!
PRAYER TO GOD THE SON
By The Right Reverend Father Michael D. Jordan
O Holy Lord Jesus Christ, our Savior and our God. We fully and properly acknowledge You as God. We hear the words in the Scripture that prove Your divinity, and are thankful for Your servant, St. Athanasius, who enlightened by the Holy Spirit, defended Your Holy, Pure, and Blameless Church against heresy.
We pray that You will bless us to always maintain our faith in pure, God fearing, hearts. May we preserve it untouched by heresy for our children, and their children and all future generations, as a "Pearl of Great Price". May we become champions of the truth, and the enlightenment of those in darkness.
O Lord Jesus Christ, our God, Who holds all of creation in the hollow of Your Holy Hands, protect our souls from the tempest of worldly distractions that draw us away from You. Help us to see Your Holy Will, and enable us to accomplish it to the glory of Your Holy Kingdom.
One is Holy, one is Lord Jesus Christ, to the glory of God the Father. Amen.
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