Today we honor St. Athanasius who was archbishop of Alexandria Egypt from 328 to 372. I wrote a kids’ play about Athanasius. It opened in 310 when he was a barefoot boy playing on the beach in Alexandria. Bishop Alexander, passing by, saw Alex reverently playing at offering Mass, so he took him in, educating him. In 328 he passed on to him his office bishop of Alexandria.
Back up a little. In 320 Father Arius, an old pastor in Alexandria, began telling his people that Jesus was a good man, but no more. When the other pastors in Egypt came together, they ousted Father Arius for teaching heresy. Father Athanasius clinched the orthodox teaching by pointing out that Jesus was the Word in John’s Gospel where it said, “The Word was with God, and the Word was God.
Father Arius took refuge in Byzantium, an ancient trade rival of Alexandria, where Father Arius’s beliefs were accepted, and came to be known as Arianism.
Emperor Constantine, a new Christian himself, was angry about this split between believers. He ordered bishops on both sides to come to the city of Nicea. There he had them swear to the Nicean Creed, believing that Jesus was true God, true man.
The matter seemed to be settled; but then in 330 Constantine moved his capitol from Rome to Byzantium, changing the ancient city’s name to Constantinople. Living there, he became soft in his opposition to Arianism. His son and heir, Constantius, fully embraced Arianism.
In 337, that Constantius, becoming emperor at the death of his father, banished Bishop Athanasius from Alexandria. That had the bishop taking refuge in the Egyptian desert where he spent years with the hermit St. Anthony. He spent time as well with St. Pachomius, who had once followed Anthony in living alone, following him as well in chanting the Psalms every day. Pachomius came to feel that a full Christian life called for living with others, practicing Christian love. So, invited others into his life of chanting the Psalms each day.
Impressed by Anthony and Pachomius, St. Athanasius wrote a book about their way of life. Later, when he was banished to Rome his book became a hit with Christians there. St. Jerome, St. Augustine, St. Gregory, all took up the life style of St. Pachomius, giving birth to all of Europe’s monasteries and convents.