Today we honor St. Athansius, a key figure in the early. Church. Born in Alexandria Egypt in 298 ad.,. He was fifteen, playing with other boys on the beach in Alexandria, when he was spotted by Bishop Alexandria spotted him showing the others how a priest offered Mass..
Bishop Alexander, admiring the boy’s cleverness and devotion, took him under his wing, seeing to his receiving a fine education, and taking young Athy along with him when he was visiting believers in upper Egypt. The highlight of those trips had them visiting with Anthony, a man who for fifty years had lived alone with God in the desert.
A big turning point for Christianity came in 315 when Emperor Constantine had changed the status of Christians, turning them from being fugitives to their being honored citizens. The Emperor appointed Bishop Alexander his chief magistrate in Alexandria.
The situation had changed, so that when before that a Christian could not get a government post, after that, no one could get a post unless he were a Christian. This resulted in all Christian assemblies being crowded with, and cheapened by job-seekers.
That in turn, had a number of serious Christians abandoning their churches, heading for the desert where they could be lone with God. Athanasius was of one mind with a man named Pachomius, who, after copying Anthony’s hermit existence, had a strong recollection of Jesus saying, “By this will men know that you are my disciples, that you have love for one another.” That brought Pachomius to found the first religious order in the Church. At the same time, his sister Mary founded the first religious order of nuns.
Meanwhile, there was trouble brewing in Alexandria. Arius, a seventy-year-old priest was telling his people that although Jesus was a wonderful man, he was not the unique Son of God. All the other priests in Egypt, assembled in a synod called by Bishop Alexander, condemned the teaching of Arius.
However Christians in Syria and Constantinople, the trading rivals of Egypt, accepted the teaching of Arius, which came to be called “Arianism.”
Constantine, angered by this dissension in his empire, commanded all the bishops to assemble at Nicea near Constantinople. There, he forced them to sign the Nicene Creed, which states that Jesus is the Word of God which is of one substance with the Father,
At the death of Bishop Alexander in 328 Athanasius was made the new bishop of Alexandria, but things went poorly for him. At the death of Constantine in 337, the world discovered that his son Constantius, who succeeded him as emperor, had become an Arian, and he banished Athanasius from Alexandria.
Athanasius, fleeing to Rome, wrote a beautiful biography of Anthony’s long desert years. Additionally, he wrote a detailed life of the monks living in common with Pachomius, and of the nns living in common with Mary.
That account caught on like wildfire, leading each of the major saint in that century to fund monasteries. So it was with Jerome, Augustine, Benedict and his sister Scholastica, and then Patrick.