Last article spoke about the Preacher of the Egyptian lands, its first patriarch, Saint Mark the Apostle, who preached Christianity in Egypt and founded the chair of Alexandria. He also founded the Theological School of Alexandria, which confronted many pagan and philosophical ideas. Saint Mark the Apostle laid the foundations of thought, faith, and Christian life for the Egyptians. After his martyrdom, the Popes of the See of Saint Mark began to follow his path, preserving the faith that they had received from him and that he had received from Lord Christ .
On May 15, the Coptic Orthodox Church celebrates the pearl of its popes, who pursued the apostolic struggle of his saint father, Apostle Mark and all the other pure apostolic fathers: Pope Athanasius the Apostolic, the twentieth Patriarch of Alexandria, whose life created an inerasable history, and whose fight left an illuminating mark in the legacy of Christianity in Egypt and the rest of the world. He is the Pope who stood against the entire world, preserving and defending the orthodox faith, that it was said about him: “Nobody was greater than this truly great bishop; he stood alone defending the Council of Nicaea”, and when told: “the whole world is against you, Athanasius.” he cared only for preserving the right pure teaching and said, “And I am against the world”! He is worthy to be called “the defender of faith” Besides his courage in confronting erroneous teachings, he was also known for his intense wisdom, deep spirituality, and incomparable patience in enduring hardships, tribulations and adversities, to the extent that he was exiled five times over nearly 17 years of his papacy of the church!
Pope Athanasius the Apostolic (296- 373 AD)
He was born in Alexandria, although some historians believe he was born in Upper Egypt then his family moved to Alexandria. He was a child when his father passed away. In Alexandria, he received academic and religious studies, and excelled in obtaining them until he became one of the scholars of his time. Athanasius became a Christian in his youth. One day, Pope Alexandros (the nineteenth patriarch of Alexandria) watched from his balcony some boys and Athanasius playing, and he was baptizing them! When the patriarch asked them about what they were doing, he knew that Athanasius baptized some pagans, and noticed that he was baptizing them in the correct way! After that incident, Athanasius became a student of Pope Alexandros, so he took care of him and taught him sciences, especially theologies, then he enrolled him in the Alexandria Theological School. Athanasius spent nearly three years with Saint Anthony, the father of all monks, the founder of Christian monasticism in Egypt and the rest of the world, and he became one of his disciples.
Pope Alexandros ordained his disciple Athanasius an deacon, and took him to Nicaea where the ecumenical council was held in 325 AD. There in the council, Athanasius countered the heresy of Arius, which had had been widely spread across the world’s church. He argued with the Arians and proved their teachings to be corrupt; historian Juan Wucher King states the following in her book “Historical Dictionary of Egypt”: “Athanasius participated in the ecumenical council of Nicaea held in 325 AD according to the call of Emperor Constantine I. In this council, he succeeded in uniting the Christian clergy present in adopting a stance against Arianism… Athanasius’ writings on theology and moral issues gained widespread popularity at the time and among Christian researchers later on.” The theologian and church historian August Neander wrote, “Athanasius proved his presence in the Council of Nicaea, with his zeal and sharp insight, with which he defended the doctrine of the Unity of Essence until he defeated the Arians. Along half a century, with the same powerful strength and insight, Athanasius continuously and firmly tracked their movements with deep steadfastness, countering various kinds of persecutions, resistances and suffering, he did not care about the threat of the emperor, even though entire Egypt was under occupation then!
After the departure of Pope Alexandros, Athanasius was ordained a patriarch for the See of Saint Mark the Apostle in 328 AD, he assumed his history0-changing role, had not it been for Pope Athansius, the whole world would have been Arian! Pope Athanasius is considered to be the writer of the Creed after being approved by the Council of Nicaea and is now read in the whole world’s churches. The Catholic Church canonized Pope Athanasius as a saint in Rome, and considered him one among her 33 scholars. He is one of the four great fathers in the Eastern churches, the pearl of the Coptic Orthodox Church and one of her faith teaching fathers. He left us books and articles defending faith that are deemed significant resources among the patristic writings of the world. In 329 AD, he founded the church in Ethiopia and ordained its first bishop. His name was Frumentius and was known as Anba Salama.
Truly it was said about him, “Athanasius is the Church’s rock against which the gates of Hades did not prevail”. The Church called Pope Athanasius “the apostolic” in appreciation for his state in the Egyptian Church and defense for the Christian doctrine, like the father apostles. Lands of Egypt were blessed on May 10, 1973, when Pope Shenouda III received a part of the relics of this saint from Rome, getting him back to his children, and… stories about beautiful Egypt never end!
The General Bishop
Head of the Coptic Orthodox Cultural Center