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Commemorated on January 18th

Sts Athanasios and Cyril, Archbishops of Alexandria

Saints 18th Jan

In the half-century after the First Ecumenical Synod held in Nicaea in 325 AD, if there was one man whom the Arians feared and hated more intensely than any other, as being able to lay bare the whole error of their teaching, and to marshal, even from exile or hiding, the beleaguered forces of the Orthodox, it was St Athanasios the Great.

This blazing lamp of Orthodoxy, which imperial power and heretics' plots could not quench when he shone upon the lamp-stand or find when the people and monks of Egypt hid him, was born in Alexandria about the year 296 AD. He received an excellent training in Greek letters and especially in the sacred Scriptures, of which he shows an exceptional knowledge in his writings. Even as a young man, he had a remarkable depth of theological understanding; he was only about twenty years old when he wrote his treatise on the Incarnation. St Alexander, the Archbishop of Alexandria, brought him up in piety, ordained him his deacon, and, after deposing Arius for his blasphemy against the Divinity of the Son of God, took Athanasios to the First Synod in Nicaea in 3 2 5; St Athanasios was to spend the remainder of his life labouring in defence of this holy Synod. In 3 2 6, before his death, Alexander appointed Athanasios his successor.

In 325 AD, Arius had been condemned by the Synod of Nicaea; yet through Arius' hypocritical confession of Orthodox belief, St Constantine the Great was persuaded by Arius' supporters that he should be received back into the communion of the Church. But Athanasios, knowing well the perverseness of his mind, and the disease of heresy lurking in his heart, refused communion with Arius.

The heresiarch's followers then began framing false charges against Athanasios; finally St Constantine the Great, misled by grave charges of the Saint's misconduct which were completely false had him exiled to Triberis (Treves) in Gaul in 336 AD. When his three sons Constantine II, Constans, and Constantios succeeded St Constantine, in 337 AD, St Athanasios returned to Alexandria in triumph. However, his enemies found an ally in Constantios, Emperor of the East; St Athanasios' second exile was spent in Rome.

It was ended when Constans prevailed with threats upon his brother Constantios to restore Athanasios. For ten years St Athanasios strengthened Orthodoxy throughout Egypt, visiting the whole country and encouraging all, clergy, monastics, and layfolk, being loved by all as a father. But after Constans' death in 350 AD, Constantios became sole Emperor,