When the church attaches the word “Great” to a man’s name, we really must take a good look at his life. St. Athanasios was born during the years that Christians were persecuted for their faith. He lived among people who suffered, and he was taught by teachers who suffered for Christ. But by 313 peace came to the Christians, for Constantine the Great granted religious freedom after his famed vision of the Cross.
Now, however, a different enemy arose, one from within the Church. The heresy of Arius infected the Church and caused great troubles. It was young Athanasios, now an archdeacon and secretary to the aged Patriarch of Alexandria, who arose to defend the faith. He relentlessly challenged Arians on the real issue: “Either admit that the Son is of the same substance with the Father, or say openly that He is a creature, in which case He cannot be worshiped…”
The controversy resulted in the calling by the Emperor of the First Ecumenical Council, held in 325 at Nicea. It was Athanasios who led the struggle against the heresy. The Patriarch died shortly after the council. And Athanasios was elected to succeed him. He had a stormy career as Archbishop. The Arian troubles did not fade away but persisted for years. Five times Athanasios was banished and five times he returned in triumph, to the joy of the people.
Athanasios was archbishop for some 46 years, and was 77 years old when death came to him in 373. This warrior for Christ and champion of the faith finally received his crown of glory.