Thursday, May 2, 2013

St. Athanasius Homily by Fr. Andersen

Below you'll find Fr. Andersen's homily for today's feast of St. Athanasius. I am pleased to say also that a Mass is being said (by a different priest) for the intentions of Archbishop Alexander Sample of Portland on the feast of this wonderful saint! God bless Archbishop Sample, and may St. Athanasius help the new archbishop to have the strength and courage he will need to confront the problems of the Archdiocese of Portland!

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A homily by Fr. Eric M. Andersen, Sacred Heart in Gervais, OR
May 2nd, 2013

St. Athanasius, bishop and doctor

There is a tradition that St. Athanasius “first attracted the notice of Patriarch Alexander as he was playing at baptism on the seashore with other small boys. After watching young Athanasius perform the rite, the prelate called the boys to him and by questioning satisfied himself that the baptisms were valid. He then undertook to have these boys trained for the priesthood” (Vann, ed., Lives of Saints, p. 49). Athanasius was born around 297 in Alexandria, Egypt. Alexandria was an academic center, not only because the great Library of Alexandria was there, but also because it was a center of Platonic thought and Theology. St. Jerome tells us that St. Mark the Evangelist had founded the Catechetical School of Alexandria. Famous among its students were Origen, St. Clement of Alexandria and Dionysius the Areopagite.

From this intellectual climate, Athanasius was formed theologically by the patriarch of Alexandria for whom he worked as a secretary. Because Alexandria was so intellectual, there were theologians who were very free thinking and not so concerned with orthodoxy. It was about the year 323 that Arius, “a priest of the church of Baucalis, began to teach that Jesus, through more than man, was not eternal God, that he was created in time by the Eternal Father, and could therefore be described only figuratively as the Son of God” (50). The patriarch and the other bishops condemned the writings of Arius and deposed him along with 11 priests and deacons of Alexandria. When the patriarch died, Athanasius, not yet 30 years old, succeeded him.

Meanwhile, Arius retired to Caesaria and befriended the bishop Eusebius of Nicomedia among other bishops. His heretical propositions were set to music and publicized by popular tunes which sailors would sing as they travelled here and there. In 330, the now Arian bishop Eusebius had persuaded the Emperor Constantine to write Athanasius requesting that he readmit Arius to communion. Athanasius refused. Eusebius countered by pitting the people against Athanasius and trumping up false charges. Athanasius was called into court, but he defended himself and returned to his see. But not for long. The Emperor was won over by the opposition and banished Athanasius into exile. In 337, Constantine died just after baptism by bishop Eusebius of Nicomedia. He divided the empire into three parts for his three sons. Let the intrigue begin!

His son Constantine II lifted the banishment and allowed Athanasius to return to his flock. Two years later, Constantine II died in battle. Eusebius, meanwhile, had won over the Emperor Constantius. A church council was called at Antioch, Athanasius was banished again and an Arian bishop was installed as patriarch of Alexandria. This time Athanasius went to Rome to consult with the pope. His case and his name were cleared, but he had to wait to return until after the death of the Arian bishop. He was gone for 8 years and returned triumphant. All was at relative peace under the Emperor Constans for three or four years when suddenly Constans was murdered in 350.

In the resulting chaos, his own people protected him as he lived in hiding for 6 years and composed his greatest works in writing. Constantius died in 361 and Julian the pagan Emperor allowed Athanasius to return, but only for a few months. He determined to reestablish cultic worship to the gods of Rome and he banished Athanasius as a “disturber of the peace and an enemy of the gods” (54). Julian was slain; his successor Jovian lifted the banishment; a year later, his successor Valens banished Athanasius again for four months then lifted it for political reasons.

Athanasius had spent 17 years in exile for defending orthodoxy; for defending the divinity of Jesus Christ. He returned to live out the last few years of his life in peace. He died on May 2nd, 373. His body now rests in Venice. May we have the fortitude and perseverance to defend the true faith without counting the cost. 
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You can see Fr. Andersen's homily for the Feast of St. Joseph here.

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