Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Reflections from the Early Church: Athanasius



People called Athanasius of Alexandria (296-373) the “Father of Orthodoxy” in his lifetime. As contemporary Christians, we can learn much from these parents of the early church. They lived in the second and third centuries and faced different questions than we do today. But, the lessons they taught and the way they responded to heresies helped shape the faith we have today.
The First Council of Nicaea (325) required the Bishop of Alexandria to set the date of Easter each year. They did this through Festal Letters. As Bishop of Alexandria, Athanasius wrote many such letters. These letters provided the opportunity to make a theological argument. Today, we can read them as devotions and find encouragement for our faith journeys.
In Athanasius’ nineteenth letter (347) he encourages his readers to hold frequent conversations with “our Master.” This invokes Paul’s admonition in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, “Pray always.” Athanasius adds a metaphor.
For the world is like the sea to us… “This is the great and wide sea, there go the ships; the Leviathan, which You have created to play therein” [Psalm 104:26]. We float on this sea, as with the wind, through our own free-will, for each directs their course according to their will, and either, under the pilotage of the Word, one enters into rest, or, laid hold on by pleasure, one suffers shipwreck, and is in peril by storm. For as in the ocean there are storms and waves, so in the world there are many afflictions and trials.
Before moving to another metaphor, he summarizes his point. Those who favor temporal things cannot stand up to difficulties. Other metaphors make a similar point (e.g. building a house on sand). Regardless of the metaphor, we can grow in faith when we hold frequent conversations with God and put our emphasis on eternal matters. Ancient voices can offer wonderful modern lessons.

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