Saint Athanasius, Bishop and Doctor – Readings

Commentary on 1 John 5:1-5; Psalm 36; Matthew 10:22-25

The Gospel reading reflects the life experience of Athanasius.  It comes from the 10th chapter of Matthew and is part of the second of the five discourses which Jesus gives in this Gospel. In this discourse, Jesus gives his disciples instructions as he sends them out on their mission to do the same work that he himself is doing.

In today’s reading, we read that part of the discourse where Jesus warns his disciples about the kind of reception their message is likely to get. Although it is a message of love and compassion and solidarity, Jesus tells them:

…you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.

At the same time, if they meet with opposition they are not to expose themselves unnecessarily to danger:

When they persecute you in this town, flee to the next, for truly I tell you, you will not have finished going through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.

In the apostles are to do what Jesus himself did. The Gospel shows more than once that Jesus did not act recklessly in the face of danger. It was only “when his time had come”, that he faced the inevitable end. And, even then, we see him in the Garden begging his Father not to have to go through with it, until it was clear to him that this was his Father’s will.

In the life of Athanasius, we see the same. Again and again, he faced hatred and hostility in maintaining the integrity of the Gospel message. Again and again, he was driven into exile only to return once again to his diocese. He took refuge with the monks in the desert or in Rome. But, what is clear, he never compromised in his fidelity to his Lord and the Gospel. He would totally identify with the words of Jesus today:

A disciple is not above the teacher nor a slave above the master; it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher and the slave like the master.

And so Athanasius, the disciple, lived only to be like his Teacher.

It is in the First Reading from the 1st Letter of John that we see what made Athanasius so committed and so loyal:

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child.

It was this belief that Jesus is truly the Son of God, sharing the Divine Nature, that Athanasius so strongly defended against Arius and his followers, and for which he suffered so much. And so the reading ends with the words:

Who is it who conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

This belief would be laid out during the First Council of Nicaea (in modern Turkey) held in 325 and attended by Athanasius. It was the first ecumenical council of the whole Christian Church and, as mentioned, produced the Nicene Creed which we recite on Sundays and bigger feasts.

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