Born: c296 Alexandria, Egypt
Died: 2nd May 373 Alexandria, Egypt
Feast Day: 2nd May
Shrine: Saint Mark Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo, Egypt
Symbols in Art: Bishop arguing with a pagan; bishop holding an open book; bishop standing over a defeated heretic
Writings: Contra Gentes, Oratio de Incarnatione and many others
Also Known As: Saint Athanasius the Great
Saint Athanasius was born in Alexandria, Egypt to a Christian, wealthy family and was well educated. During his childhood, he became known to Alexander who was Bishop as he was by the river with a group of children ‘baptising’ other children, precisely repeating the words he had heard from church. Alexander gathered the children and questioned them and decided the baptisms were real and sealed them with the sacrament of Chrismation. Athanasius eventually became Alexander’s secretary and entered the priesthood. Alexander was an outspoken critic of Arianism – the belief that Christ is not divine, and Athanasius accompanied him to a synod where they won against the Arians.
Athanasius followed Alexander as Bishop of Alexandria and continued the battle against Arianism, it appeared to be an easily won battle but for reasons unknown, following the Council of Tyre, Emperor Constantine exiled Athanasius to norther Gaul. This was the first time of five that Athanasius was exiled.
After the death of Constantine, Athanasius was restored as Bishop for a year util he was exiled again by a group of Arian bishops. He had to hide from the Arians who tried to kill him. Despite the persecutions Athanasius continued to defend the purity of the Orthodox faith, writing countless letters against the Arian heresy. He spent 17 of the 45 years as bishop of Alexandria in exile but in the end, it was the Arian’s who were exiled, and Athanasius’s many writings shaped the future church.