Athanasius of Alexandria – 18th January

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In 313 the Emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan, which changed Christianity from a persecuted to an officially favoured religion. About six years later, Arius of Alexandria began to teach concerning the Word of God (John 1:1) that

“God begat him, and before he was begotten, he did not exist.”

Athanasius was at that time a newly ordained deacon, secretary to Bishop Alexander of Alexandria, and a member of his household. His reply to Arius was that the begetting, or uttering, of the Word by the Father is an eternal relation between Them, and not a temporal event. Arius was condemned by the bishops of Egypt (with the exceptions of Secundus of Ptolemais and Theonas of Marmorica), and went to Nicomedia, from which he wrote letters to bishops throughout the world, stating his position.

The Emperor Constantine undertook to resolve the dispute by calling a council of bishops from all over the Christian world. This council met in Nicea, just across the straits from what is now Istanbul, in the year 325, and consisted of 317 bishops. Athanasius accompanied his bishop to the council, and became recognized as a chief spokesman for the view that the Son was fully God, co-equal and co-eternal with the Father.

The party of Athanasius was overwhelmingly in the majority. (The western, or Latin, half of the Empire was very sparsely represented, but it was solidly Athanasian, so that if its bishops had attended in force, the vote would have been still more lopsided.) It remained to formulate a creedal statement to express the consensus. The initial effort was to find a formula from Holy Scripture that would express the full deity of the Son, equally with the Father. However, the Arians cheerfully agreed to all such formulations, having interpreted them already to fit their own views. Finally, the Greek word “homo-ousios” (meaning “of the same substance, or nature, or essence”) was introduced, chiefly because it was one word that could not be understood to mean what the Arians meant. Some of the bishops present, although in complete disagreement with Arius, were reluctant to use a term not found in the Scriptures, but eventually saw that the alternative was a creed that both sides would sign, each understanding it in its own way, and that the Church could not afford to leave the question of whether the Son is truly God (the Arians said “a god”) undecided. So the result was that the Council adopted a creed which is a shorter version of what we now call the Nicene Creed, declaring the Son to be “of one substance with the Father.” At the end, there were only two holdouts, the aforesaid Secundus and Theonas.

No sooner was the council over than its consensus began to fall apart. Constantine had expected that the result would be unity, but found that the Arians would not accept the decision, and that many of the orthodox bishops were prepared to look for a wording a little softer than that of Nicea, something that sounded orthodox, but that the Arians would accept. All sorts of compromise formulas were worked out, with all shades of variation from the formula of Nicea.

In 328, Alexander died, and Athanasius succeeded him as bishop of Alexandria. He refused to participate in these negotiations, suspecting that once the orthodox party showed a willingness to make reaching an agreement their highest priority, they would end up giving away the store. He defended the full deity of Christ against emperors, magistrates, bishops, and theologians. For this, he was regarded as a trouble-maker by Constantine and his successors, and was banished from Alexandria a total of five times by various emperors. Eventually, Christians who believed in the Deity of Christ came to see that once they were prepared to abandon the Nicene formulation, they were on a slippery slope that led to regarding the Logos as simply a high-ranking angel. The more they experimented with other formulations, the clearer it became that only the Nicene formulation would preserve the Christian faith in any meaningful sense, and so they re-affirmed the Nicene Creed at the Council of Constantinople in 381, a final triumph that Athanasius did not live to see.

It was a final triumph as far as councils of bishops were concerned, but the situation was complicated by the fact that after Constantine there were several Arian emperors (not counting the Emperor Julian, who was a pagan, but correctly saw that the most effective way to fight Christianity was to throw all his weight on the side of the Arians). Under one of them Arian missionaries were sent to convert the Goths, who became the backbone of the Roman Army (then composed chiefly of foreign mercenaries) with the result that for many years Arianism was considered the mark of a good Army man. The conversion of Clovis, King of the Franks, in 496, to orthodox Christianity either gave the Athanasian party the military power to crush Arianism or denied the Arian Goths the military supremacy that would have enabled them to crush Athanasian Christianity, depending on your point of view.

 

Quotations from the writings of Athanasius:

We were made “in the likeness of God.” But in course of time
That image has become obscured, like a face on a very old
portrait, dimmed with dust and dirt.

When a portrait is spoiled, the only way to renew it is for the Subject to come back to the studio and sit for the artist all over again. That is why Christ came–to make it possible for the divine image in man to be recreated. We were made in God’s likeness; we are remade in the likeness of his Son.

INTERCEDING

On this day lift before God:

  • Those who recognise the likeness of God in others.
  • Those willing to take a stand to defend what they believe to be right.
  • All who are careful and diligent in their work.
  • All who are careful about their use of language.
  • Those torn between the desire to get along and a the desire to be clear.
  • Deacons.

Ita of Killeedy

Ita was a descendant of one of Ireland’s kings, born near Waterford in Munster, and baptised Deirdre.

When she became marriageable, Deirdre was courted by a noble suitor. In those days it was customary for the father to accept such a proposal. Deirdre, however, had already decided to become a nun. For three days she prayed that her father would see it her way. The prayer was granted, and she left home for the monastery with his blessing.

She established a that came to be known as Killeedy, that is, “Ita’s cell,” for on taking the veil she had adopted the religious name Ita. She gained a reputation for prophecy and miracle-working, and visitors came from afar to seek her advice.

Ita led a school for small boys. She must have been an inspiring teacher, for among her pupils were the future St. Fachtna of Ross, St. Pulcherius of Liath, St. Cummian of Clonfert, and St. Brendan of Clonfert. Brendan became known as Brendan the Voyager, because he sailed the Atlantic, perhaps even to America.

It is said that as a child Brendan asked St. Ita what three things God loved best. She replied, “True faith in God with a pure heart, simple life with a religious spirit, and openhandedness inspired by charity.” ‘”And what three things,” the child continued, “does God most dislike?” Ita said, “A face which scowls upon all mankind, obstinacy in wrongdoing, and an overweening confidence in the power of money.”

INTERCEDING

On this day lift before God:

  • Those whose advice is trusted by others.
  • All involved in teaching.
  • Those with pure hearts, living simple lives.
  • All with openhanded charity.
  • All who tend to scowl.
  • All who persist in wrongdoing.
  • All who put their faith in the power of money.

 

Hut-burning… 15th January

Maximos the Hut Burner, lived an austere life, mostly as a recluse in crude shelters, moving from time to time to seek further seclusion. His habit of burning his hut at these times resulted in his nickname “the hutburner.” Before settling at Mt. Athos, Maximos spent one year in Constantinople acting as a “holy fool.” 

The stories of his life recount that as a child he was devoted to the Virgin Mary and gave his food and clothing to the poor. When his parents arranged his marriage at age 17 he instead moved to Mount Ganos, where he became the student of an elderly monk. Around this time he began his life of austerity, sleeping on the ground, staying awake for long periods, and fasting. After his spiritual father died, he went to Constantinople, where he pretended to be mad while living in the gateway of a famous church.

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A dream led him to an ascent of Mt. Athos, where he spent three days, ending with a vision of the Virgin Mary, who told him to remain on Mt. Athos. Thus began about ten years of wandering, including his frequent hut burning, ending with a permanent and very austere cell. He was held in high repute as a holy man and spiritual adviser, admired for his austerity, and a reputation for clairvoyance, prophecy, healing, and exorcizing demons.

INTERCEDING

On this day lift before God:

  • All who find it hard to settle in one place.
  • All who are driven to wipe the slate clean regularly and begin again.
  • All who feel unworthy of comforts.
  • All who are generous.
  • All who are prayerful.
  • All who struggle with their mental health.

Eustratios the Wonderworker 10th January

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Eustratios was born to Christian parents in Tarsia. At the age of twenty he entered monastic life at the Monastery of Agaures near his home. There he became a model of prayer, and holiness. He was ordained to the priesthood, and in time was made abbot of the community. But just at that time, Leo the Armenian became Emperor and revived the iconoclast heresy. The monks of Agaures, who held to the Orthodox Faith, scattered to caves and forests to escape persecution. Eustratios himself was imprisoned for a time, and was only able to re-gather the community and resume its direction when Leo died and Orthodoxy was restored in 842.
As abbot, Eustratios continued to live as the humblest of the brethren, spending the day sharing in their manual labour, and most of the night in prayer and prostrations. He often travelled among the dependencies of his large monastery to offer counsel and encouragement to the brethren. While travelling he would often give his coat or even his horse to anyone in need whom he met on the way. Once he gave the monastery’s only ox to a peasant who had lost his own. Another time, on a visit to Constantinople, he was given a large sum of money by the Emperor for the monastery; on the way back he distributed all of it to the poor. On yet another occasion, on the road, he met a man who had despaired because of his sins and was about to hang himself. Eustratios took the man’s hand and said ‘My child, may the weight of your sins lie on me from now on. On the day of Judgment, I will answer for them instead of you. Only throw away this rope and hope in God.’
INTERCEDING

On this day lift before God:

  • all who are faithful in prayer.
  • all who are generous and all in need.
  • all who take no pleasure in material wealth.
  • all who know how to speak to those in despair and all who are despairing.

Mother Domenica – 9th January

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Domenica was born in Rome and reared in the love of Christ. She secretly left her parents’ house and traveled by ship to Alexandria, where she found lodging with four virtuous pagan maidens. By her example and counsel these four were in time led to abandon idolatry and embrace Domnica’s faith. The five then sailed to Constantinople, where it is said that the Patriarch Nectarius  was notified of their coming by an angel and met them at the dock. The Patriarch baptized the four maidens himself, giving them the names Dorothea, Evanthia, Nonna and Timothea, then settled them and Domnica in a monastery.
The fame of Domnica’s pure life, wise teaching, and wondrous healings spread throughout the city, and even the Emperor Theodosius, with the Empress and his court, came to see her. The crowds soon made it impossible for her and her sisters to live the heavenly life for which they had entered the monastery; so they relocated the monastery to a remote, location where executions had once commonly been performed, since everyone avoided the area. Here a new monastery was built by order of the Emperor, and the sisters found peace.
Saint Domnica’s fame continued, and she became not only a healer but an oracle for the city of Constantinople, prophesying the death of the Emperor Theodosius and the unrest which followed it. 

INTERCEDING

On this day lift before God:

  • all who are cradle Christians that stick with the faith.
  • all who live good lives but are yet to be drawn to Christ.
  • all those involved in bringing healing to others.
  • all who are gifted with foresight.