Saints Athanasius and Cyril

St Athanasius the Great the Archbishop of Alexandria

Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,


Απολυτίκιον (Dismissal) Hymn. The Third Tone

Shining forth with works of Orthodoxy, ye quenched every false belief and teaching and became trophy-bearers and conquerors. And since ye made all things rich with true piety, greatly adorning the Church with magnificence, Athanasius and wise Cyril, ye both have worthily found Christ God, Who doth grant great mercy unto all.

Kontakion. Fourth Tone

Great high priests of piety and noble champions of the holy Church, of Christ, keep and preserve all those who chant: O most compassionate Lord, do Thou graciously save those faithfully honor Thee.

In the half-century after the First Ecumenical Council held in Nicaea in 325 A.D., if there was one man whom the heretical Arians feared and hated more intensely than any other, as being able to lay bare the whole error of their teaching, and to marshal, even from exile or hiding the beleaguered forces of the Orthodox, it was Saint Athanasius the Great. This blazing lamp of Orthodoxy, which imperial power and heretics' plots could not quench when he shone upon the lampstand, nor find when he was hid by the people and monks of Egypt, was born in Alexandria about the year 296 A.D. He received an excellent training in Greek letters and especially in the Sacred Scriptures, of which he shows an exceptional knowledge in his writings. Even as a young man he had a remarkable depth of theological understandings; he was only about twenty years old when he wrote his treatise On the Incarnation. Saint Alexander, the Archbishop of Alexandria brought him up in piety, ordained him his deacon, and, after deposing Arius for his blasphemy against the Divinity of the Son of God, took Athanasius to the First Ecumenical Council in Nicaea in 325 A.D. Saint Athanasius was to spend the remainder of his life laboring in defense of this holy Council. In 326 A.D. before his death, Alexander appointed Saint Athanasius his successor.

In 325 A.D., Arius the great heretic had been condemned by the Council of Nicaea; yet through Arius' hypocritical confession of Orthodox belief, Saint Constantine the Great was persuaded by Arius' supporters that he should be received back into the communion of the Church. But Saint Athanasius, knowing well the perverseness of his mind, and the disease of heresy lurking in his heart, refused communion with Arius. The heresiarch's followers then began framing false charges against Saint Athanasius; finally Saint Constantine the Great, misled by grave charges of the Saint's misconduct--which were completely false--had him exiled to Triberis (Treves) in Gaul in 336 A.D. When Saint Constantine was succeeded by his three sons Constantine II, Constans, and Constantius, in 337 A.D., Saint Athanasius returned to Alexandria in triumph. Saint Athanasius suffered five such exiles in the hands of various Emperors of that time. Saint Athanasius suffered his fifth and last exile under Valens in 365 A.D. which only lasted four months.

The Great Athanasius passed the remaining seven years of his life in peace. Of his forty-seven years as Patriarch, he had spent some seventeen years in exiles. Shining from the height of his throne like a radiant evening star, and enlightening the Orthodox with the brilliance of his words for yet a little while, this much-suffering champion inclined toward the sunset of his life, and, in the year 373 A.D. took his rest from his lengthy sufferings, but not before another luminary of truth, Saint Basil the Great, had risen in the East, being consecrated Archbishop of Caesarea in 370 A.D. Besides all his other achievements, Saint Athanasius wrote the life of Saint Anthony the Great, with whom he spent time in his youth, ordained Saint Frumentius first bishop of Ethiopia; and in his Paschal Encyclical for the year 367 A.D. set forth the books of the Old and New Testaments accepted by the Church as canonical. Saint Gregory the Theologian, in his Oration On the Great Athanasius, said he was, "Angelic in appearance, more Angelic in mind...rebuking with tenderness of a father, praising with the dignity of a ruler...Everything was harmonious, as an air upon a single lyre, and in the same key; his life, his teaching, his struggles, his dangers, his return, and his conduct after his return…he treated so mildly and gently those who had injured him, that even they themselves, if I may say so, did not find his restoration distasteful."

SAINT CYRIL was also from Alexandria, born about the year 376 A.D., the nephew of Theophilus, Patriarch of Alexandria, who also instructed the Saint in his youth. Having first spent much time with the monks of Nitria, he later became the successor to his uncle's throne in 412 A.D. In 429 A.D., when St. Cyril heard tidings of the teachings of the new Patriarch of Constantinople, Nestorius, he began attempting through private letters to bring Nestorius to renounce his heretical teachings about the Incarnation; and when the heresiarch did not repent, Saint Cyril, together with Pope Celestine of Rome, led the Orthodox opposition to his error. Saint Cyril presided over the Third Ecumenical Council of the 200 holy Fathers in the year 431 A.D., who gathered in Ephesus under Saint Theodosius the Younger. At the Council, by his most wise words he put to shame and convicted the impious and heretical doctrine of Nestorius, who, although he was in town, refused to appear before Saint Cyril. Saint Cyril, besides overthrowing the heresy of Nestorius, has left to the Church full commentaries on the Gospels of Saint Luke and John. Having shepherded the Church of Christ for thirty-two years, he reposed in 444 A.D.


"Jesus that I know as my Redeemer cannot be less than God"-at the Council of Nicaea (325 A.D.)

"Both from the confession of the evil spirits and from the daily witness of His works it is manifest, then, and let none presume to doubt it, that the Savior has raised His own body, and that He is the very Son of God, having His being from God as from a Father, Whose Word and Wisdom and Whose Power He is. He it is Who in these latter days assumed a body for the salvation of us all, and taught the world concerning the Father. He it is Who has destroyed death and freely graced us all with incorruption through the promise of the resurrection, having raised His own body as its first-fruits, and displayed it by the sign of the Cross as the monument to His victory over death and its corruption".--The Incarnation of the Word, Chapter 5, The Resurrection (5:32).

"But for the searching and right understanding of the Scriptures there is need of a good life and a pure soul, and for Christian virtue to guide the mind to grasp, so far as human nature can, the truth concerning God the Word. One cannot possibly understand the teaching of the Saints unless one has a pure mind and is trying to imitate their life. Anyone who wants to look at sunlight naturally wipes his eye clear first, in order to make, at any rate, some approximation to the purity of that on which he looks; and a person wishing to see a city or country goes to the place in order to do so. Similarly, anyone who wishes to understand the mind of the sacred writers must first cleanse his own life, and approach the Saints by copying their deeds. Thus united to them in the fellowship of life, he will both understand the things revealed to them by God and, thenceforth escaping the peril that threatens sinners in the judgment, will receive that which is laid up for the Saints in the Kingdom of Heaven."-in his conclusion to The Incarnation of the Word, Chapter 9. (9:57).

"These are fountains of salvation that they who thirst may be satisfied with the living words they contain. In these alone is proclaimed the doctrine of godliness. Let no man add to these, neither let him take out from these. For concerning these, the Lord put to shame the Sadducees and said, 'Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures' and He reproved the Jews, saying, 'Search the Scriptures, for these are they that testify of Me.'-describing the canon in his 39th Festal Letter.

"The Son of God became man so that we might become God." (Also phrased as Christ became like man so that we might become like him.)

See also: Biblical canon

Saint Athanasius is also the first person to identify the same 27 books of the New Testament that are in use today. Up until then, various similar lists of works to be read in churches were in use. A milestone in the evolution of the Canon of the New Testament books in his Easter letter from Alexandria, written 367AD. Because Saint Athanasius' canon is the closest canon of any of the Church Fathers to the canon used by Protestant churches today, many Protestants point to Saint Athanasius as the father of the canon.

With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George