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Athanasius of Alexandria

Athanasius of Alexandria

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Athanasius was probably born in 295 in Egypt perhaps Alexandria, probably of Greek speaking pagan parents. Though a much of the information about Athanasius early life is considered unreliable, according to early tradition, as a child he was noticed playing on the beach by Alexander, the bishop of Alexandria, and virtually adopted as if an orphan. It seems that he had a good basic education. His main inspiration was the Greek Bible. He was also influenced by the Church fathers Ignatius, Irenaeus and Origen, though his influence by Origen was moderate. He spoke Coptic, but his ability to write in Coptic is disputed.

In 319 he entered into the service of Bishop Alexander of Alexandria as a deacon and secretary. He accompanied Alexander to the Council of Nicaea. After the death of Alexander in 328 Athanasius was elected bishop of Alexandria. His ordination was hastily arranged, which later cause some difficulty and was seen by some as invalid. Emperor Constantine recognized his ordination though he refused Constantine's request to enter communion with Arius.

The geographical range of pastoral responsibility of Athanasius was the whole of the Nile valley with diocesan responsibilities reaching beyond the first cataracts. From 330 to 334 Athanasius traveled extensively within his diocese, building support among the clergy and the monks. His struggles against the Meletians and the Arians soon provoked reaction from outside Egypt. He was accused of corruption, treason, and even murdering Meletian's bishop. Athanasius successfully defended himself against these charges.

Not too long afterwards he was called before an episcopal court in Caesarea and before an imperial synod in Tyre in 335. He refused to go to Caesarea and was condemned at Tyre. Constantine then sent him into exile in Trier. After Constantine death (337), Athanasius was allowed to return to Alexandria. Over the next 30 years, Athanasius was exiled from Alexandria and returned on a number of occasions. In 366, Athanasius was allowed to return for the last time, and remain bishop, until his death in 373. After Athanasius death the area and controversy came to an end at the second ecumenical Council of Constantinople in 381, with the church ultimately accepting the teaching represented by Athanasius.