Today is the Feast of Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria (c. 296 – 2 May 373). James’ Kiefer, the keeper of all good hagiography, wrote of Athanasius, “Outside the pages of the New Testament itself, Athanasius is probably the man to whom we chiefly owe the preservation of the Christian faith.” His life was an ongoing tale of faith and intrigue, having served 45 years as the Bishop of Alexandria at the height of the Arian Controversy, Athanasius spent 17 years in exile, having been cast out of his Sea on five different occasions by four Emperors of Rome. You could lead a six-week program on Athanasius and still be uncovering new details.
What got to me, as I reflect on the revelation I had in reading John 14 and in reading the Collect for Sunday, I began to realize that the overarching theme of the Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year C is the Athanasian idea of Theosis or Divinization. Writing in his On The Incarnation, Athanasius now famously said, “The Son of God became man so that we might become God.” If I might be so bold as to paraphrase (read, isogete) Athanasius through the lens of Eugene Peterson, this might be restated as something like, “The Son of God made his home in the human heart so that the human heart might share God’s dream.”
This cyclical understanding of grace is, I think, what our Prayer Book is struggle to say in the Collect for Easter 6, “Pour into our hearts such love towards you, that we, loving you in all things and above all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire…” God pours out his love to us and in us and for us so that we might, in return love him and love those around us, which he reciprocates by, as Jesus says in John 14.23, “making his home with us.”
If I had an adult forum to teach this week, I’d probably spend it talking about Theosis, and how the work of sanctification is all God’s, even as we have a role to play in the restoration of the world around us. God abides with us, in order that we might see the world like God does. Thanks Athanasius!