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A History Of The Church In Five Books by Theodoret

THOSE who had obtained entire ascendancy over the mind of Constantius, reminded him that Athanasius had been the cause of differences between him and his brother, which had nearly led to the rupture of the bonds of nature, and the kindling of a civil war. Constantius was induced by these representations not only to banish, but also to condemn the holy Athanasius to death; and he accordingly despatched Sebastian, a military commander, with some of the soldiery to slay him, as if he had been a criminal. The manner in which he escaped from the soldiers, avoiding this imminent danger by flight, is best narrated by himself. The following is the account which he gives in his apology for his flight:—“Let the mode of my retreat be investigated, and let the testimony of the opposite faction be collected. Some Arians accompanied the soldiers, as much for the purpose of urging them on, as of pointing me out to them. If the relation I am about to make do not excite their commiseration, it will, at least, render them ashamed. It was night, and some of the people were keeping watch, and awaiting the hour for the meeting of the assembly. An army suddenly advanced upon them, consisting of a general and five thousand armed men with naked swords, bows and arrows, and clubs, as I have already stated. The general ordered the soldiers to surround the church, in order that those who might be in it might be prevented from leaving it. I imagined that I ought not in such a time of perplexity to leave the people, but that I ought rather for their sake to meet the danger; so I remained on my seat, and desired the deacon to read a psalm, and the people to respond, ‘His mercy endureth throughout all ages;’ after which, I directed that they should all return to their own houses. But the general with the soldiery forced their way into the church, and surrounded the altar in order to arrest me; the clergy and the laity who had remained, clamorously besought me to make my escape. I firmly refused to do so until all the others had retreated. I rose, had a prayer offered, and directed all the people to retire; ‘It is better,’ said I, ‘for me to meet the danger alone, than that any of our people should experience the least injury.’ When the greater number of the people had left the church, and just as the rest were following, the monks and some of the clergy who had remained led me out. And I testify as before the Lord who led me and who protected me, that we passed through the midst of the soldiers, some of whom were stationed around the altar, and others were marching about the church. We thus went out unperceived, and fervently glorified God that we had not abandoned the people, but that after they had been sent away in safety, we were permitted to escape from the hands of those who sought our life.”








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