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A History Of The Church In Nine Books by Sozomen

ABOUT this period, Alexander, bishop of Alexandria, conscious of approaching death, named Athanasius as his successor, in accordance, I am convinced, with the Divine will. It is said that Athanasius at first sought to avoid the honour by flight, but that he was afterwards constrained by Alexander to accept the bishopric. This is testified by Apollinarius, the Syrian, in the following terms:—“In all these matters much disturbance was excited by impiety, but its first effects were felt by the blessed teacher to whom this man was subject as a son would be to his father. Afterwards this holy man himself underwent the same experience, for when appointed to the episcopal succession, he fled to escape the honour, but he was discovered in his place of concealment by the help of God, who had revealed to his blessed predecessor that the succession was to devolve upon him. For when Alexander was on the point of death, he called upon Athanasius, who was then absent. One who bore the same name, and who happened to be present, on hearing him call this way, answered him; but Alexander spoke not to him, but continued calling upon him who was absent. Moreover, the blessed Alexander prophetically exclaimed, ‘O Athanasius, thou thinkest to escape, but thou wilt not escape;’ meaning that Athanasius would most certainly be called to the conflict.” Such is the account given by Apollinarius respecting Athanasius.

The Arians assert, that after the death of Alexander, the respective followers of that bishop and of Meletius held communion together, and that fifty-four bishops from Thebes, and other parts of Egypt, assembled together, and agreed by oath to elect a bishop of Alexandria according to their common consent: but that seven of the bishops, in violation of their oath and of the wishes of the other bishops, secretly ordained Athanasius; and that, on this account, many of the people and of the Egyptian clergy seceded from communion with him. For my part, I am convinced that it was by Divine appointment that Athanasius succeeded to the bishopric, for he was eloquent and intelligent, and capable of opposing the machinations of his enemies, and, in fact, well suited to the times in which he lived. He displayed great aptitude in the exercise of the ecclesiastical functions, and in the instruction of the people, and was, so to speak, self-taught in these respects. It is said that the following incident occurred to him in his youth. It was the custom of the Alexandrians to celebrate with great pomp an annual festival in honour of one of their bishops, named Peter, who had suffered martyrdom. Alexander, who was then bishop, engaged in the celebration of this festival, and, after having offered up divine service, he remained on the spot, awaiting the arrival of some guests whom he expected to dinner. In the mean time, he chanced to cast his eyes towards the sea, and perceived some children playing on the shore, and amusing themselves by imitating the ceremonies of the church; at first he considered the amusement as innocent, and took pleasure in witnessing it, but on finding that the most secret of the mysteries were among the subjects of their imitation, he became troubled, and communicated the matter to the chief of the clergy. The children were called together, and questioned as to the game at which they were playing, and as to what they did and said, when engaged in this amusement. At first they refused to reply, but on being further pressed by Alexander, they confessed that Athanasius was their bishop and leader, and that many children who had not been initiated had been baptized by him. Alexander carefully inquired what the bishop of their games was in the habit of saying or doing, and what he taught them. On finding that the exact routine of the church had been accurately observed, he consulted the priests around him on the subject, and decided that it would be unnecessary to re-baptize those who, in their simplicity, had been judged worthy of divine grace. He therefore merely performed for them such offices as are inseparably connected with priestly ministration. He then took Athanasius, and the other children, who had playfully acted as presbyters and deacons, to their own relations, that they might be brought up for the church, and qualified for the exercise of those functions which they had imitated. Not long after, he took Athanasius into his service, and employed him as his secretary. He had been well educated, was versed in grammar and rhetoric, and gave evident proofs of learning and wisdom before his election to the bishopric. But when, on the death of Alexander, the succession devolved upon him, his reputation was greatly increased, and was sustained by his own private virtues and by the testimony of the monk, Antony the Great. This monk repaired to him when he requested his presence, visited the cities, accompanied him to the churches, and agreed with him in opinion concerning the Godhead. He evinced unlimited friendship towards him, and avoided the society of his enemies and opponents.








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