Today we remember two great Patriarchs of Alexandria, St Athanasius, the champion of the Homoousios, and St Cyril, the champion of the Theotokos.
St Athanasius, born A.D. 275 to pious parents, was from his youth a disciple of the great ascetic St Anthony. When he was still just a deacon, he became embroiled in controversy with Arius, an older man, eminent priest and much-admired preacher, over Arius’s teaching that the Logos was Son of God only in a metaphorical sense. According to Arius, although not a creature in the same sense as the rest of creation, he nevertheless was a creature, created by God before all time, and in turn the creator of this world. St Athanasius insisted that the Logos was ‘homoousios,’ of the same essence as God the Father and coeternal with him, True God of True God.
St Athanasius as deacon accompanied his Patriarch, St Alexander, to the Council of Nicæa in 325 and there was a leader of those who defended the true Divinity of the Son.
When St Alexander died, the people of Alexandria chose St Athanasius as their Patriarch. Despite repeated exiles at the hands of Arian emperors, he spent the rest of his life until his rebirth into eternal life on 2 May 373 in the defence of the Nicene faith.
St Cyril of Alexandria lived almost a century after St Athanasius. He became bishop of Alexandria in A.D. 412 in succession to his uncle Theophilus, and was reborn into eternal life in 444.
When Nestorius became bishop of Constantinople c. 428, St Cyril rebutted his heretical teachings that Jesus was not two natures but rather two persons, and that the Virgin Mary was the mother of the human person only, so that ‘Mother of God’ was merely a figurative description. St Cyril, in his Paschal Encyclical of 429, declared that the title by which the faithful had always known the Virgin Mary, ‘Theotokos,’ ‘She who bore God,’ was a literal, not figurative, description.
The Emperor Theodosius II summoned the Council of Ephesus, which met in June and July 431 at the Church of St Mary in Ephesus, condemned Nestorius and proclaimed ‘Theotokos’ as the literal title of the Virgin. This led to the Nestorian schism, affecting especially the church in Persia.
Hence, today we remember the vindication of the one divine essence in Christ, the Homoousios, and of the two natures, human and divine, in the Incarnation by the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, truly the Mother of God.
Occasional comments by a convert to Orthodoxy.