St. Athanasius of Alexandria


St. Athanasius of Alexandria, Oil on Panel, 35" x 60" by Melissa Carmon


Mere Nostrum: our sea
balmy air,
hot, and the
fading waters

Man with a midnight
twinkle in your eye
cagey, bold, and red with fire
you knew that people are a sea, 
now roiling, the calm
as life giving
and as dangerous

Over those faded waters
receding to the horizon
you looked out
…and smiled

For you were a man of the desert.  

And you carried with you
its golden sun

Yet you knew the cold silence
of stones, that
only stones know how
to stop movement, 
stop sound

You knew the Place of the Dead
where your father’s bones lay
breathless, soundless

and with the weight of
worlds, they pulled quiet to quiet

You knew
the owlish open eyes
of emperors
All seeing, all open
who hunted for your outline
in that ancient dark

But you had died
long ago in the desert
A man with old eyes and 
desert-tanned skin, wrinkled and thin
sang over you
the song of life
“Darkness may yet be walked through
and death is but a doorframe”

Over the Mediterranean sea
Your eyes met dark for dark
and glittered, triumphant

Historical Background:

St. Athanasius (ca.296/298 CE- 373CE).  As bishop of Alexandria, Athanasius’ life was hunted by four Roman emperors, and in total, he spent about seventeen in exile. On one occasion, it is said he was forced to hide in his father's tomb for four months.  Another story from his life comes from an occasion when he was pursued by the Emperor's ships on the Nile, which was covered in fog.  Athanasius decided to double back on the Emperor's ships, and when they asked if he had seen Athanasius, it is said that he replied, "Yes, he is very near!" Athanasius was also present at the famous council of Nicaea, and the Athanasian creed-- considered to be a distillation of basic Christianity and repeated weekly -- is named for him.  He knew St. Antony, one of the early “Desert Fathers,” a monk who had gone to the wilderness to live in the desert.  Athanasius wrote a biography of Antony that was to make him famous, and is still widely referenced in both art and literature.  When he was dying, St. Antony, who had taken on a life of extreme simplicity, bequeathed a sheepskin cloak —one of his few possessions— to Athanasius. 

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