Athanasius

Failure of the Falcon Horus

Critics of the history of Jesus say that the parallels between the ideology of Horus and that of the story of Jesus indicates that they are the same story, just different time periods. However, this idea fails to take into account that the belief in Horus is one that spans thousands of years and many different versions. Each era of belief in Horus would have believed in different versions of the god, none of which match up with the accounts of Jesus. ——— from Ancient Egypt Online

I can understand why any African American would be disillusioned with Western Christianity.  We were brought here as slaves on the good ship “Jesus” and were taught Bible passages to keep us under control.  Despite becoming Baptist, Methodist, and the like; many of our white “brothers and sisters” either passively supported the idea of racial supremacy, or were active in its propagation in groups such as the Christian Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.  Even today, racist white American Christians have trouble admitting their wrongs and mask their feelings under a veneer of politics and social observations.  Although there are mixed congregations and most mainline denominations (including the Southern Baptist Convention which recently had a black president) have publicly repented of their bigoted past, too many of us have been hurt too deeply to trust that Christianity is the true faith.  We have been beaten over the head with too many Nordic images of Jesus, “explanations” of why our brown and black skins doomed us for enslavement, and justifications of how God intended to keep the races separate while our women were being raped.  The fact that most African Americans remain Christians is a miracle of God.  It is a wonder that more of us have not given up on the Jesus of Western Christendom.

However, I believe throwing the baby out with the bath water is not a good idea.  This is what several of us are doing by rejecting Christianity all together.  For example, a friend considers the Egyptian god Horus to be a true deity and Jesus a lie as it seems that the Virgin Birth, miracles, and death and resurrection narrative is a copy of the story of Horus.  To be certain, the similarities are unmistakable.  But like the Jewish religion, the story of Horus was a foretaste of Jesus as the Son of God.  By comparison, Horus falls short of being a god worthy of worship.

The Egyptian god Horus

Horus was only one of several Egyptian deities.  Ra, Anubis, Mut, Thoth, and others were worshiped equally in this polytheistic religion.  In fact, each district along the Nile had its own god.  The primary god that was recognized by all was Ra, the creator of all things.  Depending on what version of Egyptology you read, Horus was not the son of this primary god.  About 2000 B.C., many Egyptians attributed his parents to be Osiris and Isis and they were either close cousins or even brother and sister.  After Osiris was murdered by his brother Seth, Isis impregnated herself on the one part of her husband that was functional, his penis, before bringing him back to life with the help of the god Anubis.

Thus, there are a few serious problems with Horus.  As he was not the son of the creator god, he had no spiritual supremacy over any of the other deities.  He was just another god that could be taken seriously, or left alone.  Even if he were the son of Ra, that still didn’t give him supremacy to any other god such as Geb (the earth god) or Hathor (love and fertility).  In fact, Seth, the god of evil who killed Horus and his father Osiris, was made the god of storms by Ra.  Neither Horus nor Ra punishes the source of evil.  The influence of Horus was still limited as to the more important local gods such as Apis, the god of strength, who was adored in Memphis or Meretseger of Thebes who rewarded the good and punished the evil.   Not only was Horus the son of a minor god, he was a child of incest as no ancient culture permitted the marriage of close cousins and even more so brothers and sisters.

Why would indigenous Egyptian Christians accept the Virgin Birth narrative of Jesus and reject that of the older and native Horus?  Because Horus was not a divine being with any true power, worshiping him was optional as he was a lesser of a lesser god born under an unlawful and strange circumstance.  And evil was still tolerated among the Egyptian gods.   When the Apostle Mark brought the Gospel to the Egyptians, they recognized the Virgin Birth narrative.  But, they learned that Jesus was (and is) the Son of God.  The same God that saved the Israelites from Egyptian slavery called for Jesus to be hidden among them and called Him from their land.  This would be the God for all people and not just another local deity.  By His death, Jesus conquered death and corruption of the soul (sin).  After His death and resurrection, Jesus had all power on heaven and earth.  And He will return to judge the living and the dead having ultimate victory over ultimate evil.

At no time does Horus take on human flesh while maintaining his divinity.  Being detached from the supreme creator god, he was unable to do this.  In fact, he is depicted as half man and half falcon.  The problem of fallen humanity is that by sin we have distanced ourselves from the God who made us in His image and likeness.  This distancing has corrupts the human soul that was made to be immortal and leads to complete death.  In order to correct the corruption and defeat death, God would have to take a fully human form and still retain his divinity, die as a man and because of his divinity, rise from the grave as a man.  A half man and half bird god could not do this despite being born of a virgin, performing miracles, or calling himself the light of the world.  And how could Horus call himself a supreme light when he was only the god of the rising sun?  Aten succeded Ra as the sun god.  Atum was the god of the setting sun and was the local god of Lower Egypt.  In contrast, Jesus became man and was like us in every way except he was pure from His conception of a virgin and the Holy Spirit.  He overcame the temptations.  He was crucified publicly so that there would be no question that He died.  But, because Jesus was also divine, death could not hold His human body.  By believing in the Gospel and following His precepts, we have the ability to overcome sins and live forever.  As attributed to Athanasius (who was described by his enemies as a black dwarf), “God became man so that man could become God.”

Athanasius the Great, Bishop of Alexandria

Egyptians saw the truth of Jesus and rejected their pantheon of gods despite the persecutions of the first 300 years of the faith.  Egypt was the home of the Desert Fathers who lived in caves and monasteries to devote their lives to prayer and the pursuit of God without the worldly influences after the faith became legalized and (eventually) the official religion of the Roman Empire.  The spirituality of these fathers were an influence of the African bishop Athanasius who was the hero of the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea and compiled 27 books that would be canonized as the New Testament at a Council in Carthage.  Today, the indigenous Coptic Christians of Egypt still hold true to the faith even under the threat of martyrdom.  Not only they, but Ethiopians, Syrians, Assyrians, Antiochians, and others would rather confess Jesus as the risen Son of God rather than any other god of any other nation.

Rather than seeking to find excuses to reject Christianity all together, I recommend that African-Americans (no, all Americans!) take the time to learn about ancient Christianity.  The Copts and Ethiopians (who were evangelized by the Apostle Matthew) have practiced this faith long before the slave ship captain John Hardy Hawkins chose his coat of arms.  Greek and Russian Orthodox believers pray the prayers of St. Macarius and kiss the icon of St. Mary of Egypt.  This is not to say that the Orthodox Christian world is perfect.  But, we have a greater spiritual journey to offer than Horus.  A good starting point would be On The Incarnation by St. Athanasius the Great. He also wrote a biography of St. Anthony who is considered to be the father of Christian monasticism.  The Sayings of the Desert Fathers offers a good look and what the early Egyptian and other influential monastics taught.  Two modern books that highlight early African Christianity that are useful are The Unbroken Circle and Wade in the River.

St. Anthony, King, Obama: The Time Is Now

The confluence of the days is no coincidence.  Martin Luther King Jr’s Birthday will be celebrated on January 21st.  This is also the same date of the Second Inauguration of President Barak Obama.  Every American, in particular African-Americans, understand the importance and prophetic like significance of these events.  King was the voice for a better America and helped lead the country out of the satanic state of segregation.  Obama is a symbol of what anyone can achieve if they strive to do their best.  There is no way I could nor would want to dispel these two great men.  But, I do believe it is important for we as Protestant Christians, and especially African-American Christians to also regard Saint Anthony of Egypt.  Today is his feast day.

St. Anthony the Great

St. Anthony the Great inherited great wealth from his parents and could have lived a life of great splendor.  Yet hearing the Gospel message, he left his worldly possessions behind and took up a life of prayer in the desert.  His devotion to prayer was a great influence on Bishop Athanasius of Alexandria who gave the church its first creed and was the first to compile the list of books that became our New Testament.  Another Egyptian, Macarius, to write prayers that are still prayed by Orthodox believers around the world.  Anthony’s defence of Jesus Christ as the incarnate Son of God during the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea helped the early church reject the heresy of Arianism.  Yet, rather than bask in the glories of his achievements, Anthony kept returning to his cave.  His followers followed his instructions and buried him in a secret grave so that he would not become the object of veneration.

The importance of Anthony is no less than that of MLK and Mr. Obama.  As we celebrate these to great men, now is the time for us to open our hearts and minds to learn about and celebrate our African-Christian heroes (and the saints of other lands as well).  Had there been no Anthony, the correct doctrines supported by Athanasius, Basil, Nicholas (yes, THAT St. Nicholas), and others may not have been as convincing to Emperor Constantine and the Council.  The rich prayer tradition of Orthodox and Catholic monks and nuns would not have developed in such meaningful ways.  Indeed, where would King have received his Holy Bible from?  What sort of Bible would Mr. Obama take the oath of office on? The “Desert Fathers” of Africa should and must be a part of who we African-American Christians honor during Black History Month as without them, we (and the world) might not be here and not have a true idea of who Jesus Christ is.

Archbishop Iakovos with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

During the era of Dr. King, we were too busy with fighting for our Civil Rights to learn much about our Christian history.  Now, it is possible that an African-American President who struggled during his first term could win a second.  Nothing is stopping us from reading the books of the early church fathers and talking to Eastern and Oriental Orthodox clergy.  Instead of choking our people on a diet of a modern Christian market, we can introduce them to the solid doctrines, prayers, and practices of our African ancestors.  Even if we choose not to convert to Orthodoxy (and I think some of us should), we should know our history.  We have no excuses not to learn.

Athanasius, Daniel, and Proof of Christ?!?!

I have a most lousy copy of “On The Incarnation” by St. Athanasius.  If you see the Forgotten Books reprint of this for sale anywhere (www.forgottenbooks.org), forget it and get this book published by someone else.  It is digitally remastered from an older manuscript.  The letters are faded from light to dark making this an annoying read.  Fr. James Purdie was going to let me borrow a better version from his library.  But, I had already ordered this when I met with him last month.  Next time, I will ask to borrow from him before I waste my money and eyesight.  I will have to read this book again as I doubt I got half of what Athanasius was teaching.

From the dome at Sts. Constantine & Helen (© John Gresham)

Oh, but I did get one lesson from this great saint that threw me for a loop!  In the 39th section of the book, Athanasius refutes the Jews looking for a Messiah other than Jesus by referring to the prophet Daniel.  Daniel Chapter 9:20-27, the angel Gabriel reveals to the prophet the time of the Seventy Weeks between worship at the temple in Jerusalem until the temple is desecrated by the an abomination in the temple.  Notes in the Orthodox Study Bible interpret the Seventy weeks to mean 70 weeks of years (70 x 7), or  490 years.  Using the works of Hippolytus, a bishop of Rome 170-235 AD, the temple was commissioned to be rebuilt in 458 BC.  The Crucifixion of Jesus Christ happened in  30 AD.  This is in the time frame of the Seventy Weeks or 490 years (488 years to be exact).  Athanasius argues using Daniel 9:24- 25:

Seventy weeks are cut short upon thy people, upon the holy city, for a full end made to sin, and for sins to be sealed up, and to blot out iniquities, and to make atonement for iniquities, and to bring everlasting righteousness, and to seal vision and prophet, and to anoint the Holy of Holies; and thou shalt know and understand from the going forth of the word to restore and to build Jerusalem unto Christ the Prince.

Of course, I knew of the other Messianic prophecies that are repeated such as Isaiah 7:14 and Micah 5:1 that are repeated in the Gospel of Matthew.  But, I have never had this Daniel prophecy explained like this.  And unlike our modern-day “end-of-the-world experts,” Athanasius, Hippolytus, and similar scholars are the fathers of Christian doctrine.  No wonder the Orthodox Bible ends the Old Testament with Daniel and then goes into the Gospels.  Jesus falls into the prophetic chronology with the angel Gabriel announcing Christ first to the prophet and then to Mary.

Of course, you Orthodox Christians can explain this far better than me.  I do not claim to be an expert.  I am not even a catechist (yet).  But, seeing this chronological, prophetic proof of Christ, I have some questions about my own Protestant faith:

  • Why did Martin Luther and other leaders change this chronological pattern between Daniel and the Gospels?
  • Why don’t we teach this prophecy of the Seventy Weeks as part of our defense of faith?
  • Why don’t we make our parishioners aware of this prophecy, at least during Advent?
  • Of what profit is it to ignore the writings of Athanasius ( who gave us our first creed and New Testament canon), Hippolytus, and other ancient writers in exchange for the likes of John Hagee, Jack van Impe, and other prophetic “scholars?”

I hope to see Fr. James this week while I am in Hampton on business.  I will re-read “On The Incarnation” again as soon as I get my hands on a better copy.  And I will continue to ask questions.