“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:1-2
Dear Redeemer Family:
We are indeed surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. And that fits with the themes and declarations during this season of Easter. And, as in May we shall celebrate the Day of Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit. I thought that it is important that we consider some of the witnesses that ever surround us whom we shall remember during the month of May. Although, their remembrance may not fall on a Sunday.
May 1st, “May Day,” we remember the Apostles Philip and James. Philip was one of the first disciples of Jesus, who after following Jesus invited Nathanael to “come and see.” He is considered one of the first evangelists because of this. According to tradition, Philip preached in Asia Minor and died as a martyr in Phrygia. He was originally buried in Ephesus, as were his four daughters. James, the son of Alphaeus, is called James the Less; meaning “short” or “younger,” to distinguish him from the other apostle James, who is commemorated in July. We remember Philip and James on May 1st, but not for the usual reason. This is not the day of their deaths. Rather, they are commemorated together on this day because the remains of these two saints were placed in the Church of the Apostles in Rome on May 1st in the year 561.
On May 2nd, we remember St. Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, who died on this date in 373. Athanasius attended the Council of Nicea in 325 as a deacon and secretary to the then bishop of Alexandria. At the council, and when he himself served as bishop of Alexandria, he defended the full divinity of Christ against the position of Arius, the leader of the early heresy of Arianism, which believed that Jesus was only human, and for his obedience, God basically adopted Jesus. The Arian position was held by the emperor, some of the magistrates and other theologians. In fact, Arius was a very close friend of the emperor. Because of Athanasius’ defense of the divinity of Christ, he was considered a troublemaker, and was banished from Alexandria five times. I read somewhere that he only actually served in Alexandria as bishop for a couple of months total. The rest of the time he was in banishment. But, it is for his defense of Christ’s divinity that the Athanasian Creed is named after him, for it reflects his understanding of the faith, and our own. In addition, as bishop, one of his paschal letters to surrounding bishops gives a list of books that should be considered scripture. He lists all twenty-seven books that are now included in the New Testament.
These are just three of the great witnesses that surround us. Enjoy their company!