Selections from Athanasius, Festal Letter 13

For Tuesday of Lent Week 2

1 Again, my beloved brethren, I am ready to notify to you the saving feast , which will take place according to annual custom. For although the opponents of Christ have oppressed you together with us with afflictions and sorrows; yet, God having comforted us by our mutual faith, behold, I write to you even from Rome. Keeping the feast here with the brethren, still I keep it with you also in will and in spirit, for we send up prayers in common to God, “Who has granted us not only to believe in Him, but also now to suffer for His sake.” [Phil 1:29] For troubled as we are, because we are so far from you, He moves us to write, that by a letter we might comfort ourselves, and provoke one another to good. For, indeed, numerous afflictions and bitter persecutions directed against the Church have been against us. For heretics, corrupt in their mind, untried in the faith, rising against the truth, violently persecute the Church, and of the brethren, some are scourged and others torn with stripes, and hardest of all, their insults reach even to the Bishops. Nevertheless, it is not becoming, on this account, that we should neglect the feast. But we should especially remember it, and not at all forget its commemoration from time to time. . . .

2 . . . Now the blessed Paul, when troubled by afflictions, and persecutions, and hunger and thirst, “in everything was a conqueror, through Jesus Christ, Who loved us Romans” [8:37] Through suffering he was weak indeed in body, yet, believing and hoping, he was made strong in spirit, and his strength was made perfect in weakness. [2 Corinthians 12:9]

3 The other saints also, who had a like confidence in God, accepted a like probation with gladness, as Job said, “Blessed be the name of the Lord” [Job 1:21] But the Psalmist, “Search me, O Lord, and try me: prove my reins and my heart.” For since, when the strength is proved, it convinces the foolish, they perceiving the cleansing and the advantage resulting from the divine fire, were not discouraged in trials like these, but they rather delighted in them, suffering no injury at all from the things which happened, but being seen to shine more brightly, like gold from the fire, as he said, who was tried in such a school of discipline as this; “You have tried my heart, You have visited me in the night-season; You have proved me, and hast not found iniquity in me, so that my mouth shall not speak of the works of men.” But those whose actions are not restrained by law, who know of nothing beyond eating and drinking and dying, account trials as danger. They soon stumble at them, so that, being untried in the faith, they are given over to a reprobate mind, and do those things which are not seemly. [Romans 1:28] Therefore the blessed Paul, when urging us to such exercises as these, and having before measured himself by them, says, “Therefore I take pleasure in afflictions, in infirmities.” And again, “Exercise yourself unto godliness.” For since he knew the persecutions that befell those who chose to live in godliness, he wished his disciples to meditate beforehand on the difficulties connected with godliness; that when trials should come, and affliction arise, they might be able to bear them easily, as having been exercised in these things. For in those things wherewith a man has been conversant in mind, he ordinarily experiences a hidden joy. In this way, the blessed martyrs, becoming at first conversant with difficulties, were quickly perfected in Christ, regarding as nought the injury of the body, while they contemplated the expected rest.

4 . . . For though all these things should proceed from the enemies, stripes, insults, reproaches, yet shall they avail nothing against the multitude of God’s tender mercies; for we shall quickly recover from them since they are merely temporal, but God is always gracious, pouring out His tender mercies on those who please [Him]. Therefore, my beloved brethren, we should not look at these temporal things, but fix our attention on those which are eternal. Though affliction may come, it will have an end, though insult and persecution, yet are they nothing to the hope which is set [before us]. For all present matters are trifling compared with those which are future; the sufferings of this present time not being worthy to be compared with the hope that is to come. For what can be compared with the kingdom? Or what is there in comparison with life eternal? Or what is all we could give here, to that which we shall inherit yonder? For we are “heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ Romans” [8:17] Therefore it is not right, my beloved, to consider afflictions and persecutions, but the hopes which are laid up for us because of persecutions. . . .

6 Now what does this mean, my beloved, but that we also, when the enemies are arrayed against us, should glory in afflictions [Romans 5:3], and that when we are persecuted, we should not be discouraged, but should the rather press after the crown of the high calling in Christ Jesus our Lord? And that being insulted, we should not be disturbed, but should give our cheek to the smiter, and bow the shoulder? For the lovers of pleasure and the lovers of enmity are tried, as says the blessed Apostle James, “when they are drawn away by their own lusts and enticed.” [James 1:14] But let us, knowing that we suffer for the truth, and that those who deny the Lord smite and persecute us, “count it all joy, my brethren,” according to the words of James, “when we fall into trials of various temptations, knowing that the trial of our faith works patience.” Let us rejoice as we keep the feast, my brethren, knowing that our salvation is ordered in the time of affliction. For our Saviour did not redeem us by inactivity, but by suffering for us He abolished death. And respecting this, He intimidated to us before, saying, “In the world you shall have tribulation John” [16:33] But He did not say this to every man, but to those who diligently and faithfully perform good service to Him, knowing beforehand, that they should be persecuted who would live godly toward Him.

7 . . . “For the Lord your God tries you, that He may know whether you will love the Lord your God with all your heart. [Deuteronomy 13:1-3] So we, when we are tried by these things, will not separate ourselves from the love of God. But let us now keep the feast, my beloved, not as introducing a day of suffering, but of joy in Christ, by Whom we are fed every day. Let us be mindful of Him Who was sacrificed in the days of the Passover; for we celebrate this, because Christ the Passover was sacrificed. [1 Corinthians 5:7] He Who once brought His people out of Egypt, and has now abolished death, and him that had the power of death, that is the devil [Hebrews 2:14], will likewise now turn him to shame, and again grant aid to those who are troubled, and cry unto God day and night. [Luke 18:7] . . .

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