Selections from Athanasius, Festal Letter 2

For Thursday after Ash Wednesday

1 Again, my brethren, is Easter come and gladness; again the Lord has brought us to this season; so that when, according to custom, we have been nourished with His words, we may duly keep the feast. Let us celebrate it then, even heavenly joy, with those saints who formerly proclaimed a like feast, and were ensamples to us of conversation1 in Christ. . . .

2 Let us then, as is becoming, as at all times, yet especially in the days of the feast, be not hearers only, but doers of the commandments of our Saviour; that having imitated the behaviour of the saints, we may enter together into the joy of our Lord which is in heaven, which is not transitory, but truly abides; of which evil doers having deprived themselves, there remains to them as the fruit of their ways, sorrow and affliction, and groaning with torments. Let a man see what these become like, that they bear not the likeness of the conversation of the saints, nor of that right understanding, by which man at the beginning was rational, and in the image of God. . . .

5 Oh! My brethren, how shall we admire the loving-kindness of the Saviour? With what power, and with what a trumpet should a man cry out, exalting these His benefits! That not only should we bear His image, but should receive from Him an example and pattern of heavenly conversation; that as He has begun, we should go on, that suffering, we should not threaten, being reviled, we should not revile again, but should bless them that curse, and in everything commit ourselves to God who judges righteously. For those who are thus disposed, and fashion themselves according to the Gospel, will be partakers of Christ, and imitators of apostolic conversation, on account of which they shall be deemed worthy of that praise from him, with which he praised the Corinthians, when he said, “I praise you that in everything you are mindful of me.” . . .

7 . . . Now some have related the wonderful signs performed by our Saviour, and preached His eternal Godhead. And others have written of His being born in the flesh of the Virgin, and have proclaimed the festival of the holy passover, saying, “Christ our Passover is sacrificed” so that we, individually and collectively, and all the churches in the world may remember, as it is written, “That Christ rose from the dead, of the seed of David, according to the Gospel.” And let us not forget that which Paul delivered, declaring it to the Corinthians; I mean His resurrection, whereby “He destroyed him that had the power of death, that is, the devil” and raised us up together with Him, having loosed the bands of death, and vouchsafed a blessing instead of a curse, joy instead of grief, a feast instead of mourning, in this holy joy of Easter, which being continually in our hearts, we always rejoice, as Paul commanded; “We pray without ceasing; in everything we give thanks.” So we are not remiss in giving notice of its seasons, as we have received from the Fathers. Again we write, again keeping to the apostolic traditions, we remind each other when we come together for prayer; and keeping the feast in common, with one mouth we truly give thanks to the Lord. Thus giving thanks unto Him, and being followers of the saints, “we shall make our praise in the Lord all the day,” as the Psalmist says. So, when we rightly keep the feast, we shall be counted worthy of that joy which is in heaven. . . .

  1. The English translation of the Syriac text is from 1854, revised and edited in 1891 for Athanasius: Select Works and Letters, in vol. 4 of The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series 2, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace (1892; repr., Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1995). Therefore, the English usage is sometimes archaic, as in the case of ensample (= example) and conversation (= general course of actions or habits, manner of conducting oneself in the world).

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