Selections from Athanasius, Festal Letter 3

For Friday after Ash Wednesday

1 Again, my beloved brethren, the day of the feast draws near to us, which, above all others, should be devoted to prayer, which the law commands to be observed, and which it would be an unholy thing for us to pass over in silence. . . . And we do not keep the festival as observers of days, knowing that the Apostle reproves those who do so, in those words which he spoke; “You observe days, and months, and times, and years.” But rather do we consider the day solemn because of the feast; so that all of us, who serve God in every place, may together in our prayers be well-pleasing to God. For the blessed Paul, announcing the nearness of gladness like this, did not announce days, but the Lord, for whose sake we keep the feast, saying, “Christ, our Passover, is sacrificed;” so that we all, contemplating the eternity of the Word, may draw near to do Him service.

2 For what else is the feast, but the service of the soul? And what is that service, but prolonged prayer to God, and unceasing thanksgiving? . . .

3 . . . Now, my beloved, our will ought to keep pace with the grace of God, and not fall short; lest while our will remains idle, the grace given us should begin to depart, and the enemy finding us empty and naked, should enter [into us], as was the case with him spoken of in the Gospel, from whom the devil went out; ‘for having gone through dry places, he took seven other spirits more wicked than himself; and returning and finding the house empty, he dwelt there, and the last state of that man was worse than the first.’ For the departure from virtue gives place for the entrance of the unclean spirit. There is, moreover, the apostolic injunction, that the grace given us should not be unprofitable; for those things which he wrote particularly to his disciple, he enforces on us through him , saying, ‘Neglect not the gift that is in you. . . .

4 . . . Therefore the blessed Paul, when desirous that the grace of the Spirit given to us should not grow cold, exhorts, saying, “Quench not the Spirit.” For so shall we remain partakers of Christ , if we hold fast to the end the Spirit given at the beginning. For he said, “Quench not;” not because the Spirit is placed in the power of men, and is able to suffer anything from them; but because bad and unthankful men are such as manifestly wish to quench it, since they, like the impure, persecute the Spirit with unholy deeds. “For the holy Spirit of discipline will flee deceit, nor dwell in a body that is subject unto sin; but will remove from thoughts that are without understanding.” Now they being without understanding, and deceitful, and lovers of sin, walk still as in darkness, not having that “Light which lights every man that comes into the world.” . . .

5 But the faithful and true servants of the Lord, knowing that the Lord loves the thankful, never cease to praise Him, ever giving thanks unto the Lord. And whether the time is one of ease or of affliction, they offer up praise to God with thanksgiving, not reckoning these things of time, but worshipping the Lord, the God of times. Thus of old time, Job, who possessed fortitude above all men, thought of these things when in prosperity; and when in adversity, he patiently endured, and when he suffered, gave thanks. As also the humble David, in the very time of affliction sang praises and said, “I will bless the Lord at all times.” And the blessed Paul, in all his Epistles, so to say, ceased not to thank God. In times of ease, he failed not, and in afflictions he gloried, knowing that ‘tribulation works patience, and patience experience, and experience hope, and that hope makes not ashamed.” Let us, being followers of such men, pass no season without thanksgiving, but especially now, when the time is one of tribulation, which the heretics excite against us, will we praise the Lord, uttering the words of the saints; “All these things have come upon us, yet have we not forgotten You.” For as the Jews at that time, although suffering an assault from the tabernacles of the Edomites, and oppressed by the enemies of Jerusalem, did not give themselves up, but all the more sang praises to God; so we, my beloved brethren, though hindered from speaking the word of the Lord, will the more proclaim it, and being afflicted, we will sing Psalms , in that we are accounted worthy to be despised, and to labour anxiously for the truth. Yea, moreover, being grievously vexed, we will give thanks. For the blessed Apostle, who gave thanks at all times, urges us in the same manner to draw near to God saying, “Let your requests, with thanksgiving, be made known unto God.” And being desirous that we should always continue in this resolution, he says, “At all times give thanks; pray without ceasing.” . . . Each one of us having in his hand the staff which came out of the root of Jesse, and our feet shod with the preparation of the Gospel , let us keep the feast as Paul says, “Not with the old leaven, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth;” reverently trusting that we are reconciled through Christ, and not departing from faith in Him, nor do we defile ourselves together with heretics, and strangers to the truth, whose conversation and whose will degrade them. But rejoicing in afflictions, we break through the furnace of iron and darkness, and pass, unharmed, over that terrible Red Sea. Thus also, when we look upon the confusion of heretics, we shall, with Moses, sing that great song of praise, and say, ‘We will sing unto the Lord, for He is to be gloriously praised.” Thus, singing praises, and seeing that the sin which is in us has been cast into the sea, we pass over to the wilderness. And being first purified by the fast of forty days, by prayers, and fastings, and discipline, and good works, we shall be able to eat the holy Passover in Jerusalem.

6 . . . Let us at all times give thanks to the Lord; through Whom to the Father be glory and dominion, in the Holy Ghost, for ever and ever. Amen. . . .

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