Selections from Athanasius, Festal Letter 5

For Tuesday of Lent Week 1

1 We duly proceed, my brethren, from feasts to feasts, duly from prayers to prayers, we advance from fasts to fasts, and join holy-days to holy-days. Again the time has arrived which brings to us a new beginning , even the announcement of the blessed Passover, in which the Lord was sacrificed. We eat, as it were, the food of life, and constantly thirsting we delight our souls at all times, as from a fountain, in His precious blood. For we continually and ardently desire; He stands ready for those who thirst; and for those who thirst there is the word of our Saviour, which, in His loving-kindness, He uttered on the day of the feast; ‘If any man thirst, let him come to Me and drink.’ Nor was it then alone when any one drew near to Him, that He cured his thirst; but whenever any one seeks, there is free access for him to the Saviour. For the grace of the feast is not limited to one time, nor does its splendid brilliancy decline; but it is always near, enlightening the minds of those who earnestly desire it. For therein is constant virtue, for those who are illuminated in their minds, and meditate on the divine Scriptures day and night, like the man to whom a blessing is given, as it is written in the sacred Psalms; ‘Blessed is the man who has not walked in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stood in the way of sinners, nor sat in the seat of corrupters. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law does he meditate day and night.’ For it is not the sun, or the moon, or the host of those other stars which illumines him, but he glitters with the high effulgence of God over all. . . .

3 . . . As we have ability, let us meet the occasion. For although nature is not able, with things unworthy of the Word, to return a recompense for such benefits, yet let us render Him thanks while we persevere in piety. And how can we more abide in piety than when we acknowledge God, Who in His love to mankind has bestowed on us such benefits? (For thus we shall obediently keep the law, and observe its commandments. And, further, we shall not, as unthankful persons, be accounted transgressors of the law, or do those things which ought to be hated, for the Lord loves the thankful); when too we offer ourselves to the Lord, like the saints, when we subscribe ourselves entirely [as] living henceforth not to ourselves, but to the Lord Who died for us, as also the blessed Paul did, when he said, “I am crucified with Christ, yet I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me.”

4 Now our life, my brethren, truly consists in our denying all bodily things, and continuing steadfast in those only of our Saviour. Therefore the present season requires of us, that we should not only utter such words, but should also imitate the deeds of the saints. But we imitate them, when we acknowledge Him who died, and no longer live unto ourselves, but Christ henceforth lives in us; when we render a recompense to the Lord to the utmost of our power, though when we make a return we give nothing of our own, but those things which we have before received from Him, this being especially of His grace, that He should require, as from us, His own gifts. He bears witness to this when He says, “My offerings are My own gifts.” That is, those things which you give Me are yours, as having received them from Me, but they are the gifts of God. And let us offer to the Lord every virtue, and that true holiness which is in Him, and in piety let us keep the feast to Him with those things which He has hallowed for us. . . . Let us eat the Passover of the Lord, Who, by ordaining His holy laws, guided us towards virtue, and counselled the abstinence of this feast. For the Passover is indeed abstinence from evil for exercise of virtue, and a departure from death unto life. . . . We fast meditating on death, that we may be able to live; and we watch, not as mourners, but as they that wait for the Lord, when He shall have returned from the wedding, so that we may vie with each other in the triumph, hastening to announce the sign of victory over death.

5 Would therefore, O my beloved, that as the word requires, we might here so govern ourselves at all times and entirely, and so live, as never to forget the noble acts of God, nor to depart from the practice of virtue! As also the Apostolic voice exhorts; ‘Remember Jesus Christ, that He rose from the dead 2 Timothy 2:8.’ Not that any limited season of remembrance was appointed, for at all times He should be in our thoughts. But because of the slothfulness of many, we delay from day to day. Let us then begin in these days. To this end a time of remembrance is permitted, that it may show forth to the saints the reward of their calling, and may exhort the careless while reproving them. Therefore in all the remaining days, let us persevere in virtuous conduct, repenting as is our duty, of all that we have neglected, whatever it may be. . . .

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