Easter-day xvi Pharmuthi; iii Id. April; Aera Dioclet. 47; Coss. Annius Bassus, Ablabius; Proefect, Florentius; India. iv.
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. For although we have been held under restraint by those who afflict us, that, because of them, we should not announce to you this season; yet thanks be to ‘God, who comforteth the afflicted1 ,’ that we have not been overcome by the wickedness of our accusers and silenced; but obeying the voice of truth, we together with you cry aloud in the day of the feast. For the God of all hath commanded, saying, ‘Speak2 , and the children of Israel shall keep the Passover.’ And the Spirit exhorts in the Psalm; ‘Blow the trumpet in the new moons3 , in the solemn day of your feast.’ And the prophet cries; ‘Keep thy feasts, O Judah4 .’ I do not send word to you as though you were ignorant; but I publish it to those who know it, that ye may perceive that although men have separated us, yet God having made us companions, we approach the same feast, and worship the same Lord continually. 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 spake; ‘Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years5 .’ 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 sacrificed6 ;’ 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 thanksgiving7 ? The unthankful departing far from these are rightly deprived of the joy springing therefrom: for ‘joy and gladness are taken from their mouth8 .’ Therefore, the [divine] word doth not allow them to have peace; ‘For there is no peace to the wicked, saith the Lord9 ,’ they labour in pain and grief. So, not even to him who owed ten thousand talents did the Gospel grant forgiveness in the sight of the Lord10 . For even he, having received forgiveness of great things, was forgetful of kindness in little ones, so that he paid the penalty also of those former things. And justly indeed, for having himself experienced kindness, he was required to be merciful to his fellow servant. He too that received the one talent, and bound it up in a napkin, and hid it in the earth, was in consequence cast out for unthankfulness, hearing the words, ‘Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed; thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and on my return, I should have received mine own. Take therefore the talent from him, and give it to him that hath ten talents11 .’ For, of course, when he was required to deliver up to his lord that which belonged to him, he should have acknowledged the kindness of him who gave it, and the value of that which was given. For he who gave was not a hard man, had he been so, he would not have given even in the first instance; neither was that which was given unprofitable and vain, for then he had not found fault. But both he who gave was good, and that which was given was capable of bearing fruit. As therefore ‘he who withholdeth corn in seed-time is cursed12 ,’ according to the divine proverb, so he who neglects grace, and hides it without culture, is properly cast out as a wicked and unthankful person. On this account, he praises those who increased [their talents], saying, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful in a little, I will place thee over much; enter into the joy of thy Lord13 .’
3. This was right and reasonable; for, as the Scripture declares, they had gained as much as they had received. 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 first14 .’ 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 him15 , saying, ‘Neglect not the gift that is in thee. For he who tilleth his land shall be satisfied with bread; but the paths of the slothful are strewn with thorns;’ so that the Spirit forewarns a man not to fall into them, saying, ‘Break up your fallow ground, sow not among thorns16 .’ For when a man despises the grace given him; and forthwith falls into the cares of the world, he delivers himself over to his lusts; and thus in the time of persecution he is offended17 , and becomes altogether unfruitful. Now the prophet points out the end of such negligence, saying, ‘Cursed is he who doeth the work of the Lord carelessly18 .’ For a servant of the Lord should be diligent and careful, yea, moreover, burning like a flame, so that when, by an ardent spirit, he has destroyed all carnal sin, he may be able to draw near to God who, according to the expression of the saints, is called ‘a consuming fire19 .’
4. Therefore, the God of all, ‘Who maketh His angels [spirits],’ is a spirit, ‘and His ministers a flame of fire20 .’ Wherefore, in the departure from Egypt, He forbade the multitude to touch the mountain, where God was appointing them the law, because they were not of this character. But He called blessed Moses to it, as being fervent in spirit, and possessing unquenchable grace, saying, ‘Let Moses alone draw near21 .’ He entered into the cloud also, and when the mountain was smoking, he was not injured; but rather, through ‘the words of the Lord, which are choice silver purified in the earth22 ,’ he descended purified. Therefore the blessed Paul, when desirous that the grace of the Spirit given to us should not grow cold, exhorts, saying, ‘Quench not the Spirit23 .’ For so shall we remain partakers of Christ24 , 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 understanding25 .’ Now they being without understanding, and deceitful, and lovers of sin, walk still as in darkness, not having that ‘Light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world26 .’ Now a fire such as this laid hold of Jeremiah the prophet, when the word was in him as a fire, and he said, ‘I pass away from every place, and am not able to endure it27 .’ And our Lord Jesus Christ, being good and a lover of men, came that He might cast this upon earth, and said, ‘And what? would that it were already kindled28 !’ For He desired, as He testified in Ezekiel29 , the repentance of a man rather than his death; so that evil should be entirely consumed in all men, that the soul, being purified, might be able to bring forth fruit; for the word which is sown by Him will be productive, some thirty, some sixty, some an hundred30 . Thus, for instance, those who were with Cleopas31 , although infirm at first from lack of knowledge, yet afterwards were inflamed with the words of the Saviour, and brought forth the fruits of the knowledge of Him. The blessed Paul also, when seized by this fire, revealed it not to flesh and blood, but having experienced the grace, he became a preacher of the Word. But not such were those nine lepers who were cleansed from their leprosy, and yet were unthankful to the Lord who healed them; nor Judas, who obtained the lot of an apostle, and was named a disciple of the Lord, but at last, ‘while eating bread with the Saviour, lifted up his heel against Him, and became a traitor32 .’ But such men have the due reward of their folly, since their expectation will be vain through their ingratitude; for there is no hope for the ungrateful, the last fire, prepared for the devil and his angels, awaits those who have neglected divine light. Such then is the end of the unthankful.
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 times33 . 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 times34 .’ 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 worketh patience, and patience experience, and experience hope, and that hope maketh not ashamed35 .’ 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 Thee36 .’ For as the Jews at that time, although suffering an assault from the tabernacles37 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 Psalms38 , 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 God39 .’ And being desirous that we should always continue in this resolution, he says, ‘At all times give thanks; pray without ceasing40 .’ For he knew that believers are strong while employed in thanksgiving, and that rejoicing they pass over the walls of the enemy, like those saints who said, ‘Through Thee will we pierce through our enemies, and by my God I will leap over a walls41 .’ At all times let us stand firm, but especially now, although many afflictions overtake us, and many heretics are furious against us. Let us then, my beloved brethren, celebrate with thanksgiving the holy feast which now draws near to us, ‘girding up the loins of our minds42 ,’ like our Saviour Jesus Christ, of Whom it is written, ‘Righteousness shall be the girdle of His loins, and faithfulness the girdle of His reins43 .’ 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 Gospel44 , let us keep the feast as Paul saith, ‘Not with the old leaven, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth45 ;’ 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 praised46 .’ 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. The beginning of the fast of forty days is on the fifth of Phamenoth (Mar. 1); and when, as I have said, we have first been purified and prepared by those days, we begin the holy week of the great Easter on the tenth of Pharmuthi (Apr. 5), in which, my beloved brethren, we should use more prolonged prayers, and fastings, and watchings, that we may be enabled to anoint our lintels with precious blood, and to escape the destroyer47 . Let us rest then, on the fifteenth of the month Pharmuthi (Apr. 10), for on the evening of that Saturday we hear the angels’ message, ‘Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is risen48 .’ Immediately afterwards that great Sunday receives us, I mean on the sixteenth of the same month Pharmuthi (April 11), on which our Lord having risen, gave us peace towards our neighbours. When then we have kept the feast according to His will, let us add from that first day in the holy week, the seven weeks of Pentecost, and as we then receive the grace of the Spirit, 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.
Salute one another with a holy kiss. The brethren who are with me salute you. I pray, brethren beloved and longed for, that ye may have health, and that ye may be mindful of us in the Lord.
Here endeth the third Festal Letter of holy Athanasius.
1 (2Co 7,6 The historical reference is not quite certain, but the Index 3,is clearly right in its statement that Ath. was absent at this time, as well as in 332.
2 ‘Eipon, kai,’ as LXX. not Peshito.
3 Cf. S. Cyril). Hom. Pasch. xxx. near the beginning.
4 Nb 9,2 Ps 81,3; Na 1,15.
5 (Ga 4,10,
6 (1Co 5,7,
7 Cf. Clemens Alex). Strom. 7. 1. adialeipto" agaph. Also 1 Thess 5,16, 1Th 5,17, both in the Greek and in the Syriac vers. and Letter 11.
8 Apparently a quotation from Scripture, perhaps from Jr 7,the phraseology of v. 28. being transferred to the sentiment of v. 34. The expression has already occurred, Letter 2. 4.
9 (Is 48,22,
10 (Mt 18,24,
11 (Mt 25,26,
12 (Pr 11,26,
13 (Mt 25,23,
15 Cf). Letter 2, near beginning.
16 (1Tm 4,14 Pr 12,11 Ib. Pr 15,19 Jr 4,3).
17 skandalizetai, Mt 13,21.
18 (Jr 48,10,
19 (Dt 4,24 Dt 9,3 and He 12,29
20 (Ps 104,4,
21 (Ex 24,2,
22 (Ps 12,6,
23 (1Th 5,19,
24 Conf. S. Athan). Expos. in Psalmos, t. 1,p, 863). tur wsper nohton, thn tou agiou Pneumato" meqexin embalwn.
25 (Sg 1,5
26 (Jn 1,9,
27 (Jr 20,9, cf). Letter 49. 5.
28 (Lc 12,49,
29 (Ez 18,23 Ez 18,32,
30 (Mc 4,20,
31 (Lc 24.
32 (Ps 41,9 Jn 13,18,
33 Cf). Letter 1. 1, note 12.
34 (Ps 34,1,
35 (Rm 5,3).
36 (Ps 44,17,
37 Compare Ps 83,6.
38 Cf. Jc 5,13.
39 (Ph 4,6,
40 (1Th 5,17,
41 (Ps 18,29,
42 (1P 1,13,
43 (Is 11,5,
44 Is 11,1 Ep 6,15.
45 (1Co 5,8,
46 (Ex 15,1,
47 (Ex 12,7 Ex 12,23,
48 (Lc 24,5,
Easter-day vii Pharmuthi1 , iv Non. Apr.; Aera Dioclet. 48; Coss. Fabius Pacatianus, Moecilius Hilarianus; Proefect, Hyginus2 ; Indict. 5,
(He sent this Letter from the Emperor’s Court by a soldier3 .
I Send unto you, my beloved, late and beyond the accustomed time4 ; yet I trust you will forgive the delay, on account of my protracted journey, and because I have been tried with illness. Being hindered by these two causes, and unusually severe storms having occurred, I have deferred writing to you. But notwithstanding my long journeys, and my grievous sickness, I have not forgotten to give you the festal notification, and, in discharge of my duty, I now announce to you the feast. For although the date of this letter is later5 than that usual for this announcement, it should still be considered well-timed, since our enemies having been put to shame and reproved by the Church, because they persecuted us without a cause6 , we may now sing a festal song of praise, uttering the triumphant hymn against Pharaoh; ‘We will sing unto the Lord, for He is to be gloriously praised; the horse and his rider He hath cast into the sea7 .’
2. It is well, my beloved, to proceed from feast to feast; again festal meetings, again holy vigils arouse our minds, and compel our intellect to keep vigil unto contemplation of good things. Let us not fulfil these days like those that mourn, but, by enjoying spiritual food, let us seek to silence our fleshly lusts8 . For by these means we shall have strength to overcome our adversaries, like blessed Judith9 , when having first exercised herself in fastings and prayers, she overcame the enemies, and killed Olophernes. And blessed Esther, when destruction was about to come on all her race, and the nation of Israel was ready to perish, defeated the fury of the tyrant by no other means than by fasting and prayer to God, and changed the ruin of her people into safety10 . Now as those days are considered feasts for Israel, so also in old time feasts were appointed when an enemy was slain, or a conspiracy against the people broken up, and Israel delivered. Therefore blessed Moses of old time ordained the great feast of the Passover, and our celebration of it, because, namely, Pharaoh was killed, and the people were delivered from bondage. For in those times it was especially, when those who tyrannized over the people had been slain, that temporal feasts and holidays were observed in Judaea11 .
3. Now, however, that the devil, that tyrant against the whole world, is slain, we do not approach a temporal feast, my beloved, but an eternal and heavenly. Not in shadows do we shew it forth, but we come to it in truth. For they being filled with the flesh of a dumb lamb, accomplished the feast, and having anointed their door-posts with the blood, implored aid against the destroyer12 . But now we, eating of the Word of the Father, and having the lintels of our hearts sealed with the blood of the New Testament13 , acknowledge the grace given us from the Saviour, who said, ‘Behold, I have given unto you to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy14 .’ For no more does death reign; but instead of death henceforth is life, since our Lord said, ‘I am the life15 ;’ so that everything is filled with joy and gladness; as it is written, ‘The Lord reigneth, let the earth rejoice.’ For when death reigned, ‘sitting down by the rivers of Babylon, we wept16 ,’ and mourned, because we felt the bitterness of captivity; but now that death and the kingdom of the devil is abolished, everything is entirely filled with joy and gladness. And God is no longer known only in Judaea, but in all the earth, ‘their voice hath gone forth, and the knowledge of Him hath filled all the earth17 .’ What follows, my beloved, is obvious; that we should approach such a feast, not with filthy raiment, but having clothed our minds with pure garments. For we need in this to put on our Lord Jesus18 , that we may be able to celebrate the feast with Him. Now we are clothed with Him when we love virtue, and are enemies to wickedness, when we exercise ourselves in temperance and mortify lasciviousness, when we love righteousness before iniquity, when we honour sufficiency, and have strength of mind, when we do not forget the poor, but open our doors to all men, when we assist humble-mindedness, but hate pride.
4. By these things Israel of old, having first, as in a figure, striven for the victory, came to the feast, for these things were then fore-shadowed and typified. But we, my beloved, the shadow having received its fulfilment, and the types being accomplished, should no longer consider the feast typical, neither should we go up to Jerusalem which is here below, to sacrifice the Passover, according to the unseasonable observance of the Jews, lest, while the season passes away, we should be regarded as acting unseasonably19 ; but, in accordance with the injunction of the Apostles, let us go beyond the types, and sing the new song of praise. For perceiving this, and being assembled together with the Truth20 , they drew near, and said unto our Saviour, ‘Where wilt Thou that we should make ready for Thee the Passover21 ?’ For no longer were these things to be done which belonged to Jerusalem which is beneath; neither there alone was the feast to be celebrated, but wherever God willed it to be. Now He willed it to be in every place, so that ‘in every place incense and a sacrifice might be offered to Him22 .’ For although, as in the historical account, in no other place might the feast of the Passover be kept save only in Jerusalem, yet when the things pertaining to that time were fulfilled, and those which belonged to shadows had passed away, and the preaching of the Gospel was about to extend everywhere; when indeed the disciples were spreading the feast in all places, they asked the Saviour, ‘Where wilt Thou that we shall make, ready?’ The Saviour also, since He was changing the typical for the spiritual, promised them that they should no longer eat the flesh of a lamb, but His own, saying, ‘Take, eat and drink; this is My body, and My blood23 .’ When we are thus nourished by these things, we also, my beloved, shall truly keep the feast of the Passover.
5. We begin on the first of Pharmuthi (Mar. 27), and rest on the sixth of the same month (Apr. 1), on the evening of the seventh day; and the holy first day of the week having risen upon us on the seventh of the same Pharmuthi (Apr. 2), celebrate we too the days of holy Pentecost following thereon, shewing forth through them the world to come24 , so that henceforth we may be with Christ for ever, praising God over all in Christ Jesus, and through Him, with all saints, we say unto the Lord, Amen. Salute one another with a holy kiss. All the brethren who are with me salute you. We have sent this letter from the Court, by the hand of an attendant officer25 , to whom it was given by Ablavius26 , the Praefect of the Praetorium, who fears God in truth. For I am at the Court, having been summoned by the emperor Constantine to see him. But the Meletians, who were present there, being envious, sought our ruin before the Emperor. But they were put to shame and driven away thence as calumniators, being confuted by many things. Those who were driven away were Callinicus, Ision, Eudaemon, and Geloeus27 Hieracammon, who, on account of the shame of his name, calls himself Eulogius.
Here endeth the fourth Festal Letter of holy Athanasius.
1 The Syriac text has 17th instead of 7th. There is the same error in the index. The correct day is given towards the end of the Letter.
2 There is sometimes a difficulty, in the absence of independent testimony, in ascertaining the exact orthography of the proper names, from the loose manner in which they are written in the Syriac. Here, however, it is clearly Hyginus, as in Sozomen, lib. 2,c. 25, Larsow writes it Eugenius. He has also the 46th instead of the 48th of the Diocletian Aera. The word ‘Fabius’ is not clear. In Baronii Annal. Eccles, however, we find it Ovinius.
3 See note 6 at the end of the Letter.
4 In the index it is stated that the third, but not that the fourth, Letter was sent late, but see Letter 3, note 1).
5 i.e. too late to give notice of the beginning of Lent, infr, §5, and Letter 5, §6.
6 Constantine, in his letter, supr. p. 133, speaks of the envy of the accusers of Athan. and of their unsuccessful efforts to criminate him.
7 (Ex 15,1,
8 toi" th" sarko" epitimwnte" paqesin. S. Cyril). Hom. Pasch. xx.
9 Jdt 13,8.
10 (Est 4,16,
11 Cf. .
12 Conf. S. Cyril). Hom. Pasch. xxiv. p. 293. Ed. paris, 1638.
13 (Mt 26,28,
14 (Lc 10,19, Vit. Ant. 30.
15 (Jn 14,6,
16 (Ps 97,1 Ps 137,1
17 Ps 76,1 Ps 19,4.
18 Cf. Rm 13,14.
19 Cf. Letter 1,(beginning)
20 sun th alhqeia. I understand this as referring to Christ. Vid. Jn 14,6.
21 (Mt 26,17).
22 (Ml 1,11,
24 Cf. Bingham, 20,ch. 6; Cass). Coll. xxi. 11; Cyril uses the same comparison towards the end of his 26th Paschal discourse.
25 ‘Officilius.’ Cureton considers this may be an error for the Latin Officialis.
26 Ablavius, Praefect of the East, the minister and favourite of Constantine the Great, was murdered after the death of the latter. He was consul in the preceding year. Zozimus 2,40. (Smith’s Dict. of Gr. and Rm Biography.)
27 The name means ‘Laughable.’
Easter-day1 , Coss. Dalmatius and Zenophilus, Proefect, Paternus2 ; vi Indict.; xvii Kal. Maii, xx Pharmuthi; xv Moon; vii Gods; Aera Dioclet. 49.
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 beginning3 , 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 drink4 .’ 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 it5 . 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 hath 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 doth he meditate day and night6 .’ 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.
2. For it is God, my beloved, even the God Who at first established the feast for us, Who vouchsafes the celebration of it year by year. He both brought about the slaying of His Son for salvation, and gave us this reason for the holy feast, to which every year bears witness, as often as at this season the feast is proclaimed. This also leads us on from the cross through this world to that which is before us, and God produces even now from it the joy of glorious salvation, bringing us to the same assembly, and in every place uniting all of us in spirit; appointing us common prayers, and a common grace proceeding from the feast. For this is the marvel of His loving-kindness, that He should gather together in the same place those who are at a distance; and make those who appear to be far off in the body, to be near together in unity of spirit.
3. Wherefore then, my beloved, do we not acknowledge the grace as becometh the feast? Wherefore do we not make a return to our Benefactor? It is indeed impossible to make an adequate return to God; still, it is a wicked thing for us who receive the gracious gift, not to acknowledge it. Nature itself manifests our inability; but our own will reproves our unthankfulness. Therefore the blessed Paul, when admiring the greatness of the gift of God, said, ‘And who is sufficient for these things7 ?’ For He made the world free by the blood of the Saviour; then, again, He has caused the grave to be trodden down by the Saviour’s death, and furnished a way to the heavenly gates free from obstacles to those who are going up8 . Wherefore, one of the saints, while he acknowledged the grace, but was insufficient to repay it, said, ‘What shall I render unto the Lord for all He has done unto me9 ?’ For instead of death he had received life, instead of bondage10 , freedom, and instead of the grave, the kingdom of heaven. For of old time, ‘death reigned from Adam to Moses;’ but now the divine voice hath said, ‘To-day shalt thou be with Me in Paradise.’ And the saints, being sensible of this, said, ‘Except the Lord had helped me, my soul had almost dwelt in hell.11 .’ Besides all this, being powerless to make a return, he yet acknowledged the gift, and wrote finally, saying, ‘I will take the cup of salvation, and call on the name of the Lord; precious in His sight is the death of His saints12 .’
With regard to the cup, the Lord said, ‘Are ye able to drink of that cup which I am about to drink of?’ And when the disciples assented, the Lord said, ‘Ye shall indeed drink of My cup; but that ye should sit on My right hand, and on My left, is not Mine to give; but to those for whom it is prepared13 .’ Therefore, my beloved, let us be sensible of the gift, though we are found insufficient to repay it. 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 loveth 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 liveth in me14 .’
4. Now our life, my brethren, truly consists in our denying all bodily things, and continuing stedfast 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 gifts15 .’ 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 thus engage in the holy fasts, as having been prescribed by Him, and by means of which we find the way to God. But let us not be like the heathen, or the ignorant Jews, or as the heretics and schismatics of the present time. For the heathen think the accomplishment of the feast is in the abundance of food; the Jews, erring in the type and shadow, think it still such; the schismatics keep it in separate places, and with vain imaginations. But let us, my brethren, be superior to the heathen, in keeping the feast with sincerity of soul, and purity of body; to the Jews, in no longer receiving the type and the shadow, but as having been gloriously illumined with the light of truth, and as looking upon the Sun of Righteousness16 ; to the schismatics, in not rending the coat of Christ, but in one house, even in the Catholic Church, 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. This may be learnt even from the type of old time. For then they toiled earnestly to pass from Egypt to Jerusalem, but now we depart from death to life; they then passed from Pharaoh to Moses, but now we rise from the devil to the Saviour. And as, at that time, the type of deliverance bore witness every year, so now we commemorate our salvation. 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 dead17 .’ 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 them18 . 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; for there is no one free from defilement, though his course may have been but one hour on the earth, as Job, that man of surpassing fortitude, testifies. But, ‘stretching forth to those things that are to come19 ,’ let us pray that we may not eat the Passover unworthily, lest we be exposed to dangers. For to those who keep the feast in purity, the Passover is heavenly food; but to those who observe it profanely and contemptuously, it is a danger and reproach. For it is written, ‘Whosoever shall eat and drink unworthily, is guilty of the death of our Lord20 .’ Wherefore, let us not merely proceed to perform the festal rites, but let us be prepared to draw near to the divine Lamb, and to touch heavenly food. Let us cleanse our hands, let us purify the body. Let us keep our whole mind from guile; not giving up ourselves to excess, and to lusts, but occupying ourselves entirely with our Lord, and with divine doctrines; so that, being altogether pure, we may be able to partake of the Word21
6. We begin the holy fast on the fourteenth of Pharmuthi (Apr. 9), on the [first] evening of the week22 ; and having ceased on the nineteenth of the same month Pharmuthi (Apr 14), the first day of the holy week dawns upon us on the twentieth of the same month Pharmuthi (Apr. 15), to which we join the seven weeks of Pentecost; with prayers, and fellowship with our neighbour, and love towards one another, and that peaceable will which is above all. For so shall we be heirs of the kingdom of heaven, through our Lord Jesus Christ, through Whom to the Father be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. All the brethren who are with me salute you. Salute one another with a holy kiss.
Here endeth the fifth Festal Letter of holy Athanasius.
1 See supr. Table D, and note. The full moon (‘Moon xiv’) was really on Pharm. 20, but seems to have been calculated to fall on the previous day.
2 The Syriac seems to represent ‘Paterius,’ not ‘Paternus’ as Larsow writes it. A former praefect of Egypt was called Palerius, according to Gelas. Cyz. in Hard). Conc. 1,459.
3 Cf. Ap 3,14, c. Apoll. i. 20.
4 (Jn 7,37, Syriac is rather obscure here.
5 Vid. note 2, to Letter 1.
6 (Ps 1,1-2).
7 (2Co 2,17,
8 This sentence is preserved in the original Greek in Cosmas, Tapogr. Christ. p. 316.
9 (Ps 116,12,
10 Pseudo-Ath). in Mt 21,9.(Migne 28,1025), after quoting the same passage from the Epistle to the Romans, says, all epedhmhsen o Kurio" hmwn AEIhsou" Cristo" lutroumeno" tou" aicmalwtou", kai zwopoiwn tov" teqanatwmenou".
11 (Rm 5,14 Lc 23,43 Ps 94,17
12 (Ps 116,13 Ps 116,15,
13 (Mt 20,22-23
14 (Ga 2,20,
15 (Nb 28,2, LXX).
16 (Ml 4,2,
17 (2Tm 2,8,
18 The reasoning of Athan, is to this effect. The due observance of such festival will have its effect in quickening our habitual meditation on the resurrection. The same mode ot reasoning might be applied to all the other Christian festivals.
19 (Jb 14,4, Ph 3,13,
20 (1Co 11,27,
21 Cf. 1P 1,4.
22 Syr. ’sabbath.