The Festal Letter of St. Athanasius
St Athanasius begins his Festal Letter by saying that in order to celebrate the heavenly joy of the Feast of Resurrection properly, we should listen and pay attention to the teachings of the Church in the weeks leading up to the Feast. We also have many examples such as St Paul who are role models to us of what life-in-Christ looks like. Each of us is supposed to be doers of what the Lord tells us rather than just hearers so that we may “enter into the joy of the Lord” which is something permanent and not temporary.
He speaks about how evildoers deprive themselves of this joy and will suffer consequences. Even so, the Incarnate Word “came to seek and find that which was lost”. Interestingly, we can see some parallels in today’s world and today’s events of what happens when God is neglected. He describes idolatry and “invented feasts of the wicked”. Today, idolatry is in worshipping human form and covetousness as St Paul says (Col 3:5) and there are plenty of new worldly feasts!
St Athanasius then changes the discussion more positively to what life looks like for the “wise servants of the Lord, who have really put on the new nature created in the likeness of God” (Eph 4:24). They “set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1Tim 4:12) so that unbelievers who see them must say “God is truly with them’ (1Cor 14:25). Our ultimate example to follow and emulate is our Lord Jesus Christ and how He washed the disciples’ feet “as a pattern of heavenly behavior.” The Lord gives us more examples that “if we suffer, we should not threaten our oppressors; if we are abused, we should not call names back but should bless those who curse us; and in everything, we should commit ourselves to God, who judges correctly.
Other interesting parallels to today are perversions of the truth who take Scripture and “twist them to fit their schemes” and the importance of holding on to traditions and the Orthodox faith that’s been handed to us from St Paul’s days. All this deception and perversion of the truth has its roots and origins in Satan who was the “inventor of wickedness in the first place.” “The Fathers of the Church are the ministers of truth, preaching the kingdom of heaven.” ”What the apostles received, they passed on without change, so that the doctrine of the mysteries (sacraments) and Christ would remain correct.”
(Note: This is what is called the “Rule of Faith” or “Deposit of Faith” which each of us has a responsibility of not only preserving but witnessing to it and passing it on to the next generation.)
Finally, he concludes by reminding us of the effect of our Lord’s resurrection and power over death and how He gave us “blessing instead of a curse, joy instead of grief, and a feast instead of mourning.”