The Festal Letter of St. Athanasius
St Athanasius begins his letter by stressing the importance of persevering against those who fight against the truth (as St Athanasius did with Arius) and not being “silenced or overcome by the wickedness of our accusers”. He then goes on to stress the importance of celebrating the Feast (of Resurrection) and quotes St Paul in that it’s all about “Christ, our Passover is sacrificed” (1 Cor 5:7). “He wanted all of us to turn our thoughts to the eternity of the Word – the Son of God – and draw near to Him”. The feast is an act of serving Him with the soul and how do we serve Him? By “extended prayer and continuous thanksgiving to God” which leads to joy and gladness.
St Athanasius discusses the importance of us recognizing the Lord’s sacrifice for us and in turn being thankful and kind to others and bearing fruit. He reminds us of the parable of the unforgiving servant who was forgiven his large debt but didn’t forgive another servant’s smaller debt (Mt 18:34). He also said the person who received one talent and buried it was equally unthankful and was told “you wicked and lazy servant…”(Mt 25:26-28), “Since it was his duty to return to his lord what belonged to him, he should have acknowledged the kindness of the one who gave it to him – and the value of what he received”.
He says something very interesting and urges us saying “our will to do (works) should keep pace with the grace of God. For if our will sits idly by, neglecting His grace, the enemy will discover our emptiness and move in on us”, such as the one from whom the demon went out and returned with seven worse than himself. “Why?” St Athanasius asks, “Because turning away from virtue makes room for unclean spirits”. He continues on with several more scriptural references that the grace given to us should not be wasted and not be unprofitable. We should “quench not the Spirit” (1 Thess 5:19) by driving Him away by our unholy deeds but rather to “fire Him up” within us and to bring forth fruit.
He then uses the example of Job, David, and Paul to teach us to offer thanksgiving and praise in both good times and bad knowing that “we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulations produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Rom 5:3-5). “So then, let us stand firm all the time, but especially right now even though we have many troubles and many heretics are violently attacking us”.
“Finally, purifying our hearts with the fast of forty days – along with prayers, discipline, and good works – we shall be ready to eat the holy Passover in the heavenly Jerusalem”.