The Festal Letter of St. Athanasius
St Athanasius opens his letter with a reminder to everyone that each year during this season a “holy self-examination stirs up our minds and keeps our consciences on guard to think on good things. We do not act like mourners during these days. Rather, we put down the appetites of our bodies in order to refresh ourselves with spiritual food. In this way, we gain strength to conquer our enemies”. He goes on to give the Old Testament examples of Judith and Esther and how they defeated Israel’s enemies through fasting and prayer.
Whenever tyrants were slain such as Pharaoh, feasts like Passover were established. “Now, however, the devil, that tyrant against the whole world, is slain…it is a heavenly Feast!” …They smeared their doorposts with blood and laughed at the destroyer. But we eat the Word of the Father, the Son our Savior. We have the lintels of our hearts sealed with the blood of the New Covenant (Mt 26:28)…Death does not reign anymore! Instead of death, there is life since our Lord said. ‘I am the Life’ (Jn 14:6).
St Athanasius then explains “we do not come to such a feast with dirty clothes, but with our consciences clothed so to speak, with pure garments. We need to put on our Lord Jesus so that we can celebrate the Feast with Him. We demonstrate that we are clothed with Him when:
- We love virtue
- We are enemies of wickedness
- We actively engage in temperance
- We put to death erotic fantasies and attitudes
- We love righteousness rather than wickedness
- We aim to live without undue luxury
- We have strength of mind
- We do not forget the poor but open our doors to all
- We assist humility but hate pride
It was by these things that ancient Israel, after having fought the battle that pictured what was to come, came to the Feast. All that we would do and receive was foreshadowed in God’s dealings with them. Now the pictures and shadows and types have all been fulfilled and accomplished”.