Skip to comments.Lent: Excerpts from "The Festal Letters" of Athanasius
Posted on 02/12/2005 2:35:06 PM PST by sionnsar
February 09 2005
Today being Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, I would like to post this excerpt from The Festal Letters of St. Athanasius. This is from Letter I, which he sent to his flock in 329 AD:
Since then we have passed beyond that time of shadows, and no longer perform rites under it, but have turned, as it were, unto the Lord; for the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty;as we hear the sacred trumpet, no longer slaying a material lamb, but that true Lamb that was slain, even our Lord Jesus Christ; Who was led as a sheep to the slaughter, and was dumb as a lamb before her shearers; being purified by His precious blood, which speaketh better things than that of Abel, having our feet shod with the preparation of the Gospel, holding in our hands the rod and staff of the Lord, by which that saint was comforted, who said, Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me; and to sum up, being in all respects prepared, and careful for nothing, because, as the blessed Paul saith, The Lord is at hand; and as our Saviour saith, In an hour when we think not, the Lord cometh;Let us keep the Feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. Putting off the old man and his deeds, let us put on the new man, which is created in God, in humbleness of mind, and a pure conscience; in meditation of the law by night and by day. And casting away all hypocrisy and fraud, putting far from us all pride and deceit, let us take upon us love towards God and towards our neighbour, that being new creatures, and receiving the new wine, even the Holy Spirit, we may properly keep the feast, even the month of these new fruits...
Let us remember the poor, and not forget kindness to strangers; above all, let us love God with all our soul, and might, and strength, and our neighbour as ourselves. So may we receive those things which the eye hath not seen, nor the ear heard, and which have not entered into the heart of man, which God hath prepared for those that love Him, through His only Son, our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ; through Whom, to the Father alone, by the Holy Ghost, be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.
February 10 2005
From St. Athanasius' "Festal Letter III"
Looking again at the theme of Lent, here is another excerpt from the Festal Letters of St. Athanasius; this is from his Festal Letter III, sent to his people in 331 AD:
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 afflicted, 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, Speak, and the children of Israel shall keep the Passover. And the Spirit exhorts in the Psalm; Blow the trumpet in the new moons, in the solemn day of your feast. And the prophet cries; Keep thy feasts, O Judah. 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 years. 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 sacrificed; so that we all, contemplating the eternity of the Word, may draw near to do Him service.
...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 times. 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 times. 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 ashamed. 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 Thee. For as the Jews at that time, although suffering an assault from the tabernacles 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 Psalms, 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 God. And being desirous that we should always continue in this resolution, he says, At all times give thanks; pray without ceasing. 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 wall. 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 minds, like our Saviour Jesus Christ, of Whom it is written, Righteousness shall be the girdle of His loins, and faithfulness the girdle of His reins. 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 Gospel, let us keep the feast as Paul saith, Not with the old leaven, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth; 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 praised. 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.
February 12 2005
From St. Athanasius' "Festal Letter IV"
This excerpt comes from Athanasius' Festal Letter IV, sent to his people in 332 A.D. to set the dates for the Easter season:
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 destroyer. But now we, eating of the Word of the Father, and having the lintels of our hearts sealed with the blood of the New Testament, 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 enemy. For no more does death reign; but instead of death henceforth is life, since our Lord said, I am the life; 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 wept, 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 Judæa, but in all the earth, their voice hath gone forth, and the knowledge of Him hath filled all the earth. 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 Jesus, 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.In this Lenten season, may we indeed strive to live so that "...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."
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 foreshadowed 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 unseasonably; 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 Truth, they drew near, and said unto our Saviour, Where wilt Thou that we should make ready for Thee the Passover? 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 Him. 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 blood. When we are thus nourished by these things, we also, my beloved, shall truly keep the feast of the Passover.
David Mills: "The Dust of Adam"--on Ash Wednesday
I found this meditation by David Mills, (who is editor of Touchstone) to be particularly good: The Dust of Adam. It is a look at Ash Wednesday and its meaning, and he resolves one aspect of this day about which I have always wondered:
When you fast, Jesus says to us in the Sermon on the Mount, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces, that they may appear to men to be fasting. Truly, I say unto you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face; that you appear not to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place.
So much, you might think, for the traditional imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday, as practiced by many Western Christians since the early Middle Ages. In liturgical churches, the priest or pastor marks a small cross on your forehead with ashes, traditionally made by burning the palms from the previous years Palm Sunday. As he does so, he tells you that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
This seems to be exactly the sort of thing Jesus rejected. After all, the point of smearing ashes on your forehead is to disfigure it in a way everyone else is bound to notice. But Jesus is referring to a private fast made public so that people would applaud. He is not referring to a public ritual, which by definition cannot be observed in secret and for observing which you earn no applause. Jesus himself observed the public feasts and fasts of his day.
So the imposition of ashes has a double meaning, one despairing, because it describes the reality of what we have made ourselves; the other hopeful, because it describes the new reality God has made for us. For the Christian, hope trumps despair. In Adam all die and In Christ shall all be made alive are both true, but Christ has conquered death.And that to a large extent describes our sanctification.
But this is not a reason to feel good about yourself on Ash Wednesday. That would be to presume upon Gods good will and take the Lords death for granted. Ash Wednesday is a fast day given us to remember what we have done and to try to learn how much of the old Adam remains in us. And of course the more you see what Jesus did for you, the more you will want to face your sins, to track them down to the places they have hidden, drag them into the light, and with Gods help drive them away.
The Throne of Love
For our Lenten devotions this year, our family is working through Charles Fillmore's book Keep a True Lent. In my reading this morning to meditate on what I will do in our family worship time this evening I read the following that reminded me of Paul's words in Philippians 2:5-11. That passage has begun and continues to shape what I see as the theology of liturgy, ethics, and the whole Christian life. Getting our heads and hearts wrapped around this passage produces in our lives what Fillmore describes as the Throne of Love.
"Divine Love is the force that...
This is an excerpt. Click through to read it all.
The author has good taste in his pastoral role model!
BTTT on the Memorial of St. Anthanasious, May 2, 2006!
|Reading||From a discourse Against the Pagans by Saint Athanasius, bishop|
|The word of the Father gives order, direction and unity to creation|
|By his own wisdom and Word, who is our Lord and Saviour Christ, the all-holy Father (whose excellence far exceeds that of any creature), like a skilful steersman guides to safety all creation, regulating and keeping it in being, as he judges right. It is right that creation should exist as he has made it and as we see it happening, because this is his will, which no one would deny. For if the movement of the universe were irrational, and the world rolled on in random fashion, one would be justified in disbelieving what we say. But if the world is founded on reason, wisdom and science, and is filled with orderly beauty, then it must owe its origin and order to none other than the Word of God.
He is God, the living and creative God of the universe, the word of the good God, who is God in his own right. The Word is different from all created things: he is the unique Word belonging only to the good Father. This is the Word that created this whole world and enlightens it by his loving wisdom. He who is the good Word of the good Father produced the order in all creation, joining opposites together, and forming from them one harmonious sound. He is God, one and only-begotten, who proceeds in goodness from the Father as from the fountain of goodness, and gives order, direction and unity to creation.
By his eternal Word the Father created all things and implanted a nature in his creatures. He did not want to see them tossed about at the mercy of their own natures, and so be reduced to nothingness. But in his goodness he governs and sustains the whole of nature by his Word (who is himself also God), so that under the guidance, providence and ordering of that Word, the whole of nature might remain stable and coherent in his light. Nature was to share in the Fathers Word, whose reality is true, and be helped by him to exist, for without him it would cease to be. For unless the Word, who is the very image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation, kept it in existence it could not exist. For whatever exists, whether visible or invisible, remains in existence through him and in him, and he is also the head of the Church, as we are taught by the ministers of truth in their sacred writings.
The almighty and most holy Word of the Father pervades the whole of reality, everywhere unfolding his power and shining on all things visible and invisible. He sustains it all and binds it all together in himself. He leaves nothing devoid of his power but gives life and keeps it in being throughout all of creation and in each individual creature.
May 2, 2007
Athanasius led a tumultuous but dedicated life of service to the Church. He was the great champion of the faith against the widespread heresy of Arianism. The vigor of his writings earned him the title of doctor of the Church.
Born of a Christian family in Alexandria, Egypt, and given a classical education, Athanasius entered the priesthood, became secretary to Alexander, the bishop of Alexandria, and eventually was named bishop himself. His predecessor, Alexander, had been an outspoken critic of a new movement growing in the EastArianism.
When Athanasius assumed his role as bishop of Alexandria, he continued the fight against Arianism. At first it seemed that the battle would be easily won and that Arianism would be condemned. Such, however, did not prove to be the case. The Council of Tyre was called and for several reasons that are still unclear, the Emperor Constantine exiled Athanasius to northern Gaul. This was to be the first in a series of travels and exiles reminiscent of the life of St. Paul.
After Constantine died, his son restored Athanasius as bishop. This lasted only a year, however, for he was deposed once again by a coalition of Arian bishops. Athanasius took his case to Rome, and Pope Julius I called a synod to review the case and other related matters.
Five times Athanasius was exiled for his defense of the doctrine of Christs divinity. During one period of his life, he enjoyed 10 years of relative peacereading, writing and promoting the Christian life along the lines of the monastic ideal to which he was greatly devoted. His dogmatic and historical writings are almost all polemic, directed against every aspect of Arianism.
Among his ascetical writings, his Life of St. Anthony achieved astonishing popularity and contributed greatly to the establishment of monastic life throughout the Western Christian world.
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.