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Fathers of the Church

Festal Letter XVIII

Description

We notice in the Festal Letters the same simplicity of style, vigor and warmth that pervades Athanasius’s other writings. Naturally the coming Easter season occupies a prominent place and a tone of joy predominates. (Quasten) This brief letter serves only to tell the faithful which day the Easter feast will be.

Provenance

During the third century it had become a custom with the bishops of Alexandria to announce the beginning of Lent and the correct date of Easter each year to the suffragan sees by a letter issued usually shortly after Epiphany. Such a pastoral contained in addition a discussion of current ecclesiastical affairs or problems of Christian life and exhortations to observe the fast, to almsgiving and the reception of the sacraments. Dionysius of Alexandria is the first known to have sent such Easter Letters. Athanasius remained loyal to this tradition, even when he was in exile. Shortly after his death these letters were brought together by one of his friends and the collection was given wide distribution. (Quasten) At the time of publication only the first thirteen of these letters were extant, in Syriac; others have since been discovered. For many of the letters, further information about the circumstances of composition may be found in the early Index to the Festal Letters.

by Athanasius in 346 | translated by Payne-Smith

Coss. Augustus Constantius IV, Constans III; Praef. the same Nestorius; Indict. iv; Easter-day iii Kal. Apr., iv Pharmuthi; Moon 21; Aera Dioclet. 62.

ATHANASIUS, to the Presbyters and Deacons of Alexandria, brethren beloved in the Lord, greeting.

You have done well, dearly beloved brethren, that you have given the customary notice of the holy Easter in those districts; for I have seen and acknowledged your exactness, By other letters I have also given you notice, that when this year is finished, ye may know concerning the next, Yet now I have thought it necessary to write the same things that, when you have it exactly, you also may write with care. Therefore, after the conclusion of this feast, which is now drawing to its close, on the twelfth of the month Pharmuthi, which is on the vii Id, Apr., Easter-day will be on the iii Kal, April; the fourth of Pharmuthi, according to the Alexandrians. When therefore the feast is finished, give notice again in these districts, according to early custom, thus: Easter Sunday is on the iii Kal. April, which is the fourth of Pharmuthi, according to the Alexandrian reckoning. And let no man hesitate concerning the day, neither let any one contend, saying, It is requisite that Easter should be held on the twenty-seventh of the month Phamenoth; for it was discussed in the holy Synod, and all there settled it to be on the iii Kal. April. I say then that it is on the fourth of the month Pharmuthi; for the week before this is much too early. Therefore let there be no dispute, but let us act as becometh us. For I have thus written to the Romans also. Give notice then as it has been notified to you, that it is on the iii Kal. April; the fourth of Pharmuthi, according to the Alexandrian reckoning.

That ye may have health in the Lord, I pray, my dearly beloved brethren.

Taken from "The Early Church Fathers and Other Works" originally published by Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co. in English in Edinburgh, Scotland, beginning in 1867. (NPNF II/IV, Schaff and Wace). The digital version is by The Electronic Bible Society, P.O. Box 701356, Dallas, TX 75370, 214-407-WORD.