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Fathers of the Church

From Festal Letter XXVIII

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) Following are two fragments from the Festal Letter written in 356.

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 356 | translated by Payne-Smith

... IN order that while He might become a sacrifice for us all, we, nourished up in the words of truth, and partaking of His living doctrine, might be able with the saints to receive also the joy of Heaven. For thither, as He called the disciples to the upper chamber, so does the Word call us with them to the divine and incorruptible banquet; having suffered for us here, but there, preparing the heavenly tabernacles for those who most readily hearken to the summons, and unceasingly, and [gazing] at the goal, pursue the prize of their high calling; where for them who come to the banquet, and strive with those who hinder them, there is laid up both a crown, and incorruptible joy. For even though, humanly speaking, the labour of such a journey is great, yet the Saviour Himself has rendered even it light and kindly.

ANOTHER FRAGMENT.

BUT let us, brethren, who have received the vineyard from the Saviour, and are invited to the heavenly banquet, inasmuch as the Feast is now drawing nigh, take the branches of the palm trees, and proving conquerors of sin, let us too like those, who on that occasion went to meet the Saviour, make ourselves ready by our conduct, both to meet Him when He comes, and to go in with Him and partake of the immortal food, and from thenceforth live eternally in the heavens.

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.