Day 28/50 of Eastertide (Holy Fifty Days) – Characters of a Christian Feast – St. Athanasius the Apostolic

But now, which is above all things most necessary, I wish to remind you, and myself with you, how that the command would have us come to the Paschal feast not profanely and without preparation, but with sacramental and doctrinal rites, and prescribed observances, as indeed we learn from the historical account, ‘A man who is of another nation, or bought with money, or uncircumcised, shall not eat the Passover’ (Ex 12:43-48). Neither should it be eaten in ‘any’ house, but He commands it to be done in haste; inasmuch as before we groaned and were made sad by the bond age to Pharaoh, and the commands of the task masters. For when in former time the children of Israel acted in this way, they were counted worthy to receive the type, which existed for the sake of this feast, nor is the feast now introduced on account of the type. As also the Word of God, when desirous of this, said to His disciples, ‘With desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you’ (Lk 22:15).

Now that is a wonderful account, for a man might have seen them at that time girded as for a procession or a dance, and going out with staves, and sandals, and unleavened bread. These things, which took place before in shadows, were typical. But now the Truth is nigh unto us, ‘the Image of the invisible God’ ( Col 1:15), our Lord Jesus Christ, the true Light, Who instead of a staff, is our sceptre, instead of unleavened bread, is the bread which came down from heaven, Who, instead of sandals, hathf urnished us with the preparation of the Gospel (Eph 6:15) and Who, to speak briefly, by all these hath guided us to His Father.

And if enemies afflict us and persecute us, He again, instead of Moses, will encourage us with better words, saying, ‘Be of good cheer; I have overcome the wicked one’ (Jn 16:33, cf. 1 Jn 2:13).

And if after we have passed over the Red Sea heat should again vex us or some bitterness of the waters befall us, even thence again the Lord will appear to us, imparting to us of His sweetness, and His life-giving fountain, saying, ‘If any man thirst, let him come to Me, and drink’ (Jn 7:37).

Why therefore do we tarry, and why do we delay, and not come with all eagerness and diligence to the Feast, trusting that it is Jesus who calleth us Who is all things for us, and was laden in ten thousand ways for our salvation; Who hungered and thirsted for us, though He gives us food and drink in His saving gifts. For this is His glory, this the miracle of His divinity, that He changed our sufferings for His happiness.

For, being life, He died that He might l make us alive, being the Word, He became flesh, that He might instruct the flesh in the Word, and being the fountain of life, He thirsted our thirst, that thereby He might urge us to the feast, saying, ‘If any man thirst, let him come to Me, and drink’ (Jn 7:37). At that time, Moses proclaimed the beginning of the feast, saying, ‘This month is the beginning of months to you’ (Ex 12:2). But the Lord, Who came down in the end of the ages (Heb 9:26), proclaimed a different day, not as though He would abolish the law, far from it, but that He should establish the law, and be the end of the law. ‘For Christ is the end of the law to every one that believeth in righteousness;’ as the blessed Paul saith, ‘Do we make void the law by faith? far from it: we rather establish the law” (Rom 10:4, 3:31). Now these things astonished even the officers who were sent by the Jews, so that wondering they said to the Pharisees, ‘No man ever thus spake’ (Jn 7:46).

What was it then that astonished those officers, or what was it which so affected the men as to make them marvel? It was nothing but the boldness and authority of our Saviour. For when of old time prophets and scribes studied the Scriptures, they perceived that what they read did not refer to themselves, but to others. Moses, for instance, ‘A prophet will the Lord raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; to him hearken in all that he commands you.’ Isaiah again, ‘Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and ye shall call his name Emmanuel’ (Deut 18:15 and Is 7:14).

And others prophesied in different and % various ways, concerning the Lord. But by the Lord, of Himself, and of no other, were these things prophesied; to Himself He limited them all, saying, ‘If any man thirst, let him come to Me’ (Jn 7:37)—not to any other person, but to ‘Me.’ A man may indeed hear from those concerning My coming, but he must not thenceforth drink from others, but from Me.

Therefore let us also, when we come to the feast, no longer come as to old shadows, for they are accomplished, neither as to common feasts, but let us l hasten as to the Lord, Who is Himself
the Feast (cf 1 Cor 5:7), not looking upon it as an indulgence and delight of the belly, but as a manifestation of virtue. For the feasts of the heathen are full of greediness, and utter indolence, since they consider they celebrate a feast when they are idle; and they work the works of perdition when they feast.

But our feasts consist in the exercise of virtue and the practice of temperance; as the prophetic word testifies in a certain place, saying, ‘The fast of the fourth, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of t he seventh, and the fast of the tenth [month], shall be to the house of Judah for gladness, and rejoicing, and for pleasant feasts’ (Zech 8:15).

Since therefore this occasion for exercise is set before us, and such a day as this is come, and the prophetic voice has gone forth that the feast shall be celebrated, let us give all diligence to this good proclamation, and like those who contend on the race course, let us vie with each other in observing the purity of the fast (cf 1 Cor 9:24-27), by watchfulness in prayers, by study of the Scriptures, by distributing to the poor, and let us be at peace with our enemies.

Let us bind up those who are scattered abroad, banish pride, and return to lowliness of mind, being at peace with all men, and urging the brethren unto love. Thus also the blessed Paul was often engaged in fastings and watchings, and was willing to be accursed for his brethren. Blessed David again, having humbled himself by fastings, used boldness, saying, ‘O Lord my God, if I have done this, if there is any iniquity in my hands, if I have repaid those who dealt evil with me, then may I fall from my enemies as a vain man’ (Rom 9:3, Ps 7:3-4 LXX). If we do these things, we shall conquer death; and receive an earnest (cf Eph 1:23-14) of the kingdom of heaven.

[St. Athanasius of Alexandria, Festal Letter XIV, 342 AD]

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