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]

Day 27/50 of Eastertide (Holy Fifty Days) – How the Resurrection heals humanity – St. Athanasius the Apostolic

[Today the 7th Pashons in the Coptic calendar, the great pillar of Orthodoxy, Pope St. Athanasius I of Alexandria departed, his prayers be with us. ]

Next, this must also be known, that the corruption which has occurred was not outside the body, but attached to it, and it was necessary that instead of corruption, life should cleave to it, so that as death had come to be in the body, so too life might come to be in it. If, then, death had been outside the body, life would also have had to be outside it.

But if death was interwoven with the body, and dominated it as if united to is, it was necessary for life to be interwoven with the body, so that the body putting on life should cast off corruption. Otherwise, if the Word had been outside the body, and not in it, death would have been conquered by him most naturally, since death has no power against life, but nonetheless the attached corruption would have remained in the body.

For this reason, the Savior rightly put on a body, in order that the body, being interwoven with life, might no longer remain as mortal in death, but, as having put on immortality, henceforth it might, when arising, remain immortal. For, once it had put on corruption, it would not have risen unless it had put on life. And, moreover, death does not appear by itself, but in the body; therefore he put on the body, that finding death in the body he might efface it. For how at all would the Lord have been shown to be Life, if not by giving life to the mortal?

And just as straw is naturally destroyed by fire, if anyone keeps the fire away from the straw, the straw does not burn, but remains fully straw, straw fearful of the threat of fire, for fire naturally consume it. But if someone covers the straw with much asbestos, which is said to be fireproof, the straw no longer fears the fire, having security from the covering of asbestos.

In the same way one may talk about the body and about death. If death were kept away from it by a command only, it would still be mortal and corruptible, according to the principal of bodies. But that this should not be, it put on the incorporeal Word of God, and thus no longer fears death or corruption, having life as a garment and corruption being destroyed in it.

[St. Athanasius of Alexandria, On the Incarnation of the Word]

Day 26/50 of Eastertide (Holy Fifty Days) – Self-denial is the very essence of Christianity (kenosis) – Fr. Matthew the Poor

For man to follow the Lord, he has to first pursue the intentional death, the denial of self, so that he is able to carry the cross that is given him.

Inner death is hard, harder than outer death. Self-denial, renouncing and putting to death the sinful nature, is more difficult than bearing the humiliations, injustices and tribulations of outer death. He who is able to deny and renounce himself is able to bear the worst humiliations and even be joyful in them. The one who loves his life and pampers it might be able to bear humiliation once or twice, but he could never bear it daily!

It is easy for the one who succeeds in embracing inner death to carry his cross every day, no matter how heavy it is. He follows the Lord not to judgement but to Golgotha and then to the Kingdom and will be where Christ is. To practice the inner death of self is in truth to practice the life of a dead man!

It is required of us that we be dead regarding ourselves and other people and be alive to Christ, and this should affect every though, every action and everything else in life: “that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for Him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Cor 5:15).

Practicing the outer death that is unintentional comes as we focus on and find the reality of the inner death. Have we actually died to ourselves, our bodies and the world? If the unintentional death conforms to the intentional death, then that is the greatest proof to man that he lives with Christ!

How great is our need to accept unintentional death? It is the very essence of the Christian life. It is the resurrection: “Follow me.”

“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus… who emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant (inner death) He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross (accepting the final outer death)” (Phil 2:5-8).

[Fr Matta El-Meskeen, Christ is Risen Truly He has Risen]

Day 25/50 of Eastertide (Holy Fifty Days) – Self-denial is essential to being able carrying the cross (kenosis) – Fr. Matthew the Poor

No one is pressed to follow Christ by force and neither is the Kingdom gained through a soft and luxurious life, neither does it come by merely praying and participating in the rituals of worship; it requires self-denial. This means we must separate our souls from all the roots of outward show and vain glory, depriving ourselves of the pleasures that make us cling to the world, to flesh and blood and to earthly dust.

When we do this it is part of the inner death; that is the intentional death, which is followed by the unintentional. After that a man is free to carry his cross daily, to bear the insults of the world around him, the injustices of his environment, the insolence of evil men, the betrayal of relatives, friends and disciples, painful diseases and diminishing faculties. It is through all these tribulations that the devil tries to master him, and, at his weakest point, hopefully cast him into doubt and denial of the faith. All of these constitute the outer death, which is the unintentional death.

Without the inner or intentional death i.e. the denial of one’s self, it is impossible for man to have the strength to carry his cross daily and follow the Lord. It will be impossible for him to bear the outer or unintentional death. The Lord wisely therefore gave us the commandment to deny ourselves before bearing the cross.

[Fr Matta El-Meskeen, Christ is Risen Truly He has Risen]