Orthodox America

  Resurrection Letters

by St. Athanasius of Alexandria; edited by Jack Sparks, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1979; 225 pages,.

Resurrection Letters 

Not a few Orthodox Christians of today feel that life during the times of the great Ecumenical Fathers and Hierarchs of the early centuries of the Church cannot compare to life in the modern world, with its temptations and difficulties peculiar to an age of advanced technology. The Orthodox. Faith, however,. remains forever the same  Throughout the centuries, in all the writings of the Holy Fathers, there is a marked 'oneness of mind"-no matter where, when , or in what language they wrote. In reading the Resurrection Letters of St. Athanasius of Alexandria, one is struck by the similarity between problems which faced the Orthodox Christians in the 4th century and those facing us today

This work is a collection of letters written by St. Athanasius to his flock while he was bishop. They all belong to the category of letters he wrote informing his flock of the date on which Pascha was to be celebrated. At the same time he inspired and encouraged them :valiantly to complete the Holy Fast and instructed them in the proper manner of celebrating the "Feast or feasts."

When read chronologically (as they appear- ranged in this edition), these letters not only inspire the Orthodox reader but also give an insight. into the history of the Church in the 4th century.  The conditions, struggles, temptations, issues and heresies facing the Orthodox Christians at that time come alive under the pen of St. Athanasius who writes in a direct and down-to-earth style. Each letter is prefaced by a brief introduction summarizing its content. Here the editor also adds comments and addresses questions to the reader concerning life in this day and age. Perhaps it would have been more effective had he not broken the train of patristic thought with modern, worldly concepts and ideas and occasional excerpts from Protestant hymns.

Included in this edition is a well written introduction to the meaning and purpose behind the celebration of the feast of Pascha. Unfortunately, in the text of the letters, the word “Pascha” is replaced with the term “Easter” which is of pagan origin. The editor deliberately points out that the term ."Pascha" is correct and is used by all the Early Fathers. It is a shame that he wasn't consistent with them.

A short life of St. Athanasius is also presented which briefly describes how he became such a prominent Church leader and what led him to write the Resurrection Letters. The final section of the book includes a Scripture index and a chapter on "Lenten Practices," for those unfamiliar with fasting. One must add, however, that the editor is himself not steeped in Orthodox tradition, and what he presents in this section is his own interpretation based on his reading of early Christian texts rather than a presentation of the Church's teaching concerning the Holy

These letters of St. Athanasius have much to say to us lackadaisial Christians of the latter times. They reflect the spirit of Apostolic Christianity and the spirit of "other worldliness" which so many today is interpreted as sham piety or fanaticism. There is power in the words of St. Athanasius that can change a man's soul and inspire him to be truly zealous for the Risen Lord.

"So then, let us celebrate this heavenly joy, together with the saints of old who kept the same Feast. Yes, they keep the Feast with us, and they are examples to us of life in Christ…. St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, 'You, therefore, follow me' (I Cor. 4.16). Let us follow him then, because that command has been passed down to us. The admonition originally given to the Church at Corinth reaches to alfl Christians of all time in every place." (Letter II, AD 330)