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