Thursday, May 2, 2024

Saint Athanasius: The Grace of Easter “is Always Near…”

Today is the feast of Saint Athanasius (296-373), the fourth century’s unshakable “defender of orthodoxy.” During times of epochal change in the Greco-Roman world of Late Antiquity, and times of confusion and betrayal among Christians regarding the Arian heresy, Athanasius courageously upheld the truth of the Divinity of Son of God, who took our human nature in Jesus Christ for our salvation.

Athanasius endured many trials and persecutions during his long life, but was sustained by holding fast to Christ. His feast always comes during the Easter Season, which he particularly extolled. The Risen Jesus—Creator and Redeemer, conqueror of sin and death, Only Begotten Son of the Father, the Word made flesh, Lover and Savior of humankind—was Athanasius’s enduring joy. This joy “enlightened” his faith-filled mind and heart, because his “ardent desire” and “thirst” for Christ were greater than any fear of the sufferings brought upon him by the lies and manipulation of the Arian faction—even when its “rationalist” reductionism of the Gospel became the dominant ideology of the imperial power that tried to impose it by force on the Greco-Roman world. Athanasius never gave up. He brought his desire, his afflictions, and his thirst for truth and life to the Living One who alone could sustain him and fulfill him: Jesus Christ living in His Catholic Church.

Here is a quotation from the Festal Letters of Saint Athanasius:

“The time has arrived which brings to us a new beginning: the announcement of the blessed Pascha, in which the Lord was sacrificed. We eat, as it were, the food of life, and constantly thirsting we delight our souls at all times, as from a fountain, in His precious blood. For we continually and ardently desire; He stands ready for those who thirst; and for those who thirst there is the word of our Savior, of which, in His loving-kindness, He uttered on the day of the feast; 'If any man thirst, let him come to Me and drink.' Nor was it then alone when anyone drew near to Him, that He cured his thirst; but whenever anyone seeks, there is free access for him to the Savior. For the grace of the feast is not limited to one time, nor does its splendid brilliancy decline; but it is always near, enlightening the minds of those who earnestly desire it” (Festal Letter 5).