Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Festal Epistles of St. Athanasius

Tomorrow, Eastern churches commemorate St. Athanasius.  So this is a good time to mention that I have begun reading his Festal Epistles.

As Bishop of Alexandria, it was his responsibility to announce to the church in Egypt the date of Easter each year.  By Athanasius’ time, most of the rest of the church as well delegated this task to Alexandria in part because of the reputation of Egypt’s astronomers.

When writing his letters announcing the date of Easter, Athanasius also exhorted the faithful to keep the feast and preceding fasts rightly and with godly living.  And having read the first three epistles, I can already testify that it is edifying and, yes, convicting reading.  I heartily recommend it for pre-Lenten and Lenten reading and reflection.

The Festal Epistles are also interesting in the study of church history.  He makes mention of his numerous conflicts and takes on heretics.  And his 39th Epistle (367 A. D.) has at least one of the earliest lists of the New Testament Canon.  (I’ve read that it is the earliest such list extant, but have not yet studied enough to confirm that.)

So as the Pre-Lent season nears, (Septuagesima is January 27th this year.) I heartily recommend Athanasius’ Festal Epistles and look forward to continuing to read them myself.

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