<br><h3> Chapter One </h3> <b>FESTAL LETTER ONE <p> A.D. 414</b> <p> <p> THE BRIGHT LIGHT of our divine feast shines forth upon the whole world with such cheerful radiance, that it banishes all gloom and darkness for those wishing to celebrate the feast worthily. Thus the blessed apostle speaks as follows to such as these when he shows them how to proceed: "The night is advanced, and the day draws near; let us walk becomingly, as by day." Thus guided by the unquenchable rays of our Savior's light, we may reach the Jerusalem above, where we shall dwell with the holy choirs of angels in heaven. Blessed David, then, in gathering us into such a fair company, bids us sing the song of victory to Christ, who became incarnate for our sakes and who destroyed the power of death through the cross; he says, "Come, let us exult in the Lord, let us shout to God our Savior." For he calls those who attend to the divine laws the Savior's choir, teaching them to form an assembly one in harmonious thought, rather than divided in mind and ideas, as they confess their faith in Christ, "in order that," as Paul says, "with one voice and one mind" we may keep our confession of him firm and unwavering. <p> With the divine and inviolate festival bidding us, as it were, to ascend at last to the spiritual Jerusalem and stirring us to hasten to enter upon a life of piety, let us listen to what we hear through the prophet: "You who are saved, go out from the land, remember the Lord from afar, and let Jerusalem arise in your heart." Since Paul thus cries, "Run so as to win the prize," and since our holy feast is rising over us like the sun, let us cast far away our fruitless laziness, overcome the heavy darkness of our idleness, and with brave and luminous hearts set ourselves to seek every virtue, repeating to each other the words, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, and to the house of the God of Jacob, and he will announce his way to us, and we will walk in it." For the Jews, who do not know how to abandon their figurative and corporeal form of worship, hear the words, "What do your many sacrifices mean to me? says the Lord. I have had enough of holocausts of rams, and I do not want the fat of lambs and the blood of bulls and goats, not even if you appear before me." But to those who have left such things far behind, and are concerned to show God the true circumcision of the heart through worship in the Spirit, the prophet cries, "Seek God, and when you find him, call upon him. But when he approaches you, let the ungodly forsake their path and the lawless their plans, and turn to the Lord, and they will find mercy, for he will remove your sins far away." <p> Since therefore our Savior Christ has come near to us by becoming like us, let us put off the old man, as is written, and put on the new one who is being renewed according to the image of his Creator; forgetting what is behind, let us press on to what lies ahead, going up in our purity to the divine festival. The prophet Jeremiah cries, "Thus he speaks to the men of Judah and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem: Plough fallow ground for yourselves, and sow not among thorns; be circumcised to God, and circumcise the hardness of your hearts, men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem." Let us, then, purify our minds with the fear of God, using it like fire to rid them of the impiety with which they are overgrown and barren, and receive the good seed of our Savior, who does not teach us to engage in merely figurative worship, but who renews us for salvation with his good teachings. Let us therefore show God the Jew who is hidden and the circumcision which is hidden, circumcising all vice from our hearts, that it may be right that we should hear, "Celebrate your feasts, Judah, and offer to the Lord God your prayers." <p> 2. Those therefore who are sent to announce this may well feel deep fear at their task, and with good reason, for the punishment for neglecting it is hardly light. "Accursed is he," it says, "who performs God's works carelessly." That is easy to see if one considers the blessed Jonah, and the sea which raged against him, and the terrible, frightful sea-monster loosed against him. I find as well that each of the saints feared the greatness of the divine service. Moses, for instance, the teacher of divine truths, when God bade him send the people out, reckoned up what was possible to human nature and saw that the service of the proclamation was beyond it, and said, "I am hesitant in speech and slow of tongue." The blessed Jeremiah, sent to prophesy, speaks likewise when he cries, "Lord and Master, You who are, behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am too young!" <p> Now even though the saints have left us a wonderful model of reverence in speaking thus, nevertheless the sort of fear involved here results in a laziness which is neither inconsiderable nor without peril to the weak. But God repeatedly asks us, and bids us put away our fear, saying to Moses, "Who has given a mouth to man, and who has made him deaf or dumb, or with or without sight? Is it not I, the Lord God? Now go, and I will open your mouth." And to the blessed Jeremiah, "Say not, 'I am too young'; for to all to whom I will send you, you shall go, and you will say everything I command you." <p> Since, then, the priestly office calls even my lowly self to the task of proclamation, and I fear the words, "Speak and be not silent," I am compelled to proceed to the writing of this letter. For our father Theophilus, of renowned and wholly blessed memory, who was bishop (and whose account, known to the Steward of us all, I would not presume to give in writing), has, by God's decree, left this life virtuously and flown to the heavenly dwellings, and so the succession to the episcopacy has fallen to me, the least of all. And since I hear what Paul has written, "Woe to me if I do not proclaim the good news!" I proceed then, fearfully, to the task of proclamation, beyond my powers though it be. <p> With our holy festival therefore shining forth and calling us to an unblemished and prescriptive sanctity, one must say to those still in the toils of vice, "Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you men of double mind!" To those who have fled the shameful defilement of sin and embraced an honorable way of life, however, let the prophet announce the good news, as he says, "Shine forth, shine forth, Jerusalem, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you." For since all human beings under the sun, having become the "portions of foxes," as it is written, have been divided into every sort of vice, and, once conquered by the darkness of ignorance, have fallen into the depths of sin as into a pit, the Psalmist, in calling God the Word to us from heaven, was forced to say, "O Shepherd of Israel, give ear; you who lead Joseph like a sheep, who are seated upon the Cherubim, shine forth before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh! Rouse your might and come to save us!" When he realized how opportunely he was going to come to us when we had fallen and were prostrate, he again cried, "Why, Lord, have you kept far away, paying no attention whether in prosperity or tribulation?" For our Savior, who had not yet assumed our likeness, had kept far away in respect to the incarnation, since the distance between human nature and that of God the Word is great indeed. Concerning us, one of the saints said, "I am earth and ashes." But concerning the existence of the Only-Begotten, Isaiah says, "Who shall relate his generation?" It was opportunely, then, that the Savior shone upon us in our great tribulation when he was born of a woman in regard to the flesh, that he might save man born of a woman, and, having loosed him from the bonds of death, might teach him to say joyfully, "O death, where is your victory? Hell, where is your sting?" For he does not only give us the gift of the resurrection; he also, in blunting hell's sting, the sin that stings us, tells us, "Behold, I have given you [authority] to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing shall harm you." This is in addition to the other blessings coming from our Savior's coming. Holiness, therefore, reigns supreme upon earth, while the darkness [hiding] the truth has been driven out. The Psalmist, foreseeing this by the power of the divine Spirit, said, "Justice shall arise in his days, and fullness of peace, until the moon be no more!" For "while we were enemies," as Paul says, "we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son"; then the fullness of peace shall arise for us. And this having happened, the moon must necessarily be utterly destroyed, meaning the devil, the ruler of night and darkness, who is here called "the moon" figuratively. <p> The beams from these great and many [blessings] thus shine down upon us, and the light of our divine feast is rising. Once again the bright festival draws us to itself, its admonition that vice is to be abandoned sounding even more loudly in the following words, "Wash yourselves, be clean, remove the evil from your souls!" For if the author of the Book of Proverbs speaks wisely when he says, "There is a season for everything, and a time for every matter," then it is certainly with reason that we acknowledge that this particular time is opposed to every evil, that it calls one to only such behavior as does honor to the divine law, and that it assures those who act accordingly that they will be regarded with affection. Now those who decide to become contest judges in this present life, and who purchase the title at heavy cost and make the youths sweat at the games, reward the winners with rich trophies; the satisfaction derived from the prizes is, however, little enough, and the enjoyment lasts only as long as this earthly life. But God, the contest judge of the just, grants to the pious "what eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and the human heart has not conceived." For those whose deeds reveal a character which surpasses what is natural, receive what they are given in a way that will rightly surpass human understanding. For, having led the kind of life unknown to the many because of its hardships, they will be rewarded meetly, and, having drawn to themselves their Master's boundless love, they will enjoy the bounties which surpass nature. <p> Let us too, therefore, call those devoted to piety to the annual contest of toil, and, since the prophet says, "Blow a trumpet in Zion, sanctify a fast, proclaim a service," let us sound the Church's sacred trumpet, making it resound piercingly. Let us make known the arrival of our holy feast with a proclamation clear and most conspicuous, and since the all-wise God says to Moses, the teacher of sacred truths, "Make for yourself two trumpets; you will make them of silver, and you will use them to summon and to dismiss the assembly," let us act in full accordance with the meaning of the words. He orders that there should be two trumpets, because the Church has two messages: one of them summons the ignorant to the right understanding of the sacred teachings, while the other warns against the defilement of wicked deeds. He commands the trumpets to be silver, since in both instances the message is bright and spotless, both when it keeps clear of error in teaching and when it presents what is to be chosen in one's actions. <p> Let our message, then, sprint from its starting-point, as it were; let it call those far from the Law as though to the tent itself; let it draw those still sundered by sin to the Legislator's will; let it sanctify a fast and proclaim a service, as the prophet says. How else could we do these things? How else could we fulfill the divine commandment, wholly avoiding what is evil and keeping ourselves from what is utterly shameful, while striving to insist on the importance of what we know sanctifies those fasting? For thus it is that those who intend to celebrate the feast properly will worship our good God. <p> <p> 3. Let Christ's disciple, then, come into our midst; let him teach us how to fast, and we will hear him say, "A fast that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world." And how and in what way we may come by what is said, is easy to discover. For I think that the law of nature itself suffices for those of sound understanding when it teaches us to hate whatever seems contrary to the divine commandments, and urges that the Legislator's will should hold sway in us. But if it be thought that we need something clearer, let us listen to Paul's words, "Put to death what is earthly in you: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire." For it is not simply by abstaining from food and refraining from eating that we will find the truer grace of fasting, nor will we be completely pure and holy only by keeping from such things; this will happen rather when we banish from our spirit the things for which fasting was instituted as a remedy. Let us, then, obey the saint when he says, "Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you men of double mind!" This is the right manner of fasting, and in these ways will we display the best works: do not feed your mind with licentious pleasures; let the sting of fornication remain idle in you; keep your spirit free from passion; avoid the company of the impure. This is how you will prove yourself to God; these are the works that will win you the crown of justice. <p> It is good, then, to abstain from superfluous food in due season, and to withdraw from the over-laden table, lest our self-indulgence in eating more than we need awaken the sin dormant in us. For the flesh, when it has battened upon delicacies, is irksome, and vigorously opposes the desires of the spirit. When it is weak, however, and unaided by overindulgence, it is forced to yield to the other. This is what blessed Paul teaches us when he says, "Even though our outer self is wasting away, yet the inner self is being renewed day after day." For between those for whom friendship is impossible because they are so contrary in outlook and incompatible in manners, one may gain the advantage by being able to prevail over the other. But victory, I think all will agree, belongs to those who are superior. For what we will gain from the one would match the harm caused by the other, were the better side vanquished. <p> <i>(Continues...)</i> <p> <!-- copyright notice --> <br></pre> <blockquote><hr noshade size='1'><font size='-2'> Excerpted from <b>FESTAL LETTERS 1-12</b> Copyright © 2009 by THE CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY OF AMERICA PRESS. Excerpted by permission.<br> All rights reserved. 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