On my drive home yesterday, I listened in turn to both of the books that our women’s book group will discuss soon. This passage from On the Incarnation by St. Athanasius is one I’ve shared before; in its quiet way it reminds me of the enduring foundation of our Christian faith, that Christ has destroyed death. This is a thought and phrase that we Orthodox sing extravagantly every Pascha, but we don’t always act as though we believe it. St. Athanasius calls across the centuries to refresh our hearts by the witness of our brothers and sisters in the faith:
“A very strong proof of this destruction of death and its conquest by the cross is supplied by the present fact, namely this. All the disciples of Christ despise death; they take the offensive against it and instead of fearing it, by the sign of the cross and by faith in Christ trample on it as on something dead. Before the divine sojourn of the Saviour, even the holiest of men were afraid of death, and mourned the dead as those who perish. But now that the Saviour has raised his body, death is no longer terrible, but all those who believe in Christ tread it underfoot as nothing, knowing full well that when they die they do not perish, but live indeed, and become incorruptible through the resurrection. But that devil who of old wickedly exulted in death, now that the pains of death are loosed, he alone it is who remains truly dead.”
-St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation
Holy Martyr Gordius of 4th-Centry Cappadocia is one of those who took a fearless stance regarding death. He is commemorated on January 3rd.