Letter CXXXIX. 2456
To the Alexandrians. 2457
1. I have already heard of the persecution in Alexandria and the rest of Egypt, and, as might be expected, I am deeply affected. I have observed the ingenuity of the devils mode of warfare. When he saw that the Church increased under the persecution of enemies and flourished all the more, he changed his plan. He no longer carries on an open warfare, but lays secret snares against us, hiding his hostility under the name which they bear, in order that we may both suffer like our fathers, and, at the same time, seem not to suffer for Christs sake, because our persecutors too bear the name of Christians. With these thoughts for a long time we sat still, dazed at the news of what had happened, for, in sober earnest, both our ears tingled on hearing of the shameless and inhuman heresy of your persecutors. They have reverenced neither age, nor services to society, 2458 nor peoples affection. They inflicted torture, ignominy, and exile; they plundered all the property they could find; they were careless alike of human condemnation and of the awful retribution to come at the hands of the righteous Judge. All this has amazed me and all but driven me out of my senses. To my reflections has been added this thought too; can the Lord have wholly abandoned His Churches? Has the last hour come, and is “the falling away” thus coming upon us, that now the lawless one “may be revealed, the son of perdition who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God and is worshipped”? 2459 But if the temptation is for a season, bear it, ye noble athletes of Christ. If the world is being delivered to complete, and final destruction, let us not lose heart for the present, but let us await the revelation from heaven, and the manifestation of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ. If all creation is to be dissolved, and the fashion of this world transformed, why should we be surprised that we, who are apart of creation, should feel the general woe, and be delivered to afflictions which our just God inflicts on us according to the measure of our strength, not letting us “be tempted above that we are able, but with the temptation giving us a way to escape that we may be able to bear it”? 2460 Brothers, martyrs crowns await you. The companies of the confessors are ready to reach out their hands to you and to welcome you into their own ranks. Remember how none of the saints of old won their crowns of patient endurance by living luxuriously and being courted; but all were tested by being put through the fire of great afflictions. “For some had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, and others were sawn asunder and were slain with the sword.” 2461 These are the glories of saints. Blessed is he who is deemed worthy to suffer for Christ; more blessed is he whose sufferings are greater, since “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us.” 2462
2. Had it but been possible for me to travel to you I should have liked nothing better than to meet you, that I might see and embrace Christs athletes, and share your prayers and spiritual graces. But now my body is wasted by long sickness, so that I can scarcely even leave my bed, and there are many who are lying in wait for me, like ravening wolves, watching the moment when they may be able to rend Christs sheep. I have therefore been compelled to visit you by letter; and I exhort you first of all most earnestly to pray for me, that for the rest of my remaining days or hours I may be enabled to serve the Lord, in accordance with the gospel of His kingdom. Next I beg you to pardon me for my absence and for my delay in writing to you. I have only with great difficulty found a man able to carry out my wishes. I speak of my son, the monk Eugenius, by whom I beseech you to pray for me and for the whole Church, and to write back news of you so that, when I hear, I may be more cheerful.
On the cruel persecution roused by Valens in Alexandria shortly after the death of Athanasius in 373, and the horrors perpetrated there, see the letter of Peter, Athanasius successor, in Theod. iv. 19.203:2458 203:2459 203:2460 203:2461 203:2462