As a child, Athanasius (296–373) lived through the infamous Diocletian persecution, which began in 303 and ended in 313 with the Edict of Milan. With the memories of those dark days etched in his memory, he wrote about the change that has come over the world since the resurrection of Christ:
Death used to be strong and terrible, but now, since the sojourn of the Savior and the death and resurrection of His body, it is despised; and obviously it is by the very Christ Who mounted on the cross that it has been destroyed and vanquished finally. When the sun rises after the night and the whole world is lit up by it, nobody doubts that it is the sun which has thus shed its light everywhere and driven away the dark.
Equally clear is it, since this utter scorning and trampling down of death has ensued upon the Savior’s manifestation in the body and His death on the cross, that it is He Himself Who brought death to nought and daily raises monuments to His victory in His own disciples. How can you think otherwise, when you see men naturally weak hastening to death, unafraid at the prospect of corruption, fearless of the descent into Hades, even indeed with eager soul provoking it, not shrinking from tortures, but preferring thus to rush on death for Christ’s sake, rather than to remain in this present life? (Athanasius, Incarnation of the Word 29).
Death use to be powerful and intimidating. We hid our faces from its glance and trembled at its threats. It owned us. We obeyed its every command. But as Athanasius reminds us, the resurrection of Jesus deprived death of its terror and strength. Jesus frees us from its hold: “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more” (Luke 12:4).
Fear of death is the root and essence of every other fear. If you fear death, you are the slave of those who hold the power of death. But Jesus exposed death as powerless. It cannot defeat God’s love for us! What, then, is left to fear? Poverty or prison? Frowns or whispers? Pandemic or famine?
Name your fear, my friends, whatever it is. Face it, and say to it, “I do not fear you! For I do not fear death your master! I do not fear death! I do not fear death! For Christ is risen! He has risen indeed!”