Today Begins the Apostle's Fast

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,

THE APOSTLE'S FAST (June 12-29 this year)

What is the Apostle's Fast?

Orthodox Christians around the world observe four (4) Fasting Seasons during the year. Two of these-the Great Fast for the forty days of Holy Lent, and the Holy Dormition Fast during the first fifteen (15) days of August--are considered "strict' fasts. The other two are generally observed as "lesser" fasts: the so-called "Christmas Lent" or fast during the forty days before the Feast of the Nativity, and the Fast of the Holy Apostles which occurs in June.

In America the Fast of the Holy Apostles is probably the least well known, but is among the oldest of Christian traditions. It is mentioned by Saint Athanasius in the 4th century, and there are other testimonies to its existence very early in the history of the Church. The fast begins on the day after the observance of All Saints' Sunday, which falls one week after Pentecost.

Today the fast ends with the observance of the Feast of Saints Peter Paul, which is held on June 29th. In the earliest practice, however, the fast was probably not connected with the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul. Rather, it was a time for fasting after the celebration of Pentecost and/or All Saints. Apparently, different traditions prescribed different lengths of the fast--whether for one week, several weeks, or even only one day. Today, the fast still has a variable length because of its connection to the date of Pentecost, and therefore of All Saints.

The date of Pentecost varies with the date of All-Holy Pascha, falling fifty (50) days after Pascha. Therefore, the date of the Sunday of All Saints varies accordingly. This means that the length of the Fast of the Holy Apostles also varies each year. For those churches which follow the Old Calendar, the Fast can be very long (as long as 42 days) or very short (8 days), depending upon when Holy Pascha falls. For the Orthodox churches which use the New Calendar, there are some years in which there is no Apostle's Fast at all.

There are different traditions regarding how strictly to follow the Fast. In most Orthodox traditions the fast is not as severe as that during the Great Lent. Fish, wine and olive oil are permitted on all days except Wednesday and Friday, which are strict fast-days throughout the Ecclesiastical year except immediately following the Great Feasts of the Lord. In other words, fish, wine, olive oil are permitted on Saturdays and Sundays during the Fast of the Apostles.

For faithful Orthodox Christians today, the Fast of the Holy Apostles can be an occasion for reflection upon the lives and example of the Holy Apostles. On the Sunday of All Saints, we remember and celebrate the lives of all those who have gone before us in the faith: our Fathers, Forefathers, the Apostles, Preachers, Evangelists, Teachers, Hierarchs and Martyrs. The readings which are appointed for that day (Hebrews 11:33-40, 12:1-2, and Saint Matthew 10:32-33, 37-38, 19:27-30) reminding us that countless worshippers of God have sacrificed their lives for the faith which we have inherited.

Following Jesus' admonition recorded by Saint Matthew, the Holy Apostles left behind their parents, their children, and their possessions in order to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to people who did not know Him. Christian missionaries, ascetics, monks, nuns, etc. around the world are still doing this today. During the Fast of the Holy Apostles we are reminded to pray for them all, and for Orthodox Christian missions everywhere.

The Fast is also an occasion to remember that in Christ, we have a unity that goes beyond our personal opinions or likes or dislikes. The Acts of the Apostles tells us that the Holy Apostles themselves recognized this very early. The occasion was an argument which took place regarding whether the followers of Christ needed to continue to observe the Law of Moses. At first, Saint Peter and St. Paul took different sides in the discussion.

Moreover, Saint Paul--originally names Saul--was not among the Twelve Disciples. He even led a deadly persecution of Christians until he received an astounding vision of Christ while on the way to Damascus (Acts 9). The blinding vision changed his life forever. Thereafter he became an ancient witness to the Risen Christ. But because of his former life, it was very difficult at first for the Disciples to forgive and accept him.

Saint Paul journeyed to Jerusalem to meet with Saint Peter and the other Disciples in order to settle the matter. Saint Paul says that he opposed St. Peter to his face (Galatians 2:11ff.). After some discussion it was agreed that Christians would no longer follow the Mosaic Law, including practices like circumcision and the complex dietary laws given in the Books of Moses. However, they would continue to observe some of the restrictions of the Law regarding moral principles, and the eating of blood.

It is significant the Saint Peter did not simply decide to agree with Saint Paul on these matters. Rather, he was given a vision from God in which it was declared that foods which were formerly declared to be "unclean" for all Jews, were no "clean" or acceptable (Acts 10). Thus, Saint Peter realized that God was instituting a new order and way of life, and that to agree with Saint Paul was a matter of obedience to Christ Himself.

These events remind us to seek God when we have disagreements within the Church. This requires humility on our part, and the willingness to accept others even when we might not have agreed with them before. We let go of our own personal wishes or demands, and pray for the good of the Church and for a recognition of the Will of God for all of us together.

At the conclusion of the Fast, therefore, we celebrate Saints Peter and Paul together. The holy icon of the Feast depicts the two men standing side-by-side, holding the Church together in their hands. This is a powerful symbol of the supernatural love for one another which is given by the Holy Spirit. In the Holy Spirit we have agreement and new life. For this reason, Orthodox Christians today can regard the Fast of the Holy Apostles as one of the most important times of the year, a time to humble ourselves and pray for genuine love and unity in the Church around the world. (Source: Posted by the Orthodox Christian Network).

With agape in Christ,

+Father George