My dear syndiakonoi (co-servants) in Christ,
Christ is in our midst!
WHAT IS THE APOSTLE FAST?
Orthodox Christians around the world observe four seasons during the year. Two of these--the Holy and Great Fast (Lent) for the 40 days of Lent, and the Holy Dormition Fast during the first 15 days of August--are considered "strict" fasts. The other two are generally observed as "lesser" fasts the so-called "Nativity (Christmas) Lent" or fast during the 40 days before the Feast of the Holy Nativity, and the Fast of the Apostles which occurs in June--after the Sunday of All Saints (the Sunday following Pentecost) and culminates in the feast of Saints Peter and Paul (June 29).
In America the Fast of the 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 Apostles' Fast was not tied to the memory of the Holy Apostles, but observed instead as a sort of post-Pentecost fast-an ascetical counterpoint to the long, generally festal period of Pascha.
The date of Pentecost varies with the date of Holy Pascha, falling fifty days after it. 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 Orthodox churches which use the New Calendar, there are some years in which there is no Apostles' 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 Holy and Great Lent. Fish, wine and oil are permitted on all days except Wednesday and Friday, which are strict fast-days throughout the year except immediately following the Great Feasts of the Lord. In other traditions, fish, wine and oil are permitted on Saturdays and Sundays during the Fast of the Holy Apostles.
For faithful Orthodox Christians today, the Feast 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 commemorate and celebrate the lives of all those who have gone before us in the faith: our fathers, forefathers, the Holy Apostles, Holy Preachers, Holy Evangelists, Holy Teachers (Fathers), Holy Hierarchs, and Holy Martyrs. The readings which are appointed for that day (Hebrews 11:33-40, 12:1-2, and Saint Matthew 1:32-33, 37-38, 19:27-30) remind us that countless worshippers of God have sacrificed their lives for the faith which we have inherited.
The Fast is also an occasion to remember that in Christ, we have a unity that goes beyond our personal opinions, likes and 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, St. Peter and St. Paul took different sides in the discussion.
Before very long, St. Peter and St. Paul became involved in the dispute about keeping the Law of Moses. Saint Paul, who was preaching among Gentiles (Pagans), taught that it was no longer necessary to keep the Law, because the purpose of the Law was to point to the death and Resurrection of Christ. Saint Paul even proclaimed that the Law had been nailed to the Cross with Christ, for now we are justified by faith and not by following the Law (see Romans 10 and Galatians 3). Saint Peter, however, was drawn towards the opinion of some Jews that although Jesus was indeed the promised Messiah, the Law nevertheless should continue to be observed for all time.
Saint Paul journeyed to Jerusalem to meet with the Apostle Peter and the other Apostles in order to settle the matter. Saint Paul says that he opposed Peter to his face (Galatians 2:11 ff). After some discussion it was agreed that Christians would no longer follow the 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 that Peter did not simply decide to agree with 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 n 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 Apostles as one of the most important season of the year, a time to humble ourselves and pray for genuine love and unity in the Church throughout the world.
"Glory Be To God For All Things!"--Saint John Chrysostom
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia (Ministry),
The sinner and unworthy servant of God