The Apostles' Fast Begins


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



Patristic Testimony Concerning the Fast

The fast of the Holy Apostles is very ancient, dating back to the first centuries of Christianity. We have the testimony of Saint Athanasius the Great, Saint Ambrose of Milan, Saint Leo the Great and Theodoret of Cyrrhus regarding it. The oldest testimony regarding the Apostles Fast is given to us by Saint Athanasius the Great (+373 A.D.). In his letter to Emperor Constance, in speaking of the persecution by the heretic Arians, he writes: "During the week following Pentecost, the people, who observed the fast went out to the cemetery to pray". "The Lord so ordained it," says Saint Ambrose (+397 A.D.) "that as we have participated in His sufferings during the Forty Days, so we should also rejoice in His Resurrection during the season of Pentecost. We do not fast during the season of Pentecost, since our Lord Himself was present amongst us during those days...Christ's presence was like nourishing food for the Christians. So too, during Pentecost, we feed on the Lord Who is present among us. On the days following His Ascension into Heaven, however, we again fast" (Sermon 61). Saint Ambrose bases this practice on the words of Jesus concerning His Disciples in the Gospel of Saint Matthew 9:14-15): "Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come, when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast."

Saint Leo the Great (+461 A.D.) says: "After the long feast of Pentecost, fasting is especially necessary to purify our thoughts and render us worthy to receive the Gifts of the Holy Spirit...Therefore, the salutary custom was established of fasting after the joyful days during which we celebrated the Resurrection and Ascension of our Lord, and the coming of the Holy Spirit."

The pilgrim Egeria in her diary (4th century) records that on the day following the feast of Pentecost, a period of fasting began. The Apostolic Constitutions, a work no later than the 4th century, prescribes: "After the feast of Pentecost, celebrate one week, then observe a fast, for justice demands rejoicing after the reception of the Gifts of God and lasting after the body has been refreshed."

From the testimonies of the 4th century we ascertain that in Alexandria, Jerusalem and Antioch the fast of the Holy Apostles was connected with Pentecost and not with the feast of the Apostles Peter and Paul on June 29th. In the first centuries, after Pentecost there was one week of rejoicing, that is Privileged Days, followed by about one week of fasting.

The canons of Nicephoros, Patriarch of Constantinople (806-816 A.D.), mention the Apostle's Fast. The Typicon of Saint Theodore the Studite for the Monastery of Studios in Constantinople speaks of the Forty Days Fast of the Holy Apostles. Saint Symeon of Thessaloniki (+ 1429) explains the purpose of this fast in this manner. "The Fast of the Apostles is justly established in their honor, for through them we have received numerous benefits and for us are exemplars and teachers of the fast...For one week after the descent of the Holy Spirit, in accordance with the Apostolic Constitution composed by Clement, we celebrate, and then during the following week, We fast in honor of the Apostles."

Duration of the Fast

The Fast of the Apostles came into practice in the Church through custom rather than law. For this reason there was no uniformity for a long time, either in the observance or its duration. Some fasted twelve days, others six, still others four, and others only one day. Theodore Balsamon, Patriarch of Antioch (+ 1204), regarding the Apostle's Fast, said: "All the faithful, that is the laity and the monks, are obligated to fast seven days and more, and whoever refuses to do so, let him be excommunicated from the Christian community."

In the Orthodox Church the Fast of the Holy Apostles lasts from the day after the Sunday of All Saints to the 29th of June, the feast of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul. This fast may be of longer or shorter duration depending upon which day Pascha is celebrated. According to the Old Calendar it could last from as little as 8 days to as many as 42 days depending on the date of Pascha, but this is shortened by the New Calendar which sometimes obliterates the Fast altogether. If the feast of Pascha occurs sooner, then the Apostle's Fast is longer; if Pascha comes later, then the Apostle's Fast is shorter.

The Holy Apostles Fast is not as severe as Great Lent of the Koimisis (Dormition) of the Theotokos (August 1-14) Fast, but entails fasting from red meat, poultry, meat products, dairy products, fish, oil, and wine. For many Orthodox, fish, wine and olive oil are allowed on all days except Wednesdays and Fridays.  

As with the three other fasting seasons of the Church year, there is a Great Fast that falls during the Holy Apostles Fast; in this case, the Feast of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist and Forerunner (June 24th).

For us the Holy Apostles Fast began June24 and will end on the feast of Saint Peter and Paul on June 29th. Of course, as with all fasting seasons, there are exceptions and allowances for Orthodox Christians who are ill, seniors (65+), infants, pregnant women, men and women serving in the military, people who must follow a special diet for health issues, etc. (References: The Weblog of John Sanidopoulos, Wikipedia)

In His Service,

+Father George