The Fast of the Apostles
Today on All Saints Sunday at midnight the Orthodox Church, having rejoiced for fifty days following our Lord’s Pascha, has started the Fast of the Apostles.
This is the fast that Christ’s disciples undertook after the Descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. As part of their preparation, the Holy Apostles began a fast asking God to strengthen their resolve and to be with them in their missionary undertakings. It is this fast that we take part in while observing the Apostles’ Fast. We do this not only because we honour the Apostles and their sacrifice, but also as a preparation to be sent as missionaries into the world, to reflect and radiate Christ to those around us.
Speaking about the Holy Apostles and the “perfect knowledge” given to them by the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, St. Irenaeus wrote:
“The Lord of all gave to His apostles the power of the gospel, and by them we also have learned the truth, that is, the teaching of the Son of God – as the Lord said to them, ‘He who hears you hears Me, and he who despises you despises Me, and Him Who sent Me’ [Lk.10:16]. For we learned the plan of our salvation from no other than from those through whom the gospel came to us. The first preached it abroad, and then later by the will of God handed it down to us in Scriptures, to be the foundation and pillar of our faith. For it is not right to say that they preached before they had come to perfect knowledge, as some dare to say, boasting that they are the correctors of the apostles. For after our Lord had risen from the dead, and they were clothed with the power from on high when the Holy Spirit came upon them, they were filled with all things and had perfect knowledge. They went out to the ends of the earth, preaching the good things that come to us from God, and proclaiming peace from heaven to all men, all and each of them equally being in possession of the gospel of God.” Against the Heresies, III
Lest we should start thinking we are sacrificing too much of our comfort by observing yet another fast, that of the Apostles, St. Neilos the Ascetic is reminding us of the devotion Christ’s Holy Disciples have shown:
“The Apostles received this way of life from Christ and made it their own, renouncing the world in response to His call, disregarding fatherland, relatives and possessions. At once they adopted a harsh and strenuous way of life, facing every kind of adversity, afflicted, tormented, harassed, naked, lacking even necessities; and finally they met death boldly, imitating their Teacher faithfully in all things. Thus through their actions they left behind a true image of the highest way of life.” Ascetic Discourse, Philokalia, Vol. I
Even though the Apostles’ Fast is less strict then the other fasts in the year, it is still an important observance by the faithful. For as St. Ambrose of Optina warns:
“People have to answer greatly for not keeping the rules of the Church with respect to the fasts. People justify themselves by saying that they never considered it a sin to eat dairy products during the fasts. They repent and consider themselves sinners in every other respect, but they do not think to repent about not keeping the fasts. Meanwhile, they are transgressing the commandment of our holy Mother, the Church, and according to the teaching of the Apostle Paul, they are as the heathen and publicans because of their disobedience.”
At the same time, Holy Church Fathers are warning against superficial fasting, the one that is concerned only with abstinence from certain types of food, while forgetting the more important, inner fast:
“Fasting is acceptable to God when abstention from food is accompanied by refraining from sins, from envy, from hatred, from calumny, from vainglory, from worldliness, from other evils. He who is fasting the true fast ‘that is agreeable’ to God ought to shun all these things with all his strength and zeal, and remain impregnable and unshakable against all the attacks of the Evil one that are planned from that quarter. On the other hand, he who practices abstention from food, but does not keep self-control in the face of the aforesaid passions, is like unto one who lays down splendid foundations for a house, yet takes serpents and scorpions and vipers as fellow-dwellers therein.” St. Photios the Great
In his Homilies on the Holy Spirit, St. Basil the Great provides even more thorough guidance:
“Beware of limiting the good of fasting to mere abstinence from meats. Real fasting is alienation from evil. ‘Loose the bands of wickedness.’ Forgive your neighbour the mischief he has done you. Forgive him his trespasses against you. Do not ‘fast for strife and debate.’ You do not devour flesh, but you devour your brother. You abstain from wine, but you indulge in outrages. You wait for evening before you take food, but you spend the day in the law courts. Woe to those who are ‘drunken, but not with wine.’ Anger is the intoxication of the soul, and makes it out of its wits like wine.”
May we all enjoy the soul-renewing, spiritually rewarding and salvific fast.
Fr Augustine McBeth