“The Fast of the Apostles is justly established in their honour, for through them we have received numerous benefits and for us they are exemplars and teachers of the fast …“ St. Symeon of Thessalonica
On the Apostles Fast –
As Orthodox faithful, today we begin the Apostles’ Fast which is one of the four main fasting periods during our church year.
The movable fast begins on the second Monday after Pentecost and concludes on the fixed Feast of Saints Peter and Paul on June the 29th, so the length of this fast varies from year to year depending on the date of Pascha.
The fast dates back to the early years of the church and is a part of our Holy Tradition. It helps prepare the faithful for the feast day of these two great apostles. Saints Peter and Paul are considered the ”pillars” of the Church. They were prominent figures and leaders chosen by Christ to help with the establishment and growth of the early church.
Although not as strict as the Fasts of Pascha and the Nativity of Christ, we do abstain from Red meat, poultry, and dairy products. Fish, wine, and oil are generally allowed on all days except on Wednesdays and Fridays, though check your Orthodox Church Calendar for specifics.
The Apostles Fast invites us to remember in prayer the missionaries of our Church, those who are serving the Lord, by working diligently to establish Churches. This period of fasting also reminds us that we too have an obligation to be a missionary for our Lord. Jesus invites us when He says to us “…go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” (Matthew 28:19)
As well as a preparation for the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, the Apostles’ Fast also helps us to recover from the celebrational Paschal-Pentecostal season.
On Fasting –
Not only is it important to fast, but it is important to know why it is prescribed by the church in the first place, to avoid reducing it to a meaningless and empty custom or ritual.
Christ Himself fasted and He also taught others to fast. Before beginning His ministry, our Lord fasted for forty days in the desert.
Fasting is powerful weapon that we can use to fight our passions. Ultimately, fasting helps to empty ourselves of worldly cares in order to make room for God in our lives, and so that our own passions do not become obstructions on our journey towards salvation. Through fasting we express our faith. We prepare ourselves so that we can be open to the grace of God.
Remember, we fast not just physically from food but also spiritually from sin, evil intentions, thoughts, and actions. Our fast must also be accompanied by good works, and must also be done in secret – this way Christ becomes the source of our nourishment. In the process we also learn patience, sacrifice, self-control and abandonment of self-will.
“We change our diet, as a rule, to kill self-will. Abandonment of self-will is one of the main disciplines for doing the will of God, because the clash is: either God’s will or my will. One of the places that we are the most willful is in our eating and drinking, so it’s a very great training.” Fr. Thomas Hopko.
So as we prepare ourselves to commemorate the two Holy Apostles, who dedicated their lives to the will of God even unto martyrdom, may we be inspired by their strength, sacrifice and love as we undertake this fast, and strive to do Gods will.