The Apostle's Fast
Variable: from the second Monday after Pentecost to the Feast of SS. Peter & Paul
The Apostle's Fast "is among the oldest of Christian traditions. It is mentioned by St. Athanasius in the fourth 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."
The Fast of the Apostles can be an occasion to:
- reflect upon the lives and example of the Holy Apostles
- pray for Christian missionaries around the world who, following the example of the apostles, have left behind their parents, their children, and their possessions in order to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to people who do not know Him
- strive to be humble and seek God when we disagree with someone, as Peter did when he disagreed with Paul
- pray for genuine love and unity in the Church around the world 5
What are the requirements of the Fast?
"According to Byzantine tradition, the discipline of fasting consists of three separate parts; 1. Corporal or External Fast, including the abstinence from certain foods, drink and amusements; 2. Spiritual or Internal Fast which consists of abstinence from ” all evil”-sin; 3. Spiritual Renewal achieved by the practice of the virtues and good works."1
The Corporeal Fast
The rule for this variable-length fast is more lenient than for Great Lent.
Monday, Wednesday, Friday: Strict fast.
Tuesday, Thursday: Oil and wine permitted.
Saturday, Sunday: Fish, oil and wine permitted.
This is the rule kept by many monasteries during non-fasting seasons.
The Spiritual Fast
"St. John Chrysostom decries the folly of those Christians who 'abstain all day long from food but fail to abstain from sin.'(cf. Hom. on Gen. VI , 6)"1 This is the most important part of the fast, without which your corporeal fast, no matter how severe, is meaningless. St. John Chrysostom also tells us that the ” value of fasting consists not so much in abstinence from food but rather in withdrawal from sinful practices.” (cf. Hom. on Statutes III, 11). St. Basil the Great further clarifies, “Turning away from all wickedness means keeping our tongue in check, restraining our anger, supressing evil desires, and avoiding all gossip, lying and swearing. To abstain from these things-herein lies the true value of fast!” (cf. Hom. on Fast II , 7)
” Accept the fast as an experienced educator by whom the Church teaches us piety.” - St. Basil the Great (cf. Hom. on Fast II , 3)
"A sincere fast will include increased prayer and other spiritual disciplines, and may include resolutions to set aside other aspects of our day-to-day life (such as caffeine or television), or to take up practices such as visiting the sick."3 A true conversion of heart is the ultimate objective of the fast, and this is assisted through several practices prescribed by the Church:
- Go to as many liturgical services as possible & commune with Christ; these services are rich with hymns, penitential prayers and prostrations
- Receive the Eucharist as often as it is available
- Practice virtue
- Do good works
After all, as St. John Chrysostom tells us, “The fast has no advantage for us unless it brings about our spiritual renewaL” (cf. Hom. on Gen. XI, 3).
Why Do We Fast?
- When practiced with prayer, repentance, and almsgiving, fasting - tempering the bodily desire for food - can help temper other passions as well
- the soul can orient more away from worldly needs and more towards spiritual needs
- one is better enabled to draw closer to Christ and become more Christ-like.
- fasting is practiced with the body, but emphasis is placed on the spiritual facet of the fast rather than mere physical deprivation. Eastern theology sees a synthesis between the body and the soul, so what happens to one can be used to have an effect on the other.
What if I try but fail to keep the Fast?
"These rules exist not as a Pharisaic “burden too hard to bear” (Lk 11.46), but as an ideal to be striven for; not as an end in themselves, but as a means to spiritual perfection crowned in love. The lenten services themselves continually remind us of this.
Let us fast with a fast pleasing to the Lord. This is the true fast: the casting off of evil, the bridling of the tongue, the cutting off of anger, the cessation of lusts, evil talking, lies and cursing. The stopping of these is the fast true and acceptable (Monday Vespers of the First Week).
The lenten services also make the undeniable point that we should not pride ourselves with external fasting since the devil also never eats!
The ascetic fast of Great Lent continues from Meatfare Sunday to Easter Sunday, and is broken only after the Paschal Divine Liturgy. Knowing the great effort to which they are called, Christians should make every effort to fast as well as they can, in secret, so that God would see and bless them openly with a holy life. Each person must do his best in the light of the given ideal."4
"Obviously, many [Christians] do not keep the traditional rule. If you adopt it, beware of pride, and pay no attention to anyone's fast but your own. As one monastic put it, we must "keep our eyes on our own plates."
Do not substitute the notion of "deciding what to give up for Lent" for the rule that the Church has given us. First, keep the Church's fasting rule as well as you are able, then decide on additional disciplines, in consultation with your priest.
We are always advised to fast according to our strength, and you may find from experience that you need to modify the fasting rule to fit your own strength and situation. But do not assume beforehand that the rule is too difficult for you. The Lord is our strength, and can uphold us in marvelous and unforeseen ways.
Those who attempt to keep the Church's traditional fast will find that, though the temptations to pride and legalism are real, the spiritual benefits are great. A return to more diligent fasting could play a large part in the spiritual renewal of our [Church]."3