Having celebrated the feast of feasts, the Lord's
Pascha, and Pentecost fifty days thereafter, we are about to embark upon the Apostles's Fast, which begins on June 12, 2017,
and ends with the commemoration of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul on June 29.
Apostles' Fast is a prescribed fasting period of the Church, lasting from the day after the Sunday of All Saints to the 29th
of June, the feast of the Apostles Peter and Paul.
It is a sad truth that many neglect
this particular fast for a variety of reasons inconsistent with the Apostolic and Patristic tradition. Prior to reflecting
upon the importance of the Apostles' Fast, a review of the ancient history of this particular fast may help us to recognize
its integral place in the life of each and every Orthodox Christian.
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).
In her Diary, the pilgrim Egeria (4th century) records that on the day following the feast of Pentecost a
period of fasting began. The Apostolic Constitutions, a work composed 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."
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 29. In the first centuries after Pentecost
there was one week of fasting, that is a fast-free week, followed by about one week of fasting.
The canons of Nicephoros, Patriarch of Constantinople (806-816), mention the Apostles' 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 Thessalonica (+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, they 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."
The spiritual benefit derived from the Apostles' Fast is great. Saint Leo the Great noted that,
"After the extended Feast of Pentecost, the fast is particularly needed in order to cleanse our mind by ascetic labors,
and to make us worthy of the gifts of the Holy Spirit." Saint Leo also reminds us, "In the Apostolic
Canons inspired by God Himself, the Church Fathers have, at the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, established first and foremost
that all virtuous labors begin with fasting."
Periods of fasting
such as the one upon which we are about to embark are not, as some in the West would have us believe, exercises in mortification
or penance but the divinely-inspired method to gain mastery over the self and conquer the passions of the flesh. It is to
liberate oneself from dependence on the things of this world in order to concentrate on the things of the Kingdom of God.
It is to give power to the soul so that it would not yield to temptation and sin. According to Saint Seraphim
of Sarov, fasting is an "indispensable means" of gaining the fruit of the Holy Spirit in one's life [cf. Conversation
with Motovilov], and Jesus Himself taught that some forms of evil cannot be conquered without it [Matthew 17.21, Mark
Neglecting the Fast is not the only pitfall to be avoided however. Those
who fast may be tempted to judge those who do not fast, thus losing the efficacy of their labors. We should not concern
ourselves with what others are doing but concentrate on our own spiritual life.
periods, particularly the Apostles' Fast, assist us in avoiding the spiritual pitfalls to which we are so accustomed after
the ascetical struggle of Great Lent and the joyous celebration of Pascha.
turning our attention to the Feast of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, the connection between the Feast of Pentecost, the
Apostles Fast, and the actual feast of the two preeminent apostles becomes clearer. As I noted earlier, this fast was
originally connected to the Feast of Pentecost and we understand this connection by examining the Feast itself. As Metropolitan
Hierotheos Vlachos writes:
"Pentecost had a significant place in the life of the
Apostles. Having previously passed through purification of the heart and illumination -- something that also existed
in the Old Testament in the Prophets and the Righteous -- they then saw the Risen Christ, and on the day of Pentecost they
became members of the risen Body of Christ. This is particularly important because every Apostle had to have the Risen
Christ within him. At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit made the Disciples members of the theanthropic Body of Christ. Whereas
at the Transfiguration, the Light acted from within the three Disciples through glorification -- but the Body of Christ was
outside them -- at Pentecost the Disciples are united with Christ. They become members of the theanthropic Body and
as members of the Body of Christ they share in the uncreated Light. This difference also exists between the Old Testament
and Pentecost..... In addition, on the day of Pentecost, the Disciples attained to "all truth." Before His
Passion, Christ told his Disciples: 'I still
have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will
guide you into all truth' "
These words of Christ are closely linked with the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost,
with the revelation of the whole truth, which the Disciples were unable to bear; they could not receive it earlier, without
the Holy Spirit.
This "all truth" revealed on the day of Pentecost to
the Apostles is the truth of the Church as the Body of Christ: that the Disciples will become members of this Risen Body and
that in the Church they will know the mysteries of the glory and rule [basileia] of God in the flesh of Christ. On
the day of Pentecost they knew the whole truth. It follows that the complete truth does not exist outside the Church.
The Church has the truth, because it is the Body of Christ and a community of glorification.
As the foremost of the holy Apostles, it is fitting that after the Feast of Pentecost, wherein the
Apostles received the revelation of truth in its fullness, we commemorate Saints Peter and Paul jointly. As Saint Gregory
Palamas writes in his sermon on the occasion of the Saints' feast:
as we have said, we commemorate each of the saints with hymns and appropriate songs of praise, how much more should we celebrate
the memory of Peter and Paul, the supreme Leaders of the preeminent company of the Apostles? They are the fathers, and guides
of all Christians: apostles, martyrs, holy ascetics, priests, hierarchs, pastors and teachers. As chief shepherds and
master builders of our common godliness and virtue, they tend and teach us all, like lights in the world, holding forth the
word of life [Phil 2.15-16]. Their brightness excels that of the other radiantly pious and virtuous saints
as the sun outshines the stars, or as the heavens, which declare the sublime glory of God [cf. Psalm 19.1], transcend
the skies. In their order and strength they are greater than the heavens themselves and indeed the whole universe, and
who make them bright with the light in which there is no variableness neither shadow nor turning [cf. James 1.17]. Not
only do they bring people out of darkness into this wonderful light, but by enlightening them they make them light, the offspring
of the perfect light, that each of them may shine like the sun [Matthew 13.43], when the Author of light, the God-man
and Word, appears in glory.
On the day of Pentecost, the Apostles received the fullness
of the revelation of truth because the Lord Christ had prepared them for the advent of the Comforter. As the preeminent
Apostles, Saints Peter and Paul were the guardians of that truth which was to be passed on to the faithful. Saint Seraphim
of Sarov tells us, 'The true aim of our Christian life consists of the acquisition of the Holy Spirit of God. As for
fasts, and vigils, and prayer, and almsgiving, and every good deed done for Christ's sake, they are the only means of acquiring
the Holy Spirit of God.'
We know from Holy Scripture
and Tradition that the Holy Spirit does not abide in a vessel that is not being purified. Saint Luke of Crimea notes,
'For could the Holy Spirit possibly abide in an impure heart that is filled with sin? As smoke chases away the bees,
as stench repels all people, do does the stench of the human heart repel the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit lives only
in pure hearts, and only to them does he grant His Divine grace, His holy gifts, for He is the 'Treasury of good things' --
all the true and most precious goods that the human heart could possibly possess. Could the impure heart receive them?
Could the heart that is sinful and deprived of mercy and love possibly receive the grace of the Holy Spirit?' "
This is precisely why, in her wisdom, the holy Church offers us the period of the Apostles'
Fast soon after Pentecost and just prior to the Feast of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul who were worthy to receive the Holy
Spirit. If the aim of the Christian life is the acquisition of the Holy Spirit, we must engage in the struggle through
fasting and continual prayer. It is only then that we may acquire the Holy Spirit and can properly appreciate and be
joyous in the feast of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul.