The liturgical cycle of the Church is marked with both fasts and feasts, in order to ensure that a major portion of our days and time is set aside to remember the saving works of God on our behalf. And so it is fitting that after our joyful celebration of the Feasts of Easter, Ascension and Pentecost, the Church has set aside a Lent period of two weeks, named ‘The Fast of the Apostles’, to honor the memory of the 12 Apostles.
Duration – The Apostle’s Fast begins on June 16 every year and continues for 13 days until June 281. The reason for the Church to choose thirteen days instead of twelve, was to honor St. Paul who is also numbered among the Apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Fast of the Apostles ends with two feasts – the feast of St. Peter and St. Paul on June 29 and the Feast of the Apostles on June 30.
After His Ascension, the Apostles had been told by the Lord Jesus to go and make disciples of all nations2. But He also had bidden them to first wait for the promise of the Holy Spirit, and so they spent time in prayer3 until this promise was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost. After this, the sacred tradition of the Church tells us that the Apostles, as part of their preparation to spread the Gospel message, began a fast with prayer to ask God to strengthen their resolve and to be with them in their missionary undertakings.
It is in memory of this that the Church instituted the tradition of the Apostles’ Lent to remember their example and honor their memory. The writings of the Church tells that this Fast has existed from the early 3rd century4.
Fasting as a spiritual practice has always been a part of the Christian faith. The Lord Jesus Himself fasted for 40 days, and it is He who validated fasting as an important tradition for the Church, when he told the Pharisees who criticized His apostles for not fasting – “Can the children of the bridechamber mourn, as long as the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast.5 “
So the Apostles and the early Christians continued to fast6 after the Lord Jesus’s resurrection so that they would receive the divine power for the daunting task of taking the Gospel to the ends of the earth. And we are called to emulate their example as Hebrews 13:7 tells us “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.”
This is why the Church handed down this Fast for us to observe. This is a special time for us to remember the life of the Apostles and their teachings, to thank God for their endurance of persecution as they spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the world, and to remind us that we, the spiritual descendants of the Apostles, are called to continue their mission.
The Apostle’s Lent does not have strict restrictions like the Great Lent as it is considered as a ‘lesser’ fast. But as with any fasting period, during the Apostles’ Fast orthodox Christians focus their attention on prayer, fasting and almsgiving in an attempt to live more God-centered, faithful lives.
For the Believers Eastern Church, we consider this Fast distinct from the other fasts of the Church in that it calls us to continue in the mission of the Apostles. And so this holy season is specially set apart this special season to read the entire Book of Acts – ‘the blueprint’ of the Holy Church, and the main resource for us to understand the ministry of the Apostles and reflect upon their unwavering commitment to share the Gospel. Through this deliberate practice, we seek to follow in the footsteps of the Apostles, praying to the Lord for strength and power to continue the task of spreading the Gospel message to all around.
The Apostles hold the highest rank among the saints of the Church. They were with the Lord Jesus all through His time on earth. They passed on the very words and teachings of the Lord down to their followers in the form of oral traditions and written Gospels. They laid the foundation of the Church through their ministry of boldly preaching the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Hence, the place of honor accorded to them by the Church has no equal except for that of the Theotokos.
Though each of the Apostles have their own separate date of commemoration, the Church rightly chose to honor their memory together with a fast that culminates in a joint commemoration on June 30 every year. Along with them, we also remember the Church Fathers, the martyrs and saints who sacrificed their lives for the sake of the Gospel. During the Feast of the Apostles, the selected Scripture readings (Hebrews 11:33-40, 12:1-2, and Matthew 10:32-33, 37-38, 19:27-30) remind us that countless saints like the Apostles have sacrificed their lives for the faith which we have inherited.
A Beacon Call for Missions: The Fast (and feast) of the Apostles gives us an annual occasion to reflect upon the lives and example of the Holy Apostles. But remembering them is not enough to honor them. We must remember that the task of the Apostles did not end with their earthly lives. It was entrusted to their followers and spiritual descendants – all who consider themselves the disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. And so we the faithful must honor the memory of the Apostles by ensuring that we continue the work that they began – to make disciples of all nations as per the Lord Jesus’s final commission to His followers.
A Call to Embrace Suffering for the Gospel: The Orthodox Church that we see in the Book of Acts boldly embraced the cause of evangelism and almost all Christians of that era paid a great price for their faith. And so during this Fast, all orthodox believers must remember that we must also be willing to suffer for the Gospel, to pay the price that our Lord Jesus and His followers paid. That is why we fast and pray – for the strength and power to witness Christ to those who don’t know Him, through our life, words and deeds, and if need be, to suffer for His sake. On the matter of embracing suffering for the Gospel’s sake, His Holiness Moran Mor Athanasius Yohan I emphasizes, “This is the ancient and pure Orthodox faith, the full Gospel”.
A Call to keep praying for the work of the Gospel: Even though all are called to share in the apostolic task of preaching the Gospel, the Holy Spirit still calls and set apart certain people to serve the church in a special way. Just like the Apostles did, these have left their homeland, possessions and even careers to follow the footsteps of the Apostles. And so, on the Apostle’s Fast, we remember them and their families and pray for their work. At the same time, in obedience to the Lord Jesus who commanded us to “pray to the Lord of the harvest to send more workers,” (Matt 9:37-38) we pray for more of our children and youth to dedicate their lives to serve the church as priests and nuns. Without any doubt, if a parish is not sending missionaries or engaging in missions, then it cannot claim to be an ‘apostolic’ church.
A Call to keep giving for missions: In addition to our tithes and offerings, we are also called to support the mission work with our finances. St. Paul tells us that these gifts are ‘acceptable sacrifices that are pleasing to God’7. This great Apostle to the Gentiles while appreciating the Macedonian Church for giving to the Lord out of extreme poverty, challenged the church at Corinth to follow their example and to excel in the ‘act of giving’8. Hence, the Apostles Fast is an opportune time for us to set aside the money we save by fasting from certain kinds of food so that it may be given to support missionary work.
Like all Fasts in the Orthodox Church, the Holy Apostles’ Fast aims to help us be sober and to put on our spiritual armor so that we can withstand the attacks of the enemy that may befall us during our spiritual journey. The Apostles gave the highest priority to prayer and the ministry of preaching God’s Word9, and this is our calling as well.
So during the Fast and Feast of the Apostles, we rejoice in the ministry of these great Apostles that began the spread of Christianity to the far corners of the earth. Through our fasting and prayers, we seek to remember their sacrifice by our own sacrifice and discipline during these days of the Fast that call us to focus on their commitment and devotion to the Lord’s commandments. But most importantly, we also renew our commitment to follow the Apostles’ example by doing all we can to involve in the work of sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth. If our fasting is just limited to prayers and avoidance of food, then we have missed the purpose of the Apostle’s Fast. May the Lord God give us grace to honor the Apostles not just by remembering them but by following them in word and deed!
To read the article in Hindi, click here.
1For the orthodox churches that follow the Julian calendar, the date of the fast will differ as they usually observe the fast on the Second Monday after Pentecost. The duration also varies from eight to forty-two days because of the moveable nature of Pascha (Easter).
2The Great Commission in Matt 28:19-20
4The fast is mentioned in the writings of St. Athanasius the Great (373 AD) and in the homilies of Pope Leo I (461 AD). More information on the history of the fast can be found in this article.
5Matthew 9:15 and Luke 5:34-45
82 Corinthians 8:7