Apostles’ fast | May 28 – July 11, 2018
The Fast of the Apostles is one of the oldest fasts in the church, and was previously known as the “Fast of Pentecost” or the “Fast of the Disciples.”
The Apostles Fast is a fast which begins after the Feast of Pentecost and continues until the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul. This fast commemorates the preparation of the Apostles for preaching God’s word to the whole world.
However, during the Ecumenical Council of Nicea in 325 A.D., its name was changed to “Fast of the Apostles” which is carried through till today. In the Holy Dioscolia (collected in the third century), it is written: “After you complete the Feast of Pentecost, have a feast for another week… then we fast after the rest.” However, in the book The Canon of the Apostles, which was one of the books of Clement of Rome (collected in the fourth century), it states: “They continued to speak in the new tongues of the nations, in which they preached, and He told them what must be done by the congregations with regards to prayer, worship, and the laws, and they thanked God for this knowledge they received. They fasted for forty days, thanking God through it, and then Peter washed the feet of the disciples… then they departed to all the nations to call people to the faith.” As for the book The Lamp that Enlightens the Service, written by the fourteenth-century scholar Shams Al-Ri’asa Ibn Al-Sheikh Al-Akmal Al-As’ad, who is also known as the “Father of Blessings”, Ibn Kabar, the priest of a church referred to as the Hanging Church, wrote: “The Fast of the saintly Fathers, the Disciples, which is also called ‘Fast of Pentecost,’ begins with the Monday after the Holy Fifty Days, and it ends on the fourth of Epip, the night that commemorates the martyrdom of the Apostles Peter and Paul…” Currently, this is the accepted opinion of the Coptic Orthodox Church, as well as the Syrian and Greek Orthodox Churches.
From these sources, we find that the Apostles fasted after the descent of the Holy Spirit on them, as well as between the Ascension of the Christ and the Feast of Pentecost. The aim of the fast were different: the fast after the Ascension was because the Apostles were waiting for the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which was promised to them by the Lord of glory. This sort of fasting is also the reason why we fast before communion and baptism, or the fasting of a bishop before his ordination – it prepares us to receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit. As for Apostles’ fast after Pentecost, it was a fast of thanksgiving to God for the gifts of the Holy Spirit that they received, and it served a purpose of preparing them for another service, which was to preach to the world. Thus, service and preaching are an important cornerstone to this fast. Moreover, the work of the Holy Spirit is clearly seen in the Church. The Church fasts during the week that follows the Feast of Pentecost, but this does not contradict the rules of the Feast, because, as Saint Basil and Saint John Chrysostom say, “to feast is not to break a fast.” The same applies to the Feast of the Annunciation, where we do not contravene our fast for the Great Lent. The Feast of Transfiguration, which usually occurs during the Fast of the Virgin, is another occasion where we do not break the fast. We fast during the Minor Feasts of the Lord (the Circumcision Feast, the Feast of the Lord’s Entry into the Temple, the Feast of the Lord’s Entry to Egypt, the Feast of the Wedding of Cana of Galilee, and Maundy Thursday) if they come on a Wednesday or Friday. We fast as well on some of the feasts of the Virgin Mary and any of the feasts of the martyrs or saints. Hence, breaking the fast does not follow the celebration of Pentecost, but rather we celebrate with fasting, prayer, and thanksgiving.
Accordingly, we can conclude that the Apostles fasted for ten days after the Ascension of Christ, to prepare themselves to receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit. This accords with the Lord’s saying: “The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast” (Mt. 9:15). On Pentecost day, the Holy Spirit descended with His gifts on the disciples, so they fasted with thanksgiving to God and to prepare themselves for service and preaching. In this way, the disciples did exactly as their Lord, who fasted for forty days after the Holy Spirit descended on Him. This is also evident in the Acts of the Apostles: “While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off. So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit… they proclaimed the word of God” (Acts 13:2-5). Therefore, the Fast of our Fathers, the Apostles, has an important place in our church, since it is related to the work of the Holy Spirit in the believers.