The Apostles Fast

The Apostles Fast

In his 2018 Lenten message, our Patriarch, Bechara Boutros al-Rahi prescribed the apostles fast to be observed from 17 to 28 June. The Apostles fast proceeds the feast of the apostles Peter and Paul.[1] This fast requires abstinence from meat, milk, milk products and eggs. In effect, it requires a vegan diet.[2]

The History of the Fast

The fast is observed across most of the eastern churches and historically it begins immediately after Pentecost. By the sixteenth century, the Maronites fasted for approximately 30 days, even less in some regions. The Synod of Dai’at Mussa, 1598 (canon 30) and the Synod of Hrash, 1644 (chapter 9, canon 5), regulated that the fast begin on 15 June. The Lebanese Synod in 1736 (part 1, chapter 4, canon 2), further shortened the start date to 25 June.[3]

That the fast begins after Easter and in Pentecost is significant. For 50 days in the season of the resurrection we rejoiced. After Christ’s ascension into heaven and with the coming of the Holy Spirit, the apostles prepared to depart from Jerusalem to spread Christ’s message to the world. Church tradition has it, that as part of their preparation, the apostles fasted and prayed. There is also a scriptural foundation for the fast. In all three Synoptic Gospels the Pharisees criticised the apostles for not fasting. In Matthew 9:15 Jesus said to them,

“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.”

Why continue with this Fast?

Christ is not only a historical figure who came to equip the twelve apostles to spread the Gospel. He came for us all and we all have a missionary responsibility. However, we can’t fulfil that responsibility if we don’t prepare ourselves first.

Over time the tradition of fasting and abstinence has waned.  Interestingly, in the secular world, the benefits of abstinence and fasting, in particular the physical ones, are becoming increasingly known. The vegetarian and vegan diet are being used to overcome excess, waste and environmental exploitation. Long before the ‘fads’ of detox diets, we Christians recognised the benefits of temperance and regulating excess. 

In the western religious tradition, the Apostles Fast has almost entirely disappeared, although it was part of the tradition very early in the Church.  Pope Leo I referred to it in a Pentecost homily in 461AD.[4]

It is worth reading the homily in its entirety, but here are some key excerpts:

“Today’s festival, dearly-beloved, hallowed by the descent of the Holy Ghost, is followed, as you know by a solemn fast, which being a salutary institution for the healing of soul and body, we must keep with devout observance….  The disciples of Christ had the protection of the Almighty aid, and the chiefs of the infant Church were guarded by the whole Godhead of the Father and the Son through the presence of the Holy Ghost.  But against the threatened attacks of persecutors, against the terrifying shouts of the ungodly, they could not fight with bodily strength or pampered flesh, since that which delights the outer does most harm to the inner man, and the more one’s fleshly substance is kept in subjection, the more purified is the reasoning soul….

Therefore, after the days of holy gladness, which we have devoted to the honour of the Lord rising from the dead and then ascending into heaven, and after receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, a fast is ordained as a wholesome and needful practice, so that, if perchance through neglect or disorder even amid the joys of the festival any undue licence has broken out, it may be corrected by the remedy of strict abstinence, which must be the more scrupulously carried out in order that what was on this day Divinely bestowed on the Church may abide in us.  For being made the Temple of the Holy Ghost and watered with a greater supply than ever of the Divine Stream, we ought not to be conquered by any lusts nor held in possession by any vices in order that the habitation of Divine power may be stained with no pollution.” 

In recent times Pope Francis has encouraged a reinvigoration of the tradition of fasting and abstinence. In a world where some have more than they need, and many don’t have anything at all, this is a powerful discipline to teach our children. Fasting and abstinence reminds us of what we have and what others do not have and the suffering they bear.

Fasting is a spiritual discipline and St John Chrysostom explains:

“Fasting is the change of every part of our life because the sacrifice of the fast is not the abstinence but the distancing from sins.”

It is important for families to live the seasons of the Church in their homes, their domestic churches. Abstinence from meat and or dairy is the perfect way to bring the faith into your home. It signals to children that there is a preparation and discipline required in their life and creates habits that many will keep with them for a lifetime.

We encourage you to bring your family together and explain why as a family you will fast and abstain as we have above.

Benefits for your family[5]

If you are still not convinced, here are some other benefits to abstinence and fasting:

  • In a generation many of us have moved from a diet where meat and protein had made up only a small part of the diet (1 – 2 times a week) to overtaking our whole diet. This has often replaced vegetables and legumes. We can all benefit physically from regulating our meat and protein intake.
  • For many of us growing up in societies and communities where food is plentiful and so easily wasted, abstinence and fasting allows us to remember and teach our children that others in the world have very little. A generation of children is growing up thinking meat actually comes from the unlimited supply in the supermarket, rather than a real animal who has been slaughtered and which is part of God’s Creation. Fasting and abstinence is a reminder that we are a part of a wider humanity and part of Creation which we should never take for granted. It is for this reason that a commitment to abstinence and fasting should not mean replacing it with costly dinner eat outs or wasteful fast food. That would render the purpose pointless.
  • Consider growing some of your own vegetables so that your family can understand the effort and resources that go into food. Food waste is a very real problem in many societies and one which goes against our Christian principles.

In the words of our beautiful Liturgy:

Behold the fast!
On this day it calls to us.
Come, O Christians, welcome it.
Let us open wide our hearts;
let us purify our thoughts.
May this fast be on our minds,
for through fasting we are cleansed
and are pardoned of our sins.
Through it we inherit life
and rejoice with all the saints.

Behold the fast!
Through it Christians win a crown.
Now prepare your heart and soul.
Fasting gives the spirit strength,
and it is a hidden sword
to ward off the Evil One.
Go to meet this fast with joy.
Welcome it into your lives,
that your spirit may have wings,
by which you will soar on high.

In Christ

Theresa Simon

[1] Read more about the feast here https://livingmaronite.com/resources/feast-days/take-up-the-challenge/

[2] See the Patriarchs Lenten message in Arabic here http://bkerki.org/PatriarchNews.html?New=1247

[3] See this article for a history on Maronite fasting https://livingmaronite.com/resources/the-history-of-fasting-in-the-maronite-church/

[4] See his homily at http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf212.ii.v.xli.html

[5] Read more about why we would benefit from the reinvigoration of the fast at https://livingmaronite.com/resources/lenten-resources/why-we-would-benefit-from-reinvigorating-the-tradition-of-abstinence-from-meat-and-dairy-in-lent/