Many non-Orthodox Christians often wonder what is the Apostles Fast in the Orthodox Church. It is often seen as a hidden treasure of the Liturgical Calendar - everyone knows about the Great Lent and even the Nativity Fast, but the rather short Apostles Fast often gets forgotten.
Jesus Christ Himself set the foundation for fasting. As it is said in the New Testament:
“Can you make the guests of the bridegroom fast while He is with them? But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.” (Luke 5:35)
The roots of the Apostles Fast go back to the first century of Christianity. After the Lord’s Ascension, His disciples lived a lifestyle of continuous fasting and prayer until the day the Holy Spirit descended - the day of Pentecost.
After Pentecost, the Apostles also fasted, but this time the reason was a little bit different. It was the fast of thanksgiving for the gifts of the Holy Spirit that they received. Another reason was to get well prepared for their mission of preaching and spreading the Gospel throughout the world.
The Fast is not only present in the Eastern Orthodox Church. It is also observed by the Coptic Orthodox Church and Eastern Catholics.
Here is an interesting fact about the Fast: it doesn’t have a set date and its length varies from year to year. How is that possible? Well, let’s look a bit deeper into the history of the Fast.
The Orthodox Apostles Fast was officially established during the Ecumenical Council of Nicea in 325 AD. It was decided that the Fast must start on the second Monday after the Feast of Pentecost (or the next day after the Feast of All Saints) and lasts right until the day when we commemorate the martyrdom of the Apostles Peter and Paul. This is why it is often called the Peter and Paul Fast.
In 2023 the Peter and Paul Fast starts on June 12th and ends on July 11th in the Belarussian Orthodox Church.
Each year the Fast starts and ends on different dates and even in different months. This means that its length is not set, but determined by the day of the Ressurection or simply Pascha. For example, in 2022 the Apostles Fast lasted for three weeks.
In general, the Holy Apostles Fast may last from 8 to 49 days, depending on the year.
The Fast is nowhere near as strict as the Great Lent. However, there is a list of products that are prohibited for Christians to consume during the Fast:
Such products as oil, fish and wine are prohibited on Wednesdays and Fridays of the Apostles Fast.
When it comes to the church services of the Fast, it is a tradition in the Russian and Belorussian Orthodox Church to serve the Lenten services on the first day or even the first week of the Fast. Such services help the faithful to prepare mentally and spiritually for the journey ahead.
Just as Christ fasted 40 days after the Holy Spirit descended upon Him like a dove, the Apostles also fasted after the day of Pentecost. As we know, the Holy Spirit is now upon us as well. So it makes sense for us to fast the Fast of thanksgiving to God.
With the Apostles Fast, we meditate on the Glory of God and worship the Holy Trinity - the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Fast is also a great instrument for any Christian to get closer to God and grow spiritually.