Glory to God for All Things

The Apostles’ Fast

The Orthodox year has a rhythm, much like the tide coming in and going out – only this rhythm is an undulation between seasons of fasting and seasons (or a few days) of feasting. Every week, with few exceptions, is marked by the Wednesday and Friday fast, and every celebration of the Divine Liturgy is prepared for by eating nothing after midnight until we have received the Holy Sacrament.

It is a rhythm. Our modern world has lost most of its natural rhythm. The sun rises and sets but causes little fanfare in a world powered and lit by other sources. In America, virtually everything is always in season, even though the chemicals used to preserve this wonderful cornucopia are probably slowly poisoning our bodies.

The Scriptures speaks of the rhythms of the world – “the sun to rule by day… the moon and stars to rule by night…”

The rhythm of the Church does not seek to make us slaves of the calendar nor does it treat certain foods as sinful. It simply calls us to a more human way of living. It’s not properly human to eat anything you want, anytime you want. Even Adam and Eve in the Garden initially knew what it was to abstain from the fruit of a certain tree.

Orthodox do not starve when they fast – we simply abstain from certain foods and generally eat less.

At the same time we are taught to pray more, attend services more frequently, and to increase our generosity to others (alms).

But it is a rhythm – fasts are followed by feasts. The fast of the Apostles begins on the second Monday after Pentecost and concludes on the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul on June 29. Most of Christendom will know nothing of any of this – that Eastern Christians will have begun a Lenten period while the world begins to think of vacations.

The contemporary God is much the same as the contemporary diet – we want as much of Him as we want – anytime, anywhere. There is no rhythm to our desire, only the rise and fall of passions. There is no legalism in the Orthodox fast. I do not think God punishes those who fail to fast. I believe that they simply continue to become less and less human. We will not accept the limits and boundaries of our existence and thus find desires to be incessant and unruly. It makes us bestial.

For those who have begun the fast – may God give you grace! For those who know nothing of the fast – may God give you grace and preserve from a world that would devour you. May God give us all the mercies of His kindness and help us remember the work of His blessed apostles!

30 Responses to “The Apostles’ Fast”

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  1. Chris says:

    Your last three postings, Hidden Saints, At the Last Battle and todays have said much to me, especially At the Last Battle.

    Thank you

  2. dean Arnold says:

    The rhythm of the church calender is one of the great gifts we receive upon becoming Orthodox. The entire concept and phenomenon is way too big to wrap our heads around, way too complex to figure our for ourselves. We just get to submit to it and enjoy an entirely different ebb and flow of life.

    I once heard a smart man say the modern liturgy is the Dow Jones industrial average.

  3. Mrs. Mutton says:

    I am greatly appreciating this series!

  4. Mrs. Mutton says:

    Sorry — hit send before I was finished. I also wanted to note something I read a long time ago, that this particular fast is occasioned by the fact that we are unable to fast prior to Pentecost. The other major feasts of the Church (Nativity and Pascha) are preceded by fasts, which allow us to prepare for them; but Pentecost is preceded by a festal season, Pascha, so we are unable to “prepare” for it in the usual way, by fasting. So we fast after Pentecost, up to the feast of the two great Saints of the Church’s very beginnings, to prepare us for the same kind of service to the world that Peter and Paul show us.

    I’m not explaining it as clearly as it was when I read it (no, I don’t recall the source), but it made sense at the time.

  5. Sharon says:

    Thank you for the reminder on why we fast!

  6. Karen says:

    Dear Father, bless! In your reflections, you do a good job of putting Orthodox spiritual disciplines in their proper context. For me having such a perspective on the meaning of what I am doing is critical as a motivating factor. I’m still lousy at fasting, not so much because I don’t like the fasting menu or eating less (though certainly at times that can be a struggle, too), but because not having been raised with such a rhythm, I’m having to struggle to invent it out of nothing–learn how to organize myself and plan for it, in other words. (This is not helped by the fact that organization and planning are not among my greatest strengths–to put it mildly!) Nevertheless, even though my fasting is marginal by the norms historically established in the Church, I still recognize from my own experience the truth of what you are describing here and am very thankful the Church still calls us to keep the fast as much as we are able.

  7. Darlene says:

    I’ve a question regarding fasting. On my calendar there are various symbols for fasting. There is a cross = stict fast, grapes = wine/oil allowed, and a fish = fish allowed. In all of these caess, where does dairy fit in. IOW, is dairy allowed on some of these days or none of these days?

    I ask because I am a big coffee drinker. And I love light cream in my coffee! ;) Fact is, I could have just coffee all day and that be my fast. :) So, must I substitute the cream in my coffee for a non-dairy substitute, or drink it black? Would a fast of just liquids (tea, soup, juice) be considered an acceptable fast on any or all of these days?

    Thanks in advance for whoever wants to answer. Oh, and one more question. Is this particular fast for all Orthodox or just those in the OCA?

  8. Karen says:

    Darlene, I can answer the last question. The fasts pertain to all Orthodox, not just OCA. There may sometimes be a minor difference between the strictness of the fast enjoined for a particular day on my OCA calendar and on the GO daily reading schedule emails I get, but that is the rare exception and doesn’t apply to the larger fasting/feast periods as a whole. Good question about the dairy. The calendar I used to use had a separate symbol that sometimes included fish, oil, wine, and dairy, but not meat for some days. Certainly the week before the full pre-Pascha Lenten fast begins (before “Cheesefare Sunday”) includes dairy, but not meat or fish (I believe some Orthodox may include fish as well in the “meatless only” fast category). That is the extent of what I know. Father will surely be able to better enlighten us!

  9. Karen says:

    Darlene, one last thing that probably goes without saying for most Orthodox is that how strictly we each keep the fast should be decided with the help of our spiritual father/priest. From what I have gathered, the discipline of obedience (or our best attempt at such) is more important than the actual strictness with which we keep the fast.

  10. Mary says:

    Darlene,

    Dairy and meat are never allowed during Fasts. That said, your questions should really be directed to your priest for guidance, as there is no such thing as “one size fits all” in Orthodoxy. :-)

  11. Thank you for your reminder to acknowledge our limits and boundaries. I always appreciate how the fast shows me that even in our limitations, we have space to move around quite a bit to the point where our fasting can remain hidden unless we choose to speak of it.

  12. Darlene says:

    Well, think I’ll just drink lemon tea and eat bread. That way, I’m safe! :)

  13. St. Susanna the Martyr says:

    The rhythm of the Church calendar, with its fasts and feasts, has been one of the best teachers for me of how to be “in the world but not of it.” I heard that verse all my life but it was never given the profound depth of meaning nor the tangible practice that Orthodoxy provides. As the dates and events on the Church calendar become more and more important, the dates and events on the secular calendar become less and less so. We head off to church to commemorate feasts and saints while the rest of the world takes no notice as it goes about its business. We keep fast days without many around us even knowing. A hidden life in plain view. In the world but not of it.

  14. In addition to the above comment about the rhythm of the Church calendar; there came a point where I started marking events by when they happen on the Church Calender – for example- we own horses and my husband’s old mare – he had her since she was a foal – died on the Dormition in ’05. There seems to be a point where events in life seem to become more and more related to God’s time and not the world’s.

  15. Karen says:

    Leah, I was rather touched when after my conversion I found that my husband and I had married on the Feast of the Annunciation. I also found out my husband, whose name is James, was actually born on the Feast of St. James Alphaeus, one of the Twelve. Somehow these little “coincidences” encourage me that the hand of God is truly on all our lives and certainly extends even beyond the bounds of our Orthodoxy. My ears perked up recently when I was listening to a radio news announcement of the death of Moishe Rosen, convert to Evangelical Christianity from Judaism and founder of “Jews for Jesus,” who converted to Christ on the Jewish date for the Feast of Pentecost and also reposed on that date a few weeks ago! That God is so concerned to give such evidences of His intimate knowledge of and love for each of us as unique persons overwhelms me in such moments. It is a reminder that His purpose in the sanctification of time is the sanctification of each of us as well.

  16. EPG says:

    Leah, I like the comment about following the Church calendar, even though I am not (yet?) Orthodox. I For example, my younger daughter was baptized on the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord, and so I remember her baptism then. I know it’s in January, but I would have to look back for the actual date.

  17. it feels good doesn’t it – Karen said it very well: “God is so concerned to give such evidences of His intimate knowledge of and love for each of us as unique persons overwhelms me in such moments. It is a reminder that His purpose in the sanctification of time is the sanctification of each of us as well.”
    It is our awareness of Him that is often lacking.

  18. Lina says:

    Fasting. I am new both to living in the USA after a 22 year hiatus and becoming Orthodox. Sometimes the challenges of adapting to both seem a bit overwhelmning. For instance, supermarkets, with all their choices still boggle my mind so I seem to head for the stuff I could buy overseas: fresh produce, oatmeal, cheese, chicken and bread.

    Does anyone have any ideas to share about how to add protein and calcium to this meatless, dairy productless diet?

    What changes have you all made to your rhythm of eating? What is for breakfast, lunch, dinner? I read recently that we should eat like a king at breakfast, a prince at lunch and a pauper at dinner.

    I can’t eat soy products because they interfere with the thyroid medicine I am taking.

    Any help would be appreciated.

  19. Since you like Oatmeal – have that for breakfast. We make ours by using dried cranberries, walnuts & applesauce to sweeten. There are many variations on this theme.
    As to proteins: Beans, ah the magical fruit, the more you eat the more you… well you know the rest.
    Fresh veg, beans and I always feel better after the fast and I think is it because of the lack of dairy. I also use Oat milk instead of soy, works a treat in recipes that call for that.

  20. St. Susanna the Martyr says:

    I always feel better after the fast too from eating more grains and fresh fruits and vegetables. People starting out with fasting often worry that they won’t get enough protein and calcium but I haven’t found it to be a problem at all, especially because the Church in its wisdom only has us be parttime vegans!

    Hummus, peanut butter and shrimp are good sources of protein. I only eat them during long fasts so I don’t get too sick of them. Nuts like peanuts, pistachios and almonds are also sources of protein. And this fast is easier than some because depending on your jurisdiction, you can have fish at least on the weekends or maybe throughout the week too. When it’s a fish day, I make a point to have some just to be sure I get the protein. Dark leafy greens like turnip greens, spinach and kale are sources of calcium. A calcium supplement is a good idea for women anytime of the year, fasting or not.

  21. Michael Bauman says:

    It has always seemed strange to me that during fast periods we tend to pay far more attention to the preperation and consumption of food than we do during non-fasting times. The food becomes the focus. There are so many cookbooks for Lent that seem to attempt to create a non-Lenten feast using Lent legal foods.

    It is easy to get wound up in the food choices and miss the intent of the fast. As Father Stephen has noted in previous posts, some of the fathers called a fast without prayer the devil’s fast–demons don’t eat put they don’t pray or repent either.

    It seems that it would be more benficial to eat simply even repetitively to take our thoughts away from what is going into our mouth, but again seeking and following the guidnace of your parish priest on the matter is crucial.

    I wonder if focus of our increased prayer during the Apostle’s Fast might be more outward rather than on our own sins as with Lent and the Nativity Fast? Given the name of the Fast and the fact that it falls after Penetcost is what makes me ask. I never thought of it before.

  22. Mrs. Mutton says:

    Michael — it’s true that we focus a lot more on food during a Fast than at other times, but I think that at least part of that comes from the newness of the whole thing to people who’ve never even thought about fasting before becoming Orthodox. Give them time — they get more comfortable with it eventually. That said, I do find that having a simplified menu of about seven or eight dishes makes life a lot easier; when the members of your household complain, “We had this last week!” that’s a great opportunity to remind them that fasting is all about cutting back in general to make room for the important things in life. Nourishment is important, the details aren’t.

    Another major reason that women in particular focus so much on food is that that’s part of our *job*. We *have* to prepare nutritious food for our families, and we have to make sure it’s something the kids will eat (so forget the vegetarian equivalent of liver, whatever that might be). I’m too old to have this problem now, but I’d suggest to young wives and mothers to get some advice from their priest’s wife — she has to cope with this, too.

    Lastly, a protein suggestion that might not be available everywhere: Hemp hearts. *Phenomenal* protein. They aren’t cheap, they aren’t readily available, and they’re fairly high in calories — but no more so than meat, and the protein per serving is equivalent to meat. I get mine at the local health-food store. They’re imported from Canada.

  23. Merry Bauman says:

    When I married an Orthodox man, I tried to go by all the fasting rules. I struggled terribly with the problems the usual lentils, beans, and hi-carb fast-legal foods seemed to contain. I have Diabetes. My priest has told me I am not bound by the fasting rules, but rather should eat what I need to in order to maintain my health. At the same time, I have a husband and 23 yr old son who do maintain the fasts, and I like to be able to cook for them and share meals as much as I can. Michael has a point – when he said the focus so often ends up on the food, and not the reason that we fast. We also need to make it a point to pray more, read the Bible more, and to give to those in need. Eating less is definitely possible – for everyone. I have a problem getting the protein I need unless I do eat meat, dairy, or eggs. Most of the lenten legal foods that have proteins or are a complete protein in combination with another – are so high in carbs that it affects my blood sugar badly. Because we are trying to not make it all about the food as much as we can, we have found ways to make vegetable dishes that work for all of us, and the guys add beans or lentils, and I add an egg or some cheese. I think the idea of keeping it very simple, not eating as much, and devoting more time and energy to prayer and helping others as we can is the best way to honor the fasts.
    The reason is more important than the exact rule. (I know many people have allergies to wheat, grains, soy, and other fast legal foods.)
    Having a few favorite foods for fasting makes it easier to prepare for, and stick to the fasts.
    Thanks again for this wonderful blog Fr. Stephen. I really enjoy reading it.

  24. St. Susanna the Martyr says:

    I think learning to fast is like learning anything new in life. The focus at first may be on the rules but once the rules are mastered, then comes the freedom to benefit from the real purpose behind the rules.

  25. Karen says:

    Recently, I read a list in a popular magazine of the healthy things one can do to add years to one’s life. I had to smile when I saw that the two things that surpassed the others by far in terms of how many years they added to life expectancy (though they were last on the list) were: 1. eating a low calorie diet and 2. meditation! Not that we are looking for mere physical health, but how interesting that the very things God enjoins us to do, pray and fast, also contribute to our physical health.

    Lina, I have also read that the body’s calcium requirement goes down when less protein is being consumed. Sesame seeds are very high in calcium as well, especially unhulled.

  26. dinoship says:

    I think fasting ‘in the world’ as opposed to fasting in a Monastery (where that is your only option and someone else cooks) requires a lot more zeal and is worth a great deal more in the eyes of God.
    There are still people (in Greece) who keep every single fast religiously as well as keeping old traditions (such as the three days totally food-less in the beginning of Lent and other such old habits) while working hard and bringing up little ones!
    Science might claim that you need all essential amino-acids, or that you cannot go on for more than a few days without food, yet they repeatedly prove it wrong -like the three Men in the Furnace- through a fiery faith.
    These are facts that remove that natural cowardice (which stop us embracing fasting wholeheartedly), from the hearts of witnesses of such fasting ‘Confessors’…
    Fasting starts as refusal of food yet can become an abnegation of all that is not God in order to experience the constant affirmation of God…

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