by Shery Abdelmalek
Why do we fast the Apostles’ Fast? Isn’t that only for Priests? I know you’ve heard that one before. But where did it come from and why do we so readily use that excuse when chances are we don’t even know its true purpose?
For many, this excuse is accepted because of the inconvenience of yet another fast of the Coptic Orthodox Church. The Apostles fast begins immediately after the Holy Fifty days and ends on July 12 – the Feast day of the apostles, St Peter and St Paul. This means it could either be as long as the Nativity fast (40+ days) or it could be a couple of weeks. The lack of preparation associated with a fast that varies in length from year to year makes it especially difficult, as focuses shift to, “how long this year?” as opposed to, “what can I learn this year?”
So back to our original question, why do we fast the Apostles Fast? The church fasts, my family and friends fast, therefore, I fast too. If that is your reasoning, then why fast at all? There is much greater meaning behind the Apostles fast and as it draws to a close, do not allow its value to go unnoticed for another year.
The Apostles Fast is one of the oldest fasts of the Coptic Orthodox Church and dates back to the fourth century, during the time of St Athanasius. It was officially named, the Fast of the Apostles during the Council of Nicea in 325 AD. The Canon of the Apostles written by St Clement of Rome states that,
“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.”
From this, we see that the disciples began fasting immediately after receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit. In essence, the Apostles Fast is a fast of service. Although means of service differ greatly in modern times in comparison to the time of the Apostles, what remains constant is the need for a Saviour – the need for creation to become united with their Creator. Fasting was the means by which the early church became in tune with the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. For every encounter, the Holy Spirit is within us and instructs us of what we should say and what we should speak. God gave us His Spirit so that we are never alone along the path of salvation and sanctification from this world. Moreover, through the Holy Spirit, we are to spread His light so that we take as many people as possible along the way with us. The early church responded to receiving the Holy Spirit by fasting. To us, who also freely received the gift of the Holy Spirit, should we not also be thankful and be united to those that preceded us through fasting? During the fast of the Apostles, we remember the Apostles and those that followed in their footsteps – those that were willing to lay down their lives for the sake of the Gospel. A truly worthy example of how we ought to dedicate our lives. Through fasting, we stand united as members of the body of Christ, each to their own unique role, striving for the edification of the church. When you fast, you not only achieve your own spiritual goals, but you aid your brothers and sisters through your communal spiritual struggles in Christ.
What can YOU achieve through the Apostles fast? This is an easy one. Our God never changes and so, all we need to do is look back to the Apostles and recognise that the same Holy Spirit that worked in them is present, willing and able to work wonders through you, too.
- St Peter was a coward that denied his Saviour yet through the Holy Spirit, he became a man that spoke boldly with no fear of death (Acts 1:14)
- St Stephen gained the courage to imitate Christ’s love fully as he preached the faith even unto death, thus becoming the first martyr (Acts 6:8 – 7:60)
- St Paul went from a persecutor to a great preacher of the faith
- St Mark who turned back from St Paul and St Barnabas went on to become the heralding father of the faith in our very own country, Egypt, through the Holy Spirit.
- And the Holy Spirit that guided the entire early church to deny all possessions for the sake of their brethren in need (Acts 4:34).
“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,
Nor have entered into the heart of man
The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.
But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit.”
1 Cor. 2:9-10
Let us pray that God reveals Himself to us all through the blessings of the Apostles Fast.
Glory be to God forever, Amen.