Today we begin another fast on the Church calendar, this time in honor of the Holy Apostles. In preparation for the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul on June 29 and the Synaxis of the Holy Apostles on June 30, we are asked to pray and fast. It isn’t a strict fast like the Great Fast before Pascha. It is known as a “White Fast” because we only fast from meat and dairy products, but we still fast.
Every time a fast arrives on the calendar I try to make a connection to what we are reading in the Holy Scriptures and what we are preparing to celebrate. In this case, the Fast of the Holy Apostles, the least known fast in the Church, come upon the beginning of summer fun. Why must the Church ‘ruin’ all our summer picnics and barbeques? One answer can be found in the readings assigned for today.
Brethren, he is not a real Jew who is one outwardly, nor is true circumcision something external and physical. He is a Jew who is one inwardly, and real circumcision is a matter of the heart, spiritual and not literal. His praise is not from men but from God. Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews are entrusted with the oracles of God. What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means! Let God be true though every man be false, as it is written, "That thou mayest be justified in thy words, and prevail when thou art judged." But if our wickedness serves to show the justice of God, what shall we say? That God is unjust to inflict wrath on us? (I speak in a human way.) By no means! For then how could God judge the world? But if through my falsehood God's truthfulness abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? And why not do evil that good may come? - as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just. What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all; for we have already charged that all men, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin, as it is written:
"None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands, no one seeks for God. All have turned aside, together they have gone wrong; no one does good, not even one."
"Their throat is an open grave, they use their tongues to deceive."
"The venom of asps is under their lips."
"Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness."
"Their feet are swift to shed blood, in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they do not know."
"There is no fear of God before their eyes." – Romans 2.28-3.18
Saint Paul helps us to acknowledge our inner sinfulness, not an easy thing for any human being. Orthodox Christians, like our Jewish ancestors, enjoy practicing many outward customs. We cross ourselves, we do our prostrations, we venerate holy objects, all the while we are sinning on the inside. An additional season of prayer and fasting will go a long way to helping us focus our attention inward rather than outward. So, we fast in honor of the Holy Apostles who struggled keep the faith pure for us today.
Today’s Gospel lesson also reminds us of the spiritual benefit of fasting. We are so preoccupied with our physical pleasures, not a new struggle for sure in the Church, that fasting helps us to place our trust in God rather than ourselves. Of course, we need food to survive, but especially in America, we overeat. Of course, we need shelter, but in America we build homes with empty rooms to show off our gadgets. Another fasting period goes a long way to helping us keep our needs in perspective and our wants in check.
The Lord said, "Do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day's own trouble be sufficient for the day. Or what man of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!" – Matthew 6.31-34, 7.9-11
Finally, the Apostles Fast this year is only ten days. It varies in length due to the flexibility in the date for Pascha. The fast begins on the Monday after All Saints Sunday, so the later Pascha on the calendar, the later Pentecost and All Saints, thus a shorter fast this year. Happy Fasting!