Monday, June 27, 2016

Apostles' Fast begins Today

Today the Holy Church provides us with another opportunity to seriously examine ourselves spiritually. We have reached the beginning of another of the four extended fasting periods of the the Church Year – the Apostles' Fast. This fast is called the Apostles' Fast because it prepares us for the feast of the Preeminent Apostles Peter & Paul on July 12.

Many of us do not like to examine ourselves spiritually. Yes – when we engage in fasting we see its spiritual fruits in us, often through the temptations that show us our weaknesses that regularly are mercifully given to us during these fasting times. Let us dare, brothers and sisters, to look into the spiritual mirror – to examine our faults closely. For only when we seek out our weaknesses, and only when we entreat the Lord's help in this regard, are the lenten periods truly fruitful.

If one examines the fasts of the Church it is clear that they fall into two distinct categories:

1. MORE STRICT: Great Lent and the Dormition Lent

2. LESS STRICT: Nativity Lent and the Apostles' Lent

The most strict of the fasts is Great Lent of course, when not only is the culinary fast strict (fish is only allowed on the feasts of the Annunciation and Palm Sunday, and sometimes Annunciation falls during Holy Week, in which case fish is not allowed; alcohol is only allowed on weekends and the rare day of a polyeleos rank feast), but even the Divine Services take on a very penitential character. The Dormition fast is a bit less strict (still pretty strict from a culinary point of view, but the services are not changed as they are during Great Lent). Then, in order of strictness comes the Nativity Lent (I put this one here only in that this fast gets rather strict towards the end) and the Apostles' Lent.

So the fast we begin today is the least strict of the four extended fasting periods. But this fast is hardly lax. We are called upon to abstain from meat and dairy products so that we may struggle in a more focused way against our sins. Many of the Holy Fathers point out that the stomach is the birth place of many of our other vices, and thus learning to control the stomach leads one to a much more fruitful spiritual life. Also, we must admit, we have very little opportunity for obedience in our days. But the mandated fast provides us the spiritual freedom that only comes from obedience. Yes – perhaps this fast is not so strict – but there are still opportunities here for spiritual growth and we should take them!

It is important to start early because this fast is short this year. If we put off starting we will already have ended! This fast varies in length from year to year. This is because the fast always begins on a day related to the Paschal Cycle (which moves from year to year) but ends on a day that is fixed: June 29/July 12. The fast begins on the day after All Saints Sunday and ends on the feast of Sts. Peter & Paul. This is true of all of the fasting periods by the way – they all prepare us for an important feast of the Holy Church. But ONLY the Apostles' fast varies in length from year to year. If Pascha is early then this fast is long (since the beginning of the fast will be early in June, or theoretically even late in May – but that would be very rare). If Pascha is late (as was the case this year) then this fast is short. And if Pascha is very late then this fast could even disappear if one used the New Calendar. In my opinion this is the best argument for using the Old Calendar. The calendar is not a dogmatic issue so this is not a question of salvation, but obviously the Holy Spirit guided the Church to have an Apostles' Fast. Using the New Calendar sometimes abolishes this fast (although rarely). I would argue we need MORE fasting and the fruitful spiritual struggle that comes with it in our days – not less.

This all being said, of course the fast is not just about food. If this is the only place we concentrate our efforts we are missing the point. Fasting has always been connected with alms giving in the life of the Church. We will provide an opportunity to give alms to those in need at St. Vladimir's each of the Sundays of this lenten period. Fasting is also connected with moderation. Not only are we called upon to refrain from certain foods during fasting periods, we are also called upon to struggle against gluttony in a more focused way that perhaps we are outside the fasting periods. And since we will be engaging in worldly entertainment less during this fasting period (as we do during all of the extended lenten periods) we have the opportunity to pray more often, attend Divine Services more often, and read edifying spiritual literature more often. Let us indeed utilize those opportunities! And as we do, let us ask the merciful Lord to help us to acquire the virtues during this fasting period. Not just acquire them for the time of the fasting period and then toss them aside, but acquire them so deeply in our hearts that we carry them with us out of the Apostles' Fast and into the rest of the year, and even the rest of our lives.

May the Lord bless and guide us during this short fast, that as a parish family we struggle together with each other, not against each other, and that we, with our sincere efforts and God's Grace to aid us, meet the feast of the Apostles Peter & Paul having been that much more transfigured – that much closer to God!

Congratulations to all with the beginning of the fast!

Fr. Gregory

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