Dear Baba; I looked at the calendar and thought the printer had a pink ink problem. Why is the entire month of June marked as fasting? Did something change in the church that Apostles Lent is so long? Will it always be like this from now on? And while we’re talking, can you explain why we have this fast in the first place?
My dear, you look like you could definitely use a restorative cup of tea. You look positively ashen. I also have some fruit tarts for us to enjoy with our tea as we talk about the Apostles’ Lent. The printer did not have an ink mishap as this year the entire month of June really is a time of fasting.
Apostles’ Lent is the only one of our four fasts in which the length is dependent upon a preceding feast day. The fast begins a week after Pentecost. This year, Pascha was so very early on April 4 that Pentecost also fell much earlier than usual on the calendar. Marching forward on the calendar a week and a day, we find that Apostles Lent begins on Monday May 31. The fast end date is fixed on the Feast of the Apostles Peter and Paul on June 29. This year that falls on a Tuesday and since Wednesday, June 30, is a regular fast day, the entire month of June is indeed a fast except of course, the feast itself.
On those years when Pascha is very late into the first days of May, we might have a few days if any of the Apostles Lent. And wouldn’t you know it, in those years we’re almost giddy with relief that the fast is so short and that is really a pity. We really should embrace these God-given times.
That really brings us to your last question of why we have this fast in the first place. Hopefully that will help explain why we shouldn’t be so relieved with shorter fasting times. We had talked last year about the significance of the four fasts and it makes a lot of sense to review this now that we are entering into one of the most misunderstood fasts of the entire church year.
June 29 is the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul. They were two very different men of different backgrounds and education who came to Christ through two extremely different paths and at two very different times. But they both responded to Christ and allowed Him to transform their lives.
Was it not Peter who denied even knowing Christ three times the night of Christ’s arrest and then hid with the other Apostles in the upper room in great fear? This same St. Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, boldly proclaimed Christ on the Feast of Pentecost and fearlessly brought the Light of Christ to thousands. St. Paul brutally persecuted the church from the first martyr St. Stephen until his encounter with the risen Lord on the road to Damascus. They both actively and tirelessly spread the Good News far and wide to their dying breaths. We are all grateful they did. What would have happened had they encountered Christ and then headed back to their old lives with just a fond memory? What if St. Peter had just gone back to fishing and St. Paul had gone back to persecuting the church? And of course, I have to ask as I pour some fresh tea for you: How do we respond to Christ? Do we allow Christ to transform us? Or do we just resume our old lives the moment we leave church? Whose lives go untouched when we do that?
Let’s take a look at the last chapter of the Gospel of St.Matthew and see what Christ says to His disciples: “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” This is called the Great Commission and the Apostles did exactly that and embraced it. Even St. Paul who was not present at the Ascension seriously accepted Christ’s commission. The key is – we are all called to seriously respond to the Great Commission.
One of the big events in the Atlanta area is coming up the 4th of July week-end. It is the Peachtree Road Race. So many of my friends and neighbors are busily training for that. Can you imagine trying to compete in a 10K in July in the South without any training or preparation? I can see why everyone is training. But not everyone is called to run that race. Some will walk, some will go in wheelchairs. Some will be there to man water stations to provide comfort and support to the runners. Many will be there to cheer on the participants. It is quite an undertaking. I think we can use the example of the Peachtree Road Race as we talk about the Apostles Fast.
The Great Commission is a huge undertaking. Each one of us participates in it to our abilities and using our God-given talents. Some of us will take the message of Christ far and wide; others to neighbors and family nearby. Some will provide the support and logistics for the people in the mission field. Some will provide a God-filled welcome to visitors who come to our churches. But we are all called to ‘grow the garden’ and to bring the Good News to a dark and fallen world.
I know I’ve said it many times before, but it is worth repeating. The Great Commission is not a call for us to warm a pew and become like the Dead Sea into which flow waters (and blessings) and out of which flows nothing. It is a real call to action.
So what do we do to prepare? As soldiers preparing for battle or athletes in training – we have to get serious about responding to the call. So the church in her wisdom calls for a time of fasting. There is nothing that works so well at decluttering our lives than a period of fasting. And why is this especially important?
St. Seraphim of Sarov beautifully said “Acquire the Holy Spirit and thousands around you will be saved.”
It is not we who do the saving when we undertake the work of the Great Commission. We can’t save anyone on our own. That is God’s domain. But we are, my dear, the temple of the Holy Spirit and it is through this temple that God works to touch others. That means we need to declutter and de-gunk this temple. We need to let our light – the light of Christ within us – shine brightly before men. To do that we need a time of fasting.
With extra prayer and extra study of this Lenten time, we can ready ourselves to share the beautiful richness and fullness of the faith that we have. Christ did not come to establish a religion. He came to bring salvation to the world. We are the ambassadors of this abiding love. And now is the time we really focus on that.
We are not being asked to go into battle lobbing and jabbing with Bible verse after Bible verse. In all seriousness, the Holy Books of the Bible were never meant to be used as sharp daggers and clubs with which we could beat each other up. We are asked though to study, to learn, to pray and live in a way that Christ’s light will shine through us and touch the lives of all who seek salvation.
This is the time to show compassion, hospitality and Christian love to neighbor, friend, family and even enemy. This is the time to simplify our lives and live in a fearlessly Christian manner like St. Peter and St. Paul. Now is the time to support our missions, our mission priests and our missionaries near and far. Now is the time to see how you can respond to the Great Commission. Now is the time to share the Pearl of Great Price.
And what if you aren’t ready to do all that yet? I’m sure my dear you can make a very substantial start during this Apostles Fast. You can start to study, to read and I’ll bet you could even attend the bible study at church. Attend more services. Go to confession and cleanse the debris in your heart to allow the Light of Christ to shine through you. Support the missions by making an extra donation to help them as you can or perhaps you can accompany our priests as they visit the missions. And most of all pray. Next year, God willing, you can take another concerted step forward and do more.
So you can see the month of June is a very short time with so much to be done. The fields are white with harvest. We actually have time this year to really make this Apostles Lent into a spiritually rich journey. You know, my dear, many of those competing in the Peachtree Road Race are hoping to win
one of the coveted t-shirts proclaiming they completed the race. But what about us? What is our prize for completing this fast?
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles,and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy set before him, he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-3).
With enveloping hugs