Are you serious! We’re fasting again already!? That’s the somber realization that most of us have after being spoiled with no fasting for a single day for 50 days straight after the resurrection feast, considering especially that most of us toiled so much in fasting for so long during the Great Lent and Holy Week. This time of year, here is a typical dialogue among friends:
“Why are we fasting again?”
“I’m not going to fast it. We have too many fasts as it is.”
“But you should, at least out of obedience to your mother, the Church, and for the sake of joining the rest of your brothers and sisters in this fast.”
“No. Just can’t do it. Maybe I’ll fast near the end of it. My parents don’t even fast this fast. Lots of people skip it. Besides, this fast is something new that the Church put together more recently than not. It wasn’t around in the early Church.”
“Actually, not only is it a very ancient fast, fasting in general has proven to be of great value beyond even just the spiritual aspect; it can actually increase your lifespan.”
Allow me to explain:
I hardly ever read the newspaper nowadays, but recently, as I was waiting at my gate to catch a flight, I saw one abandoned, beckoning that I put it to good use. I was pretty bored reading through the monotonies of the news until I came across an article that piqued my interest:
After reading it all I could think about was mounds of ful medames (I refuse to spell it the other way), which is basically a common staple in the Egyptian household during fasting periods, consisting of primarily fava beans.
So not only does fasting have the great spiritual benefits that will be reaped now and in eternal life, you also have the potential to live longer (legal disclaimer: flatulence may be part of the package too).
Contrary to some people’s beliefs, the apostles’ fast seems to have quite ancient origins, although not in its current length, it appears.
Many opt to think that the fast began by the apostles themselves (hence the name), having commenced immediately after Pentecost. It is an argument often predicated on Christ’s remarks in the synoptic gospels that “the days will come when the Bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast” (Matthew 9:15 [cf. Mark 2:19-20, Luke 5:34-35]). However, this saying of Christ is interpreted by the Syriac Didascalia (22.5.2), the Arabic Didascalia (ch.31), the Ethiopic Didascalia (ch.30), and the Apostolic Constitutions (v:18), as referring to the Friday and Saturday of Holy Week after Christ was taken from the disciples (after His crucifixion and burial).
According to Fr. Shenouda Maher Ishak (formerly a deacon named Emile, professor of theology and biblical studies in the Coptic Orthodox Theological College), early evidence of the fast can be found in the Apostolic Constitutions (v.20) and the Arabic Didascalia (ch. 31), where the week following Pentecost feast was designated for fasting. He further states:
St. Athanasius of Alexandria mentioned that the people (in Egypt) were observing a fast on the week that succeeded the Holy Pentecost (Athanasius, Apologia de fugue 6, c. AD 358).
The Western Council of Tours, 567, also mentions a week’s fast after Pentecost for monks (canon 17; Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, ed. Hastings, J., [12 vols. 1908-1926] vol. 5, p.769).
Fr. Shenouda also explains further developments of this fast’s length and manner of observance:
This fast was afterwards extended to the eve of the feast of St. Peter and St. Paul, on June 29 (or July 12th if following the Coptic Calendar, which coincides with Abib the 4th), and came to be called “The Apostles’ Fast” [maybe named as such to refer to these two apostles rather than meaning a fast that the apostles fasted].
. . .
If the feast of the (two) apostles falls on Wednesday or Friday, the Copts and Ethiopians do not break the fast while the Byzantines do (Compare canons 13 and 14 of the Coptic Pope Christodulos [1057-1077]).
. . .
There was an unsuccessful move to reduce this fast in the Coptic Church when Patriarch Gabriel VIII ordered, in 1602, that the fast of the apostles should begin on the feast of the Virgin (the 21st of Baunah) until the festival on the fifth of Abib (i.e., from June 15 to June 28, and the festival on June 29, Julian) [reference omitted]
So, in the end, we still have a fast that interrupts our gluttonous endeavors. Based on the way many of us eat during the Holy Fifty Days, it’s probably a good idea to take advantage of this ancient fast, both for our spiritual well-being (because it probably dropped off considerably during the Holy Fifty days, unfortunately), and our physical health.
Studies in Comparative Theology: Liturgical and Ritual Issues and Proposals Concerning the Restoration of Communion (submitted to the joint liturgical sub-committee between the Oriental Orthodox and the Byzantine Orthodox Churches in Athens, March 1995), published December 2000, by Fr. Shenouda Maher Ishak.