Apostolic feat and “vacation season”
St. Peter’s Fast, or as it is commonly called, the Apostolic Fast, dates back to the very early days of the Church of Christ. It is known that it was established when Holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Emperor Constantine the Great erected temples in Constantinople and Rome in honor of the Holy First Apostles Peter and Paul. The consecration of the church in Constantinople took place on the day of memory of the Apostles on 29 June (O.S.; i.e. 12 July according to the Gregorian calendar), and since then this day became especially solemn both in the East and in the West. It is the day on which the fast ends. However, its initial boundary is mobile: it depends on the day on which Easter is celebrated; therefore the length of fasting varies from 6 weeks to a week and one day.
To See the “King”
There doesn’t seem to be anything out of the ordinary. In the church calendar, apart from the four fasts of varying lengths of the annual circle, there are also Wednesdays and Fridays, days in which we remember the betrayal of the Savior by his disciple and the suffering, crucifixion and death of the Lord on the cross. However, more than once people on the internet, the unchurched or those who are beginning their journey in the Church, are somewhat perplexed about the issue of fasting in summer. One of their baffled arguments sounds almost stunning: “But this is a vacation time!” Interestingly, among believers and church-going people, sometimes the attitude is: “Well, St. Peter’s Fast is somehow easier…”
Here, of course, is the time to ask the question: Why do you think it is easy? Is it only in some kind of gastronomic aspect? But if you fast with a look at the fridge, isn’t it easier to leave it all and go in for sports or find a good nutritionist and follow his instructions? If the days of fasting are darkened by the lack of a favorite delicious food, what is the point of thinking about forcing yourself into a spiritual life? After all, any fast, at any time of year or even week, has joy as its ultimate goal and its main means. The joy of overcoming, of liberation, of getting out of everyday vanity, of discovering oneself, even if in an unsightly way. Fasting exposes a man: it does not tear off his clothes, but pushes him out of ambition and arrogance, illusions and self-deception. It signals that you are obsessed with vain things, you wrap yourself up in wanton things, but look, look honestly at yourself … everything is like in a fairy tale: the king is naked!
Peter Is the Cornerstone
Fasting is the awakening of the soul in the long journey of the soul along the earthly paths towards Heaven. It is a chance to jump out of a series of endless masquerades and carnivals of carelessness. It is an ability to feel pain to understand why and how to heal it.
The Apostolic Fast, St. Peter’s Fast, is no exception in this regard. With the advent of St. Peter’s Fast I remember the words of the Savior, “The days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast.” (Matthew 9:15), and the words of the Apostle Paul about those whose lives were “in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness” (2 Cor. 11:27). After all, when the Savior ascended to the Father, he commanded his disciples “to go and preach”, and was it possible without fasting and prayer, without preparing themselves for this hard and most often terrible feat? For more than three centuries, the preaching of the Kingdom of God was met by the world with rage and opposition. To this day, the reminder of Christ is still an inconvenience and annoyance to this world, though times seem different.
But why is the fast called St. Peter’s Fast? Why not Peter’s and Paul’s, though it is logical, because at the end of the fast we celebrate the memory of both apostles? Perhaps, it is because the apostle Peter was one of the first disciples of Christ, his witness and companion, or perhaps because he had the hardest trial to deal with – public denial, but then the repentance and the feat of preaching and suffering for his Teacher. After all, the Lord pointed out to Peter in one of his post-Resurrection encounters that his life would end not in peace and quiet old age, but in suffering and death for the Good News. The Lord Himself restores Cephas, i.e. Peter, in his apostolic dignity during this meeting. Just as the Apostle Peter denied his Savior three times, so he makes three promises of faithfulness and love to his Lord, becoming the unshakable stone on which His Church is built.
Paul: from Damascus to Rome
At the same time, it is impossible not to remember the apostle Paul. How different their lives were, and how different they were themselves, even at the time when they were both faithful and zealous preachers of the word of God! Paul was a son of rich and noble parents, a Roman citizen, a disciple of Gamaliel, the famous Jewish lawyer, and a “scribe and Pharisee”. Paul was the worst enemy of Christ, who hated Christians and asked the Sanhedrin for a permission to persecute Christians everywhere, and to bring them bound to Jerusalem. Paul, too, was fiercely opposed to the Truth of the Lord, and afterwards was equally ardent in faith. On his way to Damascus, the future apostle will hear the voice of God, physically feel his blindness, and be spiritually enlightened. Thus the Lord performs the great miracle of turning the enemy into a zealous minister and preacher. Most of the epistles in the New Testament are those of the Apostle Paul, and the narrative of the Acts of the Apostles tells us about the journeys, tribulations, and difficulties that befell the Apostle Paul. Finally, the life of the apostle Paul, as well as that of the apostle Peter, ends in martyrdom, by the sword in the Eternal City, of which Paul was a citizen. Probably not all roads lead to Rome, but the blood of the apostles Peter and Paul became the testimony of their exceptional faithfulness and love for the Lord, precisely where the center of the most furious rejection of the truth of God was, and their death was the triumph of victory over death and spiritual emptiness.
Fasting Is a Time of Imitation
The apostles Peter and Paul are the greatest examples of spiritual firmness and reason. Faithfulness and knowledge, simplicity and inspired word – are they not the main things to which we all Christians are called, to preach the Gospel, to be saved, and to live forever with God? When there is a divine service in a church in memory of one of the Apostles, then at a certain moment we sing the magnification of the remembered saint, in which there are the following words: “And we honor your sicknesses and labors, which you undertook for the Gospel of Christ”. That is, in other words, although the apostolic feat was difficult and accompanied by many sorrows and hardships, nevertheless, no one of the Savior’s disciples was ever left without the spiritual joy and grace of the Holy Spirit given to them on the day of Pentecost.
If we look at the regular church calendar, then the Apostolic, Peter’s Fast begins soon after the celebration of Pentecost, the day of the Holy Trinity. It begins as a reminder to us that we should imitate the disciples of Christ at least in some ways in our lives. It is not that we could repeat their deeds, no, but at least we ought to show to our neighbors and relatives the light of Christ, the life and grace of His Church, which was built on the stone and foundation of the apostolic faith, on confession and martyrdom for the name of Christ, on faithfulness and purity of life of Christians of that time, a time of hardship and sorrow.
None of the 12 apostles, except for the Apostle John the Theologian, died in peace and in the circle of his family, but their feat was built on fasting and prayer, regardless of seasons and holidays. At the same time, the fasting and prayer of the preachers of Christ were not limited to the “from and to” dates, as they are for us. The preaching of the Word of God throughout the world is a triumph and the beginning of the triumphant message about the imminent coming of God in glory and majesty, in the power and light of the Truth, about the final triumph of the kingdom of God. Not many people in our world understood and accepted this message. The desire to change life, to become different cannot be done by itself. It is impossible to become a vigorous Christian starting on a Monday. Changes in a person are sometimes very painful. Peter recognized the bitterness of his pride in the night, when the rooster sang three times. Paul, blinded by rage and spite against Christians, saw himself in all his sinfulness and blindness on the way to Damascus. The Lord, seeing the hearts of both, not only accepted repentance, but also revealed their glory in great works and feats.
When Hugs Are More Important…
There is an amazing iconographic image of the Apostles Peter and Paul hugging one another. This image is surprising in that the two apostles had a complicated relationship in their lifetime. They were indeed very different, and in addition, the Apostle Peter had been suspicious of Paul for quite some time, remembering who he had been. All these human differences were covered and corrected by the main thing, which was the unity in faith and the message of Christ. It was not by chance that they received the crown of martyrdom both at the same place, in Rome. Their symbolic embrace on the icon is a reminder to all of us that we can only be one in Christ, that everything else is superfluous, that our relationships, differences and interests cannot be above the main thing – the testimony to the world about the Savior.
Maybe the fast is given to us in order to share it with others, realizing who we are and why we are in this world. After all, fasting is a journey of the soul.
And we all are on this journey.
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds
Newspaper Saratov Panorama #22 (1103)