Homily on the Apostles' Fast
By Fr. Patrick
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Christ is in our midst!
The Apostles Fast comes from ancient times. St. Leo the Great, Pope of Rome, who lived almost 1600 years ago mentions it in his homily:
Today's festival [ of Pentecost ], dearly beloved, hallowed by the decent of the Holy Spirit, is followed as you know, by a solemn fast, which being a salutary institution for the healing of soul and body, we must keep with devout observance... Therefore, after the days of holy gladness, which we have devoted to the honor of the Lord rising from the dead and then ascending into Heaven, and after receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit, a fast ordained as a wholesome and needful practice, so that, if perchance through neglect or disorder even amid the joys of the festival any undue licence has broken out, it may be corrected by the remedy of strict abstinence, which must be more scrupulously carried out in order that what was on this day divinely bestowed on the Church may abide in us. For being made the Temple of the Holy Spirit, and watered with a greater supply than ever by the Divine Stream, we ought not to be conquered by any lusts nor held in possession by any vices in order that the habitation of divine power may be stained by no pollution.
Can we see why we honor the Apostles during this season and why we fast? How did the message of Christ given to His disciples, for all mankind, make its way out of the remote corner of the world and to our present time? History tells us the price paid for everything we have in the present: the food we eat, the ideas that we consider, the freedoms we have; what about Christianity? The Apostles had a difficult task. They marched through a pagan world and in the midst of the antagonism of Jewish leaders and, as St. Paul indicates, suffered for their labors:
Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils from my countrymen, in perils from heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and painfulness, in vigils often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. ( II Cor. 11:25-27 )
We fast to remember and participate in the labors and pains they endured to bring the message of Christ to us, and to remember all the generations of disciples and apostles after them up to the present day Also, as St. Leo said in his homily, if we inadvertently missed the spirit of Pentecost now we have the opportunity to re-unite, re-member, be re-ignited in discipleship.
The season of the Apostles reminds us of the Apostles as they followed Christ. They too were weak, doubting. They never seemed to fully understand. In their weakness we can relate to them. Then two crucial things happened to them that turned these uneducated, powerless, fearful men into heralds of salvation. First was the Resurrection of Christ, the other was the descent of the Holy Spirit. The Apostles saw Christ with their own eyes. They believed and there was no doubt in their soul. Then in fulfillment of the Lord's promise, they received power from on high, the Holy Spirit, and as the Prokeminon says: Their sound hath gone forth into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world. ( Prok. Plagal of Tone Four )
They stood and preached in the temple and everywhere they went there were miracles. Sick and suffering souls received healing and illumination. They were successful beyond imagining, but they also suffered. As the Holy Spirit was given to the Apostles to give them power so that they could convert the entire world, so it is given to us to strengthen us in our labors as we are sent out into the world as disciples.
During the Apostles Fast we might renew our commitment to Christ as disciples. Our life is a relationship with Jesus Christ and we have to develop that relationship just as we would a friendship or marriage. But this relationship is more fundamental and crucial.
We have heard and know from experience that without Christ we can do nothing, and we will be as withered branches separated from the life possessing tree. Our relationship is that close. We also have to remember that in order to be with Him and Him with us we have to take to heart His commandments. If any man love me he will keep my commandments. Then we are promised that He and the Father will abide within us. His disciples came to him, followed Him and were taught by Him. So, too must we seek Him out through prayer and obedience. We shouldn't try to have a life that is better than Jesus' life. The disciple is not above his master... It is enough that he be as his master, and the servant as his lord. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more shall they call them of his household?(Matt 10:24) We have to give all and sacrifice all for Him, more than we would for our family and loved ones. He is first. If any man come to me , and hate not his father and mother and wife and children and brethren and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple, And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.(Luke 14:26,27) So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:38)
In The Arena, by St. Bp. Ignatius Brianchaninov, chapters 1-4,9 talk about the central place of the commandments of Christ in the life of a monk, but it is for all disciples. Herein it is rewritten to address all of us: For our whole life we should occupy ourselves with extreme care and attention to the reading of the Holy Gospel. We should make such a study of the Gospel that it may always be present in our memory, and at every moral step we take, for every act, for every thought, we may always have ready in our memory the teaching of the Gospel. Such is the injunction of the Savior Himself....In sending His disciple to preach Christianity, the Lord said to them: Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you.(Matt 28:19-20)
The novice was given the direction to thus study the gospels thoroughly and note the commands of the Lord. They were also given Bl. Theophylact's commentaries on the gospels ( which we have available in English ) so that they could understand more fully its meaning. We have been baptized in the Name of the Father , and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. We too should know thoroughly the commandments and rededicate ourselves to practicing them and teaching all people, making others disciples and bring them to baptism.
A practical help to take on this study seriously is to first get a good notebook, Divide it into two sections. In the first front section copy over the commandments of Jesus starting with Matthew 4:17 and the Beatitudes. Then continue through the Gospels and note every thing He says we should do. These are commands, not suggestions. Then in the second section note the commentaries you find that help illuminate the meaning of the commands. Of course Bl. Theophylact will be of great help. It would be a wonderful thing to have this study as the basis of a contemplation among ourselves and others. Herein is my Father glorified: that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.(Jn 15:8)
May our Lord through the prayers of His Holy Apostles bless us all!
Yours in Christ,