The Fast of the Holy Apostles is dated back to the early years of the church. The first evidence of this fast is found in the writings of St. Athanasius the Great (†373). In his letter to Emperor Constance, he writes: “During the week following Pentecost, the people who observed the fast went out to the cemetery to pray.” Some 20 years later, St. Ambrose (†397) writes: “On the days following his ascension into heaven, however, we again fast”(Sermon 61). Later on, St. Leo the Great (†461) writes: “After the long feast of Pentecost, fasting is especially necessary to purify our thoughts and render us worthy to receive the Gifts of the Holy Spirit … Therefore, the salutary custom was established of fasting after the joyful days during which we celebrated the resurrection and ascension of our Lord, and the coming of the Holy Spirit.”Until the second half of the 3rd century, the Fast of the Holy Apostles was linked to Pentecost. Later on, when the commemoration of the death of Saints Peter and Paul took place amongst the faithful, around the year 258, the Apostles Fast became linked to the feast of Saints Peter and Paul on June 29. Consequently, it became a fasting period of preparation for the celebration of the feast of the great apostles. St. Symeon of Thessalonica (†1429) explains: “The Fast of the Apostles is justly established in their honor, for through them we have received numerous benefits and for us they are exemplars and teachers of the fast … For one week after the descent of the Holy Spirit, in accordance with the Apostolic Constitution composed by Clement, we celebrate, and then during the following week, we fast in honor of the Apostles.”
Duration of the Fast of the Apostles
The fast of the Holy Apostles starts on the second Monday after Pentecost. The duration of this fast varies, depending on the date of Pascha (Easter). The rule is that the Fast starts on the second Monday after Pentecost and ends on June 29, on the feast of Saints Peter and Paul. According to the new calendar, the Apostles Fast could last as little as 8 days and as long as 30 days (42 days according to the old calendar).
“All the faithful, that is the laity and the monks, are obliged to fast seven days and more, and whoever refuses to do so, let him be excommunicated from the Christian community.” – Theodore Balsamon, Patriarch of Antioch (†1204), regarding the Apostle’s Fast.
Fasting Rules of the Fast of the Holy Apostles
The Fast of the Holy Apostles is not as strict as the Fasts of Pascha and the Nativity of Christ; rather it is more lenient in its duration and the rules. The current rules of fasting, during the Apostles Fast, were established first for the monks of the Monastery of the Kiev Caves by Metropolitan George of Kiev (1069-1072). These rules did not allow meat or dairy products to be eaten during the Apostle’s Fast. On Wednesday and Friday, they prescribed dry vegetarian food. On Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday they permitted fish, wine and oil. These rules are still practiced today amongst most Orthodox Christians with minor variations, depending on the jurisdiction.
St. John of Kronstadt about the Apostles Fast
Lord! How characteristic it is of human beings to attract and assimilate images, to settle into them and reside in them—whilst for them, as being made in Thine image, it should be natural to strive with all love and zeal towards the First Image, and cleave to Him. But this greedy, pleasure-loving, flabby, and sluggish flesh of ours pulls us away from Thee. We need fasting and temperance, but we are passionate for pleasures. Strengthen us for abstinence!