I remember one time I was asked why we fast for the Feast of Annunciation. I responded, “We don’t. We eat fish!” If every time you fast, you simple don’t eat meat, then you would never appreciate the depth of my response, because on the Feast of Annunciation, we feast by eating fish while still not eating meat, dairy or eggs.
We are in day two of the Fast of the Apostles, which this year is nearly a month long ending on June 29th, for the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul. This fast is one of those complicated ones, because the beginning date changes based on the date of Pascha. The Fast of the Apostles begins on the Monday after All Saints and continues through the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul on June 29th. It is also what is called a “White Fast” because we fast only from meat, dairy and eggs (except Wednesday and Friday) rather than the strict fast of the Great Fast for Pascha.
There are other types of fasting, such as the Eucharistic fast on the day we receive Holy Communion, or the “Dry Eating” fast of September 14th or August 29th and a few other days of the year. Just because the Fast of the Apostles is lighter in character should not mean we take it any less seriously. In fact, it was included in the list of fasting periods reaffirmed by the Holy and Great Council in Crete in 2016.
There is a logical explanation for the confusion. First, we must understand that fasting has evolved over the centuries of Christianity. For example, when the Apostles commanded us to fast on Wednesday and Friday, they meant, “Do not eat” on those days. We could think of that type of fast how we know of a medical fast today – no food or drink. As pious fasting tradition expanded to included three, seven and eventually forty days for Holy Pascha, knowing we would die without food or water, the fasting evolved to more a dietary restrictive fast or abstinence.
Thus, today we have several levels of fasting:
Level 1 – No Meat
Level 2 – Level 1 PLUS No Dairy or Eggs
Level 3 – Level 2 PLUS No Fish
Level 4 – Level 3 PLUS No Wine or Oil
Level 5 – Level 4 PLUS No Cooked food (known as Dry Eating)
Level 6 – NO FOOD OR DRINK
So, the Fast of the Apostles is a Level 1 Fast, except on Wednesdays and Fridays which are almost always more strict. Wednesdays and Fridays are almost always Level 4. The difficulty comes when you ‘only’ fast from meat every time the Church says fast. You deprive yourself of the beauty of knowing a decrease in fasting level as a celebration. For example, one who fasts according to the Church teaching experiences Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday during the Fast of the Apostles as an easing of the fast, while those who fast ‘only’ from meat don’t experience the same effect.
Of course, all fasting should be done in consultation with your spiritual father and presumes increased prayer and almsgiving. Make an appointment this year to meat with your spiritual father for confession and guidance during the Fast of the Apostles (and every fasting period) so you can grow because not all fasting is equal.