June 30, 2009

The Fast of the Holy Apostles and the New Calendar

Elder Epiphanios Theodoropoulos was a great Canonist of the Orthodox Church and was responsible for bringing many schismatic Old Calendarists back into communion with the Church. He wrote a book titled The Two Extremes, half of which tackled the extreme views of the Ecumenists while the other half took on the extreme views of the schismatic Old Calendarists and their influence within the canonical Body of Christ. The section below appears at the end of the book and tackles an often heard objection against the New Calendar regarding the Apostles Fast. Can the New Calendar be legitimate and canonically appropriate if in certain years it lessens the fast to a mere few days and sometimes even obliterates it?

The Elder informs us that he was asked by a young theologian regarding the Calendar change and the effect this had on the fast of the Holy Apostles. This man was concerned that the New Calendar not only reduces the number of fasting days for this fasting period, but in certain years when Pascha comes late it is obliterated altogether. This theologian considered this to be a justification for the schismatic Old Calendarists. Elder Epiphanios responded with the following article and it was originally published in Orthodoxos Typos

Elder Epiphanios Theodoropoulos

Concerning the Fast of the Holy Apostles

By Elder Epiphanios Theodoropoulos

It is true that the introduction of the Revised Julian (not Gregorian, as is put forth by the unlearned and bad intentioned)1 Calendar in the Church reduced the fast of the Holy Apostles by thirteen days and, if Pascha comes late, it does away totally with the fast. This fact is so detestable to Old Calendarists that they justify their rebellion against the Church. If they wanted to keep the Old Calendar however, they could still abide within ecclesiastical communion without objection. This is what the Holy Mountain practices. Who condemns this?

The reduction of the fast of the Holy Apostles (which, by the way, was not enacted by an Ecumenical Synod, but is shown to be an ancient practice of indisputable respect) did not come about by one, two or three individuals, either clergy or laity, but was done by the Church to produce a corrected Calendar. The other Church, those who adhere to the Old Calendar, [originally] did not cut off communion from the Church of Greece or the Church of Constantinople over the Calendar change and the subsequent reduction of the fast of the Holy Apostles, but continued a canonical relationship. Therefore, in borrowing from the above argument, who has the right to cut off the canonical relationship with the Church of Greece without going AGAINST the Church? And if you stand AGAINST the Church, you are simply outside the Church, becoming either schismatics or heretics.

I wonder how the Old Calenderists, with the stubborness they possess, do not anathematize all the Patriarchs, all the Bishops, all the Clergy, all the Synods, all the Churches, all the Saints, all the faithful, from the seventh century until today. They will ask: Why? Because simply, until that time, that is the seventh century, the fast of the Holy Apostles was not like it is today, but was much longer. Let me explain: This fast in the beginning was about a week in its duration. "During the week following Pentecost, the people who observed the fast went out to the cemetery to pray" (St. Athanasius, Letter to Emperor Constance). The Apostolic Constitutions prescribe the following: "After the feast of Pentecost, celebrate one week, then observe a fast, for justice demands rejoicing after the reception of the gifts of God and fasting after the body has been refreshed." Besides when the fast was to start (the first passage explains the fast was to be done the week of Pentecost, that is beginning with the day after Pentecost; whereas the second passage says it was to start a week later), the important matter is that the fast following Pentecost at that time was only one week. (At that time the feast of the Holy Apostles was not on June 29th. The fast is tied in with the Holy Apostles because after Pentecost they were sent out to preach).

In the proceeding centuries this fast underwent an extension. It began to be started on the day following the Feast of All Saints and lasted all the way until August 14th! This means that it lasted throughout the month of July, which further means it was the longest fast of the year surpassing by far the forty day fast of Great Lent. For example, if Great Lent with the additional Holy Week reaches to be 48 days, the fast of the Holy Apostles, on the occasion that Pascha lands on a late date, reached to be about 55 days, but on the occasion that it reached an early date it would last 89 days! For this we have a reliable witness of the seventh century in Saint Anastasios the Sinaite: "After the fast of Pentecost, this is what the Teachings of the Holy Apostles says. That after Pentecost to celebrate one week and after that to fast...You are to fast until the Dormition of the Theotokos" (St. Anastasios the Sinaite, On Three Forty Days Fasts). Thus the entire month of July is absorbed also!

What are our beloved Old Calendarists going to do, who detest change of ancient practices and traditions? If they are true to themselves, it is their duty, first, to put this fast in its proper place as it was in the seventh century so that the entire month of July is absorbed; and second, it is their best interest to renounce all the Churches, from the seventh century until today, since they dared to do away with a fast of ancient tradition. They will not exempt, it is understood, even Saint Anastasios from renunciation, who speaks with sympathy and not disgust against those who with boldness make the reduction, even calling them - listen! listen! - "Holy" Fathers. Is it possible for "Holy Fathers" to reduce fasts?

Among those to be renounced will surely be Saint Theodore the Studite, who: 1) did not condemn the prior practices of the aforesaid fast; and 2) also prescribed during feasts as well as Saturdays and Sundays during this fast, as well as the fast for Christmas, not only for fish to be allowed but also cheese and eggs. This is what he says: "During the forty day fast of the Holy Apostles we do not eat fish, cheese or eggs except on the days we do not sing the hours. Instead we eat two cooked dishes - one vegetable dish with olive oil and one of legumes without oil - and have two servings of wine at the ninth hour and two in the evening. On feast days, however, on which we are permitted fish and other such foods, we eat at the sixth hour and drink three measures of wine at the sixth hour and two in the evening. This regiment is also maintained during the forty day fast of the Holy Apostle Philip [Christmas]" (Migne, PG 99:1713-1716). He, therefore, isn't worthy either...let him be renounced!2

Worthy of being renounced also is the Patriarch of Antioch Theodore Balsamon (12th cent.), who not only allows the older practice, but confesses that in his day it was only seven days, at least for the laity: "Obligatory fasts are seven days before the following four feasts - before the Feast of the Holy Apostles, the Birth of Christ, the Transfiguration of Christ and the Falling Asleep of the Holy Theotokos. There is only one forty day fast, that of Holy and Great Pascha. Anything besides the seven day fast of the feast of the Holy Apostles and the feast of the Birth of Christ is according to one's will or of the foundational (monastic) typikon where one dwells."

With this opportunity I will speak about another fast, which with the passage of time has been totally abolished from common practice and has not brought on rebellion or schism, nor even protests and resistance. I speak of the fast which comes before the feast of the Exaltation of the Precious Cross, which was many days. Only the laity were allowed a one day fast, which was on the feast itself. Monastics however had also besides this a fast that lasted for a period of 4-14 days! Behold the testimony of Saint Theodore the Studite: "For the monastics, to the glory and praise of the wooden Cross, 14 days are kept, for others 12, and for others 4; but all the people of Christ are to keep pure this day of the Exaltation, on the 14th day of the month of September" (Migne, PG 99:1696). Where today is this multiple-day fast before the feast of the Precious Cross? In which Sacred Monastery is it kept? Which monastics even know about it? Dare that it not be kept by those who know about it!

For the above reason I very much abstain from advocating either for or against the reduction in fasts, unless they have been codified within the laws of the Ecumenical Synods, as is the fasts of Wednesdays and Fridays and that of Great Lent. I believe these things need to be worked out by those who have Confessors [Spiritual Fathers], according to their alloted discernment, to lead the faithful according to each one's strength. May the changers and the reorganizers be gone. Let us not provoke questions and confusion. Let pastoral good sense prevail. Let us not disturb the conscience of the simple. Our Shepherds should not discard the apostolic word: "All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify. Let no one seek his own, but each one the other's well-being" (1 Cor. 10:23). I do not advocate towards any change of the established fasts. I simply want to emphasize that we the faithful are not given the power through subjects like these to create revolutions against our Church and schisms.

1. Elder Epiphanios is correct in not referring to the New Calendar as "Gregorian", since the New Calendarists follow the Julian Calendar for its moveable feast days, staying faithful to the First Ecumenical Synod calculation for Pascha. Thus the New Calendar can best be described as a revised version of the Julian Calendar.

2. This same Holy Father, in speaking about the fast of Great Lent, taught that fish can be eaten not only on Palm Sunday but also on the day before on the Saturday of Lazarus. Today different Churches have different rules regarding this practice.

Translated by John Sanidopoulos