|37 - Why the Apostles' Fast? June 14, 2015|
We have entered the apostles’ fast. We are commemorating all the saints known only to God, and the saints of North America. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the Gospels of these last two Sundays show the LORD’s holy apostles forsaking everything to follow Christ. Last Sunday, Peter asks the LORD, “What will there be for us who have forsaken everything to follow Thee?” (Mt 19:28) This morning, Peter and Andrew, James and John immediately leave their livelihood and their family to follow Christ.
These Gospels may explain why a fast follows Pentecost, and why it is called the apostles’ fast. Having received the Heavenly Spirit, we take up the fast according to our strength and circumstances because we want to do like the apostles and forsake everything to follow Christ and join the choir of the saints. To fast shows we mean business. We don’t want just to talk about following Christ; we want to do it. And so, we take up a fast as our cross as a way of forsaking everything, putting to death what is earthly in us. It gives teeth to our resolve to “repent” and to seek the things above where Christ is, seated at the right hand of the Father. (Col 3:1)
We take up the fast in the mystery of Pentecost. This is what gives joy to the fast, even though it’s hard. It’s in the Heavenly Spirit that we forsake everything to follow Christ. In the Spirit, we are illumined. We don’t follow Christ blindly; we walk in the light as He is in the light. We don’t forsake everything not knowing “what there will be for us.” We forsake everything precisely because we have seen the true Light, we have received the Heavenly Spirit, we have found the true Faith, worshipping the Holy Trinity who has saved us!
How, where have we seen the true Light? In the words of the apostles’ teaching and preaching! These are the words of the Church: the words of her saints, of her holy scriptures, her liturgical hymns and prayers, her doctrines, her icons, her sacramental mysteries. These words are the apostles’ “net” – repaired, made new in the Holy Spirit – by which they have become fishers of men, drawing the whole world into the living waters of the Holy Spirit and into the depths of God’s bottomless mercy. Their words were given to them in the Holy Spirit from Him Who Is the Word of God, who Himself received these words directly from the Father. They bear witness to Christ, the Word of God incarnate. These apostolic words of the Church carry the LORD Himself to all the nations, like Israel carrying the Ark of the Covenant to the Promised Land. In these words, we are taught all that the LORD commanded the apostles. (Mt 28:19) These are not ordinary words. They are the Cloud of the Holy Spirit, and the LORD Himself is in them. In these words, the LORD Himself comes to us; He teaches in our synagogue; He preaches to us the Gospel of His Kingdom, and He heals us of every malady and every sickness. For, by these apostolic words of the Church, the Word of God pours out His Holy Spirit on us and heals us at the root of our sickness by His death on the Cross. When we walk in these apostolic words of the Word, when we eat and drink the Word of these apostolic words, the old man in us begins to wither away and Christ, the Word of God, is formed in us as the New Man.
On the Feast of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descends on the disciples and apostles of the LORD as tongues of fire. Shall we say as words of fire? In the Feast of Theophany, the Holy Spirit descends on Christ, the Word of God, not as a fiery tongue (He is the Word of God) but as a dove, recalling the dove alighting on Noah’s ark – likened in our hymnography to the Church, the Body of Christ. At Holy Pentecost, the Spirit descends on the disciples as fiery tongues or words.Receiving the Heavenly Spirit, theybecome the Church, the Body of Christ, and the Spirit rests on them as it rests on Christ, and in the Cloud of the Holy Spirit, they are illumined to teach and to preach the Word of God who comes from the Father.
At the Baptism of Christ in the Jordan the Spirit rested on Christ and the worship of the Trinity was made manifest. At Holy Pentecost, as the liturgical texts tell us, the Spirit rests on the apostles and illumines them and they proclaim the Holy Trinity, drawing all creation into the worship of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. (Ode 9 and Exapostilarion, Pentecost Matins [pp. 425 & 436])
Why is this proclamation of God as Holy Trinity so huge, so full of light and joy? Because, centered on the confession of Christ as the Son of God incarnate, it proclaims for the first time that the God who revealed Himself to the prophets is so deeply compassionate and merciful because He is love. (I Jn 4:8) He is love that abides forever precisely because He is Holy Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Son and Holy Spirit are not different faces of God or the first creatures God made, as the heretics teach, destined to dissolve back into God. The Son is eternally begotten of the Father. There never was a time when He was not, and there never will be. The Holy Spirit is eternally proceeding from the Father and ever will be, of one power, one glory, one essence with the Father. The Three are One and yet the Three are not dissolved into each other. The One is Three and yet is not divided. In the mystery of Christ, the answer to the ancient riddle of the One and the many is revealed in the mystery of the Holy Trinity that transcends the created mind of man. God is love because Father, Son and Holy Spirit are beloved lovers who will never disappear into one another even as they are eternally One in their unknowable essence that, as St Maximus says, is so far beyond being that it is beyond “beyond being-ness.”
This is the God who created us in His Image, which is Christ, the Word of God whom the apostolic words of the Church teach and proclaim. It means that we live and move and have our being in the transcending love of God that abides forever. What will those who inherit life get out of forsaking all to follow Christ, Peter asked the LORD? They inherit eternal life was the LORD’s answer. And this is eternal life: that they know the only true God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent. (Jn 17:3) The Spirit enlightened the holy apostles at Pentecost and gave them tongues of fire to proclaim eternal life in the Name of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In His Name, they baptized all the nations and raised those who were dead in their sins and trespasses to eternal life in the God who is love that abides forever precisely because He is Holy Trinity.
This apostolic word that makes God known as Holy Trinity, as love that abides forever, is revealed in the Spirit to those who confess Christ as the Word of God who was incarnate. (cf. I Jn 4:1) It is therefore in that same Spirit that our mouths are opened and we pour forth words that magnify the Holy Virgin as Theotokos. (Katavasia, Ode 1, Canon of All Saints ) I think it most significant that the Spirit of Christ illumines us with the knowledge of God as Holy Trinity and of the Virgin Mary as Theotokos. In the incarnation of God the Word, the love of the Holy Trinity that abides forever becomes embodied in the visceral, inexpressibly tender love of a mother for her child and of the child for his mother. Perhaps the love of God is too abstract for us really to appreciate; but, in the mystery of the Incarnation, the Virgin becomes the Mother of God, the Son of God becomes the Son of a human Mother. Contemplating the inexpressibly tender love of the Theotokos for her Son and of Christ God for His Mother – set forth most profoundly at the Cross – we may begin to feel the love of God that is carried by the apostolic word of the Church palpably in our gut.
Beloved faithful, this apostolic word of the Church that proclaims the love of God that abides forever and that we feel in the viscerally tender image of the Theotokos and her Son, to find this love in our own soul, to see this true light in us – this Christ, this Kingdom of Heaven that is in you – this is why we take up the fast of the apostles. Receiving this true faith of the Holy Trinity carried in the apostolic word of the Church, pours out on us the healing joy of the love of God that abides forever in the Holy Spirit of Our LORD Jesus Christ to whom are due all glory, honor and worship forever! Amen.