THE FEAST OF THE TWELVE APOSTLES

Posted by: on May 28, 2010

Rev. Andrew George

Annunciation Church

Cranston, RI

Metropolis of Boston Religious Education Director

The Bible contains four lists of the names of the Twelve Disciples of Christ: Matthew 10:12, Mark 3:13, Luke 6:14 and Acts of the Apostles 1:13. They vary slightly as well as the sequence although they list Peter first, even though it was Andrew (his brother) who was called first by the Lord.  It is believed that Christ selected only 12 because it was the number of the twelve sons of Jacob (the most famous of whom is Joseph, whose story fills the Book of Genesis) who later became the leaders of the 12 tribes of Israel (In the Book of Genesis, Jacob is renamed Israel by God, after he wrestled with an angel. See Genesis 32:27-28). After Pentecost, Christ’s twelve disciples became the leaders of the “new Israel.” The number 12 was considered so important that very shortly after the falling of Judas Iscariot, the remaining 11 voted in a new Apostle by the name Matthias, so that there would be 12 once again (Acts of the Apostles 1:15-26).

These disciples followed Jesus as He traveled and were eyewitnesses to His numerous wonders. After the Ascension of Christ back to heaven they continued His work of redeeming mankind from sin. In fact at the Ascension Jesus commanded the apostles to go out and make disciples of all nations through baptism and to teach nations all that they had observed and all that He commanded of them (Matthew 28:16-20, see also Acts of the Apostles 1:6-11).  He enabled them to succeed in that he bestowed the Holy Spirit upon them (at Pentecost) as they traveled to far away lands.

The authority of the Apostles in the Church was unquestionable from the very beginning.  Their powers were derived from Christ Himself. They preached boldly and acted as His representatives, teaching and speaking “in the Holy Spirit.”  The place of honor accorded to them by the Church has no equal except for that of the Theotokos.  They each have their own separate date of commemoration and they have a joint commemoration on June 30, a feast whose importance is shown by the fact that it is preceded by a period of fasting.

The Feast of the Apostles is called the Synaxis of the Holy Apostles because it follows the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, on June 29. In Orthodox liturgical practice, important feasts are followed by an additional celebration of a saint or saints connected to the feast. For example, on January 6 we celebrate the Feast of Theophany (Epiphany), on January 7, we celebrate the Feast of St. John the Baptist. On March 25, we celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation, on March 26, we celebrate the Feast of the Archangel Gabriel.

THE APOSTLES FAST

The season in honor of the 12 Apostles is a bit confusing at times for it is a “flexible season.” While the Apostles Fast always ends on a fixed date (June 29) it begins on the Monday that follows All Saints Day, which is a moveable date each year based on the date of Pascha (Easter). When Pascha is in mid to late April, the Apostles Lent is only a few days in length. When Pascha is in early April, as with this year, then the Apostles Fast is longer. This year it begins on Monday May 31 and runs until June 29, a full 29 days. In 2011 it will be only 9 days in length.

The faithful are urged to observe the usual food abstinence, expanded prayer and almsgiving guideline as with the other fasting seasons. The Apostles Fast takes the flavor of the Christmas Fast in that weddings are permitted. The guidelines on restricted food is the “lighter” fasting in that only Wednesdays and Fridays are held as strict fast days and the observance of the Nativity of John the Baptist (June 24) is always a light fast (fish is permitted) no matter what day it falls.

Let us rejoice in the ministry of these twelve great men that began the spread of Christianity to the far corners of the earth. Let us remember their sacrifice by our own sacrifice and discipline during the preparatory days ahead in which we are called upon to focus on their commitment and devotion to the Lord’s commandments.

Honoring the Apostles

Reading the New Testament passages related to the Apostles (see above for some guidance).

Apart from the Gospels, most of the New Testament is either about or written by an Apostle of Christ.

Especially worth reading during this time is the Acts of the Apostles, since this book deals with the ministry of St. Peter and St. Paul.

Read the two epistles of St. Peter in the New Testament.

Read any of the Epistles of St. Paul in the New Testament.

Read the three epistles of St. John in the New Testament.

Study the lives of the Apostles themselves. They each have an independent feast day and their biographies are contained in any collection of the Lives of the Saints. There are many wonderful traditions about their accomplishments in the life of the early Church.

On June 29, anyone named Peter (Petros) or Paul (Pavlos) celebrates their name day. On June 30 those with the name Apostolos (often becomes Paul in English) celebrate their name day.  Make sure to wish them “Many Years!”

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