“Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, ‘Why do we and the Pharisees fast much, but your disciples do not fast?’ And Jesus said to them, ‘Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come, when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. And no one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made. Neither is new wine put into old wineskins; if it is, the skins burst, and the wine is spilled, and the skins are destroyed; but new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.’” (Mt 9: 14-17)
The “Bridegroom” of the Church, Jesus Christ, was “taken away,” – and yet in nowise abandoned us, – when He ascended into heaven, in order to send us Another Comforter, the Holy Spirit, and to inaugurate by and through Him a new era of the Church. In this new era, we have a new rhythm and also a new meaning of feasting and fasting, in the sacramental life of the Church. Our times of fasting, like this Apostles’ Fast, are interspersed among times of feasting, – like the celebration(s) of the Eucharist, like the recently-celebrated great feast of Pentecost, and like the upcoming great feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, – at which we are given to enjoy a particular abundance of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. So, our times of fasting are not primarily about “mourning,” as they were in the Old Testament, when God’s people primarily lamented in the “shadows” of the closed doors of paradise. Our times of fasting are about taking pause, in voluntary and temporary “exile” from the “wedding-feast,” to refresh our gratitude and “thirst” for the gifts of the Holy Spirit. We need these fasting-periods, these times of taking pause, because in this world we exist within time, and within time we tend to get “used to” our blessings and to “forget” to be grateful for them.
As we complete this first week of the Apostles’ Fast, let me continue the fast in humility and gratitude, for the ever-new adventure and diversity of the Church’s feasting-and-fasting rhythm. “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew the right Spirit within me.” (Ps 50/51: 10)