Guess what, everyone?! We're in the middle of another fasting period! Woohoo! I mean we're all as excited as this girl, am I right:
I love how she's kind of angry-happy, and I suppose in a way this is how I feel about the summer fasts, though with perhaps less joy... because, let's face it, I just want to eat burgers and steaks, and I always forget about these fasts in any case. I do think there is a good point to having these fasts take place during the summer, though, but before I run away with my feelings on the subject, let's first talk about what these fasts actually are.
SUMMER* FASTS: APOSTLES FAST AND DORMITION FAST
There are two fasting periods over the summer months: the Apostles Fast** and the Dormition Fast.*** Like St. Philip's Fast and the Great Fast, these two fasting periods precede major feasts in the church. The Apostles Fast started (eek) May 28th (the Monday after All Saints Sunday) and leads up to the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul on June 29th. The Dormition Fast starts August 1st and comes before – you guessed it – the Feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God on August 15th. Though not as strict as the fasts before Christmas and Easter, the faithful are still asked to refrain from meat on Wednesdays and Fridays, accompanied with extra prayers to help along with the process.
WHO ARE STS. PETER AND PAUL?
Who are Sts. Peter and Paul? They're two of Jesus' most celebrated apostles. St. Peter (who used to be called Simon) was one of the fishermen Jesus first called to follow Him and is known as "the rock" that Jesus built His church upon (the name "Peter" means "rock" or "stone" in Greek – way before "The Rock" meant Dwayne Johnson). He became the first leader of the Christian community in Jerusalem, known today as being the first pope of the Catholic Church. His love for Jesus ultimately led to his martyrdom where he was crucified upside down – he didn't feel worthy to be crucified upright like Jesus. St. Paul was a little bit different, though he also started off with a different name, Saul. Unlike St. Peter, Saul was a Pharisee and actually persecuted followers of Jesus (i.e. he wanted them dead). On his way to a city called Damascus, however, Saul had a vision of Christ that led to his conversion after which he changed his name to Paul. St. Paul spent the rest of his life traveling around to far-off communities to preach the Word of God, especially among the Gentiles (non-Jewish people – this includes Ukrainians!). Most of the New Testament is composed of his letters to these various communities (the Corinthians, the Ephesians, the Thessalonians, etc), which we listen to during the Epistle reading of the Divine Liturgy. He also died for his faith, though by the sword in Rome.
SORRY... THE "WHAT" OF THE MOTHER OF GOD?
The word you're looking for is "Dormition." Also known as the Assumption in the Roman Catholic Church (some Ukrainian churches still use this term too), the Feast of the Dormition is the falling asleep of Mary (think the French "dormir" – to sleep – rather than "mourir" – to die). We use the term "falling asleep" instead of death because we believe that life doesn't end with an earthly death; it instead leads to eternal life thanks to Jesus' Resurrection. In Mary's case, this is especially true as we believe that she was taken up body and soul into Heaven immediately and that "her body did not know corruption after death." The description of the event surrounding the feast on the Legacy Icons**** website explains:
"The Church has received the tradition of the Dormition (death) and Assumption into heaven of the Mother of God from the ancient Fathers of the Church. When the Savior was pleased to take His Mother to Himself in heaven, He sent the Archangel Gabriel to her once again. He revealed to her that she would be taken from this earthly life into paradise. At hearing this, she gave thanks and hurried to the Mount of Olives, where she gave herself over to prayer. Meanwhile, the Apostles (who had traveled throughout the world to preach) were taken up by clouds and were gathered to the Virgin's house. She consoled them, blessed them, and prayed that peace would come upon the world. When the time for her departure arrived, she quietly rested upon her bed and gave up her spirit into the hands of her Son. The Apostles, accompanied by the chanting of angels, reverently carried her undefiled body to the tomb and buried it. Three days later, as they were eating the eucharistic meal together, the Theotokos appeared to them in her glorified body. They went to her tomb, and found it empty except for her belt and a heavenly fragrance. In this feast, we see the assurance of the Universal Resurrection. By divine dispensation, the Mother of God receives her glorified body even before the Second Coming of her Son. She is an icon of the hope we have for ourselves and all faithful believers."
WHAT THESE SAINTS TEACH US
When we encounter saints, it's easy to fall into the line of thinking that says, "Well, but they're holy and special. I can't do what they did. I'm not that good and pure." We need to remember, though, that the saints were all regular humans like you and me and that any amazing things they did happened through the grace of God. I mean, take a look at the three people we're currently talking about: Peter was a fisherman. He wasn't really educated, he worked with his hands, and even after being in Jesus' presence for three years, he denied Christ three times after He'd been arrested. Paul was educated, yes, but he was cruel towards Christians. And who was Mary? She was a teenage girl living in a small village in Israel. None of these people inherently had anything special about them. What made them special and holy was they were chosen by God to carry out a mission: St. Peter became the head of the church, St. Paul became a missionary to the Gentiles, and Mary gave birth to God's Son. If God can call these three people and use them to do amazing things, He can do the same with us. Not only that, but He already has! Each one of us has something that we are called to do for the Glory of God. We just have to listen.
WHAT'S THE BIG DEAL?
Okay, Joyanne, but what does this have to do with fasting during the summer? I mean, come on, it's summer. It's barbecue season, and camping season, and I want my hot dogs on a Friday night!
I hear you, really, I do. I like my hot dogs on a Friday night as much as anyone else. Like Advent and Lent, though, these fasting times are there to help us prepare for these two great feasts of the church. Because these feasts celebrate humans, the fasting periods also remind us to follow in the footsteps of these remarkable people so we too can grow in our own sainthood. Clearly they had to make sacrifices to become the saints we recognize and venerate today. So, hey, if growing closer to Jesus means changing my hot dog day from Friday to Thursday for a few weeks in the summer, that's a small sacrifice I can make to a great leap in my relationship with God. Because, let's face it: Jesus is the best and we want to be with Him, don't we?
And what happens if we forget or aren't quite there yet in our fasting abilities (because let's be honest... I totally ate meat last Wednesday and Friday)? We say a prayer and try again. Faith is a practice after all.*****
So, let's practice! With some fish this Friday.
* I say "summer fasts," when in reality the Apostles' Fast can begin as early as May, like this year.
** To learn more about the Apostles Fast, head to p. 386-390 in A Byzantine Rite
Liturgical Year. More on the Apostles themselves are the next chapter over from p. 391-397.
*** For more on the Dormition Fast, check out p. 425-430 in A Byzantine Rite Liturgical Year. For info on the feast itself, p. 431-439 in the same book explains. You can also find out more on the Dormition of the Mother of God in the Catechism of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, Christ Our Pascha, in sections 189, 311, 313, 508, 576, and 614. Both books are available at the Edmonton Eparchial Pastoral Centre across the street from St. Josaphat's Cathedral.
**** You can find Legacy Icons on sale through the Edmonton Eparchial Pastoral Centre.
***** For more info on fasting and prayer, check out Christ Our Pascha in "Part Three: The Life of the Church."