Guest Contributor: Rev. Fr. Andrew G. George, adapted from Rev. Nicon D. Patrinakos
The Bible contains 4 lists of the names of the 12 apostles: Matt 10:12, Mark 3:13, Luke 6:14 and Acts 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 which was the number of the twelve sons of Jacob who later became the leaders of the 12 tribes of Israel. After Pentecost, Christ’s 12 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.
These apostles followed Christ as He traveled and were eye witnesses to His numerous wonders. After the Ascension of Jesus 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. 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 30th, a feast whose importance is shown by the fact that it is preceded by a period of fasting.
The Lenten season in honor of the 12 Apostles is a bit confusing at times for it is a “flexible season” in that it always ends on a fixed date (that being June 29) but begins on the Monday that follows All Saints Day, which is a moveable date each year based on the date of Easter. When Easter is normally in mid to late April, the Apostles Lent is only a few days in length. When Easter is in early April, as with this year, then the Apostles Lent is longer. This year it begins on Monday May 31 and runs till June 29, a full 29 days. (In 2011 it will be only 9 days in length). When Easter is late, there is no Apostles Lent at all.
The faithful are urged to observe the usual food abstinence, expanded prayer and alms giving guideline as with the other fasting seasons the year. The Apostles Lent takes the flavor of the first part of the Christmas Advent Lenten season (Nov 15-Dec 12) in that weddings are permitted. The guideline on restricted food is the “lighter” fasting in that only Weds and Fris 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 on.
Let us rejoice in the ministry of these 12 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.
Patrinakos, Rev. Nicon D. A Dictionary of Greek Orthodoxy. New York: Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America Department of Education, 1984.