Even though the church has allowed some relaxation and reduction in the number of days of the fasts, church still encourage to fast as before. The recent relaxation of the fasts days were done in the years 1946 and 1952. An encyclical of the L.L. Catholicose H.B. Poulose II (N0:14/82) sent in 1982, encourages every one to observe fasts as practiced before (preferably). But if some one is not capable of doing so, they should observe the fast at least in the modified days (e.g.: all the Wednesdays and Fridays and the first and last weeks of the 50 day great lent). As per the church, all of its members should observe the fasts as insisted by the church without fail. If some one fails to observe as per the church direction, he should be submitted to punishment by the church (pallykuttam), even though it is not practiced well in the church nowadays. That means the priest should not conduct any sacraments for them or for their family; such as, marriage, baptism etc. Unfortunately, most of our members fails to observe these fasts as per the direction of the church (even though some practices well), because of the circumstances they have, lack of proper self control or lack of proper training at their homes. In that case, the church will have to punish a large number of its members, which is not practical. Also, it is understandable that not all the ordinary lay people can stick to the self abstinence, for that long (although there are a significant number of our church members who still fasts strictly for all 50 days of great lent, or 13 days of Apostle's fast etc). All the church directed fasts are supposed to be observed with great respect and perfection, which cant be broken or changed at some point by ones own likings. Some of those who tries to observe fast continuously for 50 days of the great lent will end up in breaking accidently in the middle or at some other point. Patriarch H.H. Mor Aprem I in his encyclical sent in 1952 specifically instructs that no body in the church is allowed to break the fast without a valid reason. With the relaxation in the fasts and reduction in number of days, church fathers intended only to encourage the ordinary people to observe the fasts perfectly. It is better if you fast 3 days perfectly than fast 13 days imperfectly. For those capable of observing the fasts as before, there is no objection from the church even today, and in fact, church still encourages every one to observe fasts as many days as possible in the fast allowed days. If some one did not observe fast for 13 days (in case of Apostle's fast) before, it was considered punishable, but now it is considered punishable only if you didn't observe the last three days. This again, only means that you have to observe the fast at least the last three days compulsorily! It doesn't mean that you should not observe it for the 13 days (or more days; some time back this fast was observed from the day of Pentecost until the feast of St. Peter and St. Paul, in the west and/or for 50 days in the East!). As every one knows, nowadays there are only a few incidents where you will hear about church punishments (pallykuttam)! Also, there are only a few who observe the fasts even for the three days! One has to realize that these fasts are meant for their own needs and not just for the church. Church makes it a rule so that its members will practice it and get benefitted. But unfortunately, even after relaxation of the fasts, not many people observe the fasts properly.
In US, most of the states made it mandatory for the front passengers to wear seat belts in the cars. It doesn't mean that you don't have to buckle up when you are in the back seat. It only means that you can get ticketed if you don't wear seat belts in the front seats. However, almost all the cars nowadays are made with seatbelts for everyone, including those in the back seats. If you realize that the seat belts are meant for your own safety, you will buckle up even if you are seated in the back. But it is mandatory (law) for the front seat, that's all! Here it is not the punishment which is important to consider, rather the safety of the travelers. These laws are meant for the safety of the travelers (you and me) and not for the police department to make money by ticketing those violating it. Similarly, we have to realize that fasts are meant for our own spiritual benefits. Thus it is preferable to practice the fasts as before, respectfully and perfectly, if you can. Church, as far as I know, has no objection to it. However, church does not allow you to make changes of your own. The only authority to make changes to the fasts in our church is the Patriarch, the representative of Jesus Christ. With the changes made to the fasts, most ordinary people get to observe the fast perfectly without breaking or making any changes of ones own. This also allows every one to stick to the laws of the holy church.
Sinu P. John, PhD
Boston, MA, USA
> As per the decision of Holy Synod and Apostolic bull, our church
> days from 26 June as Apostles's Fast.
> Before we were fasting it for 13 days. Is it permissible to continue
> the practice?