Here's an entry from the 'Rites Encyclopedia' on www.copticheritage.org, pertinent to your inquiry:
I'm not aware of the scholarly quality of this Encyclopedia, but a number of things in this particular entry seem questionable to say the least. I suppose I'll just take them one at a time.
However, during the Ecumenical Council of Nicea in 325 A.D., its name was changed to "Fast of the Apostles" which is carried through till today.
I cannot remember any text from the Ecumenical Council of Nicaea I that does any such thing. Perhaps the later Coptic translations of the original Greek texts have had some scribal additions? (This is certainly not unheard of, since even the governmentally approved Latin -- and sometimes even the original Greek manuscripts -- vary on important points.) At any rate, I would like to see the exact quote from the Coptic versions of Nicaea I that mentions this "Fast of the Apostles" -- if it actually exists!
In the Holy Dioscolia (collected in the third century), it is written: "After you complete the Feast of Pentecost, have a feast for another week... then we fast after the rest."
I assume this is a reference to the Syriac Didascalia Apostolorum
(since this is the third century text that forms the basis of the early-fifth-century Apostolic Constitutions
). It's been a long time since I have read this text, but I do remember that its manuscript history is rather shabby and quite confused, and that there are significant differences between the Syriac, the later Latin translation and the reconstructed Greek text. At any rate, this text is of Syrian provenance and does not necessarily reflect the universal practice of the Church in the 3rd century. It is not systematic, dogmatic or even very well organized. Rather, it is a kind of pastoral manual put together by a particular Bishop in Syria.
At any rate, I think one would need to see what the actual text says in the various manuscripts before jumping to conclusions. Even this quote, however, does not use the term "Fast of the Apostles," nor does it describe anything similar to the "Fast of the Apostles" as we now know it in either the EO or OO traditions. In fact, the quote speaks of a fast-free week (which we still have in the EO tradition), but then only speaks of fasting "after the rest," which sounds more like saying: "Go back to the usual Wednesday and Friday fast." (This would make the most sense, considering what I remember about the Syriac text.) Regardless, this quote certainly does NOT say one should fast for a certain amount of time in a certain way for a certain reason with certain rituals.
Again, the text needs to be looked at, since this particular quote may be corrupt and is possibly misleading and/or misconstrued.
However, in the book The Canon of the Apostles, which was one of the books of Clement of Rome (collected in the fourth century), it states: "They continued to speak in the new tongues of the nations, in which they preached, and He told them what must be done by the congregations with regards to prayer, worship, and the laws, and they thanked God for this knowledge they received. They fasted for forty days, thanking God through it, and then Peter washed the feet of the disciples... then they departed to all the nations to call people to the faith."
Yet another troubling sign about this Encyclopedia's reliability. I assume we are talking about the Apostolic Constitutions
, which is an expanded early-fifth-century Greek version of the Syriac Didascalia
. This early-fifth-century version also includes a number of canons, usually referred to in the Orthodox tradition as the Apostolic Canons
or the Canons of the Apostles
. As a fifth-century Greek text, none of the parts of this work have any authentic connection to St. Clement of Rome, a fact which makes one wonder about the quality of this Encyclopedia. At any rate, even if the quote in this Encyclopedia is authentic, it too gives us no indication that the early Church observed a "Fast of the Apostles." In fact, the quote simply describes a bit of history. It does not say: "So, you should do likewise" or "Thus, the Church has always followed their example."
Assuming, for the sake of argument, that this quote is, in fact, intended as more than a description of the Church's history, we run into other strange difficulties, since none of the Apostolic Canons
(which are taken from a section of the larger Apostolic Constitutions
), make any mention of a "Fast of the Apostles." This is quite significant, since several of the canons in question deal with Church fasts, describe when they should occur, and explain what the penalty is for not observing them. Why would the early-fifth-century authors of the Apostolic Constitutions
write a story about the Apostles' action in the historical part of their text (intending this to be an instruction about the "Fast of the Apostles" -- which they don't mention!), and then not write a canon about this "Fast of the Apostles," nor even mention it along with the other fasting stipulations?
I think even pious Orthodox sources, such as St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite, have admitted for many years that the Apostles' Fast is not an ancient tradition (for that matter, neither are the Nativity and Dormition Fasts!). There is no basis for its antiquity, nor its universality, in any of the documents of the early Church. This is how St. Nikodemos puts it in the Rudder
For notwithstanding the fact that these particular fasts are not ordained by the Apostles**, we are nevertheless in duty bound to observe also the traditions handed down by the Fathers on account of long consuetude, which has the force of a law, according to the sacred and civil laws. And because, according to St. Basil the Great (see his sermon on morals LXX), even in those matters wherein nothing is particularly stated in the Bible, we ought to exhort everyone towards what is best and of the greatest benefit of the soul.
** St. Nikodemos mentions "the Apostles" because of the canon on which he is commenting, namely, Canon LXIX of the Holy Apostles. Basically, he is admitting that even the early-fifth-century "Canons of the Holy Apostles" do not make any mention of the "Fast of the Apostles" (as I pointed out above), but then goes on to offer a spiritual justification for this later practice of the Church.
Perhaps I'll post more later. I would be interested in hearing more about the current Coptic practices. I wonder if there are any Coptic liturgists who have examined the sources carefully. Based on my exposure to the Greek and Latin sources -- and the way textual corruption occurred and liturgical traditions arose in Late Antiquity -- I wouldn't be surprised if the traditions are no older than the 10th or even 14th century.