Malankara World

Seasonal Interest Articles and Essays

Reflections on NINEVEH’S FAST

by SOCM Forum Moderators

The Story of Jonah

The Jonah mentioned in II Kings 14:25 lived during the reign of Jeroboam II (786-746 BC) and was from the city of Gath-hepher. Let’s begin by reading God’s call to Jonah to go and preach to the inhabitants of Nineveh in (book of Jonah).

To see this let us read what happened between Jonah and God after Jonah finished preaching in the city of Nineveh.

How could such a story about an unwilling prophet who gets swallowed by a fish when he tries to escape doing God's will carry such a profound meaning? Unlike other prophetic books, the Book of Jonah does not contain "words of prophecy," as such, but rather it tells a tale of Jonah's personal encounter with the Lord. Using a story motif, Jonah's prophecy speaks to us not with words but with symbols as we saw. Reading these symbols spiritually, we behold the mystery of salvation in Christ exemplified in imagistic types. Indeed, it is no wonder that this book also portrays a unique instance in the Old Testament of God's love and concern not just for His own people, Israel, but for a nation of Gentiles who were actually Israel's enemies.

Jonah becomes a 'symbol' of Jesus. Jonah spent three days in the belly of the fish; Jesus will spend three days in the ground. Here, Jesus plays on the imagery of Sheol found in Jonah’s prayer. While Jonah metaphorically declared, “Out of the belly of Sheol I cried,” Jesus will literally be in the belly of Sheol. And Finally, Jesus compares His generation to the people of Nineveh. Jesus fulfills his role as a type of Jonah, however his generation fails to fulfill its role as a type of Nineveh. Nineveh repented but His generation, which has seen and heard one even greater than Jonah, fails to repent.

The prayer is a psalm of thanksgiving, serving to interpret Jonah's swallowing by the fish as an act of Divine salvation. God has lifted Jonah out of Sheol and set him on the path to carry out His will. The story of descent (from Israel, to Tarshish, to the sea, to under the sea) becomes the story of ascent (from the belly of the fish, to land, to the city of Nineveh). Thus, the use of a psalm creates an important theological point. In the popular understanding of Jonah, the fish is interpreted to be the low point of the story. Yet even the fish is an instrument of God's sovereignty and salvation.

We can understand from the story of Jonah:

The Lord Jesus Christ Himself testified to the authenticity of the story. (Mathew 12: 38-¬42)

The Lord cares for everyone regardless of their religion. Remember He ordered His disciples to preach the gospel to all nations.

God also cares about animals and plants.

No one can escape from the face of God. If He has a mission for you, He will find you and follow you until you fulfill His mission.

The church observes Nineveh's fast for three days. It is a reminder that God is merciful and accepts heartedly prayers and fasting. Fasting is to conquer the needs of the flesh, and prayer is to conquer the wickedness of the soul.

May God Almighty give us the power to overcome every obstacle that may hinder our faith or lessen our resolve to repent.

Reflections on NINEVEH’S FAST

Mor Gregorius Bar Ebroyo, in his book 'Ethicon' says: "Fasting aims at weakening the powers of the body, suppressing exciting passions and restraining carnal desires, so that the soul which was obscured by material darkness may shine, and its mirror may be cleansed from the stains that soil it."

The Syriac Orthodox Church called this fast after Nineveh because the Ninevites were the first to practice such a fast praying for God’s mercy and forgiveness. This fast used to be six days, but now is only three days starting on the third Monday which precedes Lent. The three day fast of Nineveh commemorates the three days that Prophet Jonah spent inside the fish. The Fast of Nineveh is ritualistically similar to the Fast of the Great Lent.

Historically, This fast is one of the most rigorously observed fasts in the Syriac Orthodox Church, and is unique to this Church. It began to be practiced in our Church towards the fourth century A.D. This can be inferred from the writings and hymns composed by St. Ephrem the Syrian (+373). Mor Dionysius Bar Salibi (+1171) states that Mor Marutha of Tikrit (+649) was the one who enjoined it on the Church of the East first in the region of Nineveh. Mor Gregorios Bar Hebraeus (+1286) states that the confirmation of this fast was due to the crises the Church went through in Hirat. The Syriac people there fasted three days and three nights, praying constantly according to the demand of their bishop, and they were rescued from their ordeal by God.

Afterward, the fast of Nineveh passed to other Oriental Churches such as Coptic and Armenian. The Copts did the same during the reign of the sixty-second Patriarch of Alexandria, Anba Abram Zaraa the Syrian. The Armenians adopted this practice of the Syrians, calling it Sourp Sarkis.

This fast is highly favored among faithful. In this fast, faithful traditionally refrain from food and drink for three consecutive days, from Monday till Wednesday! Some faithful abstain from food and drink throughout the three days, receiving Holy Communion on the third day and continuing to eat fasting food until Thursday morning. The rest of the faithful abstain from having food till noon or till late afternoon and afterwards eat fasting food. The church enjoins all faithful to at least refrain from meat, fish and dairy products during the period of this fast. Usually the faithful who kept this fast are urged to attend the Divine Liturgy on Wednesday, and receive the Holy Qurbono (the Communion). During this fast it is mandatory that we observe the feast carry out the celebration of the Holy Liturgy in the morning as usual. The prayers of Nineveh’s Fast are then said at noon. Abstinence from food ends directly after the Liturgy by eating fasting food.

See Also:

Various Traditions Regarding the Fast of Nineveh (Baoutha d'Ninwaye)

Can You Run and Hide from God?
Lessons from Jonah and Nineveh.

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