Monday, 25 January 2010

Three Days Fast of Nineveh ( 25 - 28 Jan 2010)

Our "Fast of Nineveh" or "Jonah's Fast" begins today  and ends on 28th (Thursday) January, 2010. The three day fast of Nineveh commemorates the three days that Prophet Jonah spent inside the fish (for the story, see the Book of Jonah in the Old Testament). This fast is unique to the Syriac Orthodox Church which it passed to other Oriental Churches such as Coptic and Armenian. It is observed for three days from the tenth Monday before Easter Sunday.

The "Fast of Nineveh" or "Jonah's Fast" comprises three days of fasting, followed by the Feast of Jonah itself. This liturgical celebration of our Church is set just a few days after Epiphany and two weeks before Great Lent. The Church's positioning the fast in this liturgical sequence has a mystical significance. During the service of Matins on the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of that week, the entire Book of Jonah is read. Why indeed should the Church devote so much attention to such a short book written by such an obscure prophet? (In fact, all we know about Jonah himself comes just from his book and a single reference to him in 2Kings 14:25.) Succinctly put, the Church sees within this book's simple story an icon of Christ symbolically represented.

How could such a "cute" 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. 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. Here again we find an archetype of Christ's mission of salvation extending beyond Israel to embrace the whole world, all the enemies of God.

Historically, this fast is one of the most rigorously observed fasts in the Syriac Orthodox Church. The faithful traditionally refrain from food and drink for three consecutive days, from Monday till Wednesday! Some observe the fast by refraining from food (and drink if they so wish) from morning till sunset during the three days. The church enjoins you to at least refrain from meat, fish and dairy products during the period of fasting.

The faithful are urged to go to church after this fast (or the following Sunday) and receive the Holy Qurbono (the Eucharist).

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