Bo`utho d-Neenwoye--Rogation of the Ninevites--is a fast of three
days occurring three weeks before the Great Lent. It is observed in
the Syriac Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox and the
Assyrian Church of the East (In the Armenian Church, it immediately
precedes the Lenten fast.) Gregorius Bar `Ebroyo (1224-1284), the
great Maphryono of the East, writes in his ktobo d-eTiqun (Book of
Ethics): "The people in the East observe the fast of Nineveh from
Monday in the third week before the great fast till the morning of
Thursday; the people in the West till the morning of Saturday." (East
in this context refers to the Syriac Orthodox in the East under the
Maphryono, and the West to those directly under the Patriarch of
Antioch.) Today, it is observed for only three days throughout the
Syriac Orthodox Church.
The narrative in the Book of Jonah, one of the twelve minor prophets
in the Old Testament, provides the theme for the fast. The book
describes Yahweh's call to Jonah to go to the Gentile city of Nineveh
(today near Mosul, Iraq) to preach repentance, his disobedience, his
attempt to escape to Tarshish by sea, his punishment by being thrown
overboard and swallowed by a great fish, his deliverance after three
days and nights and the final success of his mission. On hearing
God's message of impending doom, the Ninevites including their king
repented and from the greatest to the least, they went without food
wearing sackcloth to show their sorrow. Repentance that saves mankind
from God's wrath is, thus, the theme of the three day fast.
In the Gospels, Christ refers more than once to the 'sign of Jonah'
(Mt 12:39, 16:4, Lk 11:29), which is interpreted in Mt. 12:40 as a
prophecy of his resurrection--"For as Jonah was in the belly of the
great fish for three days and three nights, so I, the Son of Man,
will be in the heart of the earth for three days and three
nights." "The people of Nineveh will rise up against this generation
on judgment day and condemn it, because they repented at the
preaching of Jonah. And now someone greater than Jonah is here--and
you refuse to repent" (Mt 12:41). The fast of Nineveh assumes great
significance in this context.
The Syriac Orthodox liturgy commemorates the repentance of the
Ninevites in many hymns. The following is from a hymn in the morning
prayer for Monday in the ShHimo (Daily prayer book):
Lord, hear and answer my prayer. Halleluiah.
Accept our incense like that offered by Aaron
and our service like the pleas of those of Ninevah.
Respond to the pleas of Thy servants
as with Jonah in the sea.
Glory to Thy merciful grace, O Jesus, God.
How abundant are the gifts from Thee to all the world!
Ninevites who called on Thee were
delivered from the wrath by their pleas.
Following are the readings for the fast (from the Scripture Readings
for Sundays & Feast Days According to the Tradition of the Syrian
Orthodox Church of Antioch, New York, March 2000):
Genesis 18:20-33, Joshua 8:18-29; Zephaniah 2:9-15, 3:1-13
1 Peter 3:7-15; Hebrews 12:3-11; Matthew 12:31-41
Genesis 19:1-14; Nahum 3:5-19; Isaiah 13:1-22
1 Peter 4:7-19; Romans 13:1-10; Luke 4:24-32; Luke 11:5-23; Matthew
Genesis 19:14-30; Judges 10:1-16; Jonah 1:1-4:11
Acts 18:23-28; 1 Timothy 2:1-15; Luke 12:54-59; Luke 13:1-8; Luke