Lent of the Ninevites
- *** This is a repost of an earlier message posted in ICON***
The 3 day Lent is the shortest canonical lent in the Orthodox
Calendar. Some history and related information below.
How many of us know that this tradition originated in the Catholicate
of the East? Even according to the account of Bar Ebraya, the
tradition of three day fasting originated in the East.
This Church divided in to two due to doctrinal issues after Chalcedon
(AD 451). But, both sides continued the fasting tradition. Later the
Coptic, Ethiopian and Armenian Churches adopted the tradition.
Following Churches keep this tradition today:
Assyrian Church of the East - Catholicos-Patriarch of the East
Chaldean Catholic Church of the East - Catholicos-Patriarch of the
Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church - Catholicate of the East.
Antiochian Syriac Orthodox.
The Antiochian Orthodox (i.e. Greek section) and other Western
churches do not follow this tradition. In the Church of the East, the
fasting days are known as 'Baouta d' Ninewaye' (Baouta (Syr.) -
supplication, Supplication of the Ninevites). The Eastern
tradition: "There was a pestilence, which is called in the world
"the plague", which took place at one time in the kingdom of the
Persians, in these our lands, during the days of Mar Sabrisho`, the
metropolitan-bishop of Beit Slokh. It came about because of the
multitude of men's sins, almost consuming and bringing to an end
all the men of Beit Garmai, of Assyria, and of Nineveh.
When Mar Sabrisho` prayed to God because of the rod of wrath
which was destroying his flock he heard the voice of an angel
saying, "Proclaim a fast and make petition, and the pestilence
will be removed from you." At once this holy man commanded that the
people of the Lord should assemble with him in all their ranks at the
house of the Lord; and on the first day of the petitioning, which was
a Monday, the hand of the destroying angel drew back, and no one was
smitten. (Source: cired.org - Official website of Assyrian Church of
The hymns of St. Aprem are used as supplication. Mar Aprem wrote
homilies on the repentance of Nineveh.
Nineveh was an important center of Eastern Christians. Many of us
know about St. Issac the Syrian (also knows as St. Issac of Nineveh).
Mar Isahac was a monk, who was ordained the bishop of Nineveh city.
He was ordained a Bishop in . Just five months after ordination he
resigned the position and remained a hermit and went to seclusion as
a monk in a monastery in the mountains. Interestingly the Eastern
Orthodox Church includes the name of St. Issac in the calendar.
Perhaps this is because the Syrian Church of the East had adopted the
council of Chalcedon at that point.
It was only in AD 486, in the fourth general Synod of the Church of
the East (Synod of Acacius), that they officially adopts Nestorian
Christology. In AD 544, the sixth general Synod of the Church of the
East (Synod of Mar Aba I) adopted the creed and decrees of the
Council of Chalcedon. This explains why Mar Issac of Nineveh, who was
ordained a Bishop in AD 670 by Catholicos Mar Gewargis, is included
in the Greek Orthodox calendar. His Ascetical works are a great
inspiration today. He wrote about 91 homilies, which can be read here:
Churches were united before the 5th century, and even after Chalcedon
for a period. That is why we see a tradition of the Eastern Church
adopted by sister Churches, and church fathers included in the
calendar of sister churches. It happened because of the unity that
existed at that time, which actually is because of the deep spiritual
influence of some of the impartial fathers who lived at that time.
- *** Excerpts of an earlier message posted on ICON***
Nineveh Lent is at hand.
It is a time of intense prayer, fasting and meditations. It is a
precursor to Great lent, which follows three weeks after three day's lent.
I would like to briefly throw light on the person of Jonah this time.
He is a peculiar character identifiable with most of us in many ways.
Yet any study about repentance without giving due credit to Jonah will
be inconclusive for he converted 120000 in one message.
First, he is historical person. He was son of Amittai (Mathai) of
Geth-hepher, near Nazareth and lived at the time of the reign of
king Jeroboam II, in 8th century B.C. He prophesied victory of
Jeroboam over Syria, 2K 14:25. Thus evidently prophet Jonah and the
book of Jonah are not mere fictions but real. Some people however
think it is a moral story. Many scholar critics have come up with
varying and contradictory interpretations, which are more confusing
than edifying and unnecessary for an ordinary believer. They pose
questions, is it possible for a whale to swallow a full-grown man
that too without causing any injury to the man? Can a man live in
the belly of a fish for three days and nights without breathing, let
alone without food and drink? May be, presence of a whale where
Jonah fell, possible but is it credible that a fish swims all the
way back to distant (1000 Miles) Nineveh? I believe these are
possible because Jesus described this incident as sign of his own
being in the tomb for three days. Barclay considers the use
of "three days and three nights" in Mathew 12: 41 an error, not the
words of Jesus but explanation of Mathew because Jesus did not
remain in the tomb exactly three days and three nights.
Historicity of Jonah is confirmed when Jesus compared himself with
Jonah and said he is greater than Jonah. Also rabbinical tradition
held Jonah in high esteem.
Literally, Jonah means dove. Dove is famous for innocence. It is a
harmless bird. Its message is peace, Gen 8:9. It is symbol of Holy
Spirit. In the OT and until recently name carried certain meaning.
The name as a positive source of identification ought to reflect
character of the person who carries the name. That is not the case
anymore. People call their children glamorous but meaningless names.
No wonder, it is hard for the present generation relate themselves
to anything higher or to find meaning of role modeling and even
existence. Interestingly prophet Jonah is a contradiction to his
name because he does not reflect qualities of dove. Jesus desired
his disciples to have this quality of dove, Mat 10:16. We Christians
as disciple of Christ have lost the superb qualities of dove namely;
harmless and peace loving are also not different from Jonah.
He was a rebel who rebelled against God. He received a commission
from God to go to Nineveh, a neighboring country. Nineveh was a
heathen nation. Wickedness of Nineveh was so terrible that righteous
God could no more tolerate. Was it more horrifying than the
wickedness of these days; is food for thought. Jehovah decided to
destroy them. Fairness is God's immutable quality. He decided to
offer them a chance to repent and turn away from their sins. And
that was the commission of Jonah. Should he not feel elated that God
of the universe called him for a great mission? Instead, he rebelled
and disobeyed. He claimed he had a reason to do so. He knew God
was "gracious, merciful, slow to anger, of great kindness and
repents of the evil," v4: 2.
He wanted a revenging, not a repenting God. In other words, his god
should act exactly as he wanted. He is model of the fallen humanity.
How true a thinker said, "God created man in His image but man created
gods in his image." Man creates his own gods to satisfy his own
egotist quests. No one has difficulty to pray or obey God so long as
God meets his/her demands. People deny and rebuke God forgetting all
the blessings the moment a calamity strikes unawares. This ingratitude
is satanic, not divine quality.
Israel as a nation rebelled many times against God. Even while meat
was in their mouth during the sojourn they murmured against God and
His prophet Moses. God punished them by making them wander in the
wilderness for forty years until the whole generation was consumed.
When they enjoyed the pleasurable bounties of Canaan they forgot
Jehovah who delivered them from the Egyptian bondage with mighty
deeds. Yet, they turned to wickedness, fornication, corruption and
idolatry despising God, Isaiah 1:2. God punished them in His wrath,
pestered with sickness, enslaved to foreign rulers and desolation in
Another flaw with Jonah is that he gets angry with God for his
selfish reasons. There was enough reason for him to rejoice. He
preached in Nineveh "Nineveh will be destroyed in forty days," v3:
4. They believed in God. The king and entire nation fasted three
days, repented and turned back from the wickedness. Outright
conversion of 120,000 people in a singe message! There is no
parallel for this event in the whole of human history. Unimaginable
and unexpected, cent-per-cent, success of a mission he took up with
high reluctance! And yet he is angry and depressed to the point of
death, because God repented and put away the destruction. God gave
him a chance to think if it were reasonable for him to get angry.
His anger was so intense that nothing other than destroying Nineveh
came to his mind. He waited to see it. God was merciful to teach him
a lesson even through his crisis. We are familiar with
televangelists, miracle healers, and who offer cheep grace, during
the course of their gospel-show, require the `unsaved' audience to
commit to Jesus. Some people come forward, stand in the isle and
declare their commitment to Jesus. The speaker instantly announces
that they are saved. Then these `saved' as well as the `saviors' go
back to their old routine. But Nineveh-people were different. They
fully repented, thoroughly forsook their wicked ways and adopted
entirely righteous style of life. It is the life in action and not
mere words that made God to show grace and compassion, v3: 10.
Now, anger is not bad in itself. It is an emotion that God has given
to humanity to serve certain purpose and when anger is used out of
place and out of proportion it becomes destructive. Anger as an
attribute of God is seen throughout the Bible. The living God is
also active to execute His moral laws in Israel. Infidelity,
unbelief, rebellion, immorality, idolatry, human pride, etc are
reasons, which ignite God's anger. Righteous God wants His people
also live in righteousness. When man fails to meet the divine
standards God punishes them. Great deluge at the time of Noah,
confusion at Babel tower, destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah,
destruction of Northern kingdom of Israel, various pestilences,
failure in wars, slavery, are a few examples. Jehovah is spoken as
consuming fire. It may kindle against a nation, a tribe or even a
person. Jesus also got angry with the moneychangers. These are known
as righteous anger. God averts His anger upon petition, e.g.
intercession of Moses for Miriam, for Israel, Jobs intersession for
his friends, etc.
There is another type of anger, which is not righteous. Human anger
is a passion often let out for wrong reasons. Bible warns against
human anger. "Do not incite others into anger," Pr 6:34. "Do not
yield to anger oneself," Pr 19:19. "Be angry and do not sin, do not
let the sun go down in your anger, Eph 4:26. Anger of God rests upon
those who rejects His Son, Jn 3:36. There is a day of wrath for
those who live in sin and reject the message of salvation, Rom 3:5.
A baffling question is how silly and foolish was Jonah to think that
he could escape from God. Did he not know that God was omniscient?
Had he not read Ps 139, which says, "Where can I flee from your
presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed
in hell, behold, You are there," v8, 9. I surmise that he knew all
these but was blinded by his ego. Egoist relegates everyone else to
second position for he alone is important for him. Ego is a very
grave feeling of inferiority, conceit and self-comfort, which is
root of most problems in the society.
I wrote these for study sake and learn how to avoid such failures of
Jonah and remedy them in our daily walk with God,