ABOUT THE FAST OF NINEVEH
- View SourceABOUT THE FAST OF NINEVEH
The fast of Jonah is a fast that is practiced by the Syriac Orthodox Church from ancient days. Based on that, our church chose it at the time of Pope Abraam, the 62nd Pope of Alexandria. This fast was organized by the fathers of the church as a sign of their love and unity in the orthodox faith. The church accepted it without change. It is well known that Pope Abraam is the person responsible for moving the Mokatam mountain.
This fast is practiced by the church for the following reasons:
To resemble the people of Nineveh, who have been warned by God that their city would be destroyed in forty days. He gave this warning through His prophet Jonah, and they fasted with real eagerness, crying to God that He would have mercy on them and forgive them, so God forgave them. And that is why we fast for three days, in preparation for the blessings and mercy of God.
In order to remember the mercy of God and His compassion towards sinners.
The church fasts for three days in order to remember the prophet Jonah and his being in the belly of the whale for three days and three nights. We also fast
this fast because we see an example of a similar one in the New Testament, when
the multitudes, which followed Jesus, fasted for three days before He fed them
This fast comes after Epiphany (or Theophany) and before the Great Lent. This is
why the church treats it with the same order as the Great Lent.
MAY THE BLESSINGS OF THIS FAST BE WITH ALL OF US. AMEN.
Member of Holy Coptic Orthodox Church
The Story ofJONAH
These days the church is preparing to start Jonah's Fast or the Fast of Nineveh.
This fast is known to be the fast of repentance, humility and the return to God.
This is why many of the young and old in the church hold fast to this specific
fast and abstain totally from food and drink for long periods of time, some even
abstain for three continuous days. Thus, the church considers this fast to be
one of the fasts of the first degree, similar to the fasts of Lent and Wednesday
The primary message of the book is clearly that God's interest and mercy extend
far beyond the Jews to the human race. This reminds us of the story of the child
who asked his teacher the question "was Jesus white or black?" According to the
story, the teacher replied that He was born with a fair complexion, but the
strong sun of Israel tanned him dark. In the book of Jonah, we see how God was
concerned not only for the Jews, but for the Gentiles too.
INTRODUCTION TO THE BOOK OF JONAH
Even though the book of Jonah is only four chapters, it is considered one of the
special books of the Bible since it combines the prophetic element with the
historical element. When we examine this book, we find ourselves considering
many deep spiritual meanings.
WHO IS JONAH ?
Jona or Jonas is the Syriac and Hebrew dialect version of the Hebrew name Jonah
meaning "dove". Jonah, the prophet son of Amittai, from the tribe of Zebulon
(Joshua 19:10), came from the city of Gath-hepher located about 3 miles away
from Nazareth. It is said that he is the son of the widow of Zerephath (1 Kings
17:17-24) who was raised from the dead. Some critics have attacked the story of
Jonah as a symbolic story but the words of the Lord Jesus indicate the literal
interpretation of this book: "This is an evil generation: they seek a sign; and
there shall no sign be given it, but the sign of Jonas the prophet... The men of
Nineveh shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn
it: for they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than
Jonas is here" (Luke 11:29-32).
Let us study certain aspects of Jonah's Life:
1. Jonah the Stubborn
This book unveils to us, from its beginning, the details revolving around the
sin of disobedience, for Jonah has sinned and he is the prophet of God. This is
why the waters are salty and bitter, and his needs are very great. Furthermore,
the water is filled with rocks. Every problem under these circumstances is
enough to end a person's life. He becomes counted as one of the dead, but when
he finds himself in the belly of the great fish, he discovers that he is
surrounded by a river that has sweet water, not by waves or any danger of
drowning or dying. That is how we experience the work of our wonderful God to
whom we pray to in the Holy Liturgy of St. Gregory, saying "You have changed my
punishment to salvation."
The most beautiful thing in Jonah's praise to God is that it's full of hope and
confidence in God's response to his requests. That is why we find him saying
"out of the belly of hell cried I and thou heardest my voice" (Jonah 2:2).
Jonah says in confidence "yet I will look again toward thy holy temple" (Jonah
2:4). And we see him also saying "yet hast thou brought out my life from
corruption, O Lord my God" (Jonah 2:6). Therefore, we find that there is a
difference between the person who prays, simply to say words, and the person who
prays in faith, finding that God calls us saying all that you ask in prayer and
faith you will receive. God also says "If ye have faith as a grain of mustard
seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place and it shall
remove" (Matthew 17:20).
The Bible emphasizes that all are weak. Therefore, we see that Abraham, the
friend and companion of God, falling into the sin of lying and David, whose
heart is with the Lord, falling into the sin of adultery and murder. We observe
the loving Peter, who is one of the apostles, denying our Lord Jesus. In spite
of all this, God remains loving. Just as we describe him in the Holy Liturgy
"Thou hast changed my punishment to salvation."
Jonah appears in his disobedient attitude in many instances such as God's direct
invitation to his saying: "Rise and go to Nineveh." Then God speaks to him
through a mighty wind and this is a method that God uses to talk to us in that
He allows us to go through trials and tribulations so that the person can wake
up. But, Jonah goes to the bottom of the ship to sleep. God also speaks to him
through the innocent sailors who, when faced with trials and tribulations, call
each one to his Lord. Jonah's heart is still unmoved, on the contrary, he
increases his sleep and finally the Lord sends him the captain of the ship to
ask him to call on his God. Instead of remembering the voice of God saying:
"Call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify
me" (Psalm 50:15), Jonah refuses the captain's request. Finally, the sailors
cast lots to see who is responsible for this evil. The lot falls on Jonah and he
is sentenced to death because he confesses. "For the men know that he fled from
the presence of the Lord, because he had told them" (Jonah 1:10).
These circumstances often happen with us since God talks to us in many ways. We
refuse to listen because we are searching for comfort for our bodies or sleep,
or that we are preoccupied with many things and forget to respond and that each
one of us should get up and pray to his God. "Behold, I stand at the door and
2. The Praying Jonah
Jonah is thrown in the sea and is considered dead. When he reach the stage of
death, Jonah finally arrives at the stage where he is praising and giving thanks
to Him. He does this in the belly of the great fish. All through the previous
stages, Jonah did not see God or hear his voice, but now he begins to see God.
Jonah starts to say with Job: I heard of Thee, but now my eyes have seen you.
Also like the three youths who saw God in the midst of the burning fire and just
as Daniel the prophet who enjoyed a visit by an angel of the Lord in the midst
of the lion's den. In just the same way Jonah starts to speak to God. He talks
to God about His love and His protection for him. As if Jonah is telling the
Lord how the people have condemned him by throwing him in the dangerous sea.
3. Jonah Warning the People
After the whale has thrown Jonah onto the land, Jonah goes to the city of
Nineveh according to the order of the Lord as it was given to him a second time.
"Arise, go unto Nineveh, that great city, and preach unto it the preaching that
I bid thee" (Jonah 3:2). We find that Jonah carries the message to the city of
Nineveh and says to them "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown"
Instead of Jonah talking to the Ninevites about the God who loves the salvation
of all, has gentleness, compassion, love, mercy and motivates us to repent, he
preaches about the angry God, the vengeful God and the powerful God. Here we see
the personality of Jonah who does the work of God with a mild attitude and
instead of going all over the city for three days, he goes in one day and that
is sufficient for him...
In general, there are many instances in which we lock out the picture of a
loving God. Even worse is when we forget many times the work of God within us
and we revert to our stubbornness and disobedience once again. Very often, we do
the work of God with loose hands, but, in spite of this, God still works in our
souls and hearts
We must realize that we are responsible for witnessing to others as our Lord
Jesus Christ said: "Ye are the light of the world." And again, "Let your light
so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father
which is in heaven" (Matthew 5:14, 16). We must live the life of continuous
thanksgiving "in every condition, for every condition and in whatever condition"
and thank the Lord for his great mercy towards us. Remembering always that
"cursed be he that doeth the work of the Lord deceitfully (Jeremiah 48:10) and
"those that seek me early shall find me" (Proverbs 8:17).
4. Jonah the Rebellious
Here we see Jonah the prophet after he has glorified God and God prepared to do
His evangelizing and work through Jonah's weakness. Therefore, God has become
fruitful through Jonah so as to show him that He is a powerful God, and can save
with little or with much. God wants to show us that "neither is he that planteth
any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase" (1
Corinthians 3:7). We notice that the people of Nineveh have fasted, have worn
sackcloth from the youngest to the oldest, they have called to God and each one
has repented of his or her evil ways. God responds to their repentance, since it
is the most important thing that moves the heart of God towards mankind. "God
saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the
evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not" (Jonah
Therefore it is proclaimed, from the beginning, that God's heart moves from the
repentance of sinners. This is evident in the parable of the lost sheep where
God leaves the 99 sheep to search for the one lost sheep. God leaves His chosen
people and He goes, assisted by Jonah, to look for the lost sheep, which is the
city of Nineveh. Just like how God leaves the 9 coins and lights up the candles
and sweeps the whole house in order to find the lost coin. Other parables also
point this out to us, like the parable of the prodigal son, where the father did
not ask anything of his son, but gave him everything simply because he had
returned to his father's house. This is the God that Jonah proclaims when he
says "for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and
of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil" (Jonah 4:2).
In general, the characteristics that angered Jonah from God were that He was
merciful and slow to anger. It is by this wonderful love, which God uses towards
all of us, that He produced the gourd to grow and shadow Jonah's head from the
sun. Then the Lord sent a worm to wither the gourd, an eastern hot wind and
again the sun beat upon Jonah. God did all of this so that He would move the
heart of Jonah a second time in order to remove the anger and weakness and
replace it with joy in the work for His glory. It is within this context that we
remember the words of our teacher St. Paul when he said that it is the
long-suffering of God that gives us the ability to be led towards repentance.
St. Jerome sees that the secret of Jonah's unhappiness is not the saving of the
people of Nineveh, but Jonah's realization of the unfaithfulness and
unthankfulness of His own people the Jews.
LESSONS FROM THE BOOK OF JONAH
1. God Wants the Individual and the Group
The title of this book refers to the people of Nineveh, but the book itself
talks about God who seeks for the salvation, repentance and return of His
people. In doing that, God uses many methods in order to arrive at the end that
He has in mind which is the salvation of the people of Nineveh, Jonah and even
any strangers such as the pagan sailors on the ship.
2. God Uses Nature for the Salvation of Man
Here we see, throughout the whole book, the natures of God and man. Man who is
disobedient and rebellious and God who uses the sea, wind, waves, gourd, eastern
wind and hot sun, which all work towards one goal - the good of man. It is for
this reason that we see God at the beginning, preparing paradise and then
creating man to be lord over it. In just the same way, God uses nature at the
time of Noah and to free His chosen people from their slavery under Pharaoh. He
also used animals to warn the prophet Baam, through a talking donkey (like Mr.
Ed). In just the same way, we see the prophet David saying "The heavens declare
the glory of God; and the firmament showeth his handiwork" (psalm 19:1). And
again "Praise ye him, sun and moon... Praise him, ye heavens of heavens, and ye
waters that be above the heavens" (psalm 148:3,4).
3. The Intense Care that God Has for His Children
God cares for His children even at the time of their rebelliousness and evil.
That is why we find God's promises towards his children truly marvelous. "Can a
woman forget her sucking child... they may forget, yet will I not forget thee"
(Isaiah 49:15). "But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered" (Luke
12:7). "For he that toucheth you toucheth the apple of his (God's) eye"
(Zechariah 2:8). All these promises we find fulfilled in the person of Jonah
even when he was under the sin of disobedience. That is why St. Paul talks about
God being faithful even when we are unfaithful. He cares for His children
irrespective of their condition, appearance, or the circumstances under which
they live. That is why David talks about this heavenly care as he experienced
it: "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want" (Psalm 23:1). David also says "I
have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor
his seed begging bread" (Psalm 37:25). This is God and we are His children.
4. Jonah a Symbolical Representation of Jesus
Here we find many points, some of which are the following:
A. The book of Jonah is a message intended for people to understand that
repentance is important. In just the same way, Jesus came carrying a message to
the world: "Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand."
B. Jonah goes into the ship, and Jesus Christ goes into the alter. Jonah is
condemned to death by the sailors, and Jesus Christ is condemned to death by the
high priests or the people who existed in the temple at that time
C. Jonah is thrown in the sea and we find him discovering the river around him.
Jesus Christ came for the salvation of the whole world.
D. Jonah remains in the whale for three days and while there, he cries out and
talks to God. Jesus Christ dies and goes into the tomb, remaining there three
days. During those three days, He goes down to Hades and takes with Him all
those who have slept, with the hope that He would take them back with Him into
E. We must not forget that Jonah was part of Jesus' family tree and thus Jesus
literally became the son of Jonah
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