Introduction: History of Nineveh Fast
The Fast of Nineveh, more popularly known as The Three Day Fast is the shortest of the five canonical Fasts of the Malankara Orthodox Church. The dates of this particular lent vary every year according to the date of Easter. The Great Lent (50 days) begin 18 days after the end of the Fast of Nineveh. The Fast of Jonah (Fast of Nineveh) originated in the Syrian Orthodox Tradition. In the 6th century, a plague inflicted the Northern regions of modern day Iraq or what was called at the time, Nineveh. The plague was devastating the city and the villages surrounding it, and out of desperation the people ran to their bishop to find a solution. The bishop sought help through the Scriptures and came upon the story of Jonah in the Old Testament. Upon looking at the story the bishop therefore ordered a 3-day fast to ask for God’s forgiveness. At the end of the 3-day fast, the plague had miraculously stopped, therefore, on the 4th day the people rejoiced.
Verse for the Day:
The captain went to him and said, “How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god! Maybe he will take notice of us so that we will not perish.” (Jonah 1:6 – NIV)
The city of Nineveh repented before the Lord and the gates of heaven opened to them and they received mercy. The King fasted and lamented in sack cloth. The people too clothed in sack cloth and poured ashes on their heads. The Lord saw that they turned away from their evil way. He withdrew His punishment. Blessed is He who rejoices in those who repent and return to His presence. (Vespers, Monday of Nineveh Fast)
In the Book of Jonah we find that God is the One who searches for man in order to bring him to repentance. We see Him searching for all. He goes about seeking the souls that are His. He searches for the souls of those in the ship in order to save them. He searches for the lost souls of the people of Nineveh in order to make them repent to save them. He also uses every possible means in order to save Jonah the Prophet. If man does not go to God, God goes to man in order to reform him and reconcile him. St. Jacob of Serug said, “There was a dissension between God and man, and when man did not go to God to be reconciled, God came down to reconcile man to Him.” Jonah tries to take matters into his own hands and leaves God behind – or at least tries to. How many of us try to do that? We think we know better than God in all matters of our lives. It just is not the case. We think in this manner only because we are filled with pride. This fast is about getting rid of our bad habits, just like the sailors threw most of their cargo to make the ship sail safe. This fast is about cultivating virtues. Just as the captain awakened Jonah from his sleep, let us also awaken ourselves from spiritual sleep and call upon God during this three-day Fast. A blessed Fast to all of you.