The Fast of Ninevah (Jonah’s Fast) | February 10–12

Jonah-and-whale-Coptic-IconGod welling St. Peter & St. Andrew church will have late Liturgy during Jonah’s Fast.

Monday: 5:00pm -7:00pm
Tuesday: 5:00pm -7:00pm
Wednesday: 5:00pm -7:00pm

May The Lord accept your prayers and fasting.

The Story of Jonah

Jonah was a prophet of the Lord, a man of God. We know about Jonah that He was the son of Amittai, and from Gath-Hepher (2Kings 14:25). Scholars tell us that Jonah, is also the son of the widow of Zarrapeth whom Elijah raised from dead (1Kings 17) Jonah followed Elijah, served him and received the grace of prophesying.

In the Book of Jonah, we read that the Word of the Lord came to Jonah, son of Ammttai saying “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness (Jonah 1:1-2).  Jonah is not heed the word of the Lord, and instead desires to flee the presence of the Lord and decided to take a boat to Tarshish instead.  Seeking to escape the Lord, Jonah enters the lowest parts of the boat and goes to sleep, as the winds and the sea rage against the boat and all those who are in it. The mariners on the boat begin to pray to their gods and find Jonah sleeping. They wake him; ask him to pray to his God, that He may save them. The Lord reveals to them that Jonah is in fact the reason why the winds and the seas rage. With this revelation, Jonah commands the men to throw him into the sea. Against their best efforts to save Jonah, the men finally agree and throw Jonah overboard. The winds and seas calm immediately, the men believe in the One True God, and the Lord prepares a whale to swallow Jonah. Jonah spends 3 days and 3 nights in the belly of the whale

In the belly of the whale, we are with Jonah as He offers up a prayer of petition, repentance, thanksgiving and praise. Jonah completes his 3 days and 3 nights in the belly of the whale, and the Lord commands the whale to release Jonah back onto the shore.

The word of the Lord then comes to Jonah again, as it did the 1st time, with the same command. This time Jonah obeys. He journeys to Nineveh, a 3 day journey from where he stood, in less than a day and delivers the message to the people “yet three days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” (3:4) The men of Nineveh believed, proclaimed a fast and repented before the Lord. The Lord accepted their repentance and saved the people of Nineveh, much to the displeasure of Jonah.

In the last chapter, Jonah expresses his displeasure with God for saving the people of Nineveh. God reveals His compassion for all people and His desire to save His entire creation by utilizing nature (A tree, a worm, the sun, and wind), to expose Jonah’s anger.  The book of Jonah ends as we read God say “You have had pity, on the plant for which you have not labored, nor made it grow which came up in a night and perished in a night. And shall I, Myself not take pity upon Nineveh, that great city, in which dwell one hundred and twenty thousand people who do not know either their right hand or their left –and many livestock?”

How the Coptic Church started fasting the Fast of Jonah

The fast of Jonah (fast of Nineveh) actually began in the Syrian Orthodox Church. 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.

In the 9th century, Pope Abraam, the 62nd Pope of Alexandria, one of three Syria popes in the history of the Coptic church, agreed for the Coptic Church to participate in the fast of Nineveh, if the Syria Church would participate in the fast the Week of Hercules (the week before lent.) The Copts agreed due to the piety of this great Pope. (It is also of note that Pope Abraam was on the Patriarchal Seat during the time of the Miracle of the Muqatam Mountain, in which the church fasted three days to be spared from annihilation, if they could not move the mountain. The Lord accepted the fast of the people, the mountains were moved with their prayers, and the people of Egypt were spared.) It was agreed that the Copts would observe this three-day fast fifteen days prior to the Great Lent following the strict dietary rules of the Great Lent.

Contemplations on the Book of Jonah

The Book of Jonah has a message of Salvation.
1) God sends Jonah to the people of Nineveh. The People were Gentiles, thus showing God’s desire to save all mankind.

“When you see the only begotten Word of God was due to be made manifest to human beings in his human nature and to enlighten all the nations with the light of the knowledge of God, even before His own incarnation, He gives the nations a glimpse of His divine care so as to confirm what would happen from what went on before, to teach everyone that He is God not only of Jews but also of nations, and to bring our the relationship of the Old and New Testament.” – Theodoret of Cyr

2) God uses Jonah to save the mariners on the boat. These men were also Gentiles, but we can see that they were men seeking the Lord:
a. They prayed to their gods before taking any actions (1:5)
b. They asked Jonah to pray to his God so that they may not perish (1:6)
c. They believed Jonah when he said “I am a servant of the Lord, and I worship the Lord God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land” (1:9-10)
d. They desired to save Jonah’s life by rowing harder, even after he told them to throw him in the sea (1:13)
e. They prayed for forgiveness from the true God (1:14)
f. They feared the Lord and offered Him sacrifices (1:16)

“They were endeavoring to find God’s will in order that they might carry it out.  When the sea ceased its raging by their throwing Jonah into it they were assured of the presence of God in the matter.  They believed in the Lord, offered Him a sacrifice and made vows.  In their belief in the Lord they not only believed that He was God but by offering Him a sacrifice they professed their belief in the propitiation of blood.” – HH Pope Shenouda III – Contemplations on the Book of Jonah the Prophet

3) God uses the whale to save Jonah
a. God prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah (1:17)
b. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights (1:17)
c. Jonah Prayed to God
d. Jonah put out on dry Land

He did not prepare it to destroy him but to preserve him.  The great fish was not a punishment but a shelter.  Jonah was safer and more comfortable in the belly of the whale than if he were still in the ship struggling against the waves and the sea, and against fatigue, cold and wind. This whale was sent by God to carry out the Divine will entrusted to it – HH Pope Shenouda III – Contemplations on the Book of Jonah the Prophet

For even as Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth – Matthew 12:40

Since the Holy God has promised those who hope in him a means of escape from every affliction, we, even if we have been cut off in the midst of the seas of evils and are racked by mighty waves stirred up against us by the spirits of wickedness, nevertheless endure in Christ who strengthens us.  – St. Basil the Great

Hence He is tempest tossed, and falls asleep, and is wrecked and aroused from sleep, and taken by lot, and confesses his flight, and is cast into the sea, and swallowed but not destroyed by the whale – Gregory of Nazianzus

That whale acted with great discipline according to an assuring predestined Divine plan.  It appeared in the proper time and at the right place in order to carry Jonah in its belly.  It was as though this prophet was being taken from an open ship liable to being covered and drowned by the waves, into an enclosed and protected ship invulnerable to water and waves.  In due time the whale vomited Jonah onto dry land at the place, which God defined.  There it left him unharmed after it had fully completed its errand. – HH Pope Shenouda III – Contemplations on the Book of Jonah the Prophet

4) God saves the people of Nineveh
a. The Lord commands Jonah again to go to Nineveh
b. Jonah prophecies the destruction of Nineveh
c. The Ninevites repent

And as Jonah was first commanded to preach to the Ninevites but his prophecy did not come to them till after the whale had vomited him out, so the prophecy made to the Gentiles did not come to them until after the resurrection – Augustine

I want you to marvel at the philanthropy of God, who was satisfied with three days of repentance for so many transgressions.  – St. John Chrysostom

Nineveh freed itself from death by fasting – Ambrose

Do you see how vexed God is when fasting is treated despitefully?  Learn how delighted he is when fasting is honored. Like a heavenly power overseeing Nineveh’s charge, fasting snatched the city from the gates of death and returned Nineveh to Life – St. John Chrysostom

In uncertainty the repented and obtained certain mercy – Augustine

5) God saves Jonah from his obduracy and pride
a. Jonah was still egocentric
b. Jonah enjoys the plant that God gave Him
c. Jonah laments over the plant that God takes from Him
d. God reveals his mercy and compassion through the plant

Jonah’s thinking, however, was of a more serious type.  He was still thinking of his dignity and of his word, which was not carried out.  It was the same thinking of old which had formerly induced him to flee from the presence of the Lord. Due to that thinking he deprived himself of the fellowship of heaven’s exultation. He separated himself from joining the hosts of angels in their joy over Nineveh’s salvation.  He proved by his anger that his way of thinking was subjective and not spiritual, and proved that his will was incompatible with the will of the heavenly Father “who desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4).  – HH Pope Shenouda III – Contemplations on the Book of Jonah the Prophet

In Nineveh, Jonah by his preaching was working with God in spreading His kingdom.  And outside Nineveh, God was working for Jonah to save his soul and deliver him from his misery – HH Pope Shenouda III – Contemplations on the Book of Jonah the Prophet

Yet the salvation of the penitent nations is preferred to Jonah’s suffering and the shade that he loved.  – Augustine

May the prayers of the Prophet Jonah and the blessings of this holy fast bring to our hearts, minds, and spirits the true love, mercy, longsuffering nature, and compassion of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ. Let us do like the Ninevites, and use these three days to offer repentance from our hearts, seeking the forgiveness of our sins. Let us do like Jonah, and give thanks to the Lord who prepares our way for us through all tribulations and trials, as He prepared the belly of the whale for Jonah. Let us put ourselves before our Lord, as humble obedient and faithful servants of the One True God, seeking to hear the message that He desires to give to the world through us.

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