Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Lent of the Ninevites

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.
Armenian Orthodox.
Coptic Orthodox.
Ethiopian Orthodox.
Eritrean 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 East)

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.

Thomas P.

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