by Very Rev. Joseph C. Joseph Corepiscopa
We, the orthodox Christians, most commonly use the book of Jonah during the time of the three day lent. The church fathers set the lent to cleanse the faithful people from their sins through fasting and meditation to prepare them for certain events during the year. This three day lent is called the Nineveh Lent, because it is formulated after the Book of Jonah. The people of the great city of Nineveh repented and converted to God through the message from Jonah the prophet sent by God. The three day lent is also a preparatory lent of the believers before the Great lent.
The most unbelievable miracle in the Bible is the event when Jonah was in the belly of a great fish for three days and nights. The one who accepted that God is the creator of the universe and nothing is impossible for Him. He has dominion over His creation then they will believe Him even though it seems to be unbelievable to human understanding or even unproven by any one. God, the creator, has power and with His command, the sea can make the waves rough and high or make it calm. The whales will obey its creatorís command, swallow a man or vomit him. By Godís mighty power the impossible is possible to keep a man alive in the belly of the whale for three days and three nights. Nothing is impossible for God for there is no proof, only Faith is required.
THE BOOK OF JOHAH
The book of Jonah in the Bible is considered as a minor prophetical book. The author is the prophet and the narrator unknown. The time frame of this bookís manuscript is about the fifth century B.C. according to scholars. The Book of Jonah comprises a total of 48 verses in four chapters. The places that are mentioned in the book include: Nineveh, Joppa, and Tarshish.
CITY OF NINEVEH
Nineveh was the capital city of Assyria and it was one of the greatest cities in the world. About 400 miles from Mediterranean on the east bank of Tigris. The main city was built rounded with five walls of 100 feet high and three canals in about thirty miles long and ten miles wide. The gardens were very beautiful and the fifteen gates of the city guarded by colossal lions and bulls. The famous temple in the city was built in the form of the pyramid that glittered in sunlight. The city was great in wickedness as it was in wealth, power, and intellectual attainments.
DISOBEDIENCE OF JONAH
Chapter one begins with God commanding Jonah to go to the city of Nineveh and preach against the wickedness. Jonah, a Jew, refused to preach salvation to the gentile city of Nineveh, the Assyrian capital. Jonah had two reasons for this, one being that Jews did not have any association or dealings with the gentiles, and also Assyria was the greatest enemy of the Israel nation. Due to these reasons, Jonah disobeyed Godís commandment and he fled to Tarshish.
THE WILL OF GOD PREVAILS
Jonah boarded a ship going to Tarshish and went in to the bottom of the ship trying to hide from the presence of God and slept. As a result, God sent out a great wind that created a mighty storm in the sea and the ship began to sink. The captain and the crew were afraid and everyone started praying to their own gods. The crewmen were Gentiles, and they were aware that Jonah was a Jew and asked him to pray. Jonah acknowledged that this happened due to his disobedience to God. Jonah asked the captain to throw him overboard, and stated that the sea will begin to calm. Due to this incidence, the gentiles prayed to the Lord and offered sacrifices. God prepared a great fish (in my opinion a great blue whale large enough to carry a man alive inside. The whales are as large as 110 feet or more in length and 400,000 lbs in weight or as big as 30 elephants together) that swallowed Jonah and carried him inside for three days and three nights. Jonah chapter 1.
REPENTANCE OF JONAH
Just imagine being in side of a whale for three days and nights, in my opinion, Jonah probably suffered. God was teaching him a lesson to learn that he is helpless and he cannot die or live without the mercy of God. Inside the whale, Jonah started praying, his repentance and confession about his disobedience to the Lord. The merciful God answered his prayer and asked the whale to vomit him onto the land. As God commanded, the whale vomited Jonah. Jonah chapter 2.
JONAHíS PREACHING TO NINEVEH
The Lord asked Jonah to preach in Nineveh. Now Jonah knew that he had to obey God even though he had his reasoningís before. The salvation is for the Jew, only the people of God not for the Gentiles. The City of Nineveh was a walking distance of three days. . He was supposed to walk three days towards the city of Nineveh, but after the first day, he cried out to the people that in forty days the city will be destroyed by God. He had no compassion or mercy in his speech to the people in the city of Nineveh. He just followed the order of the Lord even though he did not want to do so.
SALVATION OF NINEVEH
The ordinary citizens of Nineveh heard Jonahís preaching and they began to change from their wickedness and repent their sins. The word reached the king, and he proclaimed fasting for the whole nation. Everyone did the fasting and prayer without any food or beverages. It started from the kingís palace, the rich and poor, babies and even the animals. The cry from the city reached to the Lord and God had compassion on the city and changed His decision to destroy the city and decided to save it. Jonah chapter 3.
JONAHíS DISPLEASURE TO GOD
Jonah waited to see what would happen to the city. When he discovered that God had forgiven the people and did not destroy the city, Jonah was very angry at God and he wished to be dead than to witness the salvation of gentile nation. In this Book, God was teaching Jonah about compassion towards others with the example of a plant (gourd) and the worm. Jonah had the compassion towards the plant and it grew over night and died the next day by the worm. God asked Jonah why he could not be compassionate towards more than 120,000 people in the city of Nineveh who could not distinguish between right and wrong. Jonah chapter 4.
There is nothing impossible for God. With faith, only we can understand the miracles of the Bible. Moses divided the sea with his staff and made a passage way for the Israelites during their journey to the Promised Land. Then why is it not possible for Jonah to stay alive inside a whale? Elijah was fed by a mountain crow (1 Kings 17:4-5) and an angle and he cross the wilderness walking without food or drinks for forty days (1 Kings 10:5-8). When we believe God is the creator of the universe, we can understand these things He has done. Humans cannot understand the mighty power of God because humans are human and God is God.
Salvation is the gift of God and that He gives it to those who He pleases. The Book of Jonah gives us insight of forgiveness of sins by earnest repentance. Fasting and prayer is the means of the repentance. Jonah and Nineveh received the salvation through the mercy of God which was earned by repentance. With our sins, we are also in the belly of a great whale in the sea. The great whale is Satan, and he swallowed us in our sins and he is in the sea of this world. The only way out of his belly and out of this sea is repentance. The prayers, meditation, and fasting of the three days lent, will strengthen our souls to repent from our sins. May the Lordís mercy and salvation come upon us and take us to the shore in which He has prepared for us.
May God bless all of us.
by HH Moran Mor Ignatius Zakka I Iwas, Patriarch of Antioch and All The East
Supreme Head of the Universal Syrian Orthodox Church
The Lent of Jonah
by Bar Eto briro Dr. D Babu Paul
The History of the Three Days Lent in Syriac Orthodox Church
by Rev. Fr. Dr. Biji Chirathilattu
Three Days Lent - Are We Ready to Obey, Pray, Repent?
by Cheriyan Vengal
Sermons, Bible Commentaries and Bible Analyses for Nineveh Lent
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