Malankara World

Great Lent

Great Fast (50-day Fast)

by Rev. Fr. Johnson Punchakonam

During the Weeks of Great Fast (Valiya Nompu), Mar Thoma Nazranis (St. Thomas Christians of India) meditate on the Passion and Death of 'Iso-Msiha'. The fasting starts immediately after the Petratha Sunday.

The report of the Serra written by Archbishop Francis Roz during 1603-10 AD, provides an insight on the way St. Thomas Christians observed the Great Fast.


1. Great Fast started on Sunday evening.

2. Three recitations of the Liturgy of hours

3. The day's fast was broken only after going to the Church in the evening.

4. Fish, meat and even milk products were avoided and wine was thoroughly forbidden.

5. However, Murukkan (a mix of betel leaf with lime and areca nut) was chewed and perhaps this might have controlled the feeling of being hungry.

6. On the days of fast, food was mainly rice with some herbs and vegetables. People who did physical labor ate twice a day.

7. Married persons avoided sexual intercourse.

8. The prayers on a fast day used to be longer and the priests used to stay awake at night for longer than usual.

Even today, St. Thomas Christians avoid fish products during Great Fast unlike in the Latin and Greek traditions.

The following paragraph describes the reaction of St. Thomas Christians when European missionaries tried to meddle with their customs and fasting rules.

In 1541 AD, the Latin congregation of Franciscans built a seminary at Cranganore (Kodungalloor) for the Christians of St. Thomas. Latin was also taught in the seminary. It had a very happy beginning. After a while however the Franciscans began to force the Cathanars (priests of St. Thomas Christians) to celebrate using the leavened bread. They were also persuaded to eat fish on days of fast and do other things which were not in accordance with their lifestyle. Also, the Latin priests insisted on not beginning the Lent before Ash Wednesday. The St. Thomas Christians like other Eastern Christians began Lent on the preceding Monday. In light of such behavior, the St. Thomas Christians and their priests distanced themselves from the seminary. Since the priests trained by this seminary were of the Latin rite and they tried to change the customs of the St. Thomas Christians they couldn't be posted in any parish in Malabar (Kerala). The liturgical season of Great Fast (Sawma Rabba) begins on Petratha Sunday. The Syriac word Petratha has the meaning 'to return', 'to pass through', 'to finish' or 'to end'. The weeks of Great Fast is the season of looking back at one's own life and of real reconciliation. It is only from a deep awareness of being sinners, of being separated from God the source of life and of being redeemed, that believers will be able to raise authentic and sincere praise and thanksgiving to God the Redeemer. This salvific experience is the attitude of reconciliation. We express it several times during the celebration of our Qurbana and other liturgical acts, but the season of Great Fast is a special occasion to proclaim this attitude. The sacrament of reconciliation (Confession) is a typical expression of this attitude. Hence it is very difficult to call one a real Christian, if one fails to celebrate at least once this sacrament of reconciliation during the Weeks of Great Fast.

Petratha Sunday

Petratha Sunday is an important day for St. Thomas Christians. Plenty of special food is prepared and relished during the day. The day's food is of special significance also because meat and fish are away from the kitchen for the next 50 days. Pidi and chicken curry is a Petratha specialty.

See Also:

by HH Moran Mor Ignatius Zakka I Iwas, Patriarch of Universal Syrian Orthodox Church and All The East
Fasting is a voluntary act of abandoning worldly life. It is a sign of manís obedience to, and respect of Godís laws and his observance of Godís offices by his voluntary abstinence from food or drink for a specific period of time.

Outline of Great Lent (According to Malankara Syriac Orthodox Tradition) by George Aramath
Great Lent in the Syriac Orthodox Church starts with evening prayer on the 1st Sunday (Wedding of Cana) and concludes with the Holy Kurbana/Mass on 8th Sunday (Resurrection/Easter).

Why Great Lent? What's the purpose? How do I take part? by George Aramath
Is it possible to observe the Great Fast/Lent in our current culture? What's the point of it anyway? It seems like an ancient practice irrelevant today.

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