Great Fast (50-day Fast)


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.

Fasting

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 throughly forbidden.
5. However, Murukkan (a mix of betel leaf with lime and arecanut) 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 labour 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 celeberate 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 behaviour, 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).

Reference

Bishop Francis Roz “Report from Serra ( 1603/1604)” – British Museum Manuscript 9853.


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