Rogation of the Ninevites

This fast is known as Rogation of the Ninevites in English, Moonnu Noyambu in Malayalam, and Ba-oosa D'Ninvaye in Syriac. It is a three day fast observed by the Churches that follow East and West Syriac liturgical traditions.

This fast is known as the Rogation of the Ninevites as it is based on the Book of Jonah in the Old Testament where God sends Jonah to Nineveh to warn its inhabitants of destruction unless they repent for their sins. The Ninevites then fast for 40 days and are spared. This fast was later forgotten and was revived as a 'Three day fast' in the 6th century AD by the Patriarch Elias, seeking God's help when an epidemic stuck Nineveh and its surrounding regions. The fasting and praying has been observed ever since by the Christians of Persia, especially the Assyrians and Chaldeans. The St. Thomas Christians also observe the ”Moonu Noyambu” or ”Three day fast” in imitation of the Ninevites.

There are ancient records about how St. Thomas Christians celebrated this feast. The following is an extract of a letter written by Archbishop Francis Roz in 1612 AD about ”Moonu Noyambu” of the St. Thomas Christians.

The clerics would assemble in the church and recite the whole of the Psalter with a number of antiphons and hymns. Then they would read aloud several sermons of St. Ephrem, which are very pious, but very long, in which he treats of the penance of the Ninevites and exhorts his hearers to imitate them by weeping for their sins. After that a priest vested in surplice and stole would stand in front of the altar and sing in a most pathetic tone certain prayers in the form of a litany, and at each verse, all those in the church would prostrate themselves on the pavement and say amen. When these various ceremonies were over, and after sunset, all would sit in good order on the verandas around the church and eat the rice and other eatables prepared beforehand by the Christians. After the meal they would say the grace, and each one would retire to his house. The same thing would be repeated on the two following days. On the fourth day, which was a day of obligation, they would all hear mass and end their fast. The Christians were so faithful in keeping it that they would not allow any occupation or any journey to come in its way. They believed that if they omitted it, some misfortune would befall them. The Children also took part in it.

Every year in the Martha Mariam Church in Kuravalingad the ritual of ”kappalottam” or ”racing ship” is the centre of attraction during the fasting period. This ritual is in remembrance of the earlier mentioned trip of Jonah to Nineveh, in Assyria. When God asked Jonah to warn and save the Ninevites, Jonah was hesitant as the pagan Assyrians were the traditional enemies of Israelites. Johan takes a ship in the opposite direction and the ship is caught in turbulent waves. Jonah confesses to the sailors that he is responsible for the unpleasant situation. The sailors throw him out of the ship and a whale swallows him. Three days later he is miraculously saved. Jonah then proceeds to Nineveh. The ”kappalottam” ritual is in imitation of Jonah being thrown out of the ship. A wooden ship with a statue of Jonah is violently carried around the church by barefooted volunteers in the midday sun. This symbolises the ship struggling in the turbulent sea. Finally, the statue of Jonah is thrown out of the ship.

This fast falls on the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, 18 days before the beginning of the Great Fast. These three days of rigorous fasting comes to an end with the veneration of the cross and feast celebration on the fourth day.

Written by: Mr Mathew Mailaparampil.

Reviewed by: Fr Varghese Pathikulangara, CMI.


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