Monday of the Rogation of Ninivites

The yearly practice of observing three days of Fast to commemorate the Fast of the Ninivites as described in the Book of Jonah 3:1-10 begins today. This is called in Malayalam Moonnu Nompu (= three days’ Fast) and in English Rogation of Ninivites recalling the prayer of the people of Niniveh/Nineveh together with fast for the pardon of sins when they became penitents hearing the preaching of Jonah. The three days’ Fast is observed from Monday to Wednesday two weeks before (or the third week counting backward from) the beginning of the Great Fast (Sauma ramba) or Lent in the Latin tradition. The Thursday after the three days’ Fast is celebrated as a concluding feast.


It became a regular practice in the East Syriac tradition in connection with a plague that brought great calamity to the people of Beth Slogh in Persia. Mar Savreesho the then Metropolitan of the place directed to observe fasting in the pattern of the Ninivites of OT in that precarious situation and got relieved of it in three days. As a gesture of thanksgiving for this great gift of the Lord, the then Patriarch Elias directed to observe three day fasting every year in the whole Church.


The majority of Biblical scholars today consider the Book of Jonah not as a historical record, but as a didactic fiction in the form of a parable. The protagonist Jonah in this parable is the prophet Jonah son of Amittai from Gathhepher mentioned in 2 Kings 14:25.  Archeological findings do not agree with the description of enormous extension and population of Niniveh. So also the Assyrian records do not mention any preaching by an Israelite prophet there. Niniveh being the capital city of Assyria, the absence of such a document is very important. Scholars think that the message of this Book is stronger and more important than its historicity. The inspired sacred writer who wrote this fiction was strongly contradicting the narrow-minded Israelites who thought that they were the only people who would be saved by God and that all the pagans were doomed to perdition. But God pardons the Ninivites seeing their conversion and does not bring any punishment in the form of a calamity upon them. This parable gives another message too. No one can flee from the presence of God. Jonah is said to have been fleeing from the presence of God by embarking a ship to go to another destination. But God directs things in such a way as to bring Jonah to preach in Niniveh.


In connection with the three days’ Fast we have to remember that this is observed as
Moonnu Nompu at Kuravilangad in the diocese of Palai, Kerala, with fervour, gaiety and solemnity. Although the Kuravilangad church is dedicated to our Lady, the Moonnu Nompu is a big celebration there from a very long past. This is an occasion also for the traditional families of the parish for a get-together of their members scattered in other places. On the first day processions starting from different places converge in the distant outskirts of the front-yard of the church and proceed to the church as one long procession and conclude with liturgical ceremonies. On the second day the main function is the carrying of the miniature ship containing the statue of the prophet Jonah on the deck. This procession is very grand and is escorted by decorated elephants. During the course of the procession till the foot of the Granite Cross in the church-yard, the ship will be shaken and agitated by its bearers to remember the violent shaking of the ship by the raging sea (Jonah 1:1-15).


At the Granite Cross the statue of Jonah is removed from the deck of the ship indicating his being thrown into the sea, and thereafter the ship is carried as though sailing on a calm sea (Cf. Jonah 1:15-16). The celebrations of the second day also conclude with liturgical ceremonies in the church. On the third day also there is a big procession carrying all the sacred statues in the church as well as in the nearby chapels concluding in the church with liturgical ceremonies. Thursday, the fourth day, is supposed to be the day of ending the three days’ Fast. There will be liturgical ceremonies in the church although the concourse of the faithful will be very thin on this day in the church. An important ceremony on this day is the blasting of 101 dynamites from thick, solid and cylindrical cast-iron devices, about 20 to 25 centimetres in height, set on the floor named kathina to mark the end of the three days’ Fast or Moonnu Nompu. But this third day is celebrated solemnly with a great concourse of people at the Kaduthuruthy church which is under the Archdiocese of Kottayam.


The Biblical readings prescribed for today remind us of being repentant, prayerful and forgiving. Isaiah 63:1-64:12 depicts Israel’s remembrance of the past iniquities during the Babylonian exile and its craving for the mercy of Yahweh. The reading from the prophet Habakuk 3:1-19 is a prayer by the prophet himself describing the glory and power of Yahweh and expressing trust and joy in the midst of troubles.


The next reading 1 Tim. 2:1-3:10 contains instructions concerning prayer for different categories of people, especially those in authority. Thereafter St. Paul delineates the qualifications needed for Bishops and Deacons. The Gospel reading is Mt. 18:23-35. Here the parable of the unforgiving servant is told by Jesus. Its impact is very great. A king is waiving off the huge debt – ten thousand talents – of one of his servants on account of his tears and plea. But immediately after this event, the same servant does not waive off a very small debt – a hundred denarii  –  of his fellow servant despite his tears and plea. On hearing this news, the king cancels his decision to waive off the huge debt of the first servant. This is a good lesson to the Christians to learn how charitable and forgiving they should be, especially when they re-enact the Fast of the Ninivites.



Credits: Father Thomas Kalayil, CMI <thomas 'dot' kalayil 'at' cmi 'dot' in>


Read more reflections