Sawma Ramba : Great Fast : First Sunday - Petrutha

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The Great Fast consists of the seven weeks before the Great Sunday of Resurrection. Although this is a fasting in imitation of the 40 day fasting of our Lord Jesus, the Thomas Christians of India call it Ambathu Nombu (50 day fast). But there are, in fact, only 40 days of fasting when seven Sundays and the two extra fasting days of Passion Friday and Great Saturday are excluded. Practically, however, they used to abstain from meat, fish, etc. for the whole seven weeks of Great Fast and thus the fasting of 50 days.


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The Mar Toma Nasranis call this Sunday Petrata Sunday. The Syriac word peturta means a looking back, a self-examination and reconciliation. Biblical scholars underline the fact that reconciliation is at the root of Christian faith and living. Its sacramental and ecclesial expression is the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Hence the Mar Toma Nasranis seal their observance of Great Fast through the celebration of this Sacrament. For such a worthy celebration, everybody should fully become oriented towards God and fellow beings during the Great Fast. This action plan includes principally prayer (personal intimacy with Jesus – upawasa), renunciation (getting rid of everything that is not pleasing to Jesus – tapas) and almsgiving (helping the neighbour in all possible ways – danadharma).


Today’s scriptural readings teach us of the true spirit of Great Fast. The first reading Exod 34:5-6 (34:1-7,27-35) is a beautiful description of the God of the Old Testament. It is a summary statement of the people of Israel’s understanding of Yahweh, their God, who intervenes in history. If one looks for a theological thread that links the whole of the Bible, one can probably suggest Exod 34:6: “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness…” (Micah 7:18-20; Joel 2:12-14; Jonah 4:2; Ps 103:8-9). It is to this God Moses intercedes on behalf of the people.  The realisation that the God in whom we believe is a God who is ready to accept the sinner who returns to him acknowledging his/her sins is a welcome invitation for everybody during the Great Fast.  The full realization of the picture of God who is merciful and gracious is seen in Jesus Christ, who gives his own life to reconcile erring humanity with God.


Isa 58:1-10 (58:1-12,14), the second reading speaks of social commitment as an integral part of true fasting. Together with reconciliation with God, just and proper dealing with other members of the society is an essential requirement of fasting. Fasting means more than shunning some food or abstaining temporarily from some habits like smoking, drinking, etc. These external gestures should be accompanied by other personal and social engagements. On the personal level, we need to be attentive to the inner self and see if our life is in tune with the commandments. Fasting to be effective, means to have the readiness to accept the failures and the resolve to get out of wicked ways and habits. On the social level, fasting means helping those less fortunate in health and material goods in our communities. If various penitential rituals are external manifestation of our desire to reconcile ourselves with God, which is the vertical component of fasting, then it is to be accompanied by our right and just dealing with our fellow humans, which is the horizontal component of fasting. There should be correspondence between the actual conduct of the individual and community and the intention of the individual and community in worship.


The third reading is Eph 4:17-5:4,15-21. When St. Paul admonishes the Christians in Eph 4:27-32 “to do honest work with their hands, so that they may be able to give to those in need; Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for edifying, as fits the occasion, that it may impart grace to those who hear;  And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, in whom you were sealed for the day of redemption; Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamour and slander be put away from you, with all malice; and be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you”, he is referring  precisely to the various Christian behavioural qualities every Christian must strive to achieve and regain during this Fast.


The gospel reading from Matthew 3:16-4:11 can be considered as a summary statement of the existential tension Jesus has to undergo in carrying out His Father’s will in accomplishing the mission entrusted to Him. The devil here represents the enticing power and influence of evil and the angels represent the divine presence and assistance available to a Spirit-filled person. The implicit question in the temptation scene of Jesus is: Which is the power more prevalent in this world? Is it the power of the insubordinate and wilful evil forces or of God, who takes care of the one who remains obedient to Him by sending His angels? As the life of Jesus reveals, the ultimate victory manifested in the resurrection will be that of the life-giving divine presence. Through the temptations, Jesus is proved to be on the side of God and His plans. Every temptation was a question put to Jesus to test his trust in God and his allegiance to God’s designs. All of them were temptations to adopt short cuts to reach glorification and thus to thwart His Father’s plan to attain glorification through vicarious suffering. In other words, the three temptations were for Jesus to make of his God-given talents for selfish gains. To each of them Jesus replied with conviction derived from the Word of God and the relationship with his Father.


The season of Great Fast is a time for reconciliation – reconciliation with oneself, others and with God. Reconciliation involves two aspects: asking God forgiveness for our sins and the readiness to forgive others who did some wrong towards us. It is a time for making our relationships more dynamic and stronger. If we succeed in combining our fasting with prayer and conversion then we will be able to enjoy the peace and joy which the Risen Lord promises us. Like Jesus, we have to triumph over various temptations by relying on the power of the Word of God and by filial submission to God’s will. Let us try to get around the tempting offers of Satan by the power of the Holy Spirit given to us at baptism.



Credits: Father Joy Philip Kakkanattu, CMI <jpkakkanattu 'at' gmail 'dot' com>

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