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Jonah’s Fast



Jonah’s Fast

Every year our OrthodoxChurch observes Jonah’s Fast a fortnight prior to the commencement of the Great Fast (Lent) resurrecting and directing our hearts to offer true repentance. This year the focus of our contemplation is the following verse:

What do you mean sleeper” (Jonah 1:6).


In other words, “How can you sleep?”  It is directed from the chief of the crew to Jonah, the fleeing prophet.  He was amazed how can anyone sleep while such a terrible storm raged?  How can he sleep when his life is threatened with death?  How can he sleep among the screams of terror and the loud prayers of the mariners to their gods?  No doubt it was a strange sleep described in the Bible as a deep sleep (1:5)!  In fact, it was the sleep of the conscience and disobedience of the command of the Lord to Jonah to go to Nineveh and warn it from destruction.  It was the sleep that resulted from stubbornness and indifference while hundreds of thousands were going to perish unless he goes on this mission. Thus we pray daily with David saying, “Enlighten my eyes lest I sleep the sleep of death.”  (Psalm 13:3).




The shameful and dangerous thing is the sleep of God’s children in the time that needs more vigilance, prayer, fasting, preachingand teaching.  Equally or more shameful is when the blame comes from the pagans to God’s children, “Arise, call on your God; perhaps your God will consider us, so that we may not perish.”  (1:7). Thereafter, in the belly of the fish, a repentant Jonah prayed saying, “I cried to the Lord because of my affliction and He answered me….When my soul fainted within me I remembered the Lord and my prayer went up to you into Your holy temple.”  (Jonah 2:2,7).


“What do you mean sleeper?” – It is a question which not only renounces, the physical sleep of the servant of God sometimes, but also the spiritual sleep which threatens the lives of people (Jonah, the mariners and the dwellers of Nineveh).  The servant of Christ who does not feel the need of those whomthey serve, or those who are offended bythem, or leave Christ or the Church because ofthem, is certainly in deep sleep.The Lord, in the garden of Gethsemane, rebuked His disciples saying, “Why do you sleep?” (Luke 22:46).  The Lord continued, “Rise and pray lest you fall into temptation.”  (Luke 22:46).


The servant who reaches this degree of sleeping is in need of a storm or an earthquakeor some kind of fish to swallow him in order to wake him up.  The person, who uses his mind, liberty and authority in an erroneous way and trusts much in his own wisdom(Romans 12:16) to the point of colliding with the great will of God, is in deep sleep!  Therefore, the Bible warns us saying: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.”  (Proverbs 14:12), also, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.”  (Proverbs 3:5).


Therefore, let us apply diligently St. Paul’s sharp warning in the three days of Jonah’s Fast: “Now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed.  The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore, let us cast off the works of darkness, let us put on the armour of light.”  (Romans 13:11-12).


In the 12th hour of the Agpyea Prayer, we say: “Rise up from your laziness and implore the Saviour in repentance saying, ‘Lord have mercy upon me and save me.’”  In the same hour we request the assistance of St. Mary saying: “Raise my frail soul to stay awake and pray because it has been lying long in deep sleep.”


May Christ our gracious and merciful Lord accept our prayers, liturgies, fastings and metanias offered to Him and grant us three spiritually upliftingand fruitful days, remembering the words of Christ: “Behold I am coming as a thief.  Blessed is he who watches and keeps his garments.”  (Revelation 6:15).


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