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Ba-oota d' Ninevayee or the Fast of the Ninevites

February 8, 2006

William Warda

Today was the third day of a fast called Baoota, d' Ninevaye observed by the ancient Assyrians according to the Old Testament and later by their Christian descendants in Mesopotamia. It is still kept by the religiously devout members of the Church of the East, the Chaldean church and the Syrian Orthodox Church.

The fast is based on the Book of Jonah where it describes how he was ordered by God to travel to Nineveh to warn its inhabitants of their impending destruction unless they repented their sins. As it turned out the Ninevites fasted for forty days therefore they were redeemed.

This fast has been observed by the Assyrians since the early centuries of Christianity. The fourth century Mar Aprim the Great wrote twelve hymns about Jonahs travel to Nineveh and the Repentance of the Ninevites.

In comparing the observance of the Fast during his time with that of the ancient Ninevites Aphrim writes: 

 "compared with that repentance,   

This of ours is like a dream;           

 In the presence of that supplication,

This of ours is but a shadow.."

Later he chides Jonah for being unhappy with the redemption of Nineveh and its inhabitants:

"Son of Mattai, how has the city of Nineveh Offended you that you awaited its dying?"

 He [God]sent him [Jonah] to land; he fled to sea.               He sent him to Nineveh; he boarded a ship.

To Nineveh He sent him to awaken the peoples.                  
He slept on the ship; the peoples awakened him!

On the ship they asked him, "Who are you and whose?"     

 In Nineveh they believed him without questioning.

Aphrim Asks:

 "Who made known to the Ninevites These hidden divine mysteries?  

               That fasting was able to remit The stern decree of God?      

           Jonah did not give them this information,   

                                For he feared lest they should be pardoned;"   

Perhaps the fast was forgotten in later centuries. We learn that it was revived in the sixth century. The bishops of Nineveh and Beth Garmee (Arbil and environs) during a period of pestilence decided to proclaim a fast similar to the one observed by their ancestors as told in the Old Testament hoping that it would help to put an end to the plague. they shared their idea with then patriarch Ezekeil (567-582) and he approved of it, declared a three-day fast and prayers, ordered; "it should be observed in perpetuity." By all accounts the fasting and the praying eased the epidemic.

Gewargis Catholicos (patrearch 681-684) also wrote hymns, anthems, and a litany for the Fast of the Ninevites

Quoting from the Syriac documents Stephanie Dalley writes: "The Syriac History of Karka de Beth Selokh present day Kirkuk ascribes the city's foundation to 'King Sardana, son of Sanherib', i.e. Esarhaddon, son of Sennecherib, 'whose kingdom occupied a third of all the inhabited earth, and whom all the world feared'. It is claimed in the history that he was the king who responded to the preaching of Jonah in Nineveh by ordering a fast, of repentance. In fact, the northern Syriac Christians were fascinated by the story of Jonah. Some works imply that the Ninevites, and therefore their Assyrian 'ancestors', were the first Gentile converts to Christianity, since Jonah is seen as prefiguring Christ.

Relate article:

Assyrians in Syria celebrate the anniversary of the historic Fast of Nineveh


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