REPENT YE, HOLY CHURCH, FROM TOP TO BOTTOM,
AND CONVERT BEFORE YOU CELEBRATE THE HOLY PASCHA
This period experiences a great turmoil, which has never been in recent times. The earth is roaring with anger. Our climate has not been normal for past the past few years; our weather has been so erratic. Many areas on the earth are being ravaged by heavy floods; for example Australia, where there was no misery resulting from floods, has been suffering from deluge; Pakistan and parts of South America suffered from massive losses due to heavy flooding.
The past decade saw massive earthquakes all over the world. Although earthquakes are not uncommon in history, they are occurring frequently and with much higher destructive power, not just killing a few hundreds, but thousands. When the epicenter is in the ocean, the earthquakes create unfathomable power and consequently roll the waters of the sea to make it a devouring lion and totally decimating entire population in surrounding lands. We saw one such wrath of the earth in 2004 that took the lives of more than 200,000 people in Indonesia and in the lands surrounded by the Indian Ocean. Again, we are struck with another such catastrophe in the western Pacific, creating unimaginable destruction and misery in Japan.
Well, the seismologist has his geological explanation for all these calamities. Historians may have a lot to lecture on them with a historical point of view. Philosophers will definitely rationalize on them. Yes, nations may gather together to find solutions for the problems resulting from these calamities. Scientists may also try to develop systems of advance warning for better preparation to deal with such future situations. But none of them will be able to alleviate the pain experienced by the survivors of these catastrophes. In fact the professionals mentioned above can never be able to solve the enigmatic problem engulfing our generation.
Readers, this enigma is understood only through FAITH! Faith can answer the problems, it can heal the wounds, it can comfort the grieving survivors and it can also suggest solutions. Suffering is inevitable in human life; but if we have the right faith it can make it lighter for the sufferer.
In the Semitic Church (both Orthodox Syrians and Nestorian Assyrians), there is a brief fasting period called the “Nineveh Fast”, or the “Three Day Fast”; which is observed in a very austere manner and falls as a prelude to the Great Lent, eighteen days before the Great Fast starts, which lasts for forty days followed by another ten more days of stricter fasting period in honor of the passion of the Lord, which ends on the day of Pascha (Resurrection). Actually the purpose of the Nineveh Fast is to prepare the faithful for the observance of the Great Lent.
We read in the bible that the Nineveites listened to the preaching of Jonah and went into deep practices of austerity. They wore sack cloths, showered ashes on their bodies, provided no food for their babies and animals. Nineveh was in sin; and God was about to destroy that region like he had destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. However, God wanted to give them a chance of coming back to Him through repentance. Jonah was asked to preach repentance; but he ran away from the command of God, because he thought that the people of Nineveh were an unrepentant generation, and that they would kill him. But God did not want to destroy a nation. So He decided to punish the running away Jonah, who had taken a ship to escape from the scene. A whale swallowed him and he stayed in the belly of the whale for three days, and it finally threw him up on the shore near Nineveh. Jonah realized the consequence of his disobedience. He started his preaching so vehemently, and asked the sinners of Nineveh to observe the strictest form of penance and repentance. It is with this great biblical episode that the Semitic Church is preparing her children for the Great Lent.
Our present generation has gone beyond the magnitude of sinfulness that devoured the inhabitants of Nineveh. The world has become dangerously hedonistic and has no regard for the law of nature or the precepts of God. We are not just talking about the sin of the unchristian world; we are also talking about the sin of the Church, which was given the discernment of clearly understanding the commandments of God and the laws of nature, which are reflective of God’s ultimate purpose in His created sphere. In fact, the Church and the world around her are equally sinful now. The world around the Church does not know what God really wants of it. But the Church knows what God expects of her; hence her sins are more terrible challenging God in every area of human life.
As Christians we should know what sin is and what its consequences are, more than the heathen world. Tragically, our problem is that we are already blinded by the scars of constant sinning; we do not understand the depth of the wound it inflicts on God’s loving heart, we do not understand severe consequences of our sin. The Church is called to be the light and salt of the world. A sinful Church cannot add flavor to the world surrounding her, a constantly sinning Church cannot be a flaming torch within the world darkened by the intensity of sin. The current problem of the Church is that it DOES NOT KNOW what constitutes a sin. There is no sense of sinfulness anymore.
Our basic Orthodox Catechism tells us that there are three enemies always ferociously working against the Church and the Christians, which are the World, the Flesh and the Devil.