September 21, 2015

Holy Prophet Jonah as a Model for our Lives

Prophet Jonah (Feast Day - September 21)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

The Prophet Jonah was the son of Amittai and lived during the reigns of Amaziah of Judah and Jeroboam of Israel. He was from Gath-Hepher, of the tribe of Zebulun. His prophetic book, which is read in Orthodox churches on Great Saturday morning, is different from that of the other prophets, because it only refers to events in the life of the Prophet himself, which, of course, is associated with his mission. As it is well known, he was sent by God to the populated city of Nineveh to preach repentance. But instead of going where God sent him, Jonah boarded a ship to go to Tarshish, thinking that by doing this he could escape his mission. What follows is well known: By divine economy there was a storm at sea, and Jonah was thrown into the sea and swallowed by a large fish, remaining in its belly for three days. On the third day, by God's command, the large fish vomited Jonah onto dry land. Then God taught him His love for humanity by means of a plant, which grew with divine assistance and protected him from the sun and then dried up on its own. Then God said to Jonah: "You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left — and also many animals?" (Jon. 4:10).

The Prophet Jonah was afraid that his message would be proven false, because he was told to preach that "after three days Nineveh will be destroyed," and he knew well that it would not be destroyed if the inhabitants sincerely repented. And this is what eventually took place, because when the king of the city heard the message of the Prophet, he preached repentance throughout his dominion. Also, he ordered that all people and animals fast. They sincerely repented, and changed from a sinful way of life to living a life in accord with the will of God. Thus, the city was not destroyed and the Prophet Jonah received two messages: First, God is love and He pities people and forgives them, and second, that He doesn't only care about the Jewish people, but for all nations, for all people who inhabit the world. Jonah reposed in Saraar, near Deborah's Oak, and was buried in a cave.

His life and conduct gives us the opportunity to highlight the following:

First, the Old Testament is a typology of the New Testament, and the events typologized in the former were verified in the latter. One of these events was Jonah in the belly of the large fish, which is a typology of the Resurrection of Christ, who descended into Hades and rose on the third day. When the scribes and pharisees sought a sign from Christ, namely a miracle, Christ told them: "A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign. But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a large fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the belly of the earth. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now someone greater than Jonah is here" (Matt. 12:38–41). In other words, the people of Nineveh will rise up on Judgement Day, at the Second Coming of Christ, and will judge this generation, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah, while someone who is greater than Jonah, Christ, is here.

The Ninevites of the time of Jonah are models of true repentance. Sincere repentance produces redemption and salvation. It is the foundation of the spiritual life, which is why the first message of Christ was the message of repentance.

Second, a person who truly loves God and trusts in His love during the difficult and marginal moments of life, will not allow the veil of despair to envelope them, but like the Prophet Jonah, they kneel and pray to God their Father. In this way, they receive strength and are in a position to endure all trials till the end, till the moment when they also will emerge from the "belly of the large fish," namely the darkness of despair and hopelessness to the light of hope and the knowledge of the will of God.

When temptations are repeated, and sorrow becomes great and heavy, then prayer is done with pain and it has salvific effects. One will strongly feel the presence of God, depending, of course, on their choice. The benevolent person will taste the sweetness of the uncreated Grace of God, feeling the presence of God, and experiencing the overcoming of death. Elder Sophrony Sakharov, in the three volume series titled Building the Temple of God Within Us and in our Brethren, published by the Holy Monastery of the Honorable Forerunner in Essex of England, and specifically in the first volume in the 33rd Homily, speaks of a man who was educated and wealthy, who became ill with a rare disease and visited the Monastery asking to be healed. The Elder prayed for him, and after the prayer said: "We are not wonderworkers. We are sinful men, nonetheless we prayed to God to show His mercy to you." Then the sick man, who until that moment had no relationship with God and the Church, "with bright happiness in his eyes," said: "But I experienced God in the course of the prayer, and this is more important to me than being healed." And the Elder said that this man "after this prayer, proceeded quietly and joyfully to death, and his entire family changed their way of life."

Where the Grace of God overshadows, the power of the devil and death is banished, and a person feels the presence of God and is led "from death to life."

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "Προφήτης Ἰωνᾶς", August 2015. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.