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The Fast of the Prophets

          Based on the Fetha Negest (Article 15, Number 565), the Fast of the Prophets (Tsome Nebiyat) holds a distinguished place as one of the seven officially ordained fasting seasons in the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church. This sacred period begins on the 15th of Hedar (November 24) and concludes on Christmas Eve, the 28th of Tahsas (January 6). The church observes a 44-day fast leading up to the Feast of the Nativity of Jesus Christ, a time of spiritual preparation and anticipation.


          Termed the Fast of the Prophets, this season honors the fulfillment of the ancient prophecies regarding Christ's advent. It is also referred to as Yelidet Tsome or the Christmas Fast, commemorating the birth of Christ. This period of fasting acknowledges the prophetic voices that heralded Christ's coming, the Salvation of mankind, and the miraculous birth of Christ from the Virgin. It's a time when we, though not anticipating Christ's birth as the prophets did, celebrate the gift of His birth and partake in the blessings of our forefathers, prophets, and apostles.


           The Ethiopian Church, heeding St. Paul's counsel to "chastise the body and bring it under subjection," recognizes the spiritual necessity of subduing the physical desires that often vie for dominance over the spirit. Recognizing the inherent internal and external sources of temptation, the church advocates for mortification and self-denial, understanding that denying oneself in lawful things cultivates a greater focus on spiritual matters.


          Adhering to the directives of the Didascalia, the Ethiopian Church is known for practicing some of the longest and most stringent fasts globally, with over 70% of the year designated as strict fasting days for all members of the church above the age of seven. Fasting encompasses more than just abstaining from meat, fat, eggs, and dairy products, or refraining from food for a certain duration. True fasting involves a cessation of all wrongdoing and evil deeds such as vanity, violence, jealousy, hatred, and any works of Satan. It is a period of profound repentance, seeking to know God more intimately through deepened prayer and spiritual contemplation.

In this season, we are called to transcend our earthly desires and reject the hedonistic advice of “...let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we die” (1 Corinthians 15:32). This mindset only distances us from God, leading us towards sin and darkness instead of light and righteousness. From creation, humanity was meant to live in accordance with divine law, not lawlessness.


          True closeness to our Creator, Jesus Christ, is achieved not through food but through fasting. We are urged to discipline our bodies through fasting and prayer, remaining steadfast in good deeds and obedience to God. In a world rife with tribulations, we are encouraged to persist in prayer, seeking divine intervention for personal, societal, and ecclesiastical issues, understanding that earthly wisdom alone cannot address these challenges.


          As the Word of God proclaims, "But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear. For verily I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them" (Matthew 13:16-17), we recognize the privilege of witnessing the manifestation of our Lord through the Apostles' eyes, a grace not granted to our prophetic forefathers.


          As we embark on this fast, we affirm our foundation in Jesus Christ, walking in the footsteps of the prophets and apostles. It's not sufficient merely to know and speak about fasting; we must live it and reap its spiritual benefits. Charity is also an integral part of Christian duty. Almsgiving to the poor and needy and fulfilling our obligations to the church are essential for a complete fasting experience.


May God, who accepted the fast and prayer of the Prophets and Apostles, receive our prayers and devotion as well. May it be His will that we commence this fast and arrive at the blessed day of His Birth!


Holy Bible: The King James Version (1769).

Edition: Mesfin Zegeye.

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