The Fast of the Prophets (Tsome Nebiyat)

November 24, 2016

By Kassa Nigus

Based on Fetha Negest (Article 15, Number 565), the Fast of the Prophets (Tsome Nebiyat) is one of the seven official fasting seasons ordained in the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church that starts on 15th Hedar (November 24) and ends on Christmas eve 28th of Tahsas (January 06).  The Orthodox Church observes the Feast of the Nativity of Jesus Christ with 44 days of fast, which culminates in the feast.

It is called the Fast of the Prophets because the prophecy about the coming of Christ was fulfilled.  Sometimes it is called Yelidet Tsome or Christmas Fast to commemorate the Birth of Christ.

Thanks to the grace bestowed upon them by the Lord, the Prophets foretold the coming of Christ, Salvation of mankind with His coming, the birth of Christ from the Virgin and yearned for the birth of Our Lord and they used different creatures to symbolize Christ. Nowadays, we fast it not by expecting the birth of Jesus Christ but to celebrate the gift we acquired consequent upon His Birth and to take part in the blessings of our forefathers, prophets and apostles.  

The Church recognizes the necessity for her children to “chastise the body and bring it under subjection”, as St. Paul advises. The body is ever striving for mastery over the spirit. Besides the external sources of temptation, the world, we have always another source within us, which is a part of our nature. This is why mortification is necessary. Self-denial in lawful things enables us to turn with great earnestness to spiritual things.

It is on these grounds that the Ethiopian Church has strictly adhered to the injunctions of the Didascalia and practices faithfully the longest and most strict fasts in the world.  More than 70 % of days of the year in the Ethiopian Church are strict fasting days for all members of the church above the age of 7.

Fasting is not only prayer and abstinence from eating meat, fat, eggs and dairy products. Nor is it just abstaining from eating for certain duration of time. When we fast we should also refrain from all wrongdoings, and evil deeds such as vanity, violence, jealousy, hatred, and all works of Satan. Rather, it is a time of deeper repentance and it should be done with the object of seeking to know God in a deeper prayer and experiencing spiritual contemplation.

We have to overcome our earthly desire and stay away from those who advise quoting, “… let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we die.” (1Cor 15:32)  Because those who advise this push us away from the right path and separate us from God; they push us to sin and darkness, not to the light and righteousness. This is because from the very beginning man was created to live through the law, not through lawlessness.

Something that draws man to His Creator Jesus Christ is not food but fasting. We should rebuke our body by fasting and the like, show vigilance for prayer, perseverance in good deeds. More than ever, today we have to be obedient to God, to overcome the current tribulations in the world in general. We also need to pray for our private, public and Church problems to find solutions; for no earthly wisdom can solve these problems; except through fasting and prayer. We have to be persistent in our request and knock His door for Him to satisfy the good desires of our heart.

As the Word of God tells us, “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.”  (Matt 13: 16-17),  our forefathers and the prophets did not witness the coming of Jesus Christ, but we, the generation of the New Testament have seen our Lord through the eyes of the Apostles.  

Therefore, we have to understand and then appreciate this great grace we received but the prophets had not the opportunity to do so.  When we fast their fast, we give our witness that Jesus Christ is our foundation and we follow in the footsteps of the prophets and apostles. It is not enough to know and speak about fasting; we have to live it and benefit from the fruits it brings forth.   

Show of charity is also a Christian duty. Alms giving to the poor and the needy, and bringing to the church what is required of us is necessary. Without these Christian duties, fasting could not be complete.  

May God who has received the fast and prayer of the Prophets and Apostles, receive our prayers and devotion.

Let it will be His will to start this fast and reach the graceful day of His Birth!!  


•  Holy Bible: The King James Version (1769).

    Edition: Mesfin Zegeye