Today is the feast day of St. Jonah, the prophet who tried to run away from God and was swallowed by a fish.
But why? Why today?
Feast days are usually set on the date of the saint’s death. Sometimes they’re on the date a major church was commemorated to them, or on the date their relics were translated from one place to another. But nowhere have I been able to find any reason for setting Jonah’s feast day on September 21.
It’s always seemed to me that his feast day should be Holy Saturday, when we read the entire Book of Jonah in the Liturgy. Or perhaps on one of the days of Bright Week. We see his three days in the belly of the fish as a foreshadowing of our Lord’s three days in the tomb. So it would seem fitting to celebrate him during Pascha.
But we celebrate him in September.
I adore St. Jonah, and the book that bears his name is my favorite in the Old Testament. I know that scholars and historians consider the book to be a legend or a folk tale. And maybe it is. But, even if the story seems fantastical, Jonah himself seems so very, very real.
But, no matter where I’ve looked, I haven’t been able to find out why we celebrate his feast day in late September.
The Prophet Jonah and Yom Kippur
This week, though, I might have found a clue. In Orthodox churches, on Holy Saturday, we read the book of Jonah. In Jewish synagogues, on Yom Kippur, they read the book of Jonah. And Yom Kippur, of course, falls in late September or early October. This year, it was the day before yesterday. So, just two days before we celebrate the prophet Jonah, his book was being read in Jewish prayer services around the world.
For some reason, that makes me happy. And it makes me wonder: when the Old Testament saints were added to the liturgical calendar, was Jonah placed in late September because the date was near Yom Kippur? Did someone remember that the Jews read his story then?
Or is it just a coincidence?
If you know, I’d love to learn more!
A note on the date
In the Greek tradition, Jonah is celebrated today, on September 21. In the Slavic tradition, he’ll be celebrated tomorrow, on September 22. Unless you’re on the Old Calendar, in which case it’s the September 22 that falls on October 3 on the civil calendar (if I did the math correctly). I don’t know why the Greeks and the Slavs ended up with different dates for the prophet, but they did.
Why is Transfiguration in August? It seems like it would make more sense to celebrate it before Pascha. But that’s not what we do.
It’s the Synaxis of the Archangel Gabriel — but why? We celebrate the Synaxis of Gabriel on the day after the Annunciation, as we should. But then we do it again in July. Why?
Like Jonah on the Third Day: Some thoughts on Jonah and Holy Saturday.