‘Ettu nombu’ (eight day lent from Sep 1- 8) is being observed by the Jacobite Syrian Church and several other churches for several decades now. Even though it is not an official lent of the church, the people have adopted it and made it their own lent whereby they faithfully abstain from meat and milk products and meditate in the mornings and participate in Qurbana. The culmination is celebrated with ‘pachor’ (a sweet preparation made with rice on the 7th evening) on the 8th morning.
The lent is supposed to have started as a result of the faith of the people in the intercessory powers of Mother Mary. Such is the belief in St. Mary that the church has accepted the wishes of the people and by now almost all churches in Kerala and other parts of India and the diaspora observe the eight day lent.
But what is the eight day lent really? For me the lent is a mass protest against injustices in society. The magnificat (Luke 1:46-56) of St. Mary includes these words of protest when she says, “For God has been mindful of the humble state of God’s servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the mighty one has done great things for me. Holy is God’s name. God’s mercy extends to those who fear God, from generation to generation. God has performed mighty deeds with his arm, God has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. God has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. God has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.” What inspiring words?
In this regard the sainthood of Mary does not just come because she gave birth to Jesus but also because she held the beacon of protest in her womb and exclaimed so when she met Elizabeth. I wonder whether in the lent and celebration that follows, we as a church have forgotten that we are celebrating the birthday of the torch bearer of protest in our society? Every day during this eight day lent thus becomes not just a time to be quiet and submissive but a time to take stock of what needs to be done in our society and country. Our lent in that sense should be for thinking of how God turns the tables on the proud and the rich and will fill the hungry.
We are losing people and figures we can look up to during this era of corruption and injustice. But we also forget that some of these people are right before us, it is just that we have never chosen to see them that way. As we lose our energy to fight against all odds, this lent should remind us that St. Mary invites us to protest. She bore witness to the greatness that followed, but she also bore protest as her legitimate right of existence. Shouldn’t we then get all excited and energised during this ettu nombu (eight day lent)? It is indeed our mother and her life of protest that we celebrate.