Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States

Questions & Answers

What is the reason for fasting an extra week at the beginning of the Holy Great Fast?

The preparation week was originally called the week of Heraclius. According to the history of the Patriarchs, in the year 613 AD Heraclius the Roman Emperor was besieged in Constantinople by Kessra the king of Persia. After six years he managed to escape to the land of Cush and from there he went to Persia, killed its people and defeated the army of Kessra ending the siege of his own country. When he entered Jerusalem he found it desolate. The Jews had demolished the churches, persecuted and burned the Christians who dwelt there. The Christians of Jerusalem asked Heraclius for his protection and help in order to kill the Jews, but he refused because of the oath of peace he had given the Jews. The Christians argued that the peace he promised is no longer sustained. As for his oath, the Christians promised that they and all Christians in all countries would fast for him for a whole week every year to the end of the ages. Heraclius accepted their offer and ordered them to kill all the Jews. The patriarchs and the bishops wrote to all the countries declaring that week of fast to be the first week of fasting before the Holy Forty days. Pope Andronicus the 37th Patriarch of Alexandria acknowledged this request and so the week of Heraclius or what we call now the preparation week was instituted in our church to this day. It is taken from a spiritual dimension as a prelude to or preparation for the holy forty days of the Great Fast.


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