What is Ba’utha in the Chaldean Church?

Msgr. Felix Shabi

Bautha is a Chaldean-Aramaic word that means “Supplication” or a request or need. Liturgically speaking, Bautha is a special season of three consecutive days, Monday through Wednesday, during the fifth week of epiphany, or exactly three weeks before the “Lent-Sawma” The atmosphere of Bautha is characterized by the spirit of liturgical prayers, confessions, repentance from sins, fasting until midday from everything, abstinence from all animal products for the whole three days- and regret for sins and faults against God and people. The third and last day of Bautha is ceremonial, because it represents the end of the grief and abstinence and the start of new phase.

‘Bautha’ in the Bible:
By reading the book of Jonah (that is composed of four chapters) we recognize the biblical basis for Bautha. God wants to save the people of Nineveh because they were sinners, and He wants them to repent and correct themselves. Jonah refuses to be part in this mission because of, his believe that the Ninevites are non-believers. Since only Jews know God, Jonah reasons, why should he help foreigners? Hence, God punishes Jonah, after he tries to go west instead of east. Jonah wanted to escape to Spain via the Mediterranean Sea, but God threw him in the deep waters and sent a big fish to swallow him. Jonah stays there three days and three nights, because of his disobedience and prejudiced mentality. Jonah describes himself inside the big fish as if he is in the “midst of the nether world.” God hears his supplication and commands the fish to spit Jonah on the land. At this point Jonah goes to Nineveh and warns the city that God’s wrath will fall upon them unless they repent of their sins. The city obeys: all the people repent, they abstain from food and their sins, along with their pets and sheep…without asking a single questioning.

History of ‘Bautha’ in Mesopotamia:
It is really hard to define when exactly Bautha entered into the tradition of our Chaldean Church of the East. Here, I will try to point out some evidence so that we can estimate the time of Bautha:

A- The Plague Story: the history of our Church of the East tells us about the plague that hit all the Middle East and Mesopotamia specifically and lasted for four years (and 50 years according to some sources). The epidemic hit the poor in the beginning and then attacked the rich as well soon after. The death angel did not stop taking the souls of people until they went back to repentance. It is sure that the epidemic stopped during the days of Patriarch Hazqyal (570-581) the author of Al Majdal book (the tower) says: “The Bishops of Beth Garmai -Kerkuk- and Nineveh -Mosul- agreed to raise the prayer of Bautha for three days so God may take away from them this epidemic, and they informed the Patriarch on their intention and he liked the idea very much, and since then it was called the lent of Nineveh or Bautha of Nineveh on the image of the repentance of the people of Nineveh in the Bible. And God answered their supplication and accepted their Lent and abstinence and stopped the epidemic and gave people the rest.”

B- ‘Bautha’ of the Virgins: around eighth century AD during the government of the Ommayyad Islamic Caliph Abdul Malik bin Alwalid, who was known for his hostility toward Christians and his continuous attacks on upper Mesopotamia –today’s Kurdistan- (because it had a Christian majority), Bin Alwalid heard about the convents of the nuns and that they were beautiful ladies and he wanted to take them as slaves or wives to him and his soldiers. Hearing this, all the nuns in northern Mesopotamia were alarmed and started a special supplication-Bautha to the Lord to protect them from the unjust king. On the morning of the next day news went around that the king had passed away, and the virgins cheered thanking the Lord for He listened to their agony.

From all this we understand that Bautha is an original and substantial factor in the life of our Church of the East. It is a pious practice not specifically for Chaldeans but for other churches as well especially in the East. We could say its origins come from our land Mesopotamia through Jonah, the plague, and the virgins’ stories and a lot of historic and natural disasters in the region. All these incidents help us to consider this kind of prayer -Bautha- an annual manifestation of faith to prepare ourselves for repentance of the heart.