Feast of St Daniel the Prophet and the Three Holy Youths
THE STORY of the three young men in Babylon is especially loved in Orthodox liturgy. Not only is there the celebration of these Hebrew youths together with Daniel eight days before the feast of the Nativity, but their story is remembered and hymned on the two Sundays before Christmas which are dedicated to the memory of all the righteous of the Old Covenant who prepared the coming of Christ. In addition, the story of the three young men is read in its entirety, together with the recitation of their prayer before entering the flames and the chanting of their canticle from the depth of the furnace, at the vigil of the Lord’s Pascha of the Cross and Resurrection in the spring. And at every Lord’s Day vigil throughout the entire church year, the young men are hymned in the seventh and eighth odes of the resurrectional canons at matins and their canticle is prescribed to be sung.
The story of the three young men is critically important for many reasons, chief of which is their uncompromising faith in the one true God, the Lord of Israel, and their testimony to what genuine faith in God must be. How different was their expression of faith compared to what many people today think faith ought to be!
Nowadays there are many, even among Christians, who say that to have genuine faith in God is to make claims on the Lord, to be assured of His actions on behalf of the earthly well-being of His people and to count on His deliverance in very human ways. They say that those who do not express their faith in this way are actually weak in faith, doubting the divine promises of the Lord. But such an attitude, sometimes referred to as the “name it and claim it” approach to faith in God, has nothing in common with the faith of the three holy children.
The three young men who were confronted by the wicked king of Babylon did not claim that the true God would save them from death in the flames. They surely believed that He could, but they did not insist that He would! Just the contrary. They bore witness to the fact that their God does whatever He wants. It was none of their business what He would or would not do, and it was certainly not the business of the king. They trusted their God in everything. If it was His will to deliver them, they were ready for that. But if it was His will that they should perish in the flames, they were ready for that as well! For they believed that whatever God did, He was still the God in whom they could trust for their ultimate victory. And no matter what God did, they still, under whatever circumstances, would not worship the idol that Nebuchadnezzar had set up. In a word, according to the witness of the three young men, real faith and genuine trust in God makes no deals and no claims. It is completely and totally ready, as was shown supremely in Jesus, to accept whatever the Father wills and provides, knowing that His faithful ones will never be put to shame. Only such faith can change fire into dew and deliver from death. [. . .]
The three young men in the Babylonian furnace remain forever the witnesses of true faith in the true God. They prefigure, in their total obedience, the trust of Him who “in the days of His flesh . . . offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to Him who was able to save Him from death, and He was heard for His godly fear.” This is Jesus, who “although He was a Son, . . . learned obedience through what He suffered; and being made perfect . . . became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey Him . . .” (Heb. 5.7-9). This is the only faith worthy of those who serve the living God who saves the world through the shameful death of His royal Son.
Enkindled by the divine flame,
The youths despised the fire,
And in it the holy ones were bedewed
As they formed a choir shining most brightly,
Singing the song of many praises.
For the all-wise and glorious ones
Longed for the truly everlasting and indestructible kingdom. —Vespers for the Feast of St Daniel the Prophet and the Three Holy Youths
O thrice-blessed ones,
You did not worship the image made by man,
But armed with the invisible power of God
You were glorified by a trial of fire.
From the midst of the unbearable flames you called upon God:
“Hasten, O Compassionate One!
Come speedily to our defense
For You are merciful, and are able to accomplish all that You will.” —Kontakion of the Feast of St Daniel the Prophet and the Three Holy Youths
—Fr Thomas Hopko, The Winter Pascha