The 17th of the month, Memory of the Holy Prophet DANIEL and of the Three Holy Young Men:
ANANIAS, AZARIAS and MISAEL
When Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, captured Jerusalem 597 years before the birth of our Lord, he went back to his distant land, taking with him Jehoiachin, King of
Judah, many of the nobles of the city, and the sacred things from the Temple of God. The eight-year-old Daniel and his three companions, all of them handsome youths of royal lineage, were among those selected for instruction in the language and literature
of the Chaldeans under the chief of the palace eunuchs, to qualify them for the King’s service. The chief eunuch gave them new names, so Daniel became known as Belteshazzar, Ananias as Shadrach, Misael as Meshach and Azarias as Abednego.
Daniel kept all the precepts of the law blamelessly even though he was living among pagans. He would not touch the food he was offered from the royal table and yet he and his companions strengthened by fasting and prayer, appeared more lively and better looking on a diet of vegetables and water than the other children of the court. God also gave them wisdom and knowledge in full measure, so that they surpassed all the learned men of the Kingdom. In addition, Daniel received the gift of interpretation of
dreams and visions.
When three years had passed, King Nebuchadnezzar had a dream which greatly troubled his spirit. Since his wise men and soothsayers were incapable of interpreting it, he ordered all of them to be put to the sword, including the young Israelites. But God revealed the King’s dream and its interpretation to Daniel in answer to the earnest prayer of His servants. The shining statue that Nebuchadnezzar had seen standing before him was an allegory of the course of times to come. Its golden head represented the Kingdom of the Chaldeans; its silver breast and hands, the Kingdom of the Medes and Persians which would follow after; its belly and thighs of bronze, the Hellenic Kingdom of Alexander the Great; and its iron legs, the Empire of the Romans. The stone Nebuchadnezzar had seen cut from the mountain by no human hand and which reduced to dust that great image of the pagan Empires was the figure of our Lord Jesus Christ, who took flesh at the end of time in order to establish an eternal spiritual kingdom, Holy Church, which nothing will ever be able to destroy. The King gave
thanks to the God of Daniel, whom he made. ruler over the whole of Babylonia and prefect of all the wise men of the Kingdom. The King allowed Daniel to remain at court, but he appointed his three young companions over the affairs of the province of Babylon.
Daniel’s reputation with prince and people grew yet greater when he skilfully discovered the guilt of the two lascivious elders, who falsely accused the chaste Susanna of fornication because she rejected their advances.
In the eighteenth year of his reign, King Nebuchadnezzar made a golden statue of himself and commanded all the satraps, governors, councilors and magistrates of his Kingdom to fall down and worship it, when they heard the musical instruments strike up. Notwithstanding the threats of the dreadful tyrant, the Three Young Men would not obey the impious command, and remained faithful to the worship of the one and only true God. Certain Chaldean officials, who were jealous of their high standing, seized the
opportunity of denouncing them to the King. Trembling with rage at their report, Nebuchadnezzar ordered the burning fiery furnace, which had been prepared for all who disobeyed his command, to be heated seven times more than usual, and he had the
Three Young Men cast into it. Speaking in the name of the entire Hebrew people, Ananias, Azarias and Misael addressed a prayer full of humility to God. They acknowledged the offences of their fathers, and recognized the true judgement and equity of God in the exile that He had brought upon them, in the mistreatment
they suffered at the hands of the impious King and, finally, in the torment of fire. The servants who were busied feeding the furnace were burnt by the flame which broke out from it in the very moment that the Angel of God descended and drove out the fire,
enveloping the Young Men in a cool, dewy breeze. Dancing for joy around the Angel, they changed their prayer into a hymn of thanksgiving. Having first of all invoked the thrice-holy name of the Lord, they called upon all the orders of creation to join with
them so as to praise and highly exalt the Lord for ever: Angels, heavens, elements, seasons, land, sea, mountains and animals and the sons of men, including the souls of the righteous dead. Having surveyed the whole of creation, they named themselves as the least and most humble of all, exclaiming: Praise, bless and worship the Lord, sing praise to Him and highly exalt Him for ever; for He has rescued us from Hell; He has saved us from the hands of death; He has delivered us from the midst of the burning fiery furnace!” They were forgetful of nothing that has been created and, as they danced, they gathered all things around the Word of God, mysteriously figured in human form by the Angel who had come down into the fire to save them.
Nebuchadnezzar himself, on looking into the furnace, saw and recognized the Angel, thus prefiguring the conversion of the pagans: Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of God (Dan. 3:25). Telling them to come forth, he and all his courtiers saw that the fire had been powerless to leave even the slightest smell of burning upon them. The King therefore glorified God, restored the Three Young Men to honourable positions, and decreed that anyone who blasphemed the God of Israel should be put to death.
In the same year, Nebuchadnezzar had another terrifying dream, which Daniel alone was able to interpret by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and which was fulfilled after twelve months. In the very moment that the King was exulting in pride at the splendour of his power, God punished him, cutting him down like the tree he had seen in his dream. He became mad, was deprived of his kingship, and was driven from among men to wander in the open air with the beasts of the field, until such time as, humbled, he would confess his offence and pray to the Lord. The kingship was then restored to him for seven years.
After the death of Nebuchadnezzar (562 BC) and the troubles that followed, the kingship eventually passed to Belshazzar (548 BC). One day during a great feast, he had his guests served wine in the sacred vessels taken from the Temple in Jerusalem. As they were drinking to the honour of their false gods, the fingers of a man’s hand suddenly appeared on the wall writing enigmatic words, which cast great fear upon the King and his guests. Once again, only Daniel was able to make the matter plain in revealing to Belshazzar that the end of his reign had come. That very night, the King was slain and Darius the Mede came to power.
Seeing that Daniel was wiser and more illustrious than all the great men of the Kingdom of the Medes and Persians, Darius appointed him first of the three presidents to whom all the satraps were accountable. The other presidents. as well as the satraps, were jealous of his favour with the King, and sought a ground of complaint against him. Knowing Daniel’s piety, they persuaded the King to decree that whoever made petition to any god or man except the King for thirty days should be cast into the lions’ den.
Unshakeable in his love for God and fidelity to the Law, Daniel continued openly to fulfill his usual rule of prayer, turning towards Jerusalem thrice a day. When his disobedience was denounced to Darius, the King was sick at heart for, although he admired Daniel’s
piety, he was constrained by his own decree to have him cast into the lions’ den. But once again God sent his Angel, who calmed the beasts. When, early next morning the remorseful King, ill anguish of spirit, had the stone slab taken from the mouth of the den, he was amazed to see Daniel sitting among the lions, which were gambolling with joy around him, whisking their tails and coming up to have their manes stroked, as though they were doing obeisance to another Adam. Darius had the Prophet taken out of the den and restored to honour, while his enemies were cast into it and devoured by the ferocious animals.
Daniel showed up the deceitfulness of idolatry to the people of Babylon by revealing the trickery of the priests of the temple of Bel, who used to go into the temple at night through an underground passage, and eat the offerings left on the idol’s table, so
that the people would believe Bel was alive. He also made plain the absurdity of worshipping a creature devoid of reason, by killing without using a weapon the dragon they worshipped as a god. But this enraged the Chaldeans who, for a second time, obliged the King to throw his favourite into the lions’ den. There Daniel was visited by the Prophet Habbakuk (Avvacum) who was miraculously transported from Judea in the twinkling of an eye, to bring him a meal and to show God’s favour towards him (cf. 2 Dec.).
As well as the ability to interpret dreams and visions, Daniel also received revelations from God about the consummation of the present age. In the first year of Belshazzar’s reign, he saw four huge beasts appear, standing for the great pagan Kingdoms that
would devour mankind. The first, which looked like a lioness, represented the Babylonian Empire; the second, resembling a bear, stood for the Empire of Persia which was to last for about 220 years; behind it came a leopard, signifying the Hellenic Empire of
Alexander the Great (336-23 Be), which was superseded before long by a fourth beast, armed with ten horns, standing for the Roman Empire.
The book of the Prophet Daniel predicts what the Apocalypse of Saint John confirms; namely, that at the end of the age, when revolutions, wars, and discord in the ten symbolic kingdoms which take their origin from the Empire-or rather from the civilization- of Rome, have brought in the reign of confusion over mankind, and iniquity has reached its culmination upon earth, then Antichrist will arise. In him will be the sum of all the malice of Satan, and by lying words and deceitful wonders, he will have
himself worshipped as God.
In a vision of the end of time, Daniel saw the throne of God approaching like a flame of fire. Under the appearance of the Ancient of Days, clothed in white raiment shining with light, God the Father took his seat to examine the book of the conscience of
each person and to pass Judgement on the world. Whereupon the Son of man, our Lord Jesus Christ, waged the final battle against Antichrist and cast him headlong into unquenchable fire. Then the angels presented the Son of man before the throne of the Father to receive principality, power, glory and everlasting Kingship over all peoples, tribes and languages in Heaven, on earth, and under the earth in order to make manifest to the whole universe that He is the Lord, the Son of God, First-born of God before all Creation, and that in becoming the First-born from the dead (CoL 1:18) He
has restored our corrupted human nature, revealing in His Body the first-fruits of our resurrection and of our eternal glory.
In other visions concerning the times to come, God made further things clear to Daniel, especially about the tyrannical reign of Antiochus Epiphanes (175-64), himself a prefiguration of Antichrist, who would cause the sacrifices and worship of the Lord to
cease and would place the abomination of desolation in the Temple of God itself (Dan. 9:27). Daniel learnt from the Angel Gabriel in a vision that the people would be able to return to Jerusalem after seven weeks of years, (i.e. after forty-nine years), thereby
predicting the restoration of the worship of God in the Holy City. This was accomplished by the anointed prince Zerubbabel, and the priests Ezra and Joshua (Dan. 9:25, Ezra 3:8) and was to signify the final restoration of the whole of mankind by the true anointed one, the Lord Jesus Christ, sixty-two weeks of years later, namely
after 434 years (Dan. 9:26).
In the third year of Cyrus, King of Persia, Daniel, greatly beloved of God; was deemed worthy of the vision of the Word Himself in the likeness of a man clothed in linen, whose loins were girded with pure gold. His body was like beryl, his face like the appearance of lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and the sound of his words like the noise of a multitude (Dan. 10:6).
Astonished beyond measure, the Prophet fell on his face and would have expired if the Angel of the Lord; had not comforted and strengthened him before unfolding what would befall in the course of time – the wars between Alexander’s successors, and
the persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes – which prefigure the final contest (at the appearance of Antichrist) of the righteous whose names are written in the Book of life.
God revealed more plainly to Daniel than to all the other prophets that at the Last Day
those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt (Dan. 12:2), and that the righteous will shine like the sun in its glory. The Prophet wanted to know the times and circumstances of all
these things, but the Lord replied: Go your way, Daniel, for the words are shut up and sealed until the time of the end, until many shall be chosen, made white and cleansed by fire… But go your way till the end, take your rest, and you shall arise to receive your inheritance at the end of the days (Dan. 13:9-10,13).
Two years after the return of his people to the land of their fathers the holy Prophet died in peace at the age of eighty (c. 534-30 Be). The Three Young Men also died in peace and, according to tradition, they and Daniel were among the righteous dead who arose
at the time of the Crucifixion of Christ (Matt. 27:52-53).
The Lives of the Saints of the Orthodox Church
By HIEROMONK MAKARIOS OF SIMONOS PETRA
Translated from the French by Christopher Hookway
Holy Convent of The Annunciation of Our Lady
Ormylia (Chalkidike) 1999