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December 17, 2011

The Holy Prophet Daniel and the Three Youths: Ananias, Azarias and Misael

Holy Prophet Daniel and the Three Youths (Feast Day - December 17)

                                                              By St. Nikolai Velimirovich

All four were of the royal tribe of Judah. When Nebuchadnezzar destroyed and plundered Jerusalem, Daniel, as a boy, was carried away into slavery together with the Jewish King Jehoiachim and countless other Israelites. An account of his life, sufferings and prophecies can be found in detail in his book.

Completely devoted to God, St. Daniel from his early youth received from God the gift of great discernment. His fame among the Jews in Babylon began when he denounced two lecherous and unrighteous elders, Jewish judges, and saved the chaste Susanna from an unjust death. But his fame among the Babylonians began from the day he deciphered and interpreted the dream of King Nebuchadnezzar. For this, the king made him a prince at his court.

When the king made a golden idol on the Plain of Dura, the Three Children refused to worship it, and for this they were cast into a fiery furnace. But an angel of God appeared in the furnace and cooled the fire so that the children walked around the furnace unharmed by the fire, singing: "Blessed art Thou, Lord God of our fathers" (Daniel 3:26). The king saw this miracle and was amazed. He then brought the children out of the furnace and bestowed upon them great honors.

In the time of King Belshazzar, when the king was eating and drinking with his guests at a banquet from consecrated vessels taken from the Temple in Jerusalem, an invisible hand wrote three words on the wall: "Mene, Tekel, Upharsin" (Daniel 5:25-28). No one was able to interpret these words except Daniel. That night, King Belshazzar was killed.

Daniel was twice thrown into the lions' den because of his faith in the One, Living God, and both times the Lord saved him and he remained alive. Daniel beheld God on a throne with the heavenly hosts; saw angels; discerned the future of certain people, of kingdoms, and of the whole human race; and prophesied the time of the coming of the Savior on earth.

According to St. Cyril of Alexandria, Daniel and the three children lived to old age in Babylon and were beheaded for the true Faith. When they beheaded Ananias, Azarias stretched out his cloak and caught his head; following this, Misael caught Azarias's head and Daniel caught Misael's head. An angel of God translated their bodies to Judea, to Mount Gebal, and placed them under a rock. According to tradition, these four God-pleasers arose at the time of the death of the Lord Christ, appeared to many and again fell asleep.

Daniel is numbered among the four great prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel). He lived and prophesied five hundred years before Christ.

Reflection From the Life of Daniel and the Three Youths

Bodily purity is primarily attained by fasting, and, through bodily purity, spiritual purity is also attained. Abstinence from food, according to the words of that son of grace, St. Ephraim the Syrian, means: "Not to desire or ask for various foods, either sweet or costly; not to eat anything outside the designated time; not to succumb to the spirit of gluttony; not to excite hunger in oneself by looking at good food; and not to desire at one moment one kind of food and at another moment another kind of food." Great is the fallacy that fasting and Lenten food harm the health of the body. It is a known fact that the ascetics lived the longest and were the least prone to illness. St. Daniel and the Three Children in Babylon offer us an example of this. When the king ordered his eunuch to feed these young men food from the royal table and to give them good wine to drink, Daniel told the eunuch that they did not want to accept the royal food and wine but wanted only vegetables for food (for Daniel did not want to eat the food sprinkled with the blood of the idolatrous sacrifices). The eunuch, fearing that the youths would be weakened by the fasting foods, related his fear to Daniel. Then the prophet suggested that he make a test and convince himself that the fasting food would not weaken them: to nourish the other youths at the royal court with food from the king's table, and to feed the four of them only on pulse for the course of ten days, and then make a comparison. The eunuch heeded Daniel and did what he suggested. After ten days, the faces of the four ascetic youths were more radiant and their bodies were stronger than the bodies of the Babylonian youths who ate and drank from the king's table.

Read also: A Homily on the Steadfastness of Daniel the Prophet

HYMN OF PRAISE: The Holy Prophet Daniel and the Three Youths

Whoever fears the true God
Is not afraid of men or demons.
The Lord rewards faithful servants
And guards them from every evil.
Among the lions,
Holy Daniel remained unharmed;
In the fiery furnace,
The Three Youths remained alive;
In the midst of the fire, they glorified God,
With an angel, God's messenger.
Like Noah in the evil world,
Like holy Lot in wild Sodom,
And like Joseph in decadent Egypt,
So Daniel in the middle of Babylon
Remained faithful and righteous
With three of his young friends:
Ananias and Azarias
And the faithful young Misael.
The tortures came and the tortures passed.
The martyred were gloriously glorified
In the Immortal Kingdom of Christ.

Apolytikion in the Second Tone
Great are the achievements of faith! In the fountain of flame, as by the water of rest, the Three Holy Children rejoiced. And the Prophet Daniel proved a shepherd of lions as of sheep. By their prayers, O Christ our God, save our souls.

Kontakion in the Third Tone
Since thy pure and hallowed heart had been made pure by the Spirit, it became His dwelling-place and clearest prophecy's vessel; for thou didst behold things far off as near and present, and when cast into the den, thou didst muzzle lions; for which cause, O blessed Prophet, glorious Daniel, we all revere thee in faith.