Holy Prophet Daniel and the Three Holy Youths


Today in the Church we honor the memory of the Holy Prophet Daniel and the Three Holy Youths: Ananias, Azarias and Misael (600 B.C.). Their story is found in the Septuagint version of Daniel 3. The narrative of the Three Holy Youths in the furnace was incredibly popular in the ancient Christian world and through the Middle Ages. You can find a great deal of Western art which portrays their story as it fired the spiritual and artistic imagination (excuse the pun) of Christians in the Middle Ages. There were many varied lessons drawn from the narrative for Christians to consider.


Theodoret of Cyrus (d. 457AD) commenting on Daniel 3:17-18, focused on how the Three Youths surrendered themselves fully to God’s will and trusted in God’s providence which he then encourages us to do the same no matter what circumstances we are in:

Far from serving our Lord for payment, we are motivated by affection and longing, and at the same time prefer the service of our God to everything. Hence, instead of asking for relief from the troubles unconditionally, we embraced the Lord’s planning and providence; and without knowledge of what will be of benefit, we leave the helm to the pilot, no matter what he wishes, understanding clearly that he is able to free us from the threatened evils. Whether he wishes to do so, we do not know; but we leave it to him, wise governor as he is, and accept his verdict, confident that it is in our benefit (Commentary on Daniel 1322-1324).  (HEARING THE SCRIPTURES, p 66)


St John Chrysostom (d. 407AD) had a different focus on the narrative as he thought about the wicked King Nebuchadnezzar and how God did not punish him for trying to execute the three faithful and holy youths but rather by miraculously rescuing the Three Youths tried to bring the king to faith in the one true God. Thus, the story is not just about the faithful youth but is about the merciful God’s effort to bring a pagan king to faith.


What then? Did God visit the apostate, as he deserved to be visited? No! He supplied him with greater tokens of His own power, drawing him back again after so great a display of arrogance to his former condition. And, what is yet more wonderful, that owing to the abundance of the miracles he might not again disbelieve what was done, the subject upon which He wrought the sign was none other than the furnace which the king himself kindled for the children whom he bound and cast therein. Even to extinguish the flame would have been a wonderful and strange thing, but the benign Deity, in order to inspire him with greater fear, and increase his dismay, and undo all his hardness of heart, did what was greater and stranger than this.

[Chrysostom says God could have rescued the Three Youths simply by dousing the flames in the furnace with water. That would have been a great miracle, but people might have concluded it was a natural event which saved the youths. God wanted to give greater inspiration to the king, and so used the king’s own furnace and flames to reveal the holiness of the youth and the power of God.  God knew Nebuchadnezzar’s heart was hardened and God was attempting to open the king’s heart and mind to faith in God. {Note: In the text, “He” (capital “H”) refers to God and “he” (lower case “h”) refers to Nebuchadnezzar.}]


For, permitting the furnace to be kindled to as high a pitch as he desired, He then exhibited His own peculiar powers, not by putting down the devices of His enemies, but by frustrating them when they were set on foot. And, to prevent anyone who saw them survive the flame from supposing that it was a vision, He permitted those who cast them in to be burned, thus proving that the thing seen was really fire; for otherwise it would not have devoured naptha and tow, and fagots and such a large number of bodies; but nothing is stronger than His command; but the nature of all existing things obeys Him who brought them into being out of nothing, which was just what He manifested at that time, for the flame having received perishable bodies, held aloof from them as if they had been imperishable, and restored in safety, with the addition of much luster, the deposit entrusted to it. For like kings from some royal court, even so did those children come forth from the furnace, no one having the patience to look any longer at the king, but all transferring their eyes from him to the strange spectacle, and neither the diadem nor the purple robe, nor any other feature of royal pomp, attracted the multitudes of unbelievers so much as the sight of those faithful ones, who tarried long in the fire, and then came out of it as men might have done who had undergone this in a dream. (ON REPENTANCE AND DEFEATING DESPAIR, pp 29-31)

11244938273_94e127c81c_w[Chrysostom wants to be clear that the 3 Youths were actually thrown in flames that should have burned them alive. What Nebuchadnezzar witnessed was no vision or dream – this in Chrysostom’s opinion is a much greater miracle. The soldiers throwing the youths into the furnace are themselves burned by the flames which reveals the reality rather than a virtual reality.  God does not stop the fire from raging, but only prevents the fire from hurting the youths so they could royally process out of the furnace. The king’s intentions are totally refuted.  He had ordered the youths executed because they refused to reverence or even pay attention to his constructed image/idol. But in the end no one pays any attention to the king at all because they all are enamored by the Three Youths. The youths experienced the flames as if in a dream but they really were rescued by God – it was no vision.]