Why the story of the Three Holy Youths is so significant

Why the story of the Three Holy Youths is so significant

The following post is an introduction to our Orthodox Christmas play: “Daniel and the Three Holy Youths”.

Why recreate the biblical story of the Three Holy Youths (Dan. 3) at this time? Is this an appropriate play for Christmas? What is the connection, if any, of this story with Christmas? Perhaps these and other similar questions pass through your mind. These lines are meant to provide the answers...


[A prefigurement; stands for]

The story of the Three Holy Youths in the fiery furnace is a typos of the Nativity of Christ.

Let me first, by way of introduction, say that the Church often remembers the Three Holy Youths in her hymnology. How often? you may ask; every week? How about every day! Yes, every day of the year. In what service? Especially in the Matins, and more specifically in the Katavasiai, the Canon chanted or recited, which deals with the Feast commemorated. Usually the Seventh and Eighth Odes are related to the Three Holy Youths. Therefore, we may say with assurance that the Church deems their story to be quite important. Why?

Daniel gained prominence as a scholar and an interpreter of dreams, but persisted in his adherence to the true faith. Both he and the three children had great courage. Living in a foreign land, they stood up for what they believed. They rejected royal food and drink and publicly lived their faith. As for the three children, certainly their escape from the raging flames was a great miracle. Think of it: Three young men are thrown into a raging fire, bound and with all their clothes on. And what happens? They take a walk, as if they were walking in a beautiful garden, enjoying the coolness and freshness of the air. And when they get out, not even their clothes smell of smoke. Indeed a great miracle, but that's not the reason why we remember the Three Holy Youths so often, and especially at this time of the year. What then are the reasons?

The Church, the only infallible interpreter of the holy scripture, sees in this story several important images:

1) A prefigurement of the Lord’s Nativity

In the first place the Church sees a typos (a prefigurement), of the Nativity of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ. Where? How?

“As the fire did not burn the Youths, so Christ was born without seed from a Virgin.” (First Tone, Wed. Ode 8 p. 37b of Parakletike), “without the fire of divinity consuming her.” (3rd, Wed. 8, 151b)

Indeed the furnace is a typos of (it stands for) the holy Virgin:

“You, O Theotokos, are the spiritual furnace. For as God saved the Three Youths, He recreated in your womb the entire human being.” (1st Sun. 7, 12b)

2) An image, of the Lord Himself

Secondly, the Church sees in the Angel who appeared and saved the Youths a typos, an image, of the Lord Himself, whom the Fathers call “O Asarkos Logos” (the Unincarnate Word).

“The Offspring of the Theotokos saved the holy Youths in the furnace, then prefigured, now in actuality...” (4th, Fri. 8, 224a)
“Christ spread over the pious Youths the dew of the Spirit...” (2nd Sun. 7, 73a)
“Praise God as Lord, who came down to the furnace of fire, changing the flame into dew.” (2nd Mon. 8, 81a)
Daniel and the Three Holy Youths
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In fact,

“Having seen the exact and living image of God, the Youths despised the gold idol.” (2nd, Mon. 8(2), 81b)
“Praise the Lord, who through divine power was seen to descend in the flame with the Youths.” (3rd Mon. 8, 137a)
“He who stilled the heat of the flame of the furnace; that mounted high in the air and encircled the godly Children, burnt the heads of the dragons in the stream of the Jordan.” (Theophany, 7th Iambic)
“Word of God who has dropped dew upon the Children in the midst of the fire as they discoursed in divine things, and who has taken up Your dwelling in the pure Virgin...” (Pres. of the Lord in the Temple, 7th)
“He who delivered the three youths from the flames came to earth, taking a body.” (Adoration of the Cross, 7th)
“He who saved the Children from the furnace has suffered death as a mortal man.” (Pascha, 7th)

3) An affirmation of the teaching of God’s uncreated energy

Thirdly, the Church sees in the preservation of the Three Holy Youths an affirmation of her teaching of God’s uncreated energy.

“The same energy burned the Chaldeans, while it refreshed the faithful.” (2nd, Sun. 8, 74a)
“The All-powerful Angel of the Lord revealed to the Youths a flame that brought refreshment to the holy ones while it consumed the ungodly.” (Dormition, 8th)

It was God's energy that transformed the Three Holy Youths:

“In the furnace, as in a crucible, the Youths became purer than gold, shining in true faith." (1st Sun. 8, 13b)

So our prayer is:

“Illumine us with the same illumining fire of divinity, which refreshed the Youths in the Chaldean fire.” (3rd Sun. 7, 129a)

4) A typos of the Holy Trinity

Fourthly, in the Three Holy Youths the Church sees a typos of the Holy Trinity:

“The Three Youths were a typos of the Trinity.” (3rd, Mon. 7, 136b)
“Bless the Creator... O Youths, equal in number to the Trinity.” (Pl. 4th, Fri. 8, 453b)
“The thrice-radiant sign of divine headship moistened the flames with dew and loosened the bonds.” (Pentecost, 8th)

5) The Cherubim

Fifthly, in their incessant prayer of praise the Church sees the Cherubim:

“The Youths, imitating the Cherubim, rejoiced, crying: ‘Blessed are You, O God...’.” (2nd, Tue. 7, 88a)
“Your holy Youths imitated the Cherubim in the furnace, singing the thrice holy hymn...” (Pl. 2nd, Mon. 8, 311b)
“In the flame of fire are present the Cherubim and Seraphim...” (4th, Tue. 8, 202a)

6) Role models for countless Christians

Sixthly, the Three Youths held tenaciously to their faith in the true God and preferred to suffer a martyr’s death rather than worship the idols – thus becoming role models for countless Christians, who also had to choose between death and compromising their faith.

“The senseless decree of the wicked tyrant, staggered the people, breathing forth threats and God-hated blasphemies. Yet neither the savage rage nor the roaring fire frightened the Three Youths. But standing in the fire they chanted in tune with the dewy breeze: ‘Blessed are You, O most praised God of our Fathers and of ours’”. (Elevation of the Cross, 7th)
“The Holy Children bravely trampled upon the threatening fire, preferring not to worship created things rather than the Creator.” (Theotokos, 7th)
“The Youths in Babylon, inflamed with divine zeal, bravely stepped upon the threat of the tyrant and of the fire.” (From July 27-31, 8th)

7) Role models for us

Finally, with their fervent faith and prayer to the true God, the Three Holy Youths become role models for us.

“They trampled Babylon with their faith in the Trinity.” (Pl. 4th, Mon. 7, 422a)
“Having longed to worship the living God.” (3rd, Sat. 7(2), 174a), “the Youths trampled deception together with the fire.” (Pl. 4th, Sat. 8, 461b)
“The prayer of the Youths extinguished the fire... which did not burn those who praised God.” (Pl. 1st, Tue. 7, 260a), “being aflame with love of the true God, rather than from the flames.” (4th, Sun. 7, 186a)
“Divine love, fighting against cruel wrath and fire, quenched the fire with dew, and laughed the wrath to scorn.” (Dormition, 7th)

These are the main images the Church draws from the delightful story of the Three Holy Youths.

Let us conclude by praying with a hymn in their honor:

Imitating the Youths who received in the furnace
the dew of the Holy Spirit,
let us also cry in faith:
‘Bless, O works of the Lord, the Lord.’
(Grave Tone, Mon. 8, 366b)
Fr. Emmanuel/1994.

The heading photo is from a 1994 production of “Daniel and the Three Holy Youths” at Sts. Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church in Swansea, IL, produced by the parish community and Fr. Emmanuel who wrote the play.

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