Why the story of the Three Holy Youths is so significant
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?
Indeed the furnace is a typos of (it stands for) the holy Virgin:
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).
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.
It was God's energy that transformed the Three Holy Youths:
So our prayer is:
4) A typos of the Holy Trinity
Fourthly, in the Three Holy Youths the Church sees a typos of the Holy Trinity:
5) The Cherubim
Fifthly, in their incessant prayer of praise the Church sees the Cherubim:
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.
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.
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:
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)
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.