17 December OS 2019 – Holy Prophet Daniel, Holy Three Youths Ananias, Azarias, and Misael, St. Dionysios of Zakynthos and Aegina, Holy New Martyr Deacon Avvakum of Serbia
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The reading from the Apostolos for December 17th, the feast of the Holy Prophet Daniel and the Three Youths, is the conclusion of the great paean to the saints of the Old Testament from Hebrews 11.
Brethren: All the saints through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect. –Hebrews 11: 33-40
During this last period of the present Fast, which is an extended forefeast of the Feast of the Nativity, the Church holds up to us the example of the Old Testament saints on the two Sundays preceding the Nativity as well as on the Menaion feasts of several Old Testament prophets, most notably today’s saints: Prophet Daniel and the Three Youths Ananias, Azarias, and Misael. As we prepare to welcome the birth of the Christ mystically and liturgically, keeping vigil for His Second Advent at the end of history, it is well to remember those who kept watch for His First Advent at the midpoint of history by their heroic deeds of faith and hope.
When we feel alone in our Faith, we should recall that the Old Testament saints kept their Faith despite being always a tiny remnant of the chronically apostate Old Israel. When we are tempted to give up our Hope in eternal life, we should recall that the Old Testament saints kept up their Hope while knowing that at death, no matter how righteous and faithful they had been in life, they would go down into Hades. When we feel powerless, we should recall that within us lies the infinite power of baptismal grace, while the Old Testament saints had not this help. When we lose historical perspective and feel trapped in our present circumstances, we should recall century by century, event by event, and saint by saint, all the glorious history of the New Testament Church of the past 2,000 years – and then remember that the Old Testament righteous had far fewer examples in their past to encourage them. Yet they persevered, strong in their hope, for they believed that God was faithful to His promise.
God has indeed “…provided some better thing for us…”: salvation by Jesus Christ our Lord, Who raised the souls of the righteous of the Old Testament from Hades on that first Great Saturday and perfected them with us by the grace for which they had longed and in which they had hoped.
A good exercise for today would be to re-read (or read!) the Book of Daniel Make sure to read the Septuagint version, which contains important prophetic and Christological sections cut out by the medieval rabbis whose Masoretic text was unfortunately accepted as normative by the Protestants who gave us most of the existing English translations. If you do not own a translation of the Septuagint (or a King James with “Apocrypha” or a Douay-Rheims translation of the Vulgate), you can read a translation of the Septuagint version of Daniel online at http://ecmarsh.com/lxx/Daniel/index.htm
Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. – Hebrews 12:1-2
Amen! Holy Prophet Daniel, Holy Three Youths, and all ye righteous of the Old Testament, pray to God for us!