Singing in the Flame

The Orthodox Church regularly remembers important Biblical people and events that other traditions may overlook. This goes beyond following a prescribed cycle of scripture readings in the liturgy and other services of the Church. It’s even built into the prescribed hymn texts. And in some cases, Protestant Bibles omit whole, wholesome passages.

One example is the Myrrhbearing Women, who figure much more prominently in Orthodoxy than even in “high Church” Protestantism.

Another is the three holy youths in the furnace. At the Vigil of Great and Holy Saturday, we read the account of their praying and singing from the “fiery furnace.”

This passage is sadly omitted from Protestant 66-book Bibles. It is included, if at all, only in the disparagingly-misnamed “Apocrypha,” which in fact are part of Christian Scripture, recognized by Rome and Orthodoxy alike. So until I became Orthodox, I was completely unfamiliar with this treasure.

This 19th century English translation of the Septuagint begins  a new verse 1 between Daniel 3:23 and 3:24:

1 Then Azarias stood up, and prayed on this manner; and opening his mouth in the midst of the fire said,

2 Blessed art thou, O Lord God of our fathers: thy name is worthy to be praised and glorified for evermore: 3 For thou art righteous in all the things that thou hast done to us: yea, true are all thy works, thy ways are right, and all thy judgments truth.

4 In all the things that thou hast brought upon us, and upon the holy city of our fathers, even Jerusalem, thou hast executed true judgment: for according to truth and judgment didst thou bring all these things upon us because of our sins. 5 For we have sinned and committed iniquity, departing from thee. 6 In all things have we trespassed, and not obeyed thy commandments, nor kept them, neither done as thou hast commanded us, that it might go well with us. 7 Wherefore all that thou hast brought upon us, and every thing that thou hast done to us, thou hast done in true judgment.

8 And thou didst deliver us into the hands of lawless enemies, most hateful forsakers of God, and to an unjust king, and the most wicked in all the world. 9 And now we cannot open our mouths, we are become a shame and reproach to thy servants; and to them that worship thee.

10 Yet deliver us not up wholly, for thy name’s sake, neither disannul thou thy covenant: 11 And cause not thy mercy to depart from us, for thy beloved Abraham’s sake, for thy servant Isaac’s sake, and for thy holy Israel’s sake; 12 To whom thou hast spoken and promised, that thou wouldest multiply their seed as the stars of heaven, and as the sand that lieth upon the seashore. 13 For we, O Lord, are become less than any nation, and be kept under this day in all the world because of our sins. 14Neither is there at this time prince, or prophet, or leader, or burnt offering, or sacrifice, or oblation, or incense, or place to sacrifice before thee, and to find mercy.

15 Nevertheless in a contrite heart and an humble spirit let us be accepted. 16 Like as in the burnt offerings of rams and bullocks, and like as in ten thousands of fat lambs: so let our sacrifice be in thy sight this day, and grant that we may wholly go after thee: for they shall not be confounded that put their trust in thee.

17 And now we follow thee with all our heart, we fear thee, and seek thy face. 18 Put us not to shame: but deal with us after thy lovingkindness, and according to the multitude of thy mercies.

19 Deliver us also according to thy marvellous works, and give glory to thy name, O Lord: and let all them that do thy servants hurt be ashamed; 20 And let them be confounded in all their power and might, and let their strength be broken; 21 And let them know that thou art God, the only God, and glorious over the whole world.

27 Then the three, as out of one mouth, praised, glorified, and blessed, God in the furnace, saying,

28 Blessed art thou, O Lord God of our fathers: and to be praised and exalted above all for ever. 29 And blessed is thy glorious and holy name: and to be praised and exalted above all for ever.

30 Blessed art thou in the temple of thine holy glory: and to be praised and glorified above all for ever. 31 Blessed art thou that beholdest the depths, and sittest upon the cherubims: and to be praised and exalted above all for ever. 32 Blessed art thou on the glorious throne of thy kingdom: and to be praised and glorified above all for ever. 33 Blessed art thou in the firmament of heaven: and above all to be praised and glorified for ever.

34 O all ye works of the Lord, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever, 35 O ye heavens, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever. 36 O ye angels of the Lord, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever. 37 O all ye waters that be above the heaven, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever. 38 O all ye powers of the Lord, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.

39 O ye sun and moon, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever. 40 O ye stars of heaven, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever. 41 O every shower and dew, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever. 42 O all ye winds, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever, 43 O ye fire and heat, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever. 44 O ye winter and summer, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever. 45 O ye dews and storms of snow, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.

46 O ye nights and days, bless ye the Lord: bless and exalt him above all for ever. 47 O ye light and darkness, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.48 O ye ice and cold, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever. 49 O ye frost and snow, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever. 50 O ye lightnings and clouds, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.

51 O let the earth bless the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever. 52 O ye mountains and little hills, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever. 53 O all ye things that grow in the earth, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever. 54 O ye mountains, bless ye the Lord: Praise and exalt him above all for ever.

55 O ye seas and rivers, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever. 56 O ye whales, and all that move in the waters, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever. 57 O all ye fowls of the air, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever. 58 O all ye beasts and cattle, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.

59 O ye children of men, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever. 60 O Israel, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.

61 O ye priests of the Lord, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever. 62 O ye servants of the Lord, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever. 63 O ye spirits and souls of the righteous, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever. 64 O ye holy and humble men of heart, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.

65 O Ananias, Azarias, and Misael, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever: for he hath delivered us from hell, and saved us from the hand of death, and delivered us out of the midst of the furnace and burning flame: even out of the midst of the fire hath he delivered us. 66 O give thanks unto the Lord, because he is gracious: for his mercy endureth for ever.

67 O all ye that worship the Lord, bless the God of gods, praise him, and give him thanks: for his mercy endureth for ever.

(Well! I can certainly see why the Reformers left that out! It’s obviously uninspired by the Holy Spirit!)

An Orthodox devotional reflects on Azariah’s prayer:

Daniel 3:25-50   (4/24-5/7)   Part Two: Fifteenth Reading, Vigil of Great and Holy Saturday

The Prayer of Azariah: Daniel 3:25-50 SAAS, especially vs.28:“The judgments You made are true, according to all You brought on us and on the holy city of our fathers, because in truth and judgment You did all these things on account of our sins.Speaking concerning the three young men who were thrown into the fiery furnace at Babylon, Saint John Chrysostom notes that Azariahwas quite correct in admitting they had sinned and committed iniquity along with all their fathers in ancient Israel: “This it is to have a contrite heart….So even after they had fallen into the furnace they were exceedingly humbled, even more so than they were before.  For when they saw the miracle that was wrought, thinking themselves unworthy of that deliverance, they were brought lower in humility.”

What realization illumined the heart of Azariah in the face of such a God-given miracle of survival, that he could say, “You did all these things on account of our sins” (vs. 28)?  Still, Saint John notes: “This it is to have a contrite heart.”  The inner state of Azariah’s heart ought to capture our attention, even if we acknowledge that, indeed, he showed a contrite heart.  Indeed, what arethe characterizes such a heart?  His prayer in this reading reveals the essentials of what God teaches concerning true contrition; therefore, may the Lord grant us the grace of a humility like that ofAzariah, that we may find humility in ourselves in whatever state we are in this life.

First, like Azariah, may we confess to God that He alone is blessed, worthy of praise, true and glorified (vss. 26, 27).  Saint John Chrysostom warns us: “Many are elated on account of their humility, but let us not be so affected….Such was the Pharisee…but not so the Publican (Lk. 18:13).”  May we also be wary, as Saint John of Sinai warns, for “The spirit of despair rejoices at the sight of increasing vice, and the spirit of vainglory at the sight of increasing virtue.”

Second, without evasion, let us affirm that no calamity, deprivation, or misfortune befalls us in this life which, in God’s measure, is not just and right.  Such a proposal may not go down easily, but this only indicates how far we need to grow before we can say without reservation as did Azariah, “You did all these things on account of our sins” (Dan. 3:28).

Third, it is well to confess to God that our whole life is permeated with sin, and that even in our best actions “…we sinned and acted lawlessly to depart from You…” (vs. 5).

Fourth, should we receive the grace to see our entire life and all our motivations through God’s eyes, and admit that “Neither did we treasure or do as You commanded”(vs. 6).  May we then pull away the layers of self-justification and self-approval.

Fifth, let us frankly concede that we have nothing to say in self-defense before God – “…for us to open our mouth, for this has become a shame and disgrace to Your servants…” (vs. 10), how we have spent our days on earth.  As the Prophet Isaiah says, “We all are become as unclean, and all our righteousness is like a filthy rag” (Is. 64:6).  Such is our spiritual condition.

Sixth, affirming all that we have said, nevertheless, have no despair in Christ, but offer but a single plea to Him: “…we are following you with all our heart….deal with us according to Your kindness and according to the abundance of Your mercy (Dan. 3:41,42).

Finally, we are ready to beseech God, concerning those who have done us wrong, that He would graciously bring them to the knowledge that He alone is “…the Lord God and glorious over all the inhabited earth” (vs. 45).  These seven cries of the heart are the primary steps for a contrite heart, one which God assures us He “…will not despise” (Ps. 50:17).

Behold my weariness.  Forgive me all my sins, O God of all, that with a pure heart and fearful mind and contrite soul, I may partake of Thine all-pure mysteries and be enlivened.

One final comment by Tipsy: This passage clearly legitimizes the view that calamities (may sometimes?) come to us not only “because of our sins” — a topic I recently approached — but that “according to truth and judgment didst thou bring all these things upon us ….” But please note the context: This is the prayer of Azariah. This is not some Pharisee shouting edifyingly at Azariah “you’re in them flames because of your sin, buddy!”

“This it is to have a contrite heart.”  The inner state of Azariah’s heart ought to capture our attention, even if we acknowledge that, indeed, he showed a contrite heart.  Indeed, what are the characterizes such a heart?  His prayer in this reading reveals the essentials of what God teaches concerning true contrition; therefore, may the Lord grant us the grace of a humility like that ofAzariah, that we may find humility in ourselves in whatever state we are in this life.

I suggest — I do not know this to be a teaching of the Church — that there are things that we may, and sometimes must, say to God in prayer that others nevertheless may not legitimately say to us. I much prefer to speak to others of God’s love and mercy than of Him bringing judgment on us (as opposed to the natural – not to be confused with “causal” in a scientific sense -consequences of our sin because of our exalted position in creation).

Contrition is one thing; condemnation and threats of divine retribution from outside are quite another. Pat Robertson, take note.

About readerjohn

I am a retired lawyer and an Orthodox Christian, living in a collapsing civilization, the modern West. There are things I'll miss when it's gone. There are others I won't. That it is collapsing is partly due to calculated subversion, summarized by the moniker "deathworks." This blog is now dedicated to exposing and warring against those deathwork - without ceasing to spread a little light.
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