The Holy Prophet Daniel and the Three Children: Ananias, Azarias and Misael
All four were of the royal tribe of Judah. When Nebuchadnezzar destroyed and plundered Jerusalem, Daniel, as a boy, was carried away into slavery together with the Jewish King Jehoiachim and countless other Israelites. An account of his life, sufferings and prophecies can be found in detail in his book. Completely devoted to God, St. Daniel from his early youth received from God the gift of great discernment. His fame among the Jews in Babylon began when he denounced two lecherous and unrighteous elders, Jewish judges, and saved the chaste Susanna from an unjust death. But his fame among the Babylonians began from the day he deciphered and interpreted the dream of King Nebuchadnezzar. For this, the king made him a prince at his court. When the king made a golden idol on the Plain of Dura, the Three Children refused to worship it, and for this they were cast into a fiery furnace. But an angel of God appeared in the furnace and cooled the fire so that the children walked around the furnace unharmed by the fire, singing: Blessed art Thou, Lord God of our fathers (Daniel 3:26). The king saw this miracle and was amazed. He then brought the children out of the furnace and bestowed upon them great honors.
In the time of King Belshazzar, when the king was eating and drinking with his guests at a banquet from consecrated vessels taken from the Temple in Jerusalem, an invisible hand wrote three words on the wall: Mene, Tekel, Upharsin (Daniel 5:25-28). No one was able to interpret these words except Daniel. That night, King Belshazzar was killed. Daniel was twice thrown into the lions’ den because of his faith in the One, Living God, and both times the Lord saved him and he remained alive. Daniel beheld God on a throne with the heavenly hosts; saw angels; discerned the future of certain people, of kingdoms, and of the whole human race; and prophesied the time of the coming of the Savior on earth. According to St. Cyril of Alexandria, Daniel and the three children lived to old age in Babylon and were beheaded for the true Faith. When they beheaded Ananias, Azarias stretched out his cloak and caught his head; following this, Misael caught Azarias’s head and Daniel caught Misael’s head. An angel of the God translated their bodies to Judea, to Mount Gebal, and placed them under a rock. According to tradition, these four God-pleasers arose at the time of the death of the Lord Christ, appeared to many and again fell asleep. Daniel is numbered among the four great prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel). He lived and prophesied five hundred years before Christ.
The heart of a man changeth his countenance, whether it be for good or evil: and a merry heart maketh a cheerful countenance. 26 A cheerful countenance is a token of a heart that is in prosperity; and the finding out of parables is a wearisome labour of the mind.
Proverbs Chapter 3:9 God by wisdom founded the earth, and by prudence he prepared the heavens. 20 By understanding were the depths broken up, and the clouds dropped water.
21 My son, let them not pass from thee, but keep my counsel and understanding: 22 that thy soul may live, and that there may be grace round thy neck; and it shall be health to thy flesh, and safety to thy bones: 23 that thou mayest go confidently in peace in all thy ways, and that thy foot may not stumble. 24 For if thou rest, thou shalt be undismayed; and if thou sleep, thou shalt slumber sweetly. 25 And thou shalt not be afraid of alarm coming upon thee, neither of approaching attacks of ungodly men. 26 For the Lord shall be over all thy ways, and shall establish thy foot that thou be not moved.
27 Forbear not to do good to the poor, whensoever thy hand may have power to help him. 28 Say not, Come back another time, tomorrow I will give; while thou art able to do him good: for thou knowest not what the next day will bring forth. 29 Devise not evil against thy friend, living near thee and trusting in thee.
30 Be not ready to quarrel with a man without a cause, lest he do thee some harm.
31 Procure not the reproaches of bad men, neither do thou covet their ways. 32 For every transgressor is unclean before the Lord; neither does he sit among the righteous. 33 The curse of God is in the houses of the ungodly; but the habitations of the just are blessed. 34 The Lord resists the proud; but he gives grace to the humble.
The International Organization for Septuagint and Cognate Studies (IOSCS), a nonprofit, learned society formed to promote international research in and study of the Septuagint and related texts, has established February 8 annually as International Septuagint Day, a day to promote the discipline on campuses and in communities.
So… blessed International Septuagint Day!
For the End: A Psalm for the Sons of Kore, 48.
Hear this, all ye nations; give ear, all ye that inhabit the world, Both ye that are born of earth, and ye sons of men, rich and poor men together. My mouth shall speak wisdom, and the meditation of my heart shall be of understanding. I will incline mine ear unto a parable, I will unfold my problem on the psaltery. Wherefore should I fear in an evil day? The iniquity at my heel shall compass me about. There be some that trust in their strength, and boast themselves in the multitude of their riches. A brother cannot redeem; shall a man redeem? He shall not give to God a ransom for himself, nor the price of the redemption of his own soul, though he hath laboured for ever, and shall live to the end. For he shall not see corruption, when he shall see wise men dying. The mindless man and the witless shall perish together, and they shall leave their riches to others. And their graves shall be their houses unto eternity, their dwelling places unto generation and generation, though they have called their lands after their own names. And man, being in honour, did not understand; he is compared to the mindless cattle, and is become like unto them. This way of theirs is a stumbling-block for them, yet afterwards they will please with their mouth. Like sheep they are laid in hades, death shall be their shepherd. And the upright shall have dominion over them in the morning, and their help shall wax old in hades; they have been cast out from their glory. Yet God shall redeem my soul out of the hand of hades, when he receiveth me. Be not afraid when a man becometh rich, nor when the glory of his house is increased. For when he dieth he shall carry nothing away, nor shall his glory descend after him. For his soul shall be blessed in his lifetime; he will acknowledge Thee while Thou doest good unto him. He shall enter into the generation of his fathers; he shall not see light unto eternity. And man, being in honour, did not understand; he is compared to the mindless cattle, and is become like unto them.
third psalm of the seventh Kathisma (Tuesday’s reading)
The spirit of those who fear the Lord will live.
For their hope is in Him who saves them.
He who fears the Lord will fear
And he will not be cowardly, for the Lord is his hope.
Blessed is the soul of a man who fears
To whom does he look? And who is his
The eyes of the Lord are upon those
who love Him.
He is a powerful protection and a strong support:
A shelter from the burning heat,
A shelter from the noonday sun.
A guard from stumbling,
And a help from a fall.
He raises up the soul
And gives light to the eyes,
He gives healing, life and blessing.
~Wisdom of Sirach 34:13-17
Second Kathisma For the End: A Psalm of David Concerning the Hidden Things of the Son, 9.
I will confess Thee, O Lord, with my whole heart, I will tell of all Thy wonders. I will be glad and rejoice in Thee, I will chant unto Thy name, O Most High. When mine enemy be turned back, they shall grow weak and shall perish before Thy face, For Thou hast maintained my judgement and my cause; Thou hast sat upon a throne, O Thou that judgest righteousness. Thou hast rebuked the heathen, and the ungodly man hath perished; his name Thou hast blotted out for ever, and unto ages of ages. The swords of the enemy have utterly failed, and his cities Thou hast destroyed. The remembrance of him hath perished with a resounding noise, but the Lord for ever abideth. In judgement hath He prepared His throne, and He himself will judge the world in righteousness; He will judge the peoples in uprightness. And the Lord is become a refuge for the poor man, a helper in times of well-being and in afflictions. And let them that know Thy name hope in Thee, for Thou hast not forsaken them that seek Thee, O Lord. Chant unto the Lord Who dwelleth in Sion, proclaim ye His ways among the nations. For He that makethSion. We will rejoice in Thy salvation. The heathen are ensnared in the destruction which they have wrought; in this snare which they hid hath their foot been caught. The Lord is known by the judgements which He executeth; in the works of his own hands hath the sinner been caught. Let sinners be turned away unto hades, yea, all the nations that are forgetful of God. For the poor man shall not be forgotten to the end; the patience of the paupers shall not perish for ever. Arise, O Lord, let not man prevail; let the nations be judged before Thee. O Lord, set a lawgiver over them; let the heathen know that they are but men. Why, O Lord, hast Thou gone to stand afar off? Why dost Thou overlook us in times of well-being and in afflictions? When the ungodly man is arrogant, the poor man burneth within; they are caught in the counsels which they devise. For the sinner praiseth himself in the lusts of his soul, and the unrighteous man likewise blesseth himself therein. The sinner hath provoked the Lord; according to the magnitude of his wrath, he careth not; God is not before him. Profane are his ways in every season, Thy judgements are removed from his sight, over all his enemies shall he gain dominion. For he said in his heart: I shall not be shaken; from generation to generation shall I be without harm. With cursing is his mouth filled, and with bitterness and deceit; under his tongue are toil and travail. He sitteth in ambush with the rich in secret places, that he may slay the innocent; his eyes are set upon the poor man. He lieth in wait in a secret place like a lion in his den; he lieth in wait to seize upon the poor man, to seize upon the poor man when he draweth him in. In his snare will he humble himself, he will bow down and fall while gaining dominion over the poor. For he said in his heart: God hath forgotten; He hath turned away His face, that He might not see unto the end. Arise, O Lord my God, let Thy hand be lifted high; forget not Thy paupers to the end. Why hath the ungodly one provoked God? For he hath said in his heart: He will not make enquiry. Thou seest, for Thou understandest travail and anger, that Thou mightest deliver him into Thy hands. To Thee hath the beggar been abandoned; for the orphan art Thou a helper. Break Thou the arm of the sinner and of the evil man; his sin shall be sought out and be found no more. The Lord shall be king for ever, and unto the ages of ages. Ye heathen shall perish out of His land. The desire of the poor hast Thou heard, O Lord; to the preparation of their heart hath Thine ear been attentive. To judge for the orphan and the humble, that man may no more presume to be haughty upon the earth.
I sometimes think Chanukah is the least understood of the Jewish festivals. Passover and the High Holidays seem relatively easy to comprehend and explain; but Chanukah involves history and sources that many people do not know or understand.
Yet the tale of Chanukah’s origins is one of the best in Jewish or any other history. Passover is my favorite Jewish holiday in terms of its characteristic ritual, the seder service-plus-dinner; but Chanukah is my favorite for its story, or what Hollywood would call its “backstory.”
To understand that story, you have to begin with the destruction of the Jewish state of Judah and of the first Temple in Jerusalem by the Babylonian empire in 586 B.C.E.
The Babylonian conquerors, in keeping with their policies toward other conquered peoples, forced the most prominent Jewish leaders and families to move to Babylonia, leaving the poorest Jews behind.
In 539 B.C.E., Cyrus the Great, king of the Persians, conquered the Babylonian empire. He annulled the Babylonian relocation policy; permitted Jews to return to Judah and Jerusalem; and allowed them to build the second Temple and to set up a form of self-rule under Persian domination. For about two centuries, Judah was a province of the Persian Empire.
Then in the fourth century B.C.E., Macedonia conquered the city-states that had created classical Greek civilization. Macedonian king Alexander the Great then led a combined Macedonian and Greek army into the Persian Empire. In the course of this invasion, he captured Judah in 332 B.C.E.
Ultimately, Alexander destroyed the Persian state and created an empire that stretched from Egypt to the border of what we know as India.
And this conquest constituted more than just a change of administration. Alexander and his soldiers and officials brought Greek civilization to the region and set up the Greek type of city, or polis, throughout the empire.
Alexander died of disease before he could consolidate his empire. His generals struggled among themselves and ended up dividing the realm. Two of those generals, Ptolemy and Seleucus, are important for Chanukah.
Ptolemy set up a kingdom in Egypt that his family ruled for about two centuries. His last dynastic descendent was Queen Cleopatra VII, who charmed Romans Julius Caesar and Mark Anthony and who has been the subject of many plays, operas, novels and movies. Ptolemy established his capital at Alexandria, which had an important Jewish community.
Seleucus took the region extending from what is known today as Lebanon, Syria and part of Turkey to the border of India and created the Seleucid Empire in that territory.
Judah, now known as Judea, and its most important city, Jerusalem, occupied a strategic location between these two kingdoms. At first, it fell under the Ptolemies’ dominion; but around 200 B.C.E., the Seleucids captured it.
Both kingdoms at first allowed Judea a fair amount of self-rule under their domination. They also brought Greek civilization into close contact with Jewish civilization.
It appears likely that the Jews reacted much as Jews do today in response to modern Western civilization. Some wanted little or nothing to do with Greek ways, others wanted to embrace them entirely and throw Judaism over, and others wanted to combine the two in varying degrees.
In 175 B.C.E., Antiochus IV came to the Seleucid throne. This ruler had ambitions to conquer Egypt. But the Ptolemies made an alliance with a new power in the west, the Roman Republic, and together they thwarted Antiochus. At about the same time, the Parthians threatened the Seleucid Empire from the east.
Antiochus apparently decided he needed more money to finance his ambitions; and one of the places from which he decided to get it was the treasury of the Temple in Jerusalem.
Here we must digress to consider an important question: How do we know about these events?
The primary sources are two Books of Maccabees. Scholars believe the author of the first was someone in Judea who may have been a witness to — or at least a contemporary of — some of the events. The second according to its own text summarizes a longer historical work originally written in Greek.
The rabbis of the Talmud era (c. 500 C.E.) excluded both books from the final canon of the Jewish Bible. However, when the Jews of Alexandria and, apparently, elsewhere decided to make a Greek translation of the Bible, called the Septuagint (c. 300-100 B.C.E.), they included these books plus others that the rabbis excluded.
The early Christians adopted the Septuagint as their “Old Testament,” and that is how the Books of Maccabees were preserved. Catholicism and Eastern Orthodox Christianity keep I and II Maccabees as part of their Bible to this day. (Protestant Christian movements follow the Jewish community in excluding them.)
How accurate these books are, how to interpret them, and the details of the story they tell are matters of scholarly controversy. But the upshot appears to be as follows:
Antiochus IV pillaged the Temple and savagely put down the resulting popular unrest. Then with the apparent help of some local Jews he captured the Temple and ordered it used for worship of the Greek gods; and he outlawed Judaism, punishing people who maintained Jewish religious observances by torturing them to death.
Religious persecution like this was rare in the ancient world, and scholars have been puzzled about why Antiochus IV did it. (No Seleucid Empire records survive.) They propose several possible reasons: to unify his empire religiously; to impose Greek civilization; to suppress Jewish resistance to his plans; or to express an unreasoning and pathological hatred of Jews and Judaism, which would make him history’s first known true anti-Semite.
Whatever Antiochus’ reasons, the persecution proved to be “worse than a crime; it is a blunder” (as Napoleon’s foreign minister Tallyrand said about a different event).
In the town of Modi’in west of Jerusalem lived a family of kohanim (priests) descended from an ancestor named Hasmon, from which scholars have called them Hasmoneans (Hashmonaim in Hebrew). The father, Mattathias, had five sons, each of whom, according to I Maccabees, had a first name in Hebrew, but also a second name of uncertain significance. Of particular note is Mattathias’ son, Judah Maccabee.
This family beginning in 166 B.C.E. led a revolt against Antiochus’ war on Judaism; and after Mattathias died, Judah became the military leader. Judah proved to be a military genius, though it helped him that Antiochus had to divide his forces to fight the Parthians at the same time.
In 164 B.C.E., Judah and his followers recaptured the Temple. After a cleansing process, they held there on the 25th of the Jewish calendar month of Kislev an eight-day long chanukat ha-bayit (dedication of the house), from which the holiday of Chanukah gets its name.
They then proclaimed that Jews forevermore should remember and celebrate the anniversary of the Temple’s rededication to Jewish worship — and that constitutes the Jewish religious significance of the holiday.
Why eight days? II Maccabees suggests that the first Chanukah was treated as a second Sukkot, the Torah-mandated harvest festival that lasts for eight days.
But others have suggested different explanations. A midrash in Megilat Ta’anit (first century C.E.) says the cleansing of the Temple took eight days and that is why the rabbis made Chanukah that long.
Where does the custom of kindling lights on the eight days of Chanukah come from? Nobody really knows.
The most frequently recited account comes from the Babylonian Talmud (Tractate Shabbat 21b). This asserts that after the cleansing, the Jews needed to rekindle the Temple’s lamps with consecrated oil; but the Seleucids had desecrated all except one jar, enough to burn for only one day. When the Jews used this one jar’s oil, however, it miraculously burned for eight days until new consecrated oil could be prepared; and so Chanukah lights are kindled to remember this miracle.
There are problems with this story. First, neither of the books of Maccabees mentions it.
Second, ancient Jewish literature contains other accounts of the origin of the custom, such as a story that the Jews found eight iron spears in the Temple and stuck candles on them (midrash collection Peskita Rabbati).
Third, between the rededication of the Temple in 164 B.C.E. and the compilation of the Talmud around 500 C.E., there’s the book, “Antiquities of the Jews,” by first century C.E. Roman Jewish historian Flavius Josephus. He described the rededication of the Temple, wrote that a festival called Lights celebrates it, and suggested that light was a symbol of the sudden new freedom the Jews enjoyed.
But whatever the ultimate origin of the custom, it is clear that for more than 2,000 years, Jews have been kindling lights to remember the rededication of the Temple.
They did not do much else about the festival for a long time, however. For centuries, Chanukah was considered a very minor holiday.
It was celebrated with feasting and games, as well as the kindling of the chanukiyah (Chanukah menorah), but with no special synagogue service or taking off of work.
In the last couple of centuries, the holiday became more important. Part of the reason in some Western countries was its proximity to the Christian festival Christmas with its associated giving of gifts.
Many Jews took an Eastern European Chanukah custom of giving small gifts of money, or Chanukah gelt, to children and transformed it into a Christmas-like exchange of presents; and some Jews have incorporated other Christmas-like customs into the holiday.
Other Jews denounce such practices; but in a way, the Christmas-Chanukah interchange raises anew the very question the Jews contemplated when they encountered Greek civilization: How much of non-Jewish culture can one incorporate into Jewish observance while still maintaining Judaism’s integrity? A little? A lot? None?
But there also is a Jewish reason for Chanukah’s modern prominence — in fact, a Zionist reason. This has to do with something most accounts of Chanukah’s origin don’t discuss — namely, that the Jewish revolt against the Seleucid Empire did not end with the recapture and re-dedication of the Temple. It continued for more than 20 years.
Moreover, the aim of the war changed. It started as a struggle for religious freedom. It ended as a fight for political independence.
The details of the war are complicated, but its upshot can be summarized. Antiochus IV died of disease in 164 B.C.E., triggering a struggle for the Seleucid throne. The leaders of the Jewish revolt played the contenders against each other. Periods of fighting and intrigue alternated.
Of the five sons of Mattathias, four died during the struggle: two, including Judah, in battle, and two by murder in the course of the intrigues.
Finally, the last surviving brother, Simon, reached an agreement with the Seleucid government in 141 B.C.E. that in effect recognized Judea’s independence.
And so was born the second independent Jewish state in the land of Israel, a kingdom ruled by the Hasmonean dynasty, beginning with Simon, and that lasted until about 63 B.C.E., when the Romans conquered the area.
The creators of Zionism looked back to that state as an ancestor, and to its founding as a model for their own efforts. And so today, in the third independent Jewish state, modern Israel, Chanukah is a national holiday.
Ivan Kramskoy’s Inconsolable Grief (1884)
“Now, says the Lord your God, “Turn to Me with all your heart, with fasting, and wailing, and mourning.” Rend your heart, and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for He is merciful and compassionate. He is longsuffering and plenteous in mercy and repents evils. Who knows if He will return and change His mind – if He will leave a blessing behind Him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the Lord your God? (Joel 2:12-14)”
One can take that mourning to be blessed which follows the transgressions of sinners… The work of worldly sorrow is death, whereas the other works in those afflicted with it salvation through repentance… Human nature abounds with sin, the remedy of which is shown to be the sorrow of repentance… But it seems to me that the Word… intends us to understand something else by the steady, invigorating influence of sorrow… Man, who once lived in the delights of Paradise, has been transplanted into this unhealthy and wearisome place, where his life, once accustomed to impassibility, became instead subject to passion and corruption… It occupies the castle of his soul like a tyrant, and afflicts the obedient lord through his own subjects… For the whole array of passions, hatred, strife and merciless cruelty, envy as well as flattery, brutality together with brooding over injuries, they are all so many despotic masters…
So when He calls mourning blessed, the underlying sense seems to be that the soul should turn to the true good and not immerse itself in the deceits of this present life… But if a man does not seek, he will not find what comes only to those who seek… Moses… prescribed unleavened bread during the days of the feast (the Pasch), but for the seasoning of the food he appointed bitter herbs (Exodus 12:8)… We should not think it a loss to be deprived of some of the pleasant things of this life, but rather to lose the better things for the sake of enjoying others.
~ St Gregory of Nyssa On the Beatitudes