Who is Going to Step Forward?

For Thy name’s sake do not give us up utterly, and do not break Thy covenant, and do not withdraw Thy mercy from us, for the sake of Abraham Thy beloved and for the sake of Isaac Thy servant and Israel Thy holy one, to whom Thou didst promise to make their descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as the sand on the shore of the sea. For we, O Lord, have become fewer than any nation, and are brought low this day in all the world because of our sins. And at this time there is no prince, or prophet, or leader, no burnt offering, or sacrifice, or oblation, or incense, no place to make an offering before Thee or to find mercy. Yet with a contrite heart and a humble spirit may we be accepted, as though it were with burnt offerings of rams and bulls, and with tens of thousands of fat lambs; such may our sacrifice be in Thy sight this day,
and may we wholly follow Thee, for there will be no shame for those who trust in Thee.  And now with all our heart we follow Thee, we fear Thee and seek Thy face.  Do not put us to shame, but deal with us in Thy forbearance and in Thy abundant mercy. Deliver us in accordance with thy marvelous works, and give glory to Thy name, O Lord! Let all who do harm to Thy servants be put to shame; let them be disgraced and deprived of all power and dominion, and let their strength be broken. Let them know that Thou art the Lord, the only God, glorious over the whole world.”

(This text appears in two places in Scripture.  It appears in the Septuagint translation of the Book of Daniel, Chapter 3: 35-45; and in the Revised Standard Version as an Apocryphal Book called “Song of the Three Young Men,” which consists of one chapter, of which this is verses 11-22) Friday of the Sixth Week of Lent

 

Good morning Prayer Team!

On Holy Saturday morning, as we await the first announcement of the Resurrection of Christ, we hear three prophecy readings.  The first is from the book of Genesis, and is about the Creation of the world.  The Church takes us all the way back to the beginning, as the world was when it was created by God.  Because through the Cross and Resurrection, the world has been re-created by God.  God created the world perfect.  The world fell through the sin of mankind.  And the world is re-created and redeemed through the death and Resurrection of Christ.

The second prophecy is from the book of Jonah.  Jonah was asked by God to go to Nineveh and he refused.  So he boarded a ship and journeyed in a different direction.  When the seas became rough and threatened to sink his ship, Jonah told the men on board that he was the cause of the wind and waves.  He was then thrown overboard.  A giant fish (sometimes depicted as a whale) swallowed Jonah.  He spent three days in the belly of the fish, before the fish spit him out and then he went to Nineveh as he was asked.  Though he didn’t go without complaint.  The journey of Jonah is the journey of the human race.  Told by God what His hope was for us, we nonetheless headed in a different direction (the Fall).  In the stormy seas that ensued, one man had to be cast overboard. (Christ)  And swallowed by the fish, He remained for three days in its belly (prefigures the three days in the tomb).  And coming out of the fish, (the Resurrection) He went to preach to Nineveh (all those who do not know God).  And while the church continues to preach, it is certainly not without complaints, just like Jonah.

The third prophecy is from the book of Daniel.  It is the story of three youths who refused to bow down to a golden statue set up by King Nebuchadnezzar.  Nebuchadnezzar was so angry with these three young men—Shadrach, Meshach and Abednago—that he ordered them cast into a fiery furnace.  (Their original Hebrew names were Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael)  In the midst of the flames, Azariah opened his mouth and offered the prayer quoted above.  And after offering this prayer, the Lord drove the fire out of the furnace, sending dew upon the flames, so that the three men were untouched by the fire.

This prophecy is the final step of the Christian journey.  If the first step is seeing the signs and the second step is committing to them, then the third step is spreading the good news.  Nebuchadnezzar represents all those who hate Christianity, all those who are ignorant of the truth.  The fire is our world—its struggles, temptations, and even persecutions now of Christians.  Who is Azarias?  The one who stands up for Christ.

So, the questions are: Who is going to stand up for Christ?  Who is going bring the hope of Christ in the midst of the flames?  We know that Christ will protect us from the world, as he protected the three holy children from the fire.  But we need people to stand up with confidence, to those who build the golden statues, and not bow down to them.  The golden statue is fame and fortune, gold and riches, the things that our world seems to bow down to, the things in our world that run counter to the message of Christ.  Will we bow down as well?  Or will we be different.

The prayer reminds us that there is “no prince, or prophet, or leader, no burnt offering or sacrifice, or oblation or incense, no place to make an offering before Thee or to find mercy.”  The only place we can go for deliverance is CHRIST.  So, we need to resist the temptation to bow down at the golden statues that our secular world has set up.  We need to not be afraid of being cast into the furnace of ridicule if we stand up for Christ.  Many people, ourselves included, stand up in anger every day—on the roads, at the mall, on television.  One cannot seem to find success unless he causes another to fail.  Our world has made it all about ourselves.  The journey of the Christian is to make it all about God.  Heaven will be all about the Lord.  In heaven we will behold God’s glory, all the time.  It will be ALL about Him.  And we need people to share this message because this is the message of hope and love, which will endure all things, including life’s hardships, so that we one day, when we enter our earthly tomb, we can emerge in a heavenly Resurrection.

We’ve made the preparations.  Now is the time to begin the journey of Holy Week.  The next week of reflections, beginning tomorrow, will offer one scriptural highlight of each day of the Holy Week journey, culminating in the Resurrection of Christ on Pascha.  Make this journey with an idea of what you’ll do after Pascha.  Will you stay committed?  Will you help others find Christ?  Will you allow this experience to renew you?  Will you allow it to change you?  Will you step forward? By God’s grace, I hope we, myself included, will answer YES.

Blessed are You, o Lord, the God of our fathers; the most praised and most exalted to all ages; and blessed is the Name of Your Glory, the Holy and most praised, and exalted above all, to the ages.  Blessed are You in the Holy Temple of Your Glory; the most praised, and exalted above all, forever.  Blessed are You, Who looks over the depths, and are seated on the Cherubim; the most praised and exalted above all forever.  Blessed are you on the Throne of Your Kingdom, the most praised and exalted above all, forever.  Blessed are You in the firmament of Heaven, and praised and gloried to all ages.  (The Hymn of the Three Youths, from Vesperal Liturgy on Holy Saturday Morning, Trans. by Fr. George Papadeas, found in Daniel 3:52-26 of the Septuagint, and in the Song of the Three Young Men 1:29-34)

Have a blessed and meaningful Holy Week journey!

 

+Fr. Stavros

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Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John…
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