Saintly Defiance

This week’s Feast of St. Daniel and His Companions (June 22) is a lesson in fidelity to God over submission to worldly forces.

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The king ruled over an empire of many nations, and held a great opinion of himself. He had his own image sculpted in a statue of gold, 90 feet tall, and ordered all the authorities of his realm—political, judicial, religious—to fall down and worship it. Predictably, they all did.

Almost all. For among the captive nations ruled by King Nebuchadnezzar, three Hebrew men refused to obey the command. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were identified by lackeys of the king, and brought before his angry judgment. The king offered them a simple choice—worship the idol or die—along with a menacing question: “Who is the god that will deliver you out of my hands?”

For Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, it was no choice at all. As the price for their act of conscience, they were thrown alive into a superheated furnace. The king’s retinue peered into the fire, longing to see and hear the victims’ torments; but their sadistic hopes went unsatisfied. For miraculously, the three saintly Hebrews emerged unscathed from the furnace. And leading them through the flames was a mysterious fourth figure—one who bore “the appearance of the son of God.”

Those events took place 2,600 years ago. But details of the story could have happened in 1915—or even today, in our world where the arrogance of power, the cravenness of institutional authorities, and the punishment of dissent are routine features of life in far too many places.

As recorded in the biblical Book of Daniel, the story seized the imagination of the Armenian people. The Armenian Church devotes a feast day to honor the three youths (along with the prophet Daniel). The distinctively Armenian names “Setrag” and “Missag” (from Shadrach and Meshach) remain extremely common to this day (though “Abednego” has proved less popular with Armenian parents).

Most of all, the three youths provided an iconic model for the defiant character—the unshakeable Christian conviction—that our people would show throughout the ages, whenever tyrannical powers demanded that they bend their spirits away from the one, holy God.

Through all the fires of history, He has stood by our side.

By Christopher H. Zakian

Above: William Blake’s 1805 depiction of King Nebuchadnezzar, driven mad by the arrogance of earthly power.

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