Melkite Greek Catholic Church
 
ONE OF THE LAST BOOKS in the Old Testament – and perhaps the most intriguing – is the Book of Daniel. Written in the second century bc, it tells the adventures of the godly Jewish nobles Daniel and his companions Ananiah, Azariah and Mishael who were taken captive by the Babylonians four hundred years before. Given new names – Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego – and trained for service in the Babylonian court, they were imprisoned for not worshipping the gods of their pagan masters but vindicated by the power of the true God, the God of Israel. Daniel was written during the time when Israel had once more fallen captive to pagans: this time, in the person of the Hellenistic king of Syria, Antiochus IV who tried to eliminate the religion of Yahweh, ban the Torah and circumcision, and erect a pagan altar in the temple. Daniel is depicted as prophesying the defeat of the Babylonians and the restoration of Jerusalem by the power of God. The unwritten message was that, as the Jews had been liberated in the time of Daniel, they would be again in their present distress by the same power: the hand of the true God.

The Fiery Furnace

The Book of Daniel begins with a number of popular tales which may have come down from the sixth century BC. One of the most dramatic is the story of Ananiah, Azariah and Mishael in the fiery furnace. The king had erected an enormous golden idol of his patron, the god Nabu, in the Plain of Dura (near present-day Karbala, Iraq). Some commentators think that it was a statue of the king himself. At its dedication the people were ordered, “To you it is commanded, O peoples, nations, and languages, that at the time you hear the sound of the horn, flute, harp, lyre, and psaltery, in symphony with all kinds of music, you shall fall down and worship the gold image that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up; and whoever does not fall down and worship shall be cast immediately into the midst of a burning fiery furnace” (Daniel 3:4 6). The youths refused to obey this order and were threatened by the king: “’If you do not worship, you shall be cast immediately into the midst of a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you from my hands?’  Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered with a profession of faith in the God of Israel: “…our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king” (vv.15-17).  Then they added this remarkable statement of fidelity to God at any cost, “But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we still will not serve your gods, nor will we worship the golden image which you have set up” (v. 18). Their obedience to God did not depend on what God would do for them. Whether He preserved their lives or not, they would be faithful to Him. The furnace was so hot that those standing nearby were burned to death themselves. But, as the story continues, “Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished; and he rose in haste and spoke, saying to his counselors, ‘Did we not cast three men bound into the midst of the fire?’ “They answered and said to the king, ‘True, O king.’ ‘Look!’ he answered, ‘I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire; and they are not hurt, and the form of the fourth is like a Son of God’” (Daniel 3:24-25). The Church has long seen this fourth person as a type of Christ who came down into our world as our Deliverer. The king relented, freed the young men and praised the God of Israel who had sent an angel to protect them. The Greek, Latin and Syriac versions of Daniel include additional material in this passage not found in the Hebrew text. We read in v. 23, “And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell down bound into the midst of the burning fiery furnace." The Septuagint (LXX) and other versions then add, “They walked around in the midst of the flames, singing hymns to God and blessing the Lord. Then Azariah stood still in the fire and prayed aloud:” The prayers which follow in the Septuagint are our Canticles Seven and Eight.

The Prayer of Azariah

Our Canticle Seven is the prayer offered by Azariah in the midst of the flames. It is a prayer of repentance, confessing that the Jews had not been faithful to the covenant and were punished for their infidelity: “You have executed true judgments in all you have brought upon us and upon Jerusalem, the holy city of our ancestors; by a true judgment you have brought all this upon us because of our sins… And now we cannot open our mouths; we, your servants who worship You, have become a shame and a reproach.” The prayer continues with words we also find in our service of the Ninth Hour: “For your name's sake do not give us up forever, and do not annul your covenant. Do not withdraw your mercy from us, for the sake of Abraham your beloved and for the sake of your servant Isaac and Israel your holy one.” The prayer climaxes with a plea for deliverance: “And now with all our heart we follow you; we fear you and seek your presence. Do not put us to shame, but deal with us in your patience and in your abundant mercy. Deliver us in accordance with your marvelous works, and bring glory to your name, O Lord.” Azariah concludes with a prayer for the Babylonians: “Let them know that you alone are the Lord God, glorious over the whole world."

The Canticle of the Three Young Men

The Septuagint text continues telling how the flames “poured out above the furnace forty-nine cubits, and spread out and burned those Chaldeans who were caught near the furnace.” Ananiah, Azariah and Mishael, however, were untouched by the flames. They sang a hymn of praise which has become our Eighth Canticle, “Blessed are you, O Lord, God of our fathers and to be praised and exalted above all forever...” The canticle is in the form of a litany calling on all creation to praise God with the refrain, “Praise and exalt Him above all forever.” Inspiration for many hymns, we sing it antiphonally with this refrain at the Vigil Liturgy of Pascha on Holy Saturday.
"Bless the Lord, all you works of the Lord; praise and exalt Him above all forever. Bless the Lord, you heavens... Bless the Lord, you angels of the Lord… Bless the Lord, all you waters above the heavens… Bless the Lord, all you powers of the Lord… Bless the Lord, sun and moon… Bless the Lord, stars of heaven… Bless the Lord, all rain and dew… Bless the Lord, fire and heat… Bless the Lord, winter cold and summer heat… Bless the Lord, dews and falling snow… Bless the Lord, nights and days… Bless the Lord, light and darkness… Bless the Lord, ice and cold … Bless the Lord, lightning and clouds… Let the earth bless the Lord… Bless the Lord, mountains and hills… Bless the Lord, all that grows in the ground… Bless the Lord, seas and rivers…Bless the Lord, you whales and all that swim in the waters…  Bless the Lord, all birds of the air… Bless the Lord, all wild animals and cattle… Bless the Lord, all people on earth… Bless the Lord, O Israel… Bless the Lord, you priests of the Lord… Bless the Lord, you servants of the Lord… Bless the Lord, spirits and souls of the righteous… Bless the Lord, you who are holy and humble in heart; sing praise and exalt Him above all forever.”
 
WHEN THE RISEN CHRIST joined the disciples on the road to Emmaus, the Gospel says that, “beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself” (Luke 24:27). Where and how did Moses and the prophets speak of Jesus, whom the biblical teachers of His day did not recognize? The Church Fathers described the references to Christ in the Old Testament as a typology. A Biblical “type” is a person or event which points beyond its original meaning to something greater to come. The human author – Moses or the prophets – probably had no idea that Christ was hidden in what they described. But the Scriptures have more than human authors; they have the Holy Spirit inspiring these writers to express His own divine understanding in these sacred texts. The Scriptural canticles sung at Matins (Orthros) on the weekdays of the Great Fast are of meaning to us because of the typology they contain. Each of them speaks of a character (or the whole of Israel) in some kind of distress who is delivered by God their Savior and Redeemer. They are “types” of the ultimate deliverance – from eternal death – effected in Christ.

The Canticle of Hannah (1 Samuel 2:1-10)

This canticle, sung at Wednesday Orthros, is the joyful response of the previously childless Hannah at the birth of her son, the prophet Samuel. As she told the priest Eli, “For this child I prayed, and the Lord has granted me my petition which I asked of Him. Therefore I also have dedicated him to the Lord; as long as he lives he shall be dedicated to the Lord” (1 Samuel 1:27-28). Hannah’s song – so much like the canticle of the Virgin – celebrates God as the One who reverses our normal expectations. He gives power to the powerless and wealth to the poor: “Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, and the hungry have ceased to hunger… He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the beggar from the ash heap, to set them among princes and make them inherit the throne of glory” (v. 5, 8). He has given a son to the childless and will give victory to the king. The conception by the childless Hannah is a type pointing to the conception of John the Baptist by the childless Elizabeth and to that of Christ Himself, the ultimate conception by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is He whom God will bless as the definitive Anointed One, the Messiah. “He will give strength to His king, and exalt the horn of His anointed” (v. 10).

The Canticle of Habbakuk (Habbakuk 3:1-19)

The Book of Habbakuk, from which Thursday’s canticle is taken, was written at the start of the Israelites exile to Babylon. Habbakuk sings in his distress at the Jewish defeat, “In Your wrath remember mercy” (v. 2). The prophet looks forward to God coming to defeat the invaders and save the Israelites: “God comes from Teman; the Holy One from Mount Paran…You come forth for the salvation of Your people, for salvation with Your Anointed” (vv. 3, 12). He proclaims His confidence in God despite the disaster which has befallen Israel: “Though the fig tree may not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines; though the labor of the olive may fail, and the fields yield no food; though the flock may be cut off from the fold, and there be no herd in the stalls— yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength…” (vv. 17-19). We know nothing about this prophet from the book named after him. There is, however another reference to him in Jewish writings which helps us see Habbakuk himself as a type of Christ. Bel and the Dragon tells us a story about Habbakuk and the prophet Daniel. Although this book, found in the Greek Septuagint, is not in the Hebrew Bible, it is a recognized part of Jewish lore. Refusing to partake of pagan worship in Babylon, Daniel is thrown into the lions’ den. An angel transports Habbakuk from Jerusalem to bring food to Daniel and then returns him home. The king comes to the den, expecting to find Daniel’s remains; instead he sees Daniel, in the best of health, sitting in the midst of the lions. By a heavenly intervention Habbakuk enters the lion’s den to nourish Daniel who is imprisoned there. In this he is a type of Christ who enters the broken world in which we are imprisoned, for our salvation. The words of this canticle, “God comes from Teman; the Holy One from Mount Paran” are repeated frequently during the Feast of Christ’s Nativity to emphasize that Christ’s coming is the ultimate fulfillment of Habbakuk’s prophecy.

The Canticle of Isaiah (Isaiah 26:9-20)

Like other prophets, Isaiah lived at the time when Israel was beset by one invader after another. In this canticle he admits that the nation is powerless to achieve deliverance on its own. Isaiah employs the image of a miscarriage to portray Israel’s inability to revive the nation. “As a woman with child is in pain and cries out in her pangs when she draws near the time of her delivery, so have we been in Your sight, O Lord.  We have been with child, we have been in pain; we have, as it were, brought forth wind. Salvation we have not achieved for the earth, the inhabitants of the earth cannot bring it forth” (vv. 17-18). Yet, the prophet insists, “Your dead shall live; together with my dead body they shall arise. Awake and sing, you who dwell in dust; for your dew is like the dew of herbs,
and the earth shall cast out the dead” (v. 19). It is God who will restore the nation and bring it back to life. This prophecy was realized when Zerubbabel and Joshua brought the Jews back from exile after the Babylonian captivity; but its ultimate fulfillment was the resurrection of Christ from Hades, bringing with Him the human race which was so powerless to save itself. Thus the restoration of Israel, for which Isaiah longed, would be seen as a type of the restoration of mankind in Christ.

The Canticle of Jonah (Jonah 2:2-9)

The canticle of Jonah, his prayer from the belly of the creature which had swallowed him, occasions his deliverance. “Out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and You heard my voice…You have brought up my life from the pit, O Lord, my God” (Jonah 2:2,6). While Hannah and Habbakuk point us toward the incarnation of Christ, Isaiah and Jonah foreshadow His resurrection. Christ Himself indicated that Jonah’s experience in the belly of the sea monster was a type of the Lord’s burial and resurrection: “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:40). As God restored Jonah “from the pit,” He raises Christ from the dead. This canticle is the inspiration for the Sixth Ode of our Canons. During the Fast it is sung only on Saturday and Sunday. The following echoes of Jonah’s canticle are sung on Sundays according to the tone of the week: Tone 1: “The depth of the abyss surrounds us and no one can deliver us; we were led as sheep to the slaughter. Save Your people, O God, for You are the strength of the weak and the One who lifts them up.” Tone 7: “Sailing across the ocean which swells with the cares of this life, swallowed up in the midst of my sins and thrown to the monster who devours souls, I cry to You, O Christ: save me from this deadly abyss.”
 
PEOPLE FAMILIAR WITH the Church’s morning service (Matins or Orthros) would recognize the term “Ninth Ode.” It refers to the Biblical canticle of the Theotokos which begins, “My soul magnifies the Lord…” (cf., Luke 1:46-55) sung at this service. This hymn expresses the joyful gratitude of the holy Virgin at the incarnation of Christ in her womb. Calling this canticle the “Ninth Ode” raises a question. Where are the other eight? We rarely, if ever, hear of them. There are nine Biblical canticles which at one time were sung at Matins/Orthros. With the development of the poetic hymn-form called the Canon, all but the Canticle of the Theotokos disappeared from general use… except during the Great Fast. During this period three odes are sung daily: the eighth, the ninth and one other. Hence the period and its liturgical book are called the “Triodion.” The canticles in question are the following:
  1. Exodus 15:1-19
  2. Deuteronomy 32:1-43
  3. 1 Samuel 2:1-10
  4. Habakkuk 3:1-19
  5. Isaiah 26:9-20
  6. Jonah 2:2-9
  7. Daniel 3:26-56 (LXX)
  8. Daniel 3:57-88 (LXX)
  9. Luke 1:68-79 (in addition to Mary’s canticle)
While few have the opportunity of attending daily Matins and hearing these canticles sung, we all can profit from reading them in the course of our daily prayers and reflecting on their message.

The Songs of Moses

The first two canticles are attributed to Moses and form a part of two Biblical retellings of the early history of Israel in the Torah: one from the Book of Exodus and the second from the Book of Deuteronomy. The Israelites were welcomed into Egypt during a famine in the days of Joseph who had acquired great influence over the pharaoh. Some years later, as we read in Exodus 1:8, “There arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph,” and the slavery of Joseph’s descendants began. The Israelites’ deliverance from Egypt at the hand of Moses is the central event in their history, which is celebrated to this day at Passover. The first part of Moses’ first canticle recounts the story of what God did for the Israelites, emphasizing the defeat of the Egyptians:
“I will sing to the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously! The horse and its rider He has thrown into the sea!
The Lord is my strength and song, and He has become my salvation;
He is my God, and I will praise Him; My father’s God, and I will exalt Him.
The Lord is a man of war; the Lord is His name.
Pharaoh’s chariots and his army He has cast into the sea; His chosen captains also are drowned in the Red Sea.
The depths have covered them; they sank to the bottom like a stone. Your right hand, O Lord, has become glorious in power; Your right hand, O Lord, has dashed the enemy in pieces.
And in the greatness of Your excellence You have overthrown those who rose against You;
You sent forth Your wrath; It consumed them like stubble. And with the blast of Your nostrils the waters were gathered together;
The floods stood upright like a heap; the depths congealed in the heart of the sea.
The enemy said, ‘I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil; My desire shall be satisfied on them. I will draw my sword, My hand shall destroy them.’
You blew with Your wind, the sea covered them; they sank like lead in the mighty waters. Who is like You, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like You, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?
You stretched out Your right hand; the earth swallowed them.
You in Your mercy have led forth the people whom You have redeemed; You have guided them in Your strength to Your holy habitation.”
The second part of the canticle looks ahead. It affirms that the God who drowned the Egyptians in the Sea would continue to defend His people Israel in the future. As He routed their enemies in the past, He will also preserve them from the hands of their present foes, the Philistines, the Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land which God had promised to Abraham:
“The people will hear and be afraid; sorrow will take hold of the inhabitants of Philistia.
Then the chiefs of Edom will be dismayed; the mighty men of Moab – trembling will take hold of them; all the inhabitants of Canaan will melt away.
Fear and dread will fall on them; by the greatness of Your arm they will be as still as a stone
Till Your people pass over, O Lord, till the people pass over whom You have purchased.
You will bring them in and plant them in the mountain of Your inheritance, in the place, O Lord, which You have made for Your own dwelling, the sanctuary, O Lord, which Your hands have established. The Lord shall reign forever and ever.”
The Song of Moses is one of the earliest hymns sung in Christian worship. In the Book of Revelation it is attributed to the angels: “They sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying: ‘Great and marvelous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty. Just and true are your ways … for your righteous acts have been revealed’” (Revelation 15:3-4).

The Second Song of Moses

God was faithful to His people but, as is so often the case, the people were not faithful to Him. And so the second song of Moses dwells on this contrast between God’s fidelity and the people’s faithlessness. The hymn sarcastically calls the Israelites the “so-called righteous ones” (Jeshurun): “But Jeshurun grew fat and kicked; You grew fat, you grew thick, You are obese!
Then he forsook God who made him,
And scornfully esteemed the Rock of his salvation…” In return, the Lord warns them: “I will heap disasters on them; I will spend My arrows on them…I would have said, “I will dash them in pieces, I will make the memory of them to cease from among men,” had I not feared the wrath of the enemy: lest their adversaries should misunderstand, lest they should say, ‘Our hand is high; and it is not the Lord who has done all this.’ Lest anyone think otherwise, the Lord will vindicate Himself and redeem His people. This redemption will not come because God’s people have earned it, but because God is who He is: loving and faithful despite our weaknesses.
“Now see that I, even I, am He, and there is no God besides Me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; nor is there any who can deliver from My hand… “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with His people;
For He will avenge the blood of His servants, and render vengeance to His adversaries; He will provide atonement for His land and His people.”
Clearly a call to repentance, this canticle is only sung during fasting seasons.

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