Daily Readings for Friday, December 17, 2021

FRIDAY OF THE 13TH WEEK

ABSTAIN FROM MEAT, FISH, DAIRY, EGGS, WINE, OLIVE OIL

Daniel the Prophet & Ananias, Azarias, & Misail, the Three Holy Youths, Dionysius of Zakynthos

ST. PAUL’S LETTER TO THE HEBREWS 11:33-40; 12:1-2

Brethren, all the saints through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, received promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and scourging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were killed with the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, ill-treated – of whom the world was not worthy – wandering over deserts and mountains and in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, though well attested by their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had foreseen something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect. Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.

MARK 9:33-41

At that time, Jesus and his disciples came to Capernaum, and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” But they were silent; for on the way they had discussed with one another who was the greatest. And he sat down and called the twelve; and he said to them, “If any one would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” And he took a child, and put him in the midst of them; and taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.” John said to him, “Teacher, we saw a man casting out demons in your name, and we forbade him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not forbid him; for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon after to speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is for us. For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ, will by no means lose his reward.”

Prophet Daniel

The Holy Prophet Daniel is the fourth of the major prophets.

In the years following 600 B.C. Jerusalem was conquered by the Babylonians, the Temple built by Solomon was destroyed, and many of the Israelite people were led away into the Babylonian Captivity. Among the captives were also the illustrious youths Daniel, Ananias, Azarias and Misael.

King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon ordered that they be instructed in the Chaldean language and wisdom, and dressed them in finery. Handsome children of princely lineage were often chosen to serve as pages in the palace. For three years, they would be fed from food from the king’s table. After this they would be allowed to stand before his throne. Daniel was renamed Baltasar, Ananias was called Shadrach, Misael was called Mishach, and Azarias was known as Abednego. But they, cleaving to their faith, disdained the extravagance of court, refusing to defile themselves by eating from the king’s table and drinking his wine. Instead, they lived on vegetables and water.

The Lord granted them wisdom, and to Saint Daniel the gift of insight and the interpretation of dreams. The holy Prophet Daniel preserved his faith in the one God and trusted in His almighty help. He surpassed all the Chaldean astrologers and sorcerers in his wisdom, and was made a confidant to King Nebuchadnezzar.

Once, Nebuchadnezzar had a strange dream which terrified him (Daniel 2:1-6). He summoned magicians, sorcerers, and Chaldeans before him to interpret the dream. When they asked him what he had dreamt, the king refused to tell them. He said, “If you do not make known to me the dream and its interpretation, you shall be torn limb from limb, and your houses shall be laid in ruins.” The Babylonian wise men protested that no magician or sorcerer could be expected to do this. Only the gods could reveal the dream and its meaning, they told him.

The king ordered all the wise men of Babylon to be executed. When they sought Daniel and his companions to put them to death, Daniel asked that the king’s sentence not be carried out. He said that he could tell the king what he dreamt, for it had been revealed to him in a vision. Daniel was brought before the king and was able to reveal not only the content of the dream, but also its prophetic significance. After this, the king elevated Daniel to be ruler of the whole province of Babylon, and the chief of all the wise men.

During these times King Nebuchadnezzar ordered a huge statue to be made in his likeness. It was decreed that when people heard the sound of trumpets and other instruments, they should fall down and worship the golden idol. Because they refused to do this, the three holy youths Ananias, Azarias and Misael were cast into a fiery furnace. The flames shot out over the furnace forty-nine cubits, felling the Chaldeans standing about, but the holy youths walked in the midst of the flames, offering prayer and psalmody to the Lord (Daniel 3:26-90).

The Angel of the Lord appeared in the furnace and cooled the flames, and the young men remained unharmed. This “Angel of Great Counsel,” as he is called in iconography, is identified with the Son of God (Daniel 3:25, Isaiah 9:6). In the first Canon for the Nativity of the Lord (Ode 5), the Church sings: “Thou hast sent us Thine Angel of Great Counsel.” The emperor, upon seeing this, commanded them to come out, and was converted to the true God.

Under King Baltasar, Saint Daniel interpreted a mysterious inscription (“Mane, Thekel, Phares”), which had appeared on the wall of the palace during a banquet (Daniel 5:1-31), foretelling the downfall of the Babylonian kingdom. Under the Persian emperor Darius, Saint Daniel was slandered by his enemies, and was thrown into a den with hungry lions, but they did not touch him, and he was not harmed. The emperor Darius then rejoiced over Daniel and ordered people throughout his realm to worship the God of Daniel, “since He is the living and eternal God, and His Kingdom shall not be destroyed, and His dominion is forever” (Daniel 6:26).

The holy Prophet Daniel grieved deeply for his people, who then were undergoing righteous chastisement for a multitude of sins and offenses, for transgressing the laws of God, resulting in the grievous Babylonian Captivity and the destruction of Jerusalem: “My God, incline Thine ear and hearken; open Thine eyes and look upon our desolation and that of Thy city, in which Thy Name is spoken; for we do not make our supplication before Thee because of our own righteousness, but because of Thy great mercy” (Dan 9:18). Because of Daniel’s righteous life and his prayers for the people’s iniquity, the destiny of the nation of Israel and the fate of all the world was revealed to the holy prophet.

While interpreting the dream of King Nebuchadnezzar, the holy, glorious Prophet Daniel spoke of a great and final kingdom, the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ (Dan 2:44). The prophetic vision about the seventy weeks (Dan 9:24-27) speaks about the signs of the First and the Second Comings of the Lord Jesus Christ, and is connected with those events (Daniel 12:1-12).

Saint Daniel interceded for his people before King Cyrus, who esteemed him highly, and who decreed freedom for the Israelite people. Daniel himself and his fellows Ananias, Azarias and Misael, all survived into old age, but died in captivity. According to the testimony of Saint Cyril of Alexandria (June 9), Saints Ananias, Azarias and Misael were beheaded on orders of the Persian emperor Chambyses.

Saint Daniel and the three holy youths are also commemorated on the Sunday of the Holy Forefathers, and on the Sunday of the Holy Fathers (Sunday before the Nativity).

The Three Holy Youths: Ananias, Azarias and Misael

The Holy Youths Ananias (“God is gracious”), Azarias (“whom God helps”), and Misael (“Who is what God is?”) were companions of the Holy Prophet Daniel. They were chosen to serve in the king’s palace with Daniel (Daniel 1:6) and were all from the tribe of Judah. They gave Ananias the Chaldean name Shadrach (“royal”), Azarias the Chaldean name Abednego (“servant of Nego”), and Misael the Chaldean name Meshach (“guest”). They were thrown into a fiery furnace when they refused to worship the golden idol set up by King Nebuchadnezzar, but the angel of the Lord preserved them (Daniel 3:25).

The Seventh and Eighth Odes of the nine Biblical Odes at the back of the Psalter are taken from The Song of the Three Holy Youths (found in the Septuagint text of the Old Testament used by the Orthodox Church).

The Three Holy Youths and the Prophet Daniel are also commemorated on the Sunday of the Holy Forefathers and the Sunday of the Holy Fathers.

Venerable Daniel the Confessor (in Schema Stephen) of Spain, and Egypt

Saint Daniel the Confessor, (in the schema Stephen) lived in the tenth century. He was a Spanish dignitary, and prefect of the island of Niverta. Disdaining worldly glory, he became a monk in Rome and went on pilgrimage to the holy places at Constantinople and Jerusalem, where he received the Great Schema and the name Stephen. He received the crown of martyrdom after he refused the Saracens’ demand that he renounce Christ and become a Moslem.

Venerable Dionysius of Aegina

Saint Dionysius of Zakynthos, the Bishop of Aegina was born in 1547 on the island of Zakynthos. Though born into a noble family, he was determined to flee the world and set his mind upon heavenly things. He entered the monastery of Strophada, and after the prescribed time, he was clothed in the angelic schema by the abbot. Though young in years, he surpassed many of his elders in virtue, and was found worthy of ordination to the holy priesthood.

Although he protested his unworthiness, Saint Dionysius was consecrated Bishop of Aegina. In that office he never ceased to teach and admonish his flock, and many were drawn to him in order to profit from his wisdom. He feared the praise of men, lest he should fall into the sin of vainglory, so he resigned his See and returned to Zakynthos.

In 1579 the diocese of Zakynthos was widowed (when a bishop dies, his diocese is described as “widowed”), and Dionysius agreed to care for it until a new bishop could be elected. Then he fled from the worldly life which gave him no peace, and went to the Monastery of the Most Holy Theotokos Anaphonitria, twenty miles from the main village.

A certain stranger murdered the saint’s brother Constantine, an illustrious nobleman. Fearing his victim’s relatives, the stranger, by chance or by God’s will, sought refuge in the monastery where Saint Dionysius was the abbot. When the saint asked the fugitive why he was so frightened, he confessed his sin and revealed the name of the man he had murdered, asking to be protected from the family’s vengeance. Saint Dionysius wept for his only brother, as was natural. Then he comforted the murderer and hid him, showing him great compassion and love.

Soon the saint’s relatives came to the monastery with a group of armed men and told him what had happened. He pretended to know nothing about it. After weeping with them and trying to console them, he sent them off in the wrong direction. Then he told the murderer that he was the brother of the man he had killed. He admonished him as a father, and brought him to repentance. After forgiving him, Saint Dionysius brought him down to the shore and helped him to escape to another place in order to save his life. Because of the saint’s Christ-like virtue, he was granted the gift of working miracles.

Having passed his life in holiness, Saint Dionysius reached a great age, then departed to the Lord on December 17, 1624. Not only are the saint’s relics incorrupt, but he is also one of Greece’s “walking saints” (Saint Gerasimus and Saint Spyridon are the others). He is said to leave his reliquary and walk about performing miracles for those who seek his aid. In fact, the soles of his slippers wear out and must be replaced with a new pair from time to time. The old slippers are cut up, and the pieces are distributed to pilgims. On August 24, we celebrate the Transfer of his Holy Relics. Through the prayers of Saint Dionysius, may Christ our God have mercy upon us and save us.

Martyr Avakum the Deacon of Serbia

The holy New Martyr Avakum (Habakkuk) was born in Bosnia in 1794, and was named Lepoje by his parents. Lepoje’s father died when he was still a young boy, so his mother took him to the Mostanica monastery, where his uncle was the spiritual Father. He grew up in the monastery, and later became a monk with the name Avakum. When he was eighteen, he was ordained a deacon by Metropolitan Joseph (Sakabenta).

In 1809, the monks took part in an unsuccessful revolt against the Turks, and had to flee for their lives. They settled in the Annunciation monastery in Trnava near Cacak, where the igumen was Saint Paisius.

After the collapse of Karageorge’s revolt in 1813, the Turks began a reign of terror against the Serbs. Disease also swept the area because of the many bodies left unburied. The people attempted another revolt under Hadj-Prodan Gligorijevic, and the monks of Trnava became involved in it. The rebellion took place on the Feast of the Cross (September 14), but it was crushed by the Turks. Many people were captured, and some were executed on the spot as a warning to others.

Some of the prisoners were sent to Suleiman Pasha in Belgrade, among whom were Saints Paisius and Avakum. The holy deacon Avakum sang “God is with us” (from Compline) in the prison cell, while Saint Paisius prayed. The Turks offered to free anyone who would convert to Islam. Some of the prisoners agreed to this, but the majority refused to deny Christ, and so they were put to death.

The Turks tried to pressure Avakum to save himself by embracing their religion, but he refused even to consider it. His former spiritual Father, Gennadius, accepted the offer of the Turks and urged Avakum to follow his example. The courageous deacon declared that he was a warrior of Christ, and preferred to die rather than deny Christ.

Saint Avakum was sentenced to be impaled on a stake, which he was forced to carry to the place of execution. His own mother urged him to embrace Islam, then to seek forgiveness later because he had been forced into it. The saint thanked her for giving him life, but not for her advice.

At the place of execution, the Turks asked him one more time to consider his youth and not to die before his time. Avakum laughed and asked, “Don’t even Turks eventually die?”

They replied, “Of course they do.”

“Well then,” he said, “the sooner I die, the fewer sins I will have.”

Because of his courage and steadfastness in his faith, the Turks decided not to impale him. They killed him quickly by stabbing him in the heart with a sword on January 27, 1815.

Saint Avakum the deacon is commemorated on December 17 with Saint Paisius.

Saint Paisius

The holy New Martyr Paisius was igumen of the Annunciation monastery in Trnava near Cacak, Serbia. After the collapse of Karageorge’s revolt in 1813, the Turks began a reign of terror against the Serbs. Disease also swept the area because of the many bodies left unburied. The people attempted another revolt under Hadj-Prodan Gligorijevic, and the monks of Trnava became involved in it. The rebellion took place on the Feast of the Cross (September 14), but it was crushed by the Turks. Many people were captured, and some were executed on the spot as a warning to others.

Some of the prisoners were sent to Suleiman Pasha in Belgrade, among whom were Saints Paisius and Avakum. The holy deacon Avakum sang “God is with us” (from Compline) in the prison cell, while Saint Paisius prayed. The Turks offered to free anyone who would convert to Islam. Some of the prisoners agreed to this, but the majority refused to deny Christ, and so they were put to death.

Saint Paisius was taken from prison and forced to carry a stake to the place of execution. He was impaled, and the stake was set into the ground. The holy martyr exclaimed, “Glory to God.” Then the vizier clapped his hands to signal his soldiers to draw their swords and begin killing some of the other prisoners. Forty-eight people were killed, and their bodies were raised up on posts. After suffering for some time, Saint Paisius surrendered his soul to God, thereby obtaining the crown of martyrdom on December 17, 1814.