It is He [Jesus] that raised Himself by the command of the Father in the space of three days, who is the pledge of our resurrection. For says He: “I am the resurrection and the life.” Now He that brought Jonas in the space of three days, alive and unhurt, out of the belly of the whale, and the three children out of the furnace of Babylon, and Daniel out of the mouth of the lions, does not want power to raise us up also.

~ Apostolic Constitution, 5.1.7

Today, Holy Saturday, the Old Testament readings include both the entire book of Jonah and the story of Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael (also know by their Babylonian names, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego), who were thrown into a fiery furnace when they refused to worship a statue of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon.

Christ himself refers to Jonah’s deliverance from the whale as a sign of his own resurrection (cf. Matthew 12:39). The Church has always viewed the deliverance of the “three holy youths” from the fiery furnace this way as well.

So the main point is the same, but the differences in details are interesting. Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael are thrown into the fire. From within the flames, they sing hymns to God (hymns my poor Protestant brethren unfortunately removed from their Bibles long ago). The second hymn ends like this:

Bless the Lord, Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael;
sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever.
For he has rescued us from Hades and saved us from the power of death,
and delivered us from the midst of the burning fiery furnace;
from the midst of the fire he has delivered us.
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
for his mercy endures forever.
All who worship the Lord, bless the God of gods,
sing praise to him and give thanks to him,
for his mercy endures forever. (Daniel 3:88-90)

In this sense, then, the furnace is death or Hades. But in context there is a notable contrast. Only the three youths, who did what was right (unlike Jonah, who fled God’s calling), were thrown into the furnace, whereas those who worshiped the idol were “safe.” It is the problem of evil: the righteous suffering while the wicked seem to prosper.

But as the story goes, the flames did not consume Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael. Rather, a fourth person, shining like an angel, appeared in the furnace with them, “and drove the fiery flame out of the furnace, and made the inside of the furnace as though a moist wind were whistling through it” (Daniel 3:49-50).

By contrast, we are told, “the flames poured out above the furnace forty-nine cubits, and spread out and burned those Chaldeans who were caught near the furnace” (Daniel 3:47-48). Those who cooperated in evil were burned by the flames, even though they had not been thrown into the furnace, whereas those righteous ones thrown into the fire were protected from it and sang hymns glorifying God.

Tonight we go to church again for the Paschal Liturgy. All the lights will be put out, as if we too have been entombed with Christ. Then our candles will be lit, one-by-one, from the fire of the altar. We will go together through the darkness, hear the ending to the Gospel of Mark — the declaration of Jesus’s resurrection by the angel to the myrrh-bearing women — and we, too, will sing hymns, beginning with the Paschal hymn: “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!”

The story of the three youths in the Old Testament has some set up — the king’s bad advisors thought the idol was a good idea. It was the invention of evil men. But often we face the flames of life with no explanation of their origin, just the raw irrationality of evil and suffering and pain. What we celebrate today and every day is our God who in Christ Jesus is no stranger to such affliction. Rather, he took it upon himself and thereby defeated it, offering to us the possibility to do the same, to rise from the flames through our worship, which as the Divine Liturgy proclaims, is indeed “our salvation.”