“One of the greatest testimonies to God’s fidelity, and to the faith of those who place all of their trust in Him is found in the Book of the Prophet Daniel, chapter 3. Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian tyrannical king, did what many other rules in history have done. After having conquered the Israelites and transported them into exile, he demanded that they bow down before a statue of his own making. He turned himself into a god and demanded that all worship him. This directly challenged the true faith of the people of the Covenant, and their faithfulness to the one true God. We know all too well that some – perhaps even many – bowed down in worship before this false god in order to save themselves, protect their families, and protect also their possessions. But there were those who, despite the threat of death and destruction, remained faithful to the God of the Covenant. Their faithfulness is exemplary – the witness to the courage of one’s convictions witnessed in the lives of the three youth thrown into the blazing fire.
The faithfulness of Sadrac, Mesac e Abdenego is surpassed by one thing only, God’s amazing faithfulness to these three courageous young men. Unleashing his destructive powers, Nebuchadnezzar finds himself before a force that is greater than he can imagine or comprehend. The king is amazed by God and not merely by the courage of the three young men in the fire. Looking into the fire, which was intensified beyond all proportions in defiance of the witness of faith of the three men, Nebuchadnezzar becomes completely undone. It is this faithfulness on the part of God that moves the heart of the king, Nebuchadnezzar, who confesses: “No other god is able to deliver in this way” (Dn 3:29).
What is at stake here is not only or principally the witness to fidelity to the Covenant on the part of the three young men but, rather, the amazing fidelity of God who never abandons His people. There are other accounts in the Book of Daniel where we witness a defection on the part of some believers. Not all are faithful, nor are all spared from a violent and untimely death. But God is always and everywhere faithful to His promise of love and mercy.
The message of Daniel is not principally about how to survive in tough times. Rather, chapter 3 of the Book of Daniel represents a frontline assault on all all who might seek to challenge or displace the centrality and rule of God in the life of the world. Nebuchadnezzar, like so many other rulers in the history of the world, sought to place himself above and beyond the realm of the true God. In the end, even he failed to achieve the ultimate distortion of the relationship that God has inscribed in the DNA of all living creatures, namely the vocation to love and serve the Lord God with all of one’s mind, one’s heart, and one’s will.
Returning to the witness of Sadrac, Mesac e Abdenego, we recognize in them men of tremendous faith, hope, and love. They surrender lives and their future to God, not to Nebuchadnezzar. Because of their surrender, they leave to God full freedom to act as God wishes to act. They do not condition how God will perform His saving deed in their lives. In the midst of persecution, the persecuted do not have any formula to follow. They simply place all of their trust in God, without condition, without demand.
My brothers and sisters, we too are called to live in the freedom of the children of God, as did the three young men in the fiery furnace. As today’s Gospel from St. John reminds us, “If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8: 31-32). It is only by God’s grace that we are able to face persecution, terror, destruction, and the threat of death, our own and that of our loved ones. It is only by remaining in God’s love, in deep relationship with Jesus who is ever present to us in all moments of our lives, and most especially in times of great suffering, that we will be able to find the courage to face the world with hope. It is this same courage, this same hope, that allows us to reach out to those around us – to our fellow Christians from all the different rites, to our Orthodox brothers and sisters, and to Muslims and extend to them our hand of friendship and our offer of assistance and compassion. In these ways, we give witness to God’s fidelity that always near to those who trust in Him.”