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email: pater@christopherklitou.com 

  TALK ON THE HISTORY OF

MANKIND AND THE CHURCH
PART 4

6th December 2007

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 ON THE PROPHETS


S
ixteen of the Forty-nine Books of the Old Testament are called Prophetic Book because they were written by prophets. What were the prophets and what was their mission. Generally a Prophet was someone who spoke or interpreted or passed on the word of God to the people. By divine concession and by God’s command he also foretold the future. God enlightens, inspires and reveals the truth to the Prophet so that he can then convey the message to the people. But how exactly did the prophets receive knowledge of God’s will? How did they receive the command to preach and say the one thing or the other? Usually this was done by two ways:
1) They had visions. In other words, God showed them through visions what they had to say to the people. Thus we see in the books of the prophets the phrase “Thus did the Lord show me”.
2) The other way was to hear the Lord speaking to them. Thus in the books we see many times the phrase “The Lord said unto me” or the phrase “Thus sayest the Lord”. The prophets were therefore called the mouth of God. Their mission was to uphold the ethical order and preserve the people in faith for God and to cultivate and prepare the people to accept the coming of the Saviour Christ. This they did by three ways, by preaching, by symbolic acts and by the written word. In general the Prophets were great personages of the Jewish nation, distinctive for their patriotism, their warm and often austere preaching for their faith, their persevering disposition and loyalty to their mission, which prepared the cold ground, which the Jewish nation had become, so that it would bear fruit in anticipation of the Messiah.
The first book and greatest in size is the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. This great Prophet was born in Jerusalem in 770BC and came from a noble or even royal family. He was married with two children and was called to the prophetic dignity about the year 738BC by a divine vision. He saw the Lord in heaven sitting upon a throne with the Seraphim flying above and around him and they cried out to each other Holy Holy Holy is the Lord of Sabaoth, the whole earth is full of thy glory. Isaiah being in ecstasy then thought “how is it possible that I, a man of unclean lips, has seen the King, the LORD of hosts. He then saw one of the Seraphim fly to him having a live coal in his hand which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar and he laid it upon his mouth saying: Lo this hath touched thy lips and thine iniquity is taken away and thy sin purged.” (Isaiah 6:3-7) We have mentioned this vision before during our talks on the interpretation of the Divine Liturgy. We sing during the Liturgy three hymns that are based on Isaiah’s vision. The Thrice Holy hymn before the readings “O Holy God, Holy and Strong, Holy and Immortal, have mercy upon us.” The Cherubic Hymn before the Great Entrance of the Holy Gifts and the Triumphal hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of Sabaoth: heaven and earth are full of Thy glory. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest.” The thriceholy of the seraphim indicates to the triune God, a holy is sung for each person of the Holy Trinity. The tongs and the live coal which the angel placed on his mouth are also referred to in the Liturgy. The tongs are symbolically seen as the spoon used to give Holy Communion and the live coal as representing Holy Communion. The Priest after receiving communion says to himself the words of the angel to Isaiah: “Lo this hath touched my lips and my iniquity is taken away and my sin purged.” But also in the prayers of preparation this image of the live coal is used as an analogy for the Lord’s Body and Blood. “May that fiery coal, Thy most pure Body and Thy precious Blood, be to me unto the hallowing, enlightening and health of my humble soul and body.” “Behold I draw near to divine Communion, O Creator, let me not be destroyed thereby; for Thou art fire to consume the unworthy. The rather do Thou cleanse me from all that defileth.”
The Prophet Isaiah holds the first place among the prophets because he is the oldest of the prophets except for David. He is called the fifth Evangelist because he describes in detail the birth of the Lord from a Virgin, his passions his death and Resurrection, his Ascension, his saving work and also the second coming and judgement. Before we look at Isaiah’s prophecies we should make note that the New Testament references to his prophecies can only be properly appreciated with the Septuagint text and not the King James. There are a great many differences between these two translations and very often the New Testament references have nothing in common with the King James Version. From the very first chapter we read the verse: “The ox knoweth his owner and the ass his master’s crib but Israel doth not know me and the people hath not regarded me” (Isa. 1:3) This prophecy was fulfilled with the Nativity of Christ: the ox and the ass, known for their unintelligence and stupidity, recognized their creator through plain instinct, but the people of Israel, gifted with free will, logic and intelligence and blessed with all the prophecies and signs to help them recognize the Messiah, actually failed to recognize him because they did not understand the prophecy concerning the lowly birth, they expected him to come in glory as a king who would free them from the tyranny of the Romans and establish a heavenly kingdom with Jerusalem at its centre. We see the meaning of this prophecy in the Icons of the Nativity of Christ. Next to the baby Jesus who is lying in the manger, we see an ox and an ass which is the detail from Isaiah’s prophecy.
Possibly the clearest of all the prophecies on the Nativity is this one: “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7: 14) St. Matthew mentions this prophecy of Isaiah in his first Chapter concerning the Nativity of Christ. There is a slight difference in the wording of St. Matthew’s reference. In Isaiah it says that the virgin shall conceive and bear a son and shall call his name Immanuel. Matthew says a virgin shall conceive and bear a son and they shall call his name Emmanuel. Isaiah says the virgin shall call his name Immanuel. This could be a reference to Christ not having a father in the flesh, but only a mother. According to Jewish tradition it was the duty of the father to name the child, but as Jesus only had a mother in the flesh the duty fell on the mother. So why does Matthew not keep to the exact wording found in Isaiah? Why does he say they shall call his name Emmanuel? Because the angel revealed to Joseph that the child’s name was to be Jesus and not Emmanuel. When Isaiah says “shall call his name Emmanuel” he means that he shall be recognized as Emmanuel which St. Matthew gives us the meaning as being God with us. So in a language that we understand today Isaiah’s prophecy would read: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and he shall be recognized as God among us.” This is supported by other prophecies of Isaiah for elsewhere he says: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6) He does not mean that these are his names even though Christ is called all these things and many more, but that the people will recognize him as the Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. The child that is to be born will be recognized as God in the flesh. Isaiah gives us Christ’s ancestry by telling us that “there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Blossom shall grow up from his roots: And the spirit of the God shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and strength, the spirit of knowledge and fear of God.” (Isaiah 11: 1-3) The rod out of the stem of Jesse refers to Christ’s roots. Jesse is King David’s father, Christ is the rod and the blossom that will come forth from this root. Isaiah even gives us where Christ will live: “O land of Zabulon, land of Nephthalim, and the rest inhabiting the sea coast and the land beyond Jordon, Galilee of the Gentiles. O people walking in darkness, behold a great light: ye that dwell in the region and shadow of death, a light shall shine upon you.” (Isaiah 9: 1-2) Nazareth where Jesus grew up is in the land belonging to the tribe of Zabulon and together with the land of Nephthalim which stretched along the eastern side of the Jordon and all the area beyond was called the Galilee of the Gentiles because the majority of the inhabitants were idol worshippers. Capernaum where Christ dwelt after leaving Nazareth and where he first started preaching in public is also within the same area. St, Matthew mentions Isaiah’s prophecy saying: “And leaving Nazareth, he came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is upon the sea coast, in the borders of Zabulon and Nephthalim: That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, The land of Zabulon, and the land of Nephthalim, by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles; The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up. From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The great light is of course Christ who, living in the midst of this people who were spiritually dead and in great darkness, gave hope of salvation even to the gentiles.
From chapters 52 - 53 of the Book of Isaiah we find possibly the greatest and most manifest of prophecies not only of Isaiah’s but of all the prophecies found in the Old Testament concerning Christ’s Passion, Crucifixion and Resurrection. The Apostles mention many of these prophecies to show that Christ fulfilled them proving that he was the expected Messiah. Let’s take each verse one at a time starting from chapter
(52:13) “Behold, my servant shall understand and be exalted, and glorified exceedingly.” By using the word Behold, the Prophet wants to draw our attention to some special event. The servant is the Messiah, and this passage refers to Christ’s successful mission who said and performed all his works with wisdom and understanding. By using two synonymous words exalted, and glorified exceedingly, the Prophet wants to stress the glorious success of Christ’s mission so that he can show a bright ray of hope in the fearful passions which he will write about straight after.
(52:14) “As many shall be amazed at thee, so shall thy face be without glory from men, and thy glory shall not be honoured by the sons of men.” Here he describes the amazement of the Jews at his passion which they never expected and how the Messiah will lose his human form because of his many sufferings.
(52:15) “Thus shall many nations wonder at him; and kings shall keep their mouths shut: for they to whom no report was brought concerning him shall see; and they who have not heard, shall consider.” Now Isaiah describes how many nations and their kings will marvel in astonishment when hearing of the greatness of His Resurrection and even though Christ didn’t preach to them they will accept him.
(53: 1) “O Lord, who has believed our report? and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” The Jews didn’t believe that Jesus was sent from God because he had the appearance of a man being punished, they were blind to see in him the arm of the Lord, in other words the strength of the Lord, the mystical strength in the Passion of Christ.
(53: 2) “We brought a report as of a child before him; he is as a root in a thirsty land: he has no form nor glory; and we saw him, but he had no form nor beauty.” The Jews held him in contempt because he appeared as a child. They expected the Messiah to come as the Almighty. The root in a thirsty land denotes his humble coming and his family background. “He has no form nor glory” refers to his unsightly appearance during the Passions. He face was distorted with pain, especially during the flagellation (flogging), which caused the Jews to disbelief that he was the Messiah, for them God would not have allowed that to happen to the Messiah.
(53:3) “But his form was ignoble, and inferior to that of the children of men; he was a man in suffering, and acquainted with the bearing of sickness for his face is turned from us: he was dishonored and not esteemed.” This has the same meaning as the previous verse. Isaiah wants to stress Christ’s humility through his suffering and his wounds, a man acquainted with extreme pain and torture and because of this he was not esteemed – he was considered a nobody.
(53: 4) “He bears our sins, and is pained for us: yet we accounted him to be in trouble, and in suffering, and in affliction.” This verse together with the following 2 verses describes the Passion of Christ. In all the Old Testament, only here is described the Passion of the Lord which is then described in the New Testament. This is a strong example that the Book of Isaiah is God inspired, because the Jews would not have thought that the Messiah would have suffered so greatly. He bears our sins. Bears actually means that he lifts our sins. He takes away our sin and suffers for us. We sinned and he suffers. “Yet we accounted him to be in trouble, and in suffering, and in affliction.” Just like in the story of Job where his friends thought that his suffering must have been the result of his many grave sins, here also the Jews thought that Christ must have had many grave sins to suffer what he did.
(53: 5) “But he was wounded on account of our sins, and was bruised because of our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and by his bruises we were healed.” Isaiah now stresses that Christ did not suffer because of his own sins like the Jews thought, but suffered on account of our sins. Christ Passion was redemption for others and not condemnation for himself. A chastisement that brought about our peace and salvation, a chastisement that brought about our peace with God.
(53: 6) “All we as sheep have gone astray; every one has gone astray in his way; and the Lord gave him up for our sins.” Every one of us, whether Jew or Gentile are as sheep without a shepherd, each walking his own road and passions. Christ had to pay our debt before the Lord as St. Matthew says “the Son of man came to give his life a ransom for many.” (Matth. 20: 28)
(53: 7) “And he, because of his affliction, opens not his mouth: he was led as a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is dumb, so he opens not his mouth.” Isaiah uses the image of the lamb to emphasize Christ’s meekness, who as meek as a lamb before his torturers does not utter a word of complaint neither denies to suffer. He gives himself totally to his torturers. This image of Christ as a lamb is often used in the New Testament writings so show the Lord’s patience, meekness and willingness to suffer the passions. We have seen this verse before and also the following when we had our talks on the Divine Liturgy. The Priest says these words during the Office of Oblation (the preparation service before the Liturgy), when he cuts out the Lamb that is to be offered from the rest of the bread.
(53: 8) “In his humiliation his judgment was taken away: who shall declare his generation? for his life is taken away from the earth: because of the iniquities of my people he was led to death.” Because of his humility, every justice is taken away from him; Christ is unjustly condemned to death. By generation the Prophet means - who shall declare his existence, because who can explain the existence of the Only-Begotten Son. What language can narrate how the Son was begotten of the Father before all ages. We know and believe that the Son was born of the Father, but how is beyond our understanding. It could also mean the generation of the Jews of Christ’s time who showed unprincipled behaviour before the Messiah by taking from him every means of justice. “for his life is taken away from the earth” This clearly means the death of the Messiah. “because of the iniquities of my people he was led to death.” Not only was his passion a result of our sins and iniquities but also his death.
(53: 9) “And I will give the wicked for his burial, and the rich for his death; for he practiced no iniquity nor craft with his mouth.” Here the wicked are the Gentiles and the rich are the Jews. The Lord will make subject to the Messiah because of his voluntary death the Gentiles or more specifically the Romans who crucified him and the rich Jews who paid out a great sum of money to persuade Pilate’s soldiers to lie about the Resurrection. “for he practiced no iniquity nor craft with his mouth.” Again another reference to the Messiah being without sin by which he will be glorified immediately after his death.
(53: 10) “The Lord also is pleased to purge him from his stroke. If ye can give an offering for sin, your soul shall see a long-lived seed: the Lord also is pleased to take away (11) from the travail of his soul, to shew him light, and to form him with understanding; to justify the just one who serves many well; and he shall bear their sins.”
“The Lord also is pleased to purge him from his stroke.” His stroke or his wound means Christ’s crucifixion. To purge him means to cleanse him- to bring about his Resurrection from the death on the Cross. “If ye can give an offering for sin, your soul shall see a long-lived seed.” Here the Prophet is speaking to the Jews who gave up Christ to be put to death. If they can confess their sin and repent then they would not be cut off from eternal life. “the Lord also is pleased to take away (11) from the travail of his soul, to shew him light, and to form him with understanding;” The Lord will take away the Messiah’s pain and reveal him as light, the light of understanding, the light of the world. “to justify the just one who serves many well; and he shall bear their sins.” God will justify Christ who serves many well and bears our sins.
(53: 12) “Therefore he shall inherit many, and he shall divide the spoils of the mighty because his soul was delivered to death: and he was numbered among the transgressors; and he bore the sins of many, and was delivered because of their iniquities.” Christ will inherit us because he took upon himself our sins thus taking our souls from the grasps of the demons and became the first conqueror of the world. And just like in battles where the victor takes the spoils, so also here Christ as victor takes his reward, the spoils which are the faithful who believe in him. “and he was numbered among the transgressors;” This refers to Christ being crucified between two thieves.
In the last chapters Isaiah describes the glory of the New and heavenly Jerusalem. We won’t look at these verses because we must look at some of the other Prophets, but an example is the first 3 verses of chapter 60 “Shine, shine, O Jerusalem, for the light is come and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. Behold darkness shall cover the earth, and there shall be gross darkness on the nations; but the Lord shall appear upon thee and his glory shall be seen upon thee. And kings shall walk in thy light, and nations in thy brightness.” (60: 1-3) The first verse should be familiar to some. It has become one of the Easter Hymns “Shine, shine, O new Jerusalem, for the glory of the Lord hath risen upon thee, celebrate now and be glad, O Zion. And do thou O pure, Mother of God, rejoice in the rising of thy child.” The priest says the hymn silently at every Liturgy after taking Holy Communion and it should be in the Liturgy books I printed which most of you have.
Here we must end with Isaiah and take a quick look at the Prophet Jeremiah. He was born about 650BC in a small town called Anathoth north east of Jerusalem and was called to the Prophetic dignity when he was 23 or 25 years old. His life has many common characteristics with the life of Christ: he came into conflict with the High priests and the people, with his relatives who tried to poison him. Like Christ he was a virgin and like Christ he received a martyr’s death by his own people. He was only honoured after his death as was Christ but he was then honoured as one of the greatest of Prophets and his honour reached even to the days of Christ. This is clearly seen when Christ asked his disciples “Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets.” (Matth. 16: 13-14) We saw another New Testament reference to Jeremiah during our second talk in this series where St. Matthew describing the slaughter of the innocent children by Herod, quotes: “Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying, In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.” (Matth. 2: 17-18). (Jer. 31:15 KJV) (Jer. 38:15 Septuagint) The Prophet Jeremiah is also the author of the Book of Lamentations and in the Septuagint there is also a epistle attributed to Jeremiah containing a denunciation of Idolatry.
The Next Prophet we will look at is the Prophet Jezekiel (Ezekiel). In the first chapter he describes a vision that he saw which some modern-day writers have tried to interpret that he was describing a spaceship and that the person he saw was not God but an alien. Ezekiel says: “And I looked, and, behold, a sweeping wind came from the north, and a great cloud on it, and there was brightness round about it, and gleaming fire, and in the midst of if as it were the appearance of amber in the midst of the fire, and brightness in it. And in the midst as it were the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance; the likeness of a man was upon them. And each one had four faces, and each one had four wings. And their legs were straight; and their feet were winged, and there were sparks, like gleaming brass, and their wings were light. And the hand of a man was under their wings on their four sides. And the faces of them four turned not when they went; they went every one straight forward. And the likeness of their faces was the face of a man, and the face of a lion on the right to the four; and the face of a calf on the left to the four; and the face of an eagle to the four. And the four had their wings spread out above; each one had two joined to one another, and two covered their bodies. And each one went straight forward: wherever the spirit was going they went, and turned not back. And in the midst of the living creatures there was an appearance as of burning coals of fire, as an appearance of lamps turning among the living creatures; and the brightness of fire, and out of the fire came forth lightning. “And I looked, and, behold, the four had each one wheel on the ground near the living creatures. And the appearance of the wheels was as the appearance of beryl: and the four had one likeness: and their work was as it were a wheel in a wheel. They went on their four sides: they turned not as they went; neither did their backs turn: and they were high: and I beheld them, and the backs of them four were full of eyes roundabout. And when the living creatures went, the wheels went by them: and when the living creatures lifted themselves off the earth, the wheels were lifted off. Where-ever the cloud happened to be there was the spirit ready to go: the wheels went and were lifted up with them; because the spirit of life was in the wheels. When those went, the wheels went; and when those stood, the wheels stood; and when those lifted themselves off the earth, they were lifted off with them: for the spirit of life was in the wheels. And the likeness over the heads of the living creatures was as a firmament, as the appearance of crystal, spread out over their wings above. And their wings were spread out under the firmament, reaching one to the other; two wings to each, covering their bodies. And I heard the sound of their wings when they went, as the sound of much water: and when they stood, their wings were let down. And lo! a voice from above the firmament that was over their head, there was as the appearance of a sapphire stone, and the likeness of a throne upon it: and upon the likeness of the throne was the likeness as an appearance of a man above. And I saw as it were the resemblance of amber from the appearance of the loins and upwards, and from the appearance of the loins and under I saw an appearance of fire, and the brightness thereof round about. As the appearance of the bow when it is in the cloud in days of rain, so was the form of the brightness round about.
This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And I saw and fell upon my face, and heard the voice of one speaking: and he said to me, Son of man, stand upon thy feet, and I will speak to thee. And the Spirit came upon me, and took me up, and raised me, and set me on my feet: and I heard him speaking to me. And he said to me, Son of man, I send thee forth to the house of Israel, them that provoke me; who have provoked me, they and their fathers, to this day. And thou shalt say to them, Thus saith the Lord. Whether then indeed they shall hear or fear, (for it is a provoking house,) yet they shall know that thou art a prophet in the midst of them.”

The description is not very clear because the vision being divine surpasses all understanding and description in human terms. The vision is unique in all of Holy Scripture. In trying to make sense of it all we can say that in general he describes the Cherubim and a heavenly vehicle with wheels possibly like a chariot. He describes the heavenly firmament and God upon a throne carried by the cherubim. Let’s first see his description of the cherubim keeping in mind that throughout the vision Ezekiel says they had the likeness of this or that because the heavenly things cannot be described by worldly language. The cherubim had the appearance of a man, but with four faces. This doesn’t mean they had four heads that many people suppose. They had one head but each side had a face of a certain creature. The front face was that of a man, to the right they had a face of a lion, to the left a face of a calf and to the back a face of an eagle.


Their meaning is this: the lion is king of the wild beasts, the calf king of the tame and domestic animals, the eagle is king of the winged beast and man is king of all nature. It says that they didn’t turn their heads but went straight forward: wherever the spirit was going they went, and turned not back. They had no reason to turn their heads because they could see from all sides. They faced the four directions of the compass North, South, East and West. The Eagle has speed, the lion greatness, the calf strength, and the man logic, thus they represent all the powers of the world from North, south, east and west and like the cherubim these powers are at the feet of God. In New Testament times these four faces have come to represent the four Evangelist. You will often see in Icons of Christ enthroned or in the Icons of the Evangelists their symbolic representation. Matthew is represented by the man which signifies that he revealed the human side of Christ, Mark by the lion because he showed the greatness of the Lord, Luke by the calf to show the sacrifice of the saviour and John by the eagle because he revealed the divinity of the Lord.




The cherubim had four wings –two joined together at each shoulder and four hands again joined at the shoulders. The two of the wings were used to cover the front of their bodies and the other two to hold up the throne of God. The hands would be under the wings and only when the wings were lifted could they be seen. The Septuagint version says they also had wings on their feet. Of the heavenly vehicle it says that the four cherubim had each one wheel on the ground next to them and there was a wheel within a wheel so that the chariot could go in every direction without the wheels turning just like the cherubim who could go in every direction without turning their bodies. Now above the cherubim and above their wings Ezekiel saw the heavenly firmament which he says had the appearance of crystal. Crystal signifies the brightness of the firmament and just as the natural heaven separates the creation from the creator; here also the firmament separates God from the creatures below. Ezekiel then describes the appearance of a throne and on the throne the likeness of a man who shone so bright that he says resembled like amber and fire. Around him like a shining halo was a brightness like a rainbow. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. The Lord then spoke to Ezekiel and established him as a prophet. Certainly Ezekiel’s vision is not the clearest of visions but I can’t see how some people can identify what he saw as a spaceship. Does his description of the cherubim and the wheels sound like a description of mechanical engines or the description of Christ shining in glory as an alien?
As a prophet, Ezekiel talks of a kingdom that will be a succession of David’s throne that will have a new evangelical spirit, will be universal and will be for all eternity. God says through Ezekiel: “And I will raise up one shepherd over them, and he shall tend to them, even my servant David, and he shall be their shepherd; and I the Lord will be to them a God, and David a prince in the midst of them.” (Eze. 34: 23 Septuagint) Who is this New David? It is none other than the Messiah who is descended from David. The Jews understood that the David in question was the Messiah that is why in the New Testament the Blind men shouted out to Christ “Son of David have mercy upon us” (Matth. 9:27) and also during his entrance into Jerusalem the Jews cried “Hosanna to the son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.” (Matth. 21:9) Elsewhere he again mentions David as being one shepherd for everyone and of a new covenant that would be forever. David or the Messiah will be their prince forever. (Eze. 37: 24-28 Septuagint) The Jews believed this of the Messiah that he would be for all eternity. That is why when Jesus told them that he would be lifted up from the earth signifying that he would be crucified and die. The people answered him, “We have heard out of the law that Christ abideth for ever: and how sayest thou, The Son of man must be lifted up? who is this Son of man?” (John 12: 32-34)
Before we finish for today we must also take a look at Daniel and Jonah. Daniel’s vision of the Ancient of days is of great importance. From the 16th Century Trinity Icons appeared showing the Father and the Son sitting side by side with the Holy Spirit, represented as a dove, in between Them. The Father is depicted as an old man with silver grey hair and clothed in a white garment. His representation is based on the vision seen by the prophet Daniel: “I beheld until the thrones were set, and the Ancient of days sat; and his raiment was white as snow, and the hair of his head as pure wool” [Daniel 7: 9]. The text is not altogether clear as to who is the Ancient of days, which has often lead to its interpretation, that he is the Father. Most theologians are opposed to this interpretation and say that the Ancient of days is the Son, and if we look carefully at the 22nd verse of the same chapter, it reads, “until the Ancient of days came, and he gave judgement to the saints of the Most High”. From this verse it is obvious that Daniel’s apocalyptic vision refers to the second coming of Christ, for it is Christ that will come at the end of time and not the Father. Also, the Father hath committed all judgement unto the Son [St. John 5:22]. Did Daniel see the Father? Christ Himself gives us the answer in the Gospels; “No man knoweth who the Father is but the Son and he to whom the Son will reveal Him” [Luke 10: 22] ;“No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him” [John 1: 18]; “Not that any man hath seen the Father, save He which is or God, He hath seen the Father” [John 6: 46]. Christ makes it clear that no man has, at any time, seen the Father. This also takes into account the dreams and visions of the Old Testament prophets. If the Ancient of days is the Father then this would be in conflict, with what Christ has said and cause His words to hold no truth. The Ancient of days cannot be the Father if no man has ever seen Him.

Also from Daniel we have the story of the three Children Ananias, Azarias and Misael also known as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon made a big statue and ordered that when the sound of the horn was heard everyone had to bow down to the image. The three youths denied to bow down to the idol, and they were sentenced to be cast into the furnace which was heated seven times more than usual. They were bound and cast into the fire but God sent an angel to protect them from burning. When Nebuchadnezzar looked into the flames he said “Did not we cast three men bound into the midst of the fire? I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.” (Dan. 3: 24-25) Seeing this miracle, Nebuchadnezzar ordered them to come out of the furnace and said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who hath sent his angel, and delivered his servants that trusted in him, and have changed the king's word, and yielded their bodies, that they might not serve nor worship any god, except their own God. Therefore I make a decree, That every people, nation, and language, which speak any thing amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall be made a dunghill: because there is no other God that can deliver after this sort. Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, in the province of Babylon.”  

During their time in the Furnace the three youths sang a Hymn which we call the Hymn of the three Children (Septuagint) and which we sing during the Easter vespers service on Great Saturday morning immediately after the reading from Daniel of this event and before the reading of the Apostle. The hymn is well known to most of the Greeks who attend the service and often join in and sing the end of each verse “Praise the Lord and exalt him above all for ever.” “Τόν Κύριον υμνείτε, καί υπερυψούτε εις πάντας τούς αιώνας.”  The theme of the three children in the furnace is also used in the canons and Katavasies which are sung throughout the year during Mattins (Morning service).

During this Easter Vespers service the complete Book of Jonah which consists of only 4 chapters is also read just before the reading from Daniel. The Book contains the story of how God told him to go to Nineveh and tell the inhabitants to repent. Jonah disobeys God and takes a ship heading for Spain to get away from Palestine. God creates great waves in the sea so that the ship is in danger of capsizing. Jonah confessed to the sailors that he was the culprit for endangering their lives and that they should throw him overboard. So to save themselves they eventually threw Jonah overboard and the waves stopped immediately. God prepared a big fish to swallow up Jonah (a whale) and he remained inside the sea beast for three days and three nights. After this the whale vomited Jonah out on dry land and he went to Ninevah and told them God would destroy them if they did not repent. They believed him and repented and God changed his mind about destroying them. The story of Jonah is read during Great Saturday for two reasons: firstly because it is of great importance showing us that the attitude many people have that everything is written to happen so why try and change things is wrong. The Ninevites changed their destiny through repentance and we too can change our lives through repentance, and secondly because Jonah’s time in the whale’s belly is symbolic of Christ’s three day burial and Resurrection. When the Jews asked Christ to give them a sign that he was the Messiah, he replied: “An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here.” (Matth. 12: 39-41)