The Three Holy Children.
The Angel of the Lord.
Dormition hymns: The Furnace and the Theotokos
The Best time to hear the hymns of the church.
Everything depends on our disposition.
Aug 13/26 2009 Two Days before Dormition.
The almighty Angel of God showed forth for the youths a flame which bedewed the venerable and utterly consumed the ungodly; and He made the Theotokos a life-creating well-spring pouring forth destruction for death and life for them that chant: O ye who have been delivered, let us hymn and exalt the one Creator for all ages! (Dormition matins, Canon, Irmos, Ode VIII)
I am amazed at how often the hymns at the end of vigil seem so much more profound and beautiful than those at the beginning. I do not think they are of substantially higher quality, although it could be argued that the “Canon” is the masterpiece of all Orthodox hymnology, but I do believe that WE are of higher quality! Standing (sitting, pacing, having an itch, having your mind wander, thinking about how your feet hurt, getting hungry, etc, etc) during the vigil prepares us for holy moments when something being chanted seems to permeate to the very depths of our soul.
We are not “quiet” at the beginning of vigil. Our souls are coarse, noisy. It takes some seasoning for us to be prepared to “sit at the feet” of our Lord, and contemplate the one thing needful. Towards the end of vigil, we have quieted down somewhat, and are prepared for something fantastic, although ineffable and invisible, and perhaps even barely discernable, to happen in our soul.
If you have not experienced this type of “Theophany” during the evening service, then come to vigil – all of it, as often as can. It will happen for you, but I warn you, if you are not accustomed to long vigils, you will have many attacks that make you want to leave. You cannot feel anything until you are made ready. This will take consistency, and TIME. Don’t expect the first or even the thirtieth vigil in a row that you attend to bring you great consolation, but it will come if you are patient.
Here before us we have a holy metaphor. The Theotokos, amidst her many other names (“jar of manna, “gate that remained shut“, “ever-virgin“, “rod that budded“, etc) is now likened to a furnace.
The furnace in which the three youths were cast contained flame, and then was visited by the divine flame, the “Angel of the Lord”, who is none other than Jesus Christ, in an appearance before His bodily incarnation (when you see “Angel of the Lord” in the OT, translate this to “Jesus Christ”).
The Theotokos is the furnace that also contained the Divine Flame, Jesus Christ, however in her case, He is fully incarnate, God and man. In both furnaces, the flame burns the ungodly and refreshes those who love God (which the hymn calls "venerable").
God is the same, to the righteous and unrighteous. The action of the fire in the furnace demonstrates this truth. The Chaldeans who were feeding the furnace we slain by the flames, but the three holy youths considered them to be a “moist dew”. It is the same with the Divine flame, Jesus Christ. The ungodly are burned, and the righteous are refreshed.
The recent feast of the Transfiguration should teach us that becoming righteous is a process of long duration and great difficulty; we are not immediately ready to be in the presence of God after our baptism because we have not changed enough yet. The three apostles were terrified and confused in the presence of the uncreated Divine Light. They eventually were ready, but not until great trials, difficulties, falls and repentance. How can it be any different for us poor ones?
Priest Seraphim Holland 2009. St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas
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