The blessed prophet David shows that those who put their trust in God were most courageous when he says, “Act like men and let your hearts be strong, all you who hope in the Lord” (Ps. 31:24, LXX). For those plants which are in pleasure gardens both increase, bloom, and are raised to a great height by abundant streams of waters. And a man’s soul, by the comforts and encouragements of the Holy Spirit, becomes brave in piety, is made firm in faith, and gets that unbreakable patience which the blessed Paul admired more than all other virtues and so says, “And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint” (Romans 5:3-5). Therefore, patience is the supplier and winner of all good to us, a way of approval and esteem, a nurse of the hope which is unto the life to come. But in what way shall we correct ourselves and improve as it regards patience? The Scripture of God teaches by saying, “My child, when you come to serve the Lord, prepare your soul for tribulation. Set your heart aright and be steadfast and endure” (Sirach 2:1).
Perhaps someone will say, “Is there no other way for man to acquire approval and esteem? Couldn’t he have set himself aright as it regards good without toil?”
“In no way,” he says.
“And for what reason?”[I answer], because those who plot against the saints are very many and the war about them is terrible, and for that reason the Savior Himself was saying, “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Therefore, precisely because there is much war from every side against the saints, it is necessary for them to bear up bravely and stoutly against the assaults of temptations and trials, and to keep in memory the following saying of a disciple:”Blessed is the man who endures tribulation; for when he is tried and approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him” (James 1:12).
But, I wish to adduce something by means of more ancient examples, that you may learn the result of good spiritual courage. The tyrants of the Babylonians and those who had the administration of kingly thrones among them, were somehow always very prone to cruelty and arrogance. And, overpassing the bounds of humanity they wished to usurp to themselves that honor which belongs alone to the Pantocrator. Therefore, the accursed Nebuchadnezzar set up a golden image while sweet-toned instruments sounded subservient to it and he commanded that the people subject to him bow to it (Dan. 3).But when the Babylonians led into the midst of the Hebrew boys (they were Ananians, Azarias, and Misael), they began to command them to “worship to the golden image,” and to force the most noble and God-loving race to slip down to the “same sin with themselves,” and to “worship to the golden image”; but they did not at all succeed. And so, being foiled by the love of those boys for God, they inflicted on them the punishment of fire.
And the accusation against those thus overreached and maltreated was firmness in faith, fixedness in piety, [and] refusal to worship a man, and their not being willing to hold those opinions which insult and outrage the divine nature.
But when they were cast into the furnace of fire, then indeed, occurred that great manifestation of the power unspeakable. For the power of the elements was changed into that which is against its nature and the fire obeyed the wishes and decrees of the Creator, and the flame was transformed into a dewy whistling wind. And the youth (οἱ νεανίαι), perceiving that the assistance was from above, began to chant in the furnace of fire and made the fire a mild thing by their chanting of hymns to God.That furnace was a figure of the Church which has, as holy choirs (χορευτάς), not only men, but angels also.
You have admired the virtue of those men. You have praised their patience, and the greatness of their love for God. Let us see in what state matters are with us. For they indeed were under barbarian tyrants: but we are under pious scepters, for we have most pious [men as] rulers of all things. How [then] shall we give in to our enemies? For even though plotters kindle a furnace, and though they wake the flames of perversity by bringing in to us man-worship (ἀνθρωπολατρεία), nevertheless, we have a God in heaven–we will worship Him.
For being God by nature, He became like us, not casting away His being God, but honoring the nature of men [by taking it on Him]. He is able to deliver us. For following the faith of the most religious Emperors, and knowing the greatness of the gentleness that is in them, we will not endure the bungling and evil [doctrine] of our opponents, but we will confess that the Immanuel is God by Nature. And saying that, and so continuing we shall gain that recompense which is the greatest possible. And what is that? He Himself will teach us by saying, “Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in the heavens. But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in the heavens” (Matthew 10:32-33).
But he who says that He is very God and rebukes those who disbelieve [it], confesses Him. And on the other hand, he who says not that He is very God but contends against those who do acknowledge Him [too be so], he denies Him. Therefore, the Savior of all will deny them, but will confess us: the Savior of all, through Whom, and with Whom be the glory and the might to God the Father, forever. Amen.