The Three Holy Youths, in the top right medallion, are Shadrach, Meshach and Abendego, among the Hebrews sent into Babylonian captivity. Because of their faith, they were thrown into the burning fiery furnace. These youths are also called by their Hebrew names: Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael.
As they walked about the flames, so the story relates, they prayed and sang. First, Azariah (Abednego) prays the prayer:
“Blessed are You, O God of our fathers, and worthy of praise; and Your name is glorified forever, for You are just in all that You have done to us, and all Your works are true and Your ways right, and all Your judgments are truth.” (Daniel 3:26-27 LXX)
These are remarkable words for righteous men suffering the punishments of their faithless countrymen.
This prayer leads into a comprehensive call for all creation to “Bless the Lord. . . Sing praise to Him and highly exalt Him forever.” And as we may remember, the flames seemed to them “as dew,” and they were not harmed (which cannot be said for several of the burly guards who cast them in!).
These two canticles are found in the Greek version of the book of Daniel and are appointed for Matins as well as Holy Saturday liturgy.
But who is the fourth figure in the picture? The Scripture relates that “one like the son of God” was with them in the furnace, the “Angel of the Lord,” often under the title from Isaiah, “The Angel of Great Counsel.” The Church interprets this Old Testament figure and others, such as the Burning Bush, as a pre-incarnate appearing of the Lord, the Son of God.
Notice the shape of the furnace in this image. It is octagonal and shaped like a baptismal font. Indeed, it is almost exactly like the baptismal font in the narthex of St. Nicholas Church, between the outer door and the entryway into the main section of the building.
The Three Holy Youths being delivered from the fire were a type of the Resurrection of Christ, into which believers are baptized by immersion in water. The eight sides call to mind the eighth day, the day after the seventh, the day beyond earthly and linear time. This is the “day” of the Kingdom of God, the day that has no evening, the eternal life in God.
Get the collection in a handy booklet, A Guide to the Wall of Hymnographers and Poets, by Tracey Edson, available from the parish or from Amazon.com.