Tomorrow will be the celebration of the Forefeast of the Synaxis of the Archangel Michael and All the Bodiless Powers, the Archangels Uriel, Gabriel, Raphael, Barachiel, Salathiel, and Jehudiel. Angels are woven into the workings of the Kingdom of God and into the core beliefs of the Holy Orthodox Church. Unfortunately they have also become equally woven into the beliefs and practices of a lot of New Agers and spiritual syncretists – people who might acknowledge Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ as a ‘good teacher’ or an ascended master and the perfect example of ‘Christ Consciousness’, while revering angels as semi-divine guides, protectors and energy sources. For some reason, angels are acceptable while the message of the Gospel is not. They fit in with a self-centered spiritual creed that glorifies self-actualization and personal ascendency, rather than submission, self-denial and war against the passions. To these deluded people, angels are a commodity to be used and exploited, both spiritually and commercially.
The misconceptions and misinformation about angels extends even to the average Christian. Who hasn’t said, “My little angel”, “You’re an angel”, “sleeping like an angel”, “(s)he’s one of God’s angels now”. Angels don’t sleep; they aren’t little and no, people do not become angels when they go to heaven (which is odd because no one seems to think sinners become devils when they go to hell). As Christians we need a clear idea of what angels are and what they are not. It is because we do not retain an ‘orthodox’ view of angels that their true nature and purpose have become confused with kitsch refrigerator magnets, angel adorned coins to play your scratch-off tickets and crystal powered angel wands . (Honestly, it’s kind of hard to take anyone seriously when they’re waving around some phallic-looking thing that’s named Lady Demetria. Real angels must be laughing their incorporeal asses off in heaven.)
If you want to save $19.95 on my future best-selling and highly profitable book ANGELS FOR DUMMIES, read on:
- Angels are beings created by God – the first creation of God
- They are active spirits endowed with reason, will and knowledge
- They are incorporeal spirits, unconfined by space or distance, but not omnipresent
- Their spiritual powers are superior to Man
- They are immortal
- Their purpose is to serve the will of God
Since the angels and souls are incorporeal beings, they are not in a particular place, yet neither are they everywhere. They do not sustain all things, but themselves depend on Him Who sustains them. Hence they, too, are in Him Who sustains and embraces all things, and they are appropriately delimited by Him. St. Gregory Palamas
Angels are not unique to the Holy Bible, but have played a part in the Hindu (devas), Buddhist (devas), and Muslim (Malaich) faiths. Zoroastrians have many similarities to Christianity with their classes of angels (Amesha Spentas, Yazatas, and Fravashis). The Amesha Spentas are similar to archangels – the Fravashis are guardian angels. Yes, I know the claims that Zoroastrianism is the source of Christianity. No, I’m not buying it.
In Orthodoxy, as well as Roman Catholicism and Anglicanism, the biblical accounts and descriptions of angels have resulted in the categorization of angels into ranks and hierarchies.
…we know there are Angels and Archangels, Thrones, Dominions, Princedoms, Powers, Splendors, Ascents, Intelligent Powers or Intelligences, pure natures and unalloyed, immovable to evil, or scarcely movable; ever circling in chorus round the First Cause (or how should we sing their praises?) illuminated thence with the purest Illumination, or in one degree or another, proportionally to their nature and rank…so conformed to beauty and molded that they become secondary Lights, and can enlighten others by the overflowings and largesse of the First Light. Ministrants of God’s Will, strong with both inborn and imparted strength, traversing all space, readily present to all at any place through their zeal for ministry and the agility of their nature… St. Gregory Nazianzen (Second Theological Oration no, 31)
This ranking of angels was first outlined by a 4th or 5th century writer known only as the pseudo-Dionysius, and expounded in his book The Celestial Hierarchy. Orthodoxy has in general accepted this view with some reservations that a strict interpretation risks incorporating a neo-Platonic tendency towards grouping things in threes and classifying them as matter vs. non-matter.
Archangels – the great heralds of good news – are one of these nine ranks of angels. Not in the first tier of angels that surround the Throne of God (the Seraphim, the Cherubim and the Thrones), but in the third tier This does not mean Archangels are inferior, just created for a different purpose. They are responsible for “revealing prophecies, knowledge and understanding of God’s will which is transmitted to them from the higher orders of angels and announce(d) to the lower orders…” (OrthodoxWiki) The Archangel Michael is probably the most famous and popular Archangel and is called the the Archistrategos, the Chief Commander of the bodiless powers. He intercedes for the human race and is the Defender of the Faith. His name means “Who is like unto God?” (Dan. 10:13, 12:1; Jude 9 and Rev. 12:7-8).
I suggest the next time you think about angels, don’t confuse our Orthodox understanding with the New Age angel above. He looks cool as a World of Warcraft avatar, or a LOTR elf warrior or any of a half-dozen other multiplayer on-line gaming characters. Rather, the power and majesty of angels is beyond anything earthly and we should remember them with awe and respect, asking for their protection and help in accordance with God’s will, and not our own.
0 great and holy Michael, Archangel of God, standing at the head of the angels before the everlasting + Trinity, 0 advocate and preserver of mankind, who – with your hosts – has broken in heaven the head of the daystar, Satan, the exceedingly proud one, and who always puts to shame his evil and cunning servants on earth, we run to you with faith and pray to you with love….ask from on high for us the true spirit of repentance, true sorrow and contrition for our sins before God, that we may spend the remaining number of our days in this temporal life, not in the satisfying of our feelings and in the bondage to our passions, but in the blotting out of the evil we have done by tears of faith and heartfelt compunction, by works of charity, chastity, and holy acts of loving mercy.