God is Light from all eternity; the only true eternal Light, immaterial, infinite and absolutely incomprehensible. He rests in the inaccessible mystery of his unique Nature,
and rejoices in the inexpressible communion of love between his three Persons: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Forasmuch as He is good and the origin of all goodness and of all love, He has not willed to remain in his own contemplation but, in his superabundant goodness, willing to share his Light with another, He has
drawn the world from non-existence into being. Before creating the visible world, He brought the angelic nature into being by his Word and perfected it in sanctity by his Holy Spirit, so that the Bodiless Powers of Heaven might serve Him zealously with the
ardency of immaterial fire. They are secondary lights who, by the Grace of the Holy Spirit, receive illumination from the primordial and unoriginate Light and share its everlastingness. As true likenesses of the divine essence, the Holy angels possess a spiritual nature. Lacking corporeal heaviness, they are ever in movement, free, and of a reasoning mind. They see God insofar as they can attain Him, and they find their sustenance, their stability and the very ground of their being in this divine contemplation. Although they are without bodily passions, the angels do not share the
divine impassibility, for, passing from non-being into existence at their creation, they have suffered a change. So, although not prone to evil, the angels are not immune from temptation. In order to persevere in the good and advance in the contemplation of the
divine mysteries, they have to exercise the sovereign freedom God has given them lest they be drawn irreversibly into evil – and estrangement from Him; for, being bodiless, they are unable to repent, as human beings can.
God alone is truly immaterial and incorporeal, for He is impassible and beyond all movement. The angels, as created beings circumscribed in space and time, are not entirely immaterial. They cannot be in Heaven and on earth at the same time, but their lightness and speed enable them to cover distances almost in an instant. When God sends angels as messengers to us from Heaven, they assume bodily form that we may see them. Their activity is not limited by doors, walls and seals, for their subtle nature is so fine that it easily penetrates physical hindrances. Their ability to’ apprehend the thoughts of men could lead to the belief that they possess divine omniscience, but in fact they are not all-knowing and, if they prophesy, they do so by grace and under orders from God, not through any virtue of their own. God has made the angels his servants and he sends them to watch over the earth. An angel is a ‘messenger’ according to the meaning of the word. The angels watch over peoples and nations.
In the Revelation of Saint John we read that each local Church is protected by its own angel. They work for the fulfilment of all that Providence has ordained for mankind in general and for each person in particular, At the side of each one of us, God has placed
a Guardian Angel who constantly watches over us, without ceasing to be in the presence of God (cf. Matt. 18: 10). He rouses our conscience to good purposes, helps us avoid the snares of the Devil, and kindles within us the salutary fire of repentance when
we have fallen into sin (cf. Ex. 23:20; Tab. 6:4). God alone knows the quality and limitation of angelic nature, which is one in relation to Himself but myriad in relation to us. A stream of fire issued and came forth from before him: a thousand, thousand served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him, says the Prophet Daniel (Dan. 7:10).
Since we cannot tell their number, Holy Tradition usually sets them in nine orders divided into three triads. The first position in the hierarchy is occupied by the Seraphim, whose name in Hebrew means fiery. They are always in the presence of God, and united with Him directly and before the other angelic orders. The eternal stability of their course around the divine realities gives them the power to raise up the subordinate ranks towards God by inspiring them with a cleansing and illumining ardour for virtue.
The second position in the first triad belongs to the Cherubim, who equal the
Seraphim in rank but differ in activity. Their name refers to the plenitude of their knowledge of God. They are described as full of eyes (Ezek. 1:12; 10:12) to signify their capacity for contemplation of the divine light.
The third of the first triad are the Thrones upon whom God rests in impassibility.
The Dominions, Virtues and Powers of the second triad go between the angels of the first and third in loving kindness and unbroken order, conveying the precepts from on High and raising up the angels below them to Godlikeness.
The third triad, which completes the celestial hierarchy, consists of the Principalities, and of the Archangels and Angels through whom God makes known to us the judgements of
his Righteousness. As the Angels and Archangels are the closest to us in the order of creation, God sends them to us in bodily form, when He so wills.
God intended man, in the person of Adam, to make up the tenth order in this hierarchy, and so achieve the perfection of the Creation (Luke 15:1-10). Because Adam fell and became subject to death, Christ came down from the highest Heaven to pull him out
from the depths of hell, Passing through each rank of the angelic hierarchy, the Lord took flesh and by his Resurrection raised up human nature far above its original rank by setting it at the right hand of God above the Cherubim and Seraphim. But before that, in the first moments of the creation of the invisible world, the whole celestial hierarchy, a number beyond all telling, was rejoicing in the divine light and leading a sacred round, simple and without end, while chanting with a mighty voice: Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: heaven and earth are full of his glory (Is. 6:3).
But then, Lucifer, the heavenly spirit of highest rank who was nearest to God and all-shining with His light, became proud of the advantages he had been given and
wanted to be equal to God. He said within himself: I will ascend into heaven; I will exalt my throne above the stars of God. I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the Most High (Is. 14:13-14). He was not evil by nature but, in his pride,
chose to revolt against Him who had brought him into being. He was the first to refuse the good and to choose evil. He turned away from the light to sink into the darkness of godlessness. As soon as he uttered those words, he was cast down to the depths of Hell,
tearing asunder the heavens as he fell and carrying down with him a multitude of angels of every order, whose chief he became. But the Archangel Michael, Prince of the Heavenly Hosts, was strengthened mightily in the divine light by reason of his humility
and due deference to his Creator. On seeing the dreadful gap left in the Heavens by the fall of so great a multitude, the Archangel leapt into the breach and rallied the faithful Angels with the cry: ‘Let us attend’ That is to say: ‘Let us be on our guard! Let us
be vigilant; for we, who have been raised up to stand before God, are of his making! Let us remember that we are servants! Let us strive for self-knowledge, seeing what a fall those who wanted to be equal to God have had! According to a very ancient tradition,
this day’s feast was instituted by the holy Fathers to commemorate this synaxis or ‘assembly’ of the angelic choirs who, summoned by the Archangel Michael, came together in vigilance, unity and oneness of mind.
- As regards the name of Archangel given to Michael, Gabriel, Raphael and others, the
reference is to their status of leadership and of captaincy. They are not numbered
among the Archangels of the third mediatory triad. Similarly, the name of Angel may
refer to the third triad of the angelic hierarchy or may be applied generally to the heavenly powers.
- The deacon or priest uses the same exclamation, ie.e Let us Attend!, to call the faithful to attention at the most solemn moments of the divine Liturgy, namely, at the Gospel, Anaphora and elevation.
- The term synaxis is also applied to the eucharistic assembly of the faithful in union
with the Angels and the Saints.
The Archangel Michael, the glorious and illumined Prince of the Bodiless Powers of Heaven, appears often in holy Scripture, sent by God to make the judgements of His righteousness known to mankind. According to Church tradition, he appeared first to the Patriarch Abraham (Gen. 12) and to his handmaid Hagar in the wilderness, to announce
the birth of Ishmael (Gen.16). He was sent to save Lot from Sodom, which the Lord had determined to destroy (Gen. 19). Michael’s sudden intervention prevented Abraham from sacrificing his son Isaac, as God had commanded to test his obedience
(Gen. 22). Michael appeared later to Rebecca to warn her of Esau’s murderous intentions against the Patriarch Jacob (Gen. 27:42). He went before the people of Israel when they left Egypt and led them in the form of a cloud by day and of a pillar of fire by night (Ex. 13:21). He was also sent in advance of Balaam, the soothsayer, on his way to Balak, the King of Moab, to curse the people of Israel. With a drawn sword in his hand, Michael barred the way of Balaam’s ass (Num. 22:22). When Joshua was below the walls of Jericho, awaiting a sign from God to lay siege to the city, Michael appeared to him, once again holding a drawn sword. Fearing a snare of the Evil one, who can take the form of an Angel of light, Joshua asked: are you for us, or for our adversaries? (No; but as commander of the army of the Lord am I now come,’ Michael replied, and he ordered Joshua to reverence the place made holy by his presence (Josh. 5: 13-15). In the time of the Judges, Michael came to comfort Gideon, and sent him to deliver Israel from the oppression of the Midianites (Judg, 6: 11).
When David displeased God by numbering the people, He sent Michael to be the instrument of his wrath. In one day, the Archangel slew seventy thousand men and was prepared to destroy all Jerusalem had not the Lord, moved by David’s repentance, stayed his hand and commanded him to put his sword back into its sheath (1 Chron. 21). He appeared several times to console the Prophet Elijah in his tribulations or to send him on a mission (1 Kings 19:5; 2 Kings 1:15). At the time of King Sennacherib’s invasion, Michael slew a hundred and eighty-five thousand Assyrians in their camp in one night (2 Kings 19:35). He came down from Heaven, as a prefiguration of Christ, and stood in the midst of the fiery furnace with the three young men, chanting the praises of the Lord with them (Dan. 3: LXX). He shut the mouths of the lions in the den where they had thrown the Prophet Daniel (Dan. 6:23). The providential appearances of the holy Archangel Michael, after the coming of Christ, are even more than in the Old Testament. He was the angel of the Lord who brought forth the Apostles from prison, commanding them to stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this life (Acts 5:19-20). He was sent to tell the Apostle Philip in Jerusalem to go south along
the Gaza road, where he met and baptized the eunuch of the Queen of Ethiopia (Acts 8:26). It was Michael who appeared to the centurion Cornelius and told him to send to Joppa for Simon Peter in order to be baptized (Acts 10). He it was who came to Peter in prison, loosed his chains and led him out into the city through the iron gate that opened to them of its own accord (Acts 12:7 cf). It was Michael who smote King Herod for pretending to be a god (Acts 12:23). He appeared to Saint Paul and comforted him in his tribulations. He was the interpreter of the mysteries of God in the Revelation of Saint John the Evangelist concerning the end of time. Michael will then encounter Antichrist and the Devil in the final combat and will cast them down into Hell for ever (Rev. 12:7). And he will be present at the Last judgement. holding the scales to weigh our deeds.
Other miracles of the Archangel Michael are remembered in the tradition of the Church, such as the wonder he wrought at Colossae in Phrygia (6 Sept.).
God’s righteousness cannot be separated from his mercy. Mercy and truth are met together: righteousness and peace have kissed each other, chants the Psalmist (Ps. 84: 11). So we cannot commemorate Michael, tile Angel of Righteousness, apart from
Gabriel, who is recognized in Church tradition as the Angel of Mercy. God sends
Gabriel to us with tidings of His marvellous loving kindness for the sake of our Salvation.
Gabriel gave the Prophet Daniel the interpretation of his enigmatic vision concerning
the end of the kingdoms of the Medes and the Persians (Dan. 8: 16) and, at another
time, made known to him that Christ, the Saviour of the world, would come four hundred and forty-nine years later (Dan. 9:21). Gabriel was also sent to the wife of Manoah, in the time of the Judges, to make known to her the birth of Samson. Overjoyed at the news, Manoah wanted the Angel to stay and eat with them. If you detain me, I will not eat of your food, Gabriel told him; but if you make ready a burnt offering, then offer it to the Lord. When Manoah asked his name, he replied: ‘Why do you ask my name, seeing it is wonderful?’ and disappeared from sight in the flame of the altar (Judg. 13). All the glad tidings of births to women, barren or past child-bearing, were brought by the Angel Gabriel. He appeared to Joachim and Anna to announce the birth of the Mother of God, and to Zacharias and Elizabeth to announce that of Saint John the Baptist (Luke 1). He brought heavenly manna to the Mother of God during her nine year sojourn in the Temple (cf. 21 Nov.) and God sent him to announce to her the Good News awaited since the beginning of the world, namely, that she would bring forth God by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit. When Joseph was tormented with doubts regarding the virginity of the Mother of God, he was reassured by Gabriel in a dream (Matt. 1:20). At the time of the Saviour’s birth in Bethlehem, Gabriel led the shepherds to the cave where they worshipped Christ. Gabriel warned Joseph of Herod’s
murderous plans and told him to take the young child and his mother and flee into Egypt. When the danger passed, he again appeared to Joseph in a dream and told him to return. During the holy night of the Resurrection of Christ, Gabriel descended from heaven clad in white raiment, shining with the divine light. He came and rolled
back the stone from the door of the Sepulchre and sat upon it. When the Myrrh-bearing women drew near, he reassured them, saying: ‘Do not be afraid; for I know that you seek Jesus who ‘was crucified. He is not here; for He has risen as he said (Matt. 28:5-6)’.
Thus, from the creation of the world until the Resurrection of Christ and to the end of time, the holy Archangel Gabriel is the messenger who makes known to mankind the wonderful mercies of God in the Person of Jesus Christ.
By HIEROMONK MAKARIOS OF SIMONOS PETRA
Holy Convent of The Annunciation of Our Lady
Ormylia (Chalkidike) 1999