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Homily for 11/21/10 - P26 - Archangels and Angels

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  • Fr David Moser
    In the Church we celebrate many different kinds of feasts. Most important, of course, are the feasts of the Lord, the greatest of which is Pascha, the feast of
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 22, 2010
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      In the Church we celebrate many different kinds of feasts. Most
      important, of course, are the feasts of the Lord, the greatest of which
      is Pascha, the feast of the Resurrection. Second to these are the feasts
      of the Mother of God, the Ever-Virgin Mary. We have in addition to these
      great feasts, the feasts of the various saints which fill every day of
      the year. Sometimes there are feasts to commemorate great events which
      serve to preserve for us an important dogmatic truth, such as the first
      Sunday of Great Lent when we celebrate the “Triumph of Orthodoxy” and
      the final defeat of the iconoclasts. On that day we also remember the
      proper place of icons in our Orthodox worship. Today is also such a
      feast – a feast in which we celebrate the establishment of a doctrinal
      truth and the condemnation of various distortions and errors which had
      crept in around this truth. Today is the feast of the Archangel Michael
      and all the bodiless host and today we call to mind the proper place and
      role of the angelic host in our Orthodox faith.

      Throughout the centuries there have been many distortions concerning the
      angels. Angels were incorrectly worshipped as gods – even at times by
      the Hebrews and some who followed Christ. For them angels were some kind
      of lesser god, but still a god worthy of worship. Some even went so far
      as to say that Jesus Christ was an angel or that as incarnate God,
      having a body, he was somehow inferior to the bodiless angels. This
      foolishness finally came to a crisis in the city of Colossae in Greece.
      A council, that of Laodicea, was convened by the local bishop in order
      to combat this distortion of the place of angels. This council condemned
      the heretical worship of angels and further it defined the proper and
      pious veneration of the holy angels as God’s servants and the guardians
      of the race of mankind. This feast of the Synaxis of the Archangel
      Michael and the bodiless hosts was established on this day to fix for us
      a constant reminder of the proper belief concerning the bodiless host.

      This distortion and complete fallacy regarding the angelic host did not
      end with the council; throughout the centuries new heresies continue to
      arise and old ones appear in “new clothes”. Today there are those who
      still worship angels as part of a pantheon of gods and spirits. Others
      seek to invoke the angels and demand their assistance through spells and
      the incantations of “white magic”. Conversely, there are those who
      attempt to humanize angels, making them out to be some kind of
      “superhuman” or superhero, endowed with extraordinary powers, but
      afflicted by the same passions and desires as men. There is also the
      popular but foolish belief that angels are the souls of righteous men
      and women who have departed this life and who abide in heaven (just as
      demons are thought to be the souls of evil people). The errors are
      endless. Many of the people who embrace these false beliefs do not do so
      out of malice or as enemies of God, but rather they do so out of
      ignorance, for the truth of the angelic host is often not taught despite
      the feast which is established for just that purpose.

      In order to reject the heresies of what angels are not, it is important
      to learn what angels are and their proper place in the kingdom of God.
      Angels are creatures – that is, they were created by God. They are part
      of the “invisible creation” that we confess in the Creed (“I believe in
      one God… maker of heaven and earth and all things visible and
      invisible…”) The Holy Apostle Paul, was taken up in prayer to the third
      heaven where he experienced the heavenly world directly. Although, by
      his own report, much of what he saw is so far beyond our ability that it
      cannot be described or even repeated, he did pass on some of his
      experience to his close disciple, St Dionysius the Aeropagite. From this
      testimony we do know that the holy angels are divided into ranks, each
      with its own proper ministry and place in the heavenly hierarchy. Of the
      various ranks of angels, we know about nine. These nine are subdivided
      again according to their closeness to God. The highest ranks of angels
      are the seraphim, cherubim and thrones. Next come the dominions, powers
      and virtues. Finally, closest to us are the principalities, archangels
      and angels.

      Closest of all to God are the Seraphim. The Prophet Isaiah tells of his
      vision of the throne of God, “Above it (the throne of God) stood the
      seraphim: each one had six wings; with two he covered his face, and with
      two he covered his feet and with two, he did fly.” From this description
      we draw the iconographic tradition of depicting the Seraphim just this
      manner, as having six wings. The prophet also relates the song of praise
      which the seraphim sang continually, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of
      hosts, heaven and earth are full of His glory”. This same hymn we
      ourselves echo in the liturgy as we begin the prayers of the
      consecration. It is also similar in form to the divine hymn miraculously
      revealed to the Church which we call the “Thrice holy” or the
      “Trisagion” (Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy upon us).
      The seraphim burn with the fiery love of God and so kindle the love of
      God in others.

      The Cherubim are not cute chubby little babies with wings (as they are
      sometimes depicted in western art rooted in the renaissance), but are
      spiritual creatures which dwell near the throne of God. Just as the
      seraphim burn with the fire of God’s love, so also the cherubim,
      dwelling the light of God’s wisdom are radiant and illumine others. They
      are filled with the knowledge and wisdom of God and so enlighten others.
      It is with their help that we perceive the wisdom of God and the
      spiritual senses of men are awakened that we might know God.

      The Thrones bear God in themselves and thus God rests upon them. Just as
      a physical throne is the resting place of the king – so these angels
      serve as the spiritual throne of God and thus their name. They are not
      God bearing by nature, but by grace (and so are not the same as the
      Jesus Christ the incarnate Son of God who is God-bearing by nature.) As
      the scripture tells us that God sits upon His throne and imparts
      judgment, we can see that it is through these angelic beings, the
      thrones, that God’s justice is imparted to all of creation. These mighty
      angels also assist all those who are given the task of passing judgment
      upon the earth – rulers, magistrates and judges of all kinds – that they
      might judge according to the righteousness of God.

      In the middle hierarchy we see next the Dominions. These are the angels
      who because they serve the Lord freely and out of love, rule over the
      angels below them. They also help those in authority on earth to rule
      the lands and peoples subject to them to govern well. These angels also
      teach us to rule over our senses and our passions and to subject the
      flesh to the spirit. With their help we are able to exercise authority
      over the will and to resist the temptation that arise from within the soul.

      The Powers are those angels who embody the divine might. They are the
      helpers of those who work mighty miracles by bestowing upon them the
      powerful grace of God. The powers also strengthen us to bear the yoke of
      our various burdens in this life and thus to fulfill our callings and
      obligations in a God pleasing manner.

      The Virtues wield the authority of God over the devil. They subdue the
      power of demons and ward off the temptations which come from them. These
      angels hold back the demons when they seek to harm us and afflict us
      beyond our strength. Just as the dominions help us as we struggle
      against the temptations that originate within our fallen nature, so also
      the virtues help us as we struggle against the warfare of the demons and
      the temptations that come from the outside.

      Those angels closest to us complete the hierarchy of the angelic ranks.
      First among these are the Principalities. These angels watch over the
      world, protecting and guarding every kingdom and people. Through their
      help, worthy men are raised up to rule over the nations and to govern
      the people.

      Archangels are the great messengers of God, revealing to men the
      greatest mysteries of God. They learn of God’s will from the higher
      ranks and in turn declare the will of God to men. The Archangel Gabriel
      revealed the greatest mystery of all to the world for he brought the
      great tidings of the incarnation to the Virgin Mary that she would bear
      the God/man and through her He would come into the world.

      Closest of all the bodiless host to us are the Angels. They are joined
      to each of us as a spiritual companion and protector (our guardian
      angel) and support us when we stand firm and raise us up when we fall
      and repent. Even though sin is repugnant to all the angelic host, they
      do not abandon us when we fall into sin, but stand ready to help us if
      we but reach out to them.

      This is only a brief summary of the nature and work of the heavenly
      host. St Dionysius and St Dimitri of Rostov have preserved this teaching
      and much more about the heavenly hosts. The angels are our heavenly
      helpers, and even those most distant from us and nearest to the presence
      of God still touch us and impart to us the gifts according to their rank
      and station. We ought not to exalt angels beyond their proper glory, nor
      should we degrade them and make them less than they are. The angels are
      the servants of God who, each according to his own place, assists us and
      helps us that we might share in their joy crying out before the throne
      of God: “Holy Holy Holy, Lord of Hosts, Heaven and earth are full of Thy
      glory!”

      --
      Archpriest David Moser
      St Seraphim of Sarov Orthodox Church (ROCOR)
      Homilies: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/propoved/
      Website: http://stseraphimboise.org
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