On November 8 (21 in the new calendar), the Church commemorates the Synaxis of the Archangel Michael and the other Bodiless Powers. This feast was established after the fourth century Council of Laodicea, to commemorate the downfall of the Gnostic heresy about the veneration of angels as creators and rulers of the world.
The date of the celebration was chosen for a reason. At that time, the calendar year began in March, making November the 9th month, to signify the nine angelic orders). The 8th day of the month symbolizes the 8th day after the beginning of Creation, i.e. the day of the Last Judgement, where all the Heavenly Powers will be visible and present in council.
Angels are neither creators nor rulers of the world. Their essence and main purpose is reflected in the very word “angel”, meaning “messenger” in Greek. St Paul the Apostle speaks of angels in the following way, "Are not all angels spirits in the divine service, sent to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?" (Heb. 1:14)
It is wrong however to consider angels some faceless instruments in the hands of God. Each angel is a personality endowed with free will and choosing to attain holiness rather than possessing it by nature. Angels are different from people in that they do not have a body, soul, or creative ability. Their free will is limited by the mere choice between serving the Lord or falling away from Him.
All angelic names are theophoric, i.e., they contain the name of God or a divine epithet. There are eight Archangels in total: Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, Uriel, Salathiel, Jehudiel, Barachiel and Jeremiel.
The most honorable of all heavenly spirits is Michael, whose name is translated from Hebrew as “who is like God” or “akin to God”. According to Tradition, it was the Archangel Michael who defeated Satan when he rebelled against God. It was for his holiness and loyalty to serving the Lord that he was awarded the title of archangel (leader, “commander-in-chief”) of all heavenly angels.
It is worth noting that the name of each angel indicates his holiness (or vice versa). Lucifer, which means "luminous", after falling away from God acquires the name Satan, which means "deceiver", or "slanderer." This reminds us of the importance of living up to our theophoric names, so as not to put the name of God to shame.
If we believe that angels are incorporeal and have a single nature, then why do they appear in the Holy Scriptures visibly, bodily and in different images? Angels appeared to various saints and prophets, guised as people, animals, and even wheels or chariots.
Venerable Theodore the Studite, in his reflections on the visible manifestations of angels, views them as indicating the properties of God and the mystery of the Incarnation:
“The animals had the form of a man, a calf, a lion, and an eagle above. For Christ came down to earth truly as a man, the true God and the true man. He appeared also as a calf to be sacrificed for the salvation of the world. He appeared as a lion, rising by His power from the dead. Finally, He appeared as an eagle, ascending to heaven... Angels appear in the form of horses, showing that everything divine is rapid. They also appear in the form of chariots, because they go round the heavenly spheres and dwell there. For the Scripture says: "The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind" (Ps.76:19)".
The Lord entrusts the angels with the highest ministry: an angel guards the tree of life (Gen. 3:24); an angel guards the people of Israel during the Exodus and wanderings in the wilderness (Exodus 14:19); the Law is "ordained by angels” (Acts 7:53); an angel preaches instead of a prophet (Judges 2: 1-6).
It is an angel who announces the virgin conception of the Savior (Luke 1:26); angels glorify the Nativity of Christ (Luke 2:13); an angel protects the Divine Infant (Matt. 2:13); an angel supports Christ during the Gethsemane prayer (Luke 22:43); angels open the tomb of the Lord (Matt. 28: 2) and then announce His Resurrection (John 20:12), Ascension and the Second Coming (Acts 1: 10-11). Finally, the Lord has 'assigned' a guardian angel over every person.
The question suggests itself, "If angels are an example of holiness, whose ministry is so great and inaccessible to us, then why do we address the Lord, the Mother of God and the saints in our prayers much more often than the Heavenly Host?”
According to the teachings of the Church, each of us has a heavenly companion who is also our helper in spiritual life and protector from demonic influences. We must never forget about the invisible presence of the Guardian Angel in our lives. We can always make use of this help, calling on our heavenly friend and asking him to instruct, strengthen and enlighten us. Let us also remember that we can also do the opposite and drive our Angel away from us.
St Basil the Great writes:
“The angel will not depart from those who have believed in the Lord, unless [we] drive him away by doing bad deeds. Just as smoke drives away bees, and stench repels pigeons, our regrettable and fetid sin makes the Angel guarding our lives alienate [from us] ... Since each of us has a holy Angel ... our sins can cause a disaster, depriving us of being protected by the wall of the heavenly powers, making people invincible while they are with them”
St Philaret of Moscow says:
“If we, as mere mortals, move away from humans, whose dispositions are contrary to ours; if a mentor finally renounces a student who does not heed his instructions, or ... rejects his leadership; if a father voluntarily distances from his rebellious son, then how can we expect the holy Angels to not finally leave us, if we do not follow their saving suggestions, making their service fruitless for us?"
Let us honor with dignity the Holy Heavenly Host not only as we commemorate the Synaxis of the Archangel Michael and the other Bodiless Powers, but also on all other days, so that we may be guided and instructed by them, ascend to new spiritual heights, and draw closer to God.
Dear fathers, brothers and sisters, we prayerfully wish you to remember that the Lord has given each of us an Angel who protects us every day of our lives and guides us for good. We will be glad to pray for you as we celebrate the triumph of all angels, including yours!
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