Word Magazine, April 1969 Page 18-19
SACRAMENTAL FANS, AND ANGELS
Rev. Theodore E. Ziton
St. George’s Church, New Kensington. Pa.
The Sacramental Fans (Exapteryga) are two circular banners of silver or of gold having on both sides the six-winged angels. . . called the Seraphim, in bas-relief. Since these Angels have six-wings, the banners are called Exapteryga, which means in Greek, “six-wings.”
In the Early Church the Sacramental Fans were much smaller. They were used to fan the Holy Gifts. . . to keep away any insects by the Deacons when the veils were removed.
The modern Sacramental Fans stand behind the Holy Altar Table, for as the Seraphim guard the Throne of God in Heaven, so too they guard the Altar Table which is The Throne of God here on earth. Their presence behind the Holy Altar Table, also reminds us that the Cherubs worship God with us before His Holy Altar, as they are about Him in Heaven. (Please read the sixth chapter of the Book of Isaiah in the Old Testament for a clearer revelation of the Seraphim.)
In the Great Entrance you will notice these two round metal designs on a pole carried by the altar boys. In the brief sense of the word they are called “Fans” and are carried mainly in and during the Great Procession. The figure of the “Cherubim” is also engraved upon them. Look a bit more closely the next time you are in Church and see if you can notice this.)
Many, many years ago, in the Early Church, these fans were made of feathers from a peacock, or linen, or sometimes they were made from very beautiful leather. In the early days of the Church, people did not know anything about screens to keep the flies from their homes or from their Churches; therefore, the Deacons used these fans to drive away the insects from the Holy Altar and mainly, from the Holy Gifts.
Present-day liturgical use of the Fans is symbolic, and reminds us that the angelic hosts are with us and serve at the Divine Liturgy with us, and go with us in procession, and worship before the Altar of God with us.
A Little About Angels
Angels are spiritual beings created by God, superior in nature and intelligence to man. It is not known when they were created although it is known that they were made before the creation of the physical world. The angels are completely spiritual and have no body, though they are able to assume bodies, as we see in the Holy Scriptures. The names and number of angels is not fully known, though we know their number seems innumerable in the Bible. The angels are divided into nine choirs or orders. Starting from the highest they are: 1) Seraphim: 2) Cherubim; 3) Thrones: 4) Dominations; 5) Virtues: 6) Powers: 7) Principalities; 8) Archangels; and 9) Angels. (What the differences are among the orders is not fully known.) However, the work of the angels is to eternally serve, glorify, and praise God. We read in Isaiah that he saw the myriads of angels who continuously sang, “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord of Sabbaoth, the heavens and earth are full of Thy Glory.’’ According to some, the various natural powers and lands have angels protecting them. It is an Orthodox belief that each human being has a guardian angel. Angels appeared and helped man many times in the Bible. Angels are spoken of from Genesis to the Revelation of John where they play an important role in the Second Coming of Christ. Angels were sent many times as messengers by God to various men and women; the word angel means “messenger.” Three names of angels which are known: Gabriel, Michael, and Raphael. The study of angels is called Angelology. There are also other angels who through pride fell under the leadership of the Devil who is called Satan. These angels are evil spirits and seek the destruction and corruption of man. They are called demons and their study is called Demonology.
We can begin to see how the study of a Sacramental Fan can lead us into such an avenue of thought about angels. We must always understand that God created all these spiritual beings because they express the facets or ways in which God’s glory and power is exemplified or manifested. Through all of these beings in one way or another. . . man is able to be united unto God. Man, you see, was created to manifest God’s great love and mercy.