Word Magazine September 1971 Page 13-16
THE HOLY ANGELS
By An Orthodox Nun
Like the existence of God, the existence of the Holy Angels is presumed, not asserted. Angels in the Bible are referred to simply—as accepted fact. Although they are mentioned several hundred times, we learn nothing about their creation or when it took place, nor do we find many physical descriptions. This is not so strange as it might at first appear. The Bible does not deal with all mankind, even in the first few chapters, but is concerned primarily with the history of God’s action toward man. The Old Testament is concerned with the development of one nation only, God’s chosen people, although we do hear of other peoples through their historical connection with the Jews. Similarly, the story of creation describes the coming into existence of our earth, the sun and stars, the appearance of plants, animals and, finally, man; but it does not include an account of how nor when the spiritual beings were created. This remains a matter of theological conjecture. Nevertheless, from the very start we are made aware of their presence in the existing world and their interest in us, both for weal or woe.
To have a more complete knowledge of Angels and their nature, we have first to take a look at the Bible as a whole, both the Old and the New Testament, in order to know what has been revealed to us about Spiritual Beings; and then only can we pick up the threads chronologically, according to the Books of the Bible. But, first of all, when referring to these celestial beings we should understand that the term “Angel” is loosely and inaccurately used, for in Greek it simply means “messenger” and, properly speaking, this would apply only to the two orders of angels in direct communication with man.
Angels and archangels, although spirit, are not supernatural. God alone is supernatural, for he alone is uncreated. Like us, the Holy Angels are created, natural beings — as much a part of our world as are we ourselves. “For by him (God) were all things created, that are in heaven and that are in earth, visible and invisible. . .” 1 An angel has character, individuality, and a will of his own, much as we have; but in other ways angels do not resemble us. When, to make himself manifest to us, an angel takes on human semblance, he never is physically like a human being—only a mental image of one. If we are so little aware of them, it is because we do not as a rule see them with our mortal eyes, and our spiritual perception is either dulled or undeveloped.
In seeking better to understand these angelic natures, we should turn to our knowledge of God rather than to our knowledge of man. St. Basil the Great says that in his eyes “their substance is a breath of air or an immortal fire, and this is why they are localized and become visible in the shape of their own bodies to those who are worthy to see them.”2 Presumably St. Basil means that they take on a visible individuality expressed in human form — though not humanly tangible. The Holy Angels, from the beginning of their creation, are completed beings—without material form.
Angels are of a superiority all but incomprehensible to us, but they are a part of our lives: by God’s boundless mercy, they are destined, in the great moments of history, to be the heralds of the Most High to man below; they are, as well, our guides, guardians, mentors, protectors, and comforters from birth to the grave.
Angels are pure integral spirits: they are not confined to time nor space; they know neither youth nor old age, but life at its fullest. We can barely vision for ourselves even a shadowy picture of their majesty, might and power, or grasp the lightning that is their movement, “And the living creatures ran and returned as the appearance of a flash of lightning.”3 Furthermore, mortals cannot begin to understand the freedom of the Holy Angels and the scope of their intellects, which are untrammeled by physical brains. Crystal clear and faultless, knowing no pain nor frustration, unhindered by doubt or fear, neither male nor female—they are beauty, love, life and action, welded into individual unutterable perfection. “Who maketh his angels spirits; his ministers a flaming fire.”4 They are the individualized selfness of God’s own attributes.
The Holy Angels stand in the presence of God, beholding the face of the Lord. “Angels are more than the bearers of divine messages and the guides of men: they are bearers of the very Name and Power of God. There is nothing rosy or weakly poetical in the Angels of the Bible; they are flashes of the light and strength of the Almighty Lord.”5 Their being is sustained by God’s goodness, and they participate in His might, wisdom and love. They are uplifted by their perpetual praise and thanksgiving. Uplifted Godwards, from their beginning it has been the Angels’ greatest joy to choose freely for God and to give him their undaunted flow of life in unending love and worship.
The entire Heavenly Host partook from the first in the execution of God’s will: Seraphim, a Cherubim, bThrones, c Dominions, d Virtues, e Powers,f Principalities, g Archangels, h and Angels. All nine Choirs have ever stood bent upon God’s intentions, unerringly fulfilling his design: “Praise ye him, all his angels: Praise ye him, all his hosts. . . . for he commenced, and they were created.”6
“The Lord hath prepared his throne in the heavens; and his kingdom ruleth over all. Bless the Lord, ye his angels, that excel in strength, that do his commandments, hearkening unto the voice of his word. Bless ye the Lord, all ye his hosts; ye ministers of his, that do his pleasure. Bless the Lord, all his works in all places of his dominion: bless the Lord, O my soul.”7
From earliest times, these Angelic Hosts were conceived of as divided into three hierarchies; St. Dionysius the Areopagite called them “Choirs.” This is the most fitting term as their whole activity is like an eternal song of praise and thanksgiving to the Most High.
First, come the Seraphim, Cherubim, and Thrones. These are councilors and have no direct dealings with man, but are absorbed in unending love and adoration of God. No other creature is so intensely capable of loving God.
The Second: Dominions, Virtues, and Powers. These are understood to be the governors of space and the stars. Our orb, consequently, as part of the galaxy is under their dominion — otherwise, we have no direct contact with the Second Choir.
The Third Choir has this earth of ours in its special charge: Principalities, Archangels, and Angels. They are the Executors of God’s will, the perpetual Guardians of the children of men, and the Messengers of God. Our study will, consequently, deal chiefly with this Third Choir of Angels.
The Archangels have distinct individualities and are an order of Celestial Beings in themselves, partaking of the nature of both Principalities and Angels. That is to say: they are not only Guardians, but are in themselves Powers, like the Principalities. Yet they are also Messengers, like the Angels. There are seven Archangels, the first four of whom are mentioned by name in the Bible books:
1. Michael (who is like God?). The great leader of the Heavenly Host. It was he who overcame the Dragon, (Lucifer) and thrust him out of Paradise.
2. Gabriel (the Man of God). The Angel of the Annunciation.
3. Raphael (the Healing of God). The Chief of the Guardian Angels, and the
one who bears our prayers to the Lord.
4. Uriel (the Fire of God). The Interpreter of Prophecies. The names of the other three Archangels are not found in the Scriptures.
“Like God, Man of God, Healing, Fire.” Here in the utter simplicity of the interpretations of the Archangels’ names, we get momentary glimpses of their personalities, through which their relationship to God becomes more apparent as also their power and influence. Dyonisius the Areopagite gives a wondrously clear definition: “An angel is an image of God, a manifestation of the invisible light, a burnished mirror, bright, untarnished, without spot or blemish, receiving (if it is reverent to say so), all the beauty of the absolute divine goodness, and (so far as may be) kindling in itself, with unalloyed radiance, the goodness of the secret silence.”8
The more we become aware of the Angels of Light, the more strengthened we are in our capacity for good, and the sharper becomes our ability to detect and resist the snares of our bitterest enemies, the Angels of Darkness.
“Ye bodiless angels, who stand by the throne of God and gleam with radiance from yonder and who shine eternally with floods of light and are yourselves reflections of this light, do ye intercede with Christ for our souls to be given peace and great mercy.” (From verses on “Lord I have cried” Tone I)
October 1971 Page 12-14
The Holy Angels
An Orthodox Nun
(Continued from September is,ue)
THE FALLEN ANGELS
The Church’s recognized faith in angels is founded on the Holy Scriptures and the Holy Tradition; the same applies to its official acceptance of Satan as the “Fallen Angel.” Although our primary purpose is to deal with the “Good” Angels, we cannot fully comprehend their role in man’s destiny, unless we are familiar with Satan, the “Prince of this World,” and his angels—the Angels of Darkness.
Satan, before he became King of the Underworld, was the greatest of all the Heavenly Hosts. He was called Lucifer, “the bearer of light,” and held his place at the very summit of created perfection. In spite of his fall, he is much closer to God than to man, for being pure spirit, he is deathless and ageless; he partakes of all the attributes of the angelic world; neither space nor time encumber him; and his intellect is clarity itself. We must never for a moment forget Satan’s spiritual nature and how few are his limitations. These are only understandable when we see him—as we must see all angels—in relationship to God. “The angels’ mastery over the physical world is not at all to be compared to God’s sovereignty. The angel’s is a ministerial mastery, not a creative one; they can put to use the powers and principles implanted in Nature by God but they cannot call those powers and principles into being. We see the devil, then, because of his angelic nature, as a pure spirit, ageless, independent, immaterial, a light principle, complete in itself, a pure form integrally whole in itself. He is dependent on God, and independent of all things else: mirroring the divine resplendence in all its purity, the created pure spirit reflecting the incandescent beauty of the uncreated pure spirit who is God.”9
How then and why should such a perfect, powerful, resplendent being have been chosen to be the Prince of the Damned, or the Damned at all? God in his perfection gave freedom to
~ all his creation. God wanted to be loved freely, without obligation. He gave the greatest and the smallest of his creatures the right to center their love high or low.
“Caught by the undeniable beauty, perfection. goodness of his own angelic nature, fully comprehended, Lucifer loved it. That was as it should be, but his love refused to budge a step beyond this, refused to look beyond the angelic perfection to its Divine source; he insisted upon resting in that beauty to find there the fullness of happiness, to be sufficient unto himself. As is the way of pride, Lucifer isolated himself, even from God . . . Lucifer’s sin consisted in loving himself (as pride insists) to the exclusion of all else; and this with no excuse: without ignorance, without error, without passion, without previous disorder in his angelic will. His was a sin of pure ~
Thus Satan fell from his high estate because he would not fulfill his role and lost for all time the place for which he was created. “How art thou fallen from heaven, 0 Lucifer, son of the morning! How art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! For thou has said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High. Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit.”~ This is Lucifer’s damnation and that of all those who have followed him, be it from the angelic world or from ours. All those who choose false goals follow Satan and thus lose God. In his agony and his fury, the Devil seeks to clestroy—and carries others with him into a misery as absolute as once was his celestial joy. For him there is no error of judgment, he knows what he does
—that is why his name is “Satan,” the adversary, and that is why his power is inferior only to the power of God. Remember, however, that Satan’s power equals that of the Cherubim, and that he does unending battle with the Heavenly Hosts, which are led by St. Michael.
Jesus testified to having seen “Satan as lightning fall from Heaven.”2 Christ the Word spoke from his godly knowledge of what was before the beginning of time. In the flash of lightning are seen Satan’s two aspects, light and zig-zag movement of the snake. Jesus in alluding to Satan’s fall, accentuated Satan’s demoniac mastery of this world only, and the deceiving nature of that mastery. For this reason we find Michael the Archangel at war with him, Satan, and not a Seraph or Cherub who do not have our world in their care as have the Archangels.
Nowhere is the story of Satan’s fall more beautifully depicted than in St. John Divine’s magnificent vision in Revelations. We must keep in mind that St. John is giving a symbolic account of the heavenly war, which started long before the creation of the earth, and in which the church is still engaged:
“And there appeared a great wonder in
heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and
the moon under her feet, and upon her head a
crown of twelve stars: .
“And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads…
“And the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born.
“And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up into God, and to his throne.
“And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God,.
“And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels.
“And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven.
“And the great dragon was east out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deeeiveth the whole world: he was cast out
into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him…
“Therefore rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them. Woe to the inhabitors of the earth and of the sea! for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time.”13
Satan’s fall from Heaven has left him with a great consuming fury for it is on Earth only. that he has power. Satan is doubly angry because his power is limited to our world and he knows fully that when our world is ended, his power to deceive mankind, ends with it. His time for each one of us is shorter still, as his ability to reach us as individuals is limited to the life-span granted to each one of us on earth. It is in eternity that man reaps the outcome of this earthly battle.
The story of Satan’s fall is so dramatic that it is difficult to drag our eyes away from the bottomless pit over which he is King. (Rev. 9:
11) and to look up once more to those Holy Angels who did not fall but turned their burning love in all its magnificence to humbly adoring their Creator and fulfilling his will. None
‘~‘ the less it is with them that our book is essentially concerned and especially with their mission to us because of which we call them “angels.”
“Thou Lord of all dost clearly save the breed of mortal men by the appointment of the angels. For Thou hast set them over all the faithful who sing Thy praises in right faith, Thee the God of the fathers Who is praised and passing glorious.” (from Monday Canon Tone I)
(To be Continued)
1 Col. 1:16
2 History Of Dogmas, Texeront, Vol. II, p. 133.
3 Ezekiel 1:14
4 Psalm 104:4
5 Orthodox Spirituality, by a Monk of the Eastern Church, The Macmillan Co., N.Y., p. 33.
a. Isaiah 6:2, b, Ezekiel 1:10, c. Col. 1:16, d, Col. 1:16 &
C & g. Eph. 3:10, h. I The. 4:16.
6 Psalm 148: 2-5
7 Psalm 103:19-22
8 De divinis Nominibus, IV, The Holy Fire, by Robert Payne, Harper & Brothers, p. 246W
9 From ‘Devil Himself’ by Walter Farrell, OP., From Satan,
edited by Fr~ Bruno de Jesus-Marie, Sheed & Ward, N.Y.,
10 Op. Cit., p. 14,
11 Isaiah 14:12-15.
12 Luke 10:18
13 Revelations 12:1-12