The Holy Angels: An Orthodox Perspective


Our Holy Bible starts with this sentence: In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

By Heaven is meant not an empty space beyond our space, but the living world of invisible spirits. Thus, the above sentence could be phrased in other words: In the beginning God created the invisible and the visible world, as it is said in the first article of our Creed. The Psalmist says: By the Word of the Lord were the heavens established, and all the might of them by the Spirit of His mouth (Ps. 32:6).

In this case, according to the interpretation of the Fathers of the Church, the Father is called the Lord; the Son, the Word of the Father; and the Holy Spirit, the Breath of the Father.

The Prophet Isaiah saw seraphim's (6:2) and Ezekiel the cherubim's (10:8) with some other strange creatures around the throne of the Highest. Micaiah said to the King Ahab: I saw the Lord sitting on His throne and all the host of heaven standing by Him on His right hand and on His left (I Kings 22:19).


Nehemiah said in his prayer: Thou, even Thou, art Lord alone; Thou has made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host (Neh. 9:6).

The great Daniel saw God on His throne-and a thousand thousands ministered unto Him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him (Chapters 9 and 10).

St. Paul speaking of the power of Christ says: Who is this image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: For by Him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by Him, and for Him. And He (Christ) is before all things, and by Him all things consist (Col. 1:15-17; cf. I Pet. 3:22).

Summing up all the names of the angelic hosts, St. Dionysius the Areopagite classifies them by their ranks-three times three equals nine: "thrones, dominions, principalities, seraphim's, cherubim's, powers, sovereignties, archangels, and angels." All of them, however, we popularly call angels, or angelic hosts.

We read in the Book of Job, how the Lord gave answer to the complaints of that suffering man, saying: Where wast thou-when the morning stars (i.e. first created angels) sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy? (Job 38: 1-17).

Our Orthodox Church has dedicated Monday to the holy angels. Therefore, every Monday in the church services we are reminded of the holy angels with praise and prayer: "Holy Archangels and Angels, pray to God for us."


The Nature of Angels

The nature of angels is in some ways quite different from the nature of man, and in other ways similar to it. On the one hand, the differences are these: The angels are bodiless and, as such, invisible to our physical eyes. Having no body, they consequently have no bodily needs or desires and passions, no cares about food, drink, clothes or shelter. Nor do they possess the impulse and cravings for procreation. They neither marry nor are given in marriage (Matt. 22:30). They have no worries about the future either, and no fear of death. For, though God created them before man, they are neither aged nor aging, but unchangingly youthful, beautiful and strong. They have no anxiety about their salvation and no struggle for immorality, being already immortal. Unlike men, they are not faltering between good and evil, being already good and holy as when God created them.

On the other hand, the angels are similar to men in that they are personalities, everyone being individually conscious of himself. Like men, they have intelligence, emotions, free will and acting capacity. And withal they bear personal names like men. Some of their names we know either from Scripture or Church Tradition. They are: Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, Uriel, Salathiel, Barachiel, Jeremiel, Jegudiel.

Comparing men with angels, St. Paul quoted they words of an ancient prophet who spoke of God: O Lord - what is man, that Thou art mindful of him? Or the son of man, that Thou visitest him? Thou madest him a little lower than the Angels; Thou crownest him with glory and honor, and didst set him over the works of Thy hands; Thou has put all things in subjection under his feet (Heb. 2:6-8; Ps. 8:4-6).

Indeed, God gave a tremendous dominion over His works to the first sinless Adam, before this man despised God's commandment and joined Satan, God's adversary. Before the sin, man was equal to God's angels in power, purity and beauty. But through sin man's dominance over God's works dwindled to almost nothing. Nature became disobedient to him who was disobedient to God. Disobedient to its former lord, nature yet livers in expectation. The Apostle speaks of that as follows: For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God, in order to be again obedient and happy, as in Eden. Until then the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now, being itself in the bondage of corruption, like its fallen lord (Rom. 8:19,22).

Yet, regenerated through Christ, man will again be angel-like, clothed with Christ's glory. Meanwhile, his elder brethren, the holy and unsoiled angels, are ministering to him, as physicians to the sick, toward his health and salvation. As it is written of them: Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation? (Heb. 14:14). Of this, however, more shall be spoken later.

The Activity of the Angels

The activity of the angels is twofold: in Heaven to glorify God, and on earth to carry out God's orders concerning men. The word "angel" itself means herald or messenger. They rest not, day and night, saying: Holy, holy, Lord God Almighty which was, and is, and is to come, writes a seer (Rev. 4:8). And another writes of the ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation (Heb. 1:14).

Says St. Gregory the Theologian: "Some of those intelligences are standing before the great God, and others cooperate in holding the whole world." And Damascene: "They are powerful, and ready to accomplish the will of God, and they appear anywhere and instantly, according to their subtle nature, wherever God orders them."

The first time that an angel, a cherub, is mentioned in the Bible is when Adam and Eve are ousted from the Garden of Eden (earthly Paradise). Then God placed cherubim's - and a flaming sword, which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life (Gen. 3:24).

1. We may consider the angels, in the first place, as messengers of good news. Twice there appeared an angel to Hagar, Abraham's handmaid, consoling her because her mistress. Sarah dealt harshly with her. "Behold, said the angels, thou art with child, and shalt bear a son, and shalt call his name Ishmael; because the Lord hath heard Thine affliction (Gen. 16:7; cf. Gen. 21:17). Ishmael became the progenitor of the Ishmaelites; Arabs, who are also called Hagarenes.

Three angels appeared in the plains of Mamre with a message to childless Abraham, that he shall have a son, which indeed happened the next year (Gen. 18: 10). Thus Isaac, the progenitor of the Jews, was born.

When Abraham was ready to sacrifice his only son Isaac, according to the order of God who wanted to test his fidelity, an angel of Heaven prevented him from doing so. Said the angel: Now I know that thou fearest God (Gen. 22:12). God Himself, however, later offered His only Son Jesus Christ, to be slain like a lamb to save us (Eph. 5:2).

2. The angels of God save the men of God. In the corrupt city of Sodom there lived a man of God, Lot. When Sodom was doomed to destruction, God sent two angels to save Lot and his family (Gen. 19:1-22).

An angel saved Jacob from the revenge of his brother Essau (Gen. 32:1). And before his death Jacob spoke of the Angel which redeemed me from all evil (Gen. 48:16).

An Angel saved the three youths in Babylon from death in the midst of the burning fiery furnace, into which they were thrown, because they renounced the worship of idols in place of the only true God (Dan. 3:12-30). Every Matins service we are reminded of this strange event by the seventh and eighth irmoi of the canons. And angel saved Daniel from the den of lions into which he was put on account of his strong faith in the one God. The lions, however, behaved as lambs. To the astonished King Darius, Daniel said: My God hath sent His angel, and hath shut the lions mouths, that they have not hurt me, forasmuch as before Him innocence was found in me (Dan. 6:16-23).

3. The angels are executors of God's judgments. We quote only a few instances: The city of Sodom was wallowing in most horrible vices (homosexuality, sodomy). The Lord sent two angels to save the only righteous man in Sodom, Lot. They came to Lot and urged him to get out of that city, for the Lord sent us to destroy it. And they razed Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes, by brimstone and fire from the Lord out of Heaven (Gen. 19:12-25). King David, otherwise a great glorifier of God, sinned once against the Lord God, and God sent an angel with a drawn sword in his hand - and there fell of Israel seventy thousand men, until David repented and cried to God for mercy (I Chron. 21:1-17). Sennacherib, King of Assyria, beleaguered Jerusalem with a mighty army. He and his dukes blasphemed the Lord God, called King Hezekiah and his people to surrender. But after Hezekiah prostrated before God and prayed in the temple, the angel of the Lord went forth and smote in the camp of Assyrians a hundred and four scores and five thousand. King Sennacherib fled to Nineveh, where he was killed by his sons (Isaiah, chapters 36 & 37). 

The inspired Psalmist, knowing from history and from his own experience the part which the angels play in the life of a man or of a nation, speaks: The angel of the Lord will encamp round about them that fear Him, and will deliver them (Ps. 33:7). No evils shall come nigh thee, and no scourge shall come nigh unto thy dwelling. For He shall give His angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. On their hands shall they bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone (Ps. 90:10-12). Bless the Lord, he His angels, mighty in strength, that perform His word, to hear the voice of His words (Ps. 103:20).

God's Harvesters

In His parable of the sower and the seed, the Lord Jesus explained: The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one; The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels… The Son of man shall send forth His angels, and they shall gather out of His Kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; and shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear (Matt. 13:38-43). But before the end of the world the end of many of us will have already come. Lo, when poor Lazarus died, angels into Abraham's bosom carried his soul; and when merciless Dives died, his soul dropped into hell (Luke 16:19-23). Remember then, O man that your end is for you the end of the world. For at your death you shall be either the harvest of angels or of the wicked one. 

It is a good thing to trust in God's mercy, but to trust in God and to go on sinning without repentance is to mock God. Here is what our Savior says: I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth (Luke 15:10). But woe unto them that die in sins without repentance. Here is the stern warning of a great apostle: God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell …and spared not the old world, but saved Noah bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly; and turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes (II Pet. 2:4-6). Much less will He spare those who are Christians by name, but in reality are servants of the devil in the words and deeds. Like Judas, they might sometime repent but it will be too late. For the Son of man shall come in the glory of the Father with His angels, and then He shall reward every man according to his works (Matt. 16:27).

St. Nicholai Velimirovic, Bishop of Zica

Source: http://www.serfes.org/orthodox/angels.htm

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