Icon of Archangel Michael

Synaxis of the Holy Archangels Michael and Gabriel and All the Bodiless Powers

Commemorated November 8th/21st

Because He is true, boundless Love, God created "all things visible and invisible" to share in Him. According to St. Gregory the Theologian, "Since for the goodness of God it was not sufficient to be occupied only with the contemplation of Himself, but it was needful that good should extend further and further, so that the number of those who receive grace might be as many as possible (because this is characteristic of the greatest Goodness) - therefore, God devised first of all the angelic heavenly powers; and the thought became deed, which was fulfilled by the Word, and perfected by the Spirit ... and then because the first creatures were pleasing to Him, He devised another world, material and visible, the orderly composition of heaven and earth, and that which is between them."

The invisible - including heaven and the Bodiless Powers - was created by God before the world we live in. The heavenly hosts even witnessed and praised the creation of the material world, as the Lord explained to Job, "When the stars were created, all My angels sang praises to Me." (Job 38:7) In addition to praising and ministering to God, the Bodiless Powers are the agents of His will: they administer the creation, protect and intercede for man, and attempt to guide man and the nations to Him - sometimes means correcting man's actions, sometimes teaching or revealing God's will to him.

The Bodiless Powers were made by God without physical form or substance ("incorporeal"). St. John of Damascus explains, "When it is the will of God that angels should appear to those [men] who are worthy, they do not appear as they are in their essence, but, transformed, take on such an appearance as to be visible to physical eyes." By God's grace and mercy, the Bodiless Powers are also conditionally immortal, but (unlike God Himself) are restricted by location and time: they cannot be in heaven and on earth at the same time, though they travel at lightning speed.

God endowed the Bodiless Powers with intelligence, reason, and self-will - as He later made man - but they are "the most perfect spirits, superior to man in their spiritual powers" and "so far above us [men] as to be incomprehensible." The angels in heaven are perfect beauty in their love for and service to God. Continually before His face, the Bodiless Powers "are so filled with the grace of God, that they do not desire in any way to sin," according to Fr. Seraphim Slobodskoy.

All the Bodiless Powers share the common name of 'angel' - which means "messenger" in Greek - by virtue of their service: they "stand before the face of the Creator and serve Him." The Lord reveals His divine will to the Bodiless Powers closest to Him, and they in turn inform the others - a Hierarchy in service to Him! This simple name also describes quite well how man most often encounters the Bodiless Powers: as the heralds or messengers of God.

Holy Tradition divides the angels into three Hierarchies of three ranks each. In the highest Hierarchy are the Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones.

Closest to the Most-Holy Trinity are the six-winged Seraphim, who blaze with love for God - and encourage that love in others. In the iconography of the Church, they are shown as faces surrounded by flame red and red-orange wings.
The many-eyed Cherubim are next. Through these hosts, wisdom and enlightenment in true divine knowledge are sent to creation, and their name means "outpouring of wisdom" or "enlightenment". Cherubim are shown as faces surrounded by four (or sometimes six) blue-green wings, covered with all-seeing eyes; a monk/iconographer in the midwest suggests that the wings may look like they are made up of beautiful peacock feathers!
Finally, the Thrones (described in Ezekiel 1:15-21), are found at the foot of God's heavenly throne, mysteriously upholding Him. They serve the uprightness of God's justice. The "spinning wheels" seen by the prophet Ezekiel, Thrones are depicted in icons as two red-amber interlocking rings, with four wings each. The rings are covered with all-seeing eyes.

The middle Hierarchy includes the Dominions, Powers, and Authorities who - according to St. Athenagoras - are "set in command of the elements, the heavens, the world, and all within it."

The Dominions instruct and guide our earthly authorities (if they will listen) to wise governance. They may influence earthly rule by miracles, dampen sinful impulses, and provide mastery of the will to conquer temptation.
The Powers (known from 1 Peter 3:22) send down the grace of wonder-working and acute spiritual discernment to saints pleasing to God. They assist man in being obedient and patient, serving the will of God. They are depicted in the iconography of the Church as shining, crystal spheres with "X" or "XC" on them, usually held aloft by angels revealed in human form.
The Authorities (also called "Virtues") stand against the power of Satan and keep from people from giving in to demonic temptation. They also strengthen and guard ascetics.

In the lowest Hierarchy are the Bodiless Powers most often encountered by man:

The Principalities command the lower angels, instructing them in the fulfillment of God's will. According to Mother Martha of Pskov, "They direct the universe, and protect lands, nations, and peoples. Principalities instruct people to render honor to everyone, as becomes their station. They teach those in authority to fulfill their necessary obligations, not for personal glory and gain, but out of respect for God and benefit for neighbor."
The Archangels announce or bring messages about God and His works for our salvation. Because of this role, they are the angels named individually in Holy Scripture or known through Holy Tradition: Michael ("like God," the leader of the angelic armies, often shown in armor with a flaming sword or banner emblazoned with a red Cross), Gabriel ("the strength of God" found in Dan. 8:16 and Lk. 1:26); Raphael ("the healing of God," Tobit 3:16, 12:15); Uriel ("fire of God," 3 Ezdras 5:20), Selaphiel ("the prayer of God," 3 Ezdras 5:16); Jehudiel ("the glorifying of God"); Barachiel, the distributor of the blessing of God for good deeds; and Jeremiel ("the raising up to God," 3 Ezdras 4:36). Archangels are revealed to man as beautiful, shining, winged humans.

Archangels "reveal the mysteries of the faith, prophecy, and understanding of the will of God; and intensify deep faith in people, enlightening their minds with the light of the Holy Gospel."

The Angels (often referred to as "guardian angels") are closest to men, revealing to them the intentions and instructions of God and guiding them to lead pious, Christ-centered lives. They attempt to keep man from falling (both spiritually and physically) and are there to help him "get up" when he does fall. Angels are also revealed to man in shining human form, with or without wings.

As creatures who come before the face of God, angels are powerful intercessors, meaning they speak on man's behalf to Him. While instructing His disciples about caring for His followers - the sheep of His flock - the Lord Jesus Christ said, "See that you do not despise one of these little ones; for I tell you, their angels in heaven always behold the face of My Father in heaven." (Matthew 18:10)

Because of their faithful and unending service to God - and at His command, to man/creation - the angels are considered the prototype for the service ministry of the holy diaconate - they are the 'role model' for the deacons of our Church! The Archangels Michael and Gabriel are usually depicted on the deacons' doors in the iconastas.

Some Things to Do

  1. Listen for and point out the petition in the Litany of Supplication at Vespers and Divine Liturgy in which Orthodox Christians ask for "an angel of peace, a faithful guide, a guardian of our souls and bodies" to be sent by God.
  2. Include a prayer to our guardian angels (from an Orthodox prayer book) in your daily prayers.
  3. Read and discuss several stories including the Bodiless Powers from the Bible during the week before the Synaxis. Here are a few possibilities:
  4. Balaam and his faithful donkey encounter an angel sent to correct the disobedient prophet (Numbers 22:9-35)
    Archangel Gabriel tells Mary she will bear the Savior (Luke 1:26-38)
    angels greet the Holy Myrrhbearers at His empty tomb (Luke 24:1:9 and John 20:1:18)
    the Apostle Peter is rescued from prison by a guardian angel (Acts 12:1-11)
  5. Read the prophet Isaiah's description of heaven (Isaiah 6:1-9). Make a "chorus of heavenly hosts" mobile by tracing, coloring, and cutting out the likenesses of Cherubim, Seraphim, and Thrones from Orthodox coloring books, icon collections, or Byzantine art history books. Suspend them from a dowel rod or wire hanger with clear fishing line and decorate with glitter and cotton wisps. (Remember to put the Thrones on the longest strings, since they are found at the Lord's feet!)
  6. Spend some time looking closely at the icons of the Feasts of the Church on your parish's iconostas or in an icon book. If you look carefully, and you'll find angels in most of them!
  7. Watch an angel-themed movie together, and use it to introduce or summarize your family's discussion of the Bodiless Powers. Pay careful attention to the way the Hollywood angels interact with humans and the non-Traditional theology illustrated. For example:
  8. What do the angels look like in the movie? Does this agree with the depiction of angels in Holy Tradition?
    Do the angels in the movie glorify and serve God or do they have their own interests?
    Is it clear in the movie that He is the source of the angels' power and direction?
    Do the activities of the angels in the movie agree with the roles the real Bodiless Powers play (praising God, administering the creation, protecting people, delivering important messages, and so on)?
    How do the people in the movie react to the realization that angels do exist? Do children believe more easily than adults? Why?
    Does belief in angels imply belief in God? What does the movie assume about God?
    Do guardian angels 'earn' their wings, or have 'training wings'?
    Do people become angels when they die?
    Can angels ever become human?
    How is the power of prayer depicted?

It's a Wonderful Life (featuring Clarence) and Angels in the Outfield (featuring Al, and a host of others) are fun for all ages to watch and discuss, but save Michael and City of Angels for adults and older teens only!

by Nichola Toda Krause

© 1999 by Orthodox Family Life and the original author(s).
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