Beloved in Christ, Greetings and Prayers.
I’m happy to note that our media ministry is doing such a commendable work. I appreciate the editor for her dedication and hard work in reaching out to the Orthodox Community of Sacramento. The Holy Sacraments are at the center of our Orthodox Faith. Through them we experience the presence of God’s invisible grace. The following reflection on God’s angels should provide a deeper understanding of God’s presence in our daily lives and worship.
Angels in Orthodox Faith and Worship
Angels were among the first part of God’s creation. They were created as the most perfect reflection of his grandeur and glory. In the Book of Job we read that
“When the stars were made, all my angels praised me with a loud voice” (Job 38:7).
The Apostle Paul tells us
“By Him all things were created that are in heaven, and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities or powers” (Col 1:16).
We recite this in the Nicene Creed:
“I believe in one true God, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible”.
The early Church Fathers believed that God created angels before he created the visible world. In Genesis 3:24 we read that a Cherubim was placed with a flaming sword at the gates of the Garden of Eden after Adam and Eve were expelled. Abraham encouraged his servant telling him that the Lord would send his angel with him to protect him (Gen. 24:7). Jacob saw angels both in his sleep and while awake (Gen.28:12).
Nature of Angels
Angels are active spirits with intelligence, will and knowledge. Saint John of Damascus tells us:
“God is Himself the Maker and Creator of the angels; for He brought them out of nothing into being and created them after His own image”.
They serve God in carrying out his will and to glorifying him. The angels are invisible to our physical eyes and exist for eternity. They are good and holy as when God created them unless they rebel against him. They can be either visibly or invisibly present with God’s creation at his command. But as created beings they have limitations. They do not know the depths of the essence of God or the future that only God knows (Mark 13:32). They do not fully understand the mystery of the Redemption yet they wish to (I Peter 1:12).
Number and Ranks of Angels
There is a very large number of angels. In the book of Daniel we read
“Thousand thousands ministered unto him and a thousand times ten thousand stood before Him” (Daniel 7:10).
In Luke we read that “a multitude of the heavenly host” praised the Lord (Luke 2:13). We can only assume that with such a number there are differing degrees of perfection among their ranks. In Scripture we see some are called angels and others archangels (I Thess 4:16; Jude, v 9). The tradition of the Orthodox Church teaches us that there is a Heavenly Hierarchy of angels. This was documented by St. Dionysus the Areopagite one of the Seventy Evangelists in ‘On the Heavenly Hierarchy’. He explained the angelic world as divided into nine ranks made up of three hierarchies with three ranks in each.
- I. Thrones, Cherubim, and Seraphim - those closest to God.
- II. Dominions, Virtues and Powers
- III. Archangels, Principalities and Angels
The archangels and angels are messengers and heralds of good news. They reveal God’s will and announce it to mankind. They strengthen people in faith, enlightening their minds by revealing the mysteries of divine revelation. Angels are also appointed to guard each of us. All of the heavenly orders are also called by the common name “angels”. Although they have different names according to their situation and grace given by God (as seraphim, cherubim, thrones and the rest of the orders). This ranking is also found in other early Church documents such as the Apostolic Constitutions, the writings of Saint Ignatius of Antioch, Gregory Nazianzus, Saint John Chrysostom and others. These nine ranks can be found in Holy Scripture.
A few archangels and angels are given specific names:
- Michael (Means like God) found in Dan 10:13,12:1; Jude 1:9 and Rev 12,8.
- Gabriel (Man of God), found in Dan 8:16,9:21, and Lk 1:19-26.
- Raphael (The Help of God), Tobit 3:17, 12:15
- Uriel (Fire of God) found in 2 Ezdras 4:36, 4:1
- Salathiel (Prayer to God), found in 2 Esdras 5:16
The Orthodox Church believes that each person is assigned a guardian angel. Christ said,
“See that you never despise any of these little ones, for I tell you that their angels in heaven are continually in the presence of my Father in heaven” (Matt 18:10).
Orthodox belief is that you receive a guardian angel when you are baptized. It was originally from the Jews that the Church inherited this belief in the ministry of the Guardian Angels. The Psalmist declared that:
“The angel of the Lord encamps all around those who fear Him, and delivers them” (Psalms 34:7).
“He will give His angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways” (91:11).
Prayer to the Guardian Angel:
O angel of God, my holy guardian, given to me from heaven, enlighten me this day, and save me from all evil. Instruct me in doing good deeds, and set me on the path of salvation. Amen.
O angel of Christ, holy guardian and protector of my soul and body, forgive me everything wherein I have offended you every day of my life, and protect me from all influence and temptation of the Evil One. May I never again anger God by my sins. Pray for me to the Lord, that he may make me worthy of the grace of the All-Holy Trinity, and of the blessed Mother of God, and of all the saints. Amen.
As we live faithfully to our Orthodox Faith we draw closer to God and become more like the angels. It is a great gift of the mercy and love of God for us that we, who are sinful, impure, fallible, weak are allowed to be his servants, as are the angels. It is a great gift of the mercy and love of God for us that our Lord Jesus Christ became Incarnate – for he identified Himself completely with us by sharing fully in our human nature. He did not do this for the angels. When we celebrate the Divine Liturgy we gather together as the Church Triumphant and the Church Militant. This means that we celebrate with those who are still on this earth and all those who are in the heavenly realms. We are joined with the angels as well as the saints.
In the New Testament an angel informed Zachariah of the conception of the Forerunner and informed the Virgin Mary (Theotokos) of the birth of Jesus. Angels announced the good news to the shepherds at the birth of Jesus and prevented the Magi from returning to Herod. Angles served Jesus after His temptation in the wilderness and appeared to strengthen him in the Garden of Gethsemane. It was angels who informed the Myrrh bearing women about His Resurrection. Angels informed the Apostles of his second coming at the time of his ascension into heaven. Angels helped the apostles. They freed Peter from prison and instructed Cornelius. They told Paul to appear before Caesar. Angels are the foundation of the revelations given by John in his book of the Revelation.
Yours in Christ,