Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!
In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Do you hear that? If we listen very closely in times of stillness, of being quiet in the Presence of God and in prayer, we just may very well hear or sense the presence of God’s angels. Many a story collected from the monastics attest to the silent presence of angels, witnessed by unsuspecting monks who may have happened upon them standing guard at the Altar assigned to their angelic protection or monks who have been granted the spiritual sight of the heavenly hosts adorning the holy Liturgy. Indeed, they are here now, among us though we may be oblivious to their presence, our spiritual sense perhaps blunted because of unbelief that still clings to us having come from out of the world that defies God and demands concrete evidence of His existence. This is why the Church is called ekklesia, the called-out ones. And that is what we are – called out from the world by faith. Just before the Little Entrance with the Holy Gospel, the priest prays the secret prayer:
O Master, Lord our God, Who hast appointed in Heaven orders and hosts of angels and archangels for the service of Thy glory: Grant that with our entrance there may be an entrance of holy angels, serving with us and glorifying Thy goodness. . . . .
Angels, beloved, are simply presumed by the Church – their presence and their ministry, both among us and to us. Commenting on the Psalms, the Apostle tells us in his Epistle to the Hebrews that the angels worship God and serve Him (Hb. 1:6, 7), that they are “ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation” (Hb. 1:14), and that some of us have even come into contact with them unbeknownst to us when we fulfilled our Christian duty of hospitality by entertaining strangers (Hb. 13:2). What blessing of angelic visitation awaits us when we faithfully do the will of God? Indeed, this is a hallmark of all the angels: the diligent and speedy execution of the will of God, without question, without hesitation. And, of course, each of us, either at our birth or our re-birth in the baptismal waters, have been assigned “an angel of peace, a faithful guide, a guardian of our souls and bodies” (Mt. 18:10; Litany Petition). His “job” [ministry] is to influence our will to embrace the virtuous and to eschew evil. There is more truth to that comedic script of an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other whispering into our ears than we might care to realize, according to the Fathers. We can be assured that good thoughts come from the angel of God while evil thoughts come from the angel of the devil (Origen). It is our bounden duty to nurture and cultivate, therefore, our relationship with our guardian angel that we might be keenly attuned to his governance and be made deaf to the subtle musings of the fallen angel.
As we said before, angels are simply part and parcel of the Christian Faith and of Sacred Scripture. They are quite simply a fact. They are woven into the warp and woof of the Church’s experience. All we need do is turn to the first several chapters of Genesis to find them at the very beginning of things, and again in the vision of Revelation at the very end. They pre-exist creation, according to some Fathers, while others understand them to be among the firstborn called into existence out of nothing very early on in that great week of God’s good creation in Genesis. The fact is, they are creatures, just like us, except without bodies. Thus, we do not become angels when we die, and we do a grave disservice to others by perpetuating the cruel deception that if God “needs” an angel He takes a loved one from us. The word “angel” speaks, not to their nature, but to their office (Augustine). By office, they are the messengers of God who “minister to God for our salvation”; by nature, they are pure spirit, just like God, Whose grace sustains them, just as it sustains us (Augustine; John of Damascus; John Chrysostom). For we are not immortal by nature, but only so by grace. The Fall of man was influenced dramatically by the apostate prince of all fallen angels in the Garden (Gn. 3:1-7; Is. 14:12-17). And, in the same Garden, at the very eastern door of that Garden, God placed cherubim, armed with a flaming sword, to protect and preserve the Tree of Life and to bar sinful man’s return to Eden until the day of redemption (Gn. 3:24). The presence of cherubim gives us a clue that Eden was far more than a mere garden. It was the throne room of God Himself – the Holy of Holies – where man as priest, the creature bearing God’s image, would minister and commune with the Lord of Sabaoth (the Lord of hosts).
Let us make no mistake here, beloved, angels are terrible and fearsome creatures, awesome in appearance and mighty in power. They tower over us like a Goliath, yet they accommodate themselves to our feeble nature, oftentimes in Sacred Scripture appearing in a form we can recognize and relate to. Yet, in Sacred Scripture, when they manifest themselves to us, our immediate response is one of fear, of drawing back in terror, stricken by the awful reality that we are unholy and unworthy. And rightly so, for they come from the very Presence of God Almighty, “Maker of Heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible” (Nicene Creed). They bear His Presence to us. They communicate God and His holiness to us.
Look in Sacred Scripture and there you will not find chubby-cheeked cherubs flitting about. Can you imagine such creatures inspiring fear in us mere mortals as we come face to face with them? Such is the wistful contrivance of human imagination long separated from the Biblical God Who is a consuming fire, the only true and living God not to be trifled with (Ex. 24:17; Hb. 12:29)! Such is the concoction of fallen man who has lost the sense of the holy ominous of God (tremendum mysterium) so much so that we have emasculated the divine and feminized those who serve Him as immaterial spirits of fire! And why have we done this? Because we have turned the God of Moses and the Exodus and Mt. Sinai into some sort of doting old fool Who we treat like Santa Claus. And, those angels who serve this neutered God are cast as effeminate cherubs with cute chubby cheeks. Can we imagine such a creature inspiring us, having to steel our nerves and encourage us, “’Fear not! Do not be afraid.’” (Js. 5:13-16; Jg. 6:2, 7, 11-24; Dn. 10:1-21)?
Angels, beloved, personify the attributes of God, but they are not God. They are as swift as a glance or swifter than a thought, but they are not omnipresent. They are profoundly wise and vastly knowledgeable, but they are not omniscient. They are cast as mighty soldiers and fearsome warriors who war against Satan and all his fallen angels (Lk. 10:16-21; Rv. 12:7-12). Our battle, beloved, like theirs, is not against flesh and blood, but against real spiritual powers that seek to possess and control us and exterminate us (Ep. 6:10-12; 1 Pe. 5:8-9). The angels comprise the vast and indescribable armies of Heaven – countless numbers, myriads upon myriads – who influence and intervene as God wills in the affairs of this world. They truly serve at the pleasure of their great God and King. And, they come to the aid of the servants of God, time and again. Oh, that we might see with the eyes of the Prophet Elisha what he saw that day compassed about by the hordes of Israel’s enemies when all seemed lost (4  Kg. 6:15-19). The Lord opened the eyes of Elisha’s fearful servant and he saw what the Prophet had known all along in faith: the angelic chariots of fire filled the mountain round about, far out numbering the chariots of Syria. Who stands and fights for us but God and all His bodiless hosts of Heaven? So great is the salvation that God offers us sinners!
Let us not hesitate, then, beloved, to call upon the holy angels of God in time of need, especially our guardian angel who, I fear, we so often forget or ignore and neglect to our own spiritual detriment (Clement of Rome; Ambrose). Does not the psalmist point the way? Does he not put his trust in the Lord and His angels? “The angel of the Lord shall encamp round about them that fear Him, and deliver them. Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who hopeth in Him” (Ps. 33 :7-8). Though created but a little lower than the angels (Ps. 8:5), they nevertheless stand perpetually ready to serve us and are eager to aid us who are heirs of salvation, making our way to Mt. Zion,
to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and Church of the firstborn who are registered in Heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the New Covenant, . . . . (Hb. 12:22-24).
Their work is the work of Jesus Christ Himself: He saves as Lord, but they as His servants (John Chrysostom).
Through the prayers of our holy Fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!
Jg. 6:2, 7, 11-24
Is. 14:7-20 // Dn. 10:1-21