The Church always holds before us the reminder of the celestial beings, the angels. We celebrate the feast of the Holy Guardian Angels on October 2.
The secular world is also concerned with angels. Movies and television shows portray angels doing good deeds and making rescues. However appealing these portrayals may be for a society which desperately needs good news and miracles, it is important for Orthodox Christians to know what holy Scripture and holy Tradition teach us about real angels.
One of the most complete expositions of the Church’s teaching on angels is the book The Holy Angels by Mother Alexandra (published by Light and Life). In this book, we learn that a belief in spiritual beings was common in the pre-Christian pagan world and that it was basic to Jewish thought. Thus, in all Biblical references to angels, their existence is assumed, is considered fact, and is never explained or justified.
In a thorough examination of both Old and New Testament passages regarding angels, Mother Alexandra helps the reader to see how they have acted in history as God’s messengers, as guardians of man, and as those who stand before the throne of God in perpetual worship.
Mother Alexandra shows in her book the continuing certainty about angels that existed in the early Church and then goes on to examine the theological writings of various Church fathers which illuminate and articulate what has been revealed to us of these spiritual beings.
One of the chief writers about angels was St. Dionysius. This 5th century mystic who greatly influenced later Eastern and Western theologians, described the hierarchy of the angels – a division of nine orders consisting of three “choirs”: the first choir is made up of Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones, who stand closest to God; the second choir is formed of Dominions, Virtues and Powers; the third choir – Principalities, Archangels and angels – are closest to man and his actions on earth.
Through the writings of all the Fathers in illuminating holy Scripture, we learn that the angels are created entities who, having never experienced birth, will not experience death, so they are immortal. They are bodiless but can assume physical form when that is needed for their mission. These forms are most often described as blinding light and prompt their first words: “Fear not!” As with man, their purpose is to be united with God’s will and to experience the joy of eternal life with him. The angels, being closer to this goal than man and free from the limitations of earthly existence, provide aid and guidance as we pursue that goal on earth.
Also as with man, God gave the angels free will and so it was that Lucifer – who had been chief of all the heavenly host – was the first to fall, through envy and pride, and was thrown down from heaven. Now, Satan (as he is most often called) and his legions seek death and destruction for mankind. Through temptation and every wile they lure man toward evil and away from good.
But if we are open to the ministrations of the holy angels, we know that they will guide us and protect us as we seek to do God’s will. As we sing their songs – “Glory be to God on High” and “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of Sabaoth”, our worship in church mirrors their heavenly worship. We remember the promise of God expressed by the Psalmist: “He shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.” [Ps.91:11]
Mother Alexandra describes beautifully what our attitude toward angels should be:
To find the angels, to discover them, to come into intimate contact with them requires the transcendent knowledge – and spirit – of mystical theology, not so much in terms of abstract and speculative expertise, but in the humility of a Christian soul that is governed by the simplicity, the directness, the guileless curiosity of the unsophisticated child. Indeed, we ought not be simple-minded, but we must needs be humble-minded. We need to free ourselves of theories and preconceptions, and with a fresh mind see above and beyond, and yet, still, very close at hand, for he stands by our side: the Guardian of our souls. [pg. 57]
May our Guardian Angels watch over and protect us, and, at the last day, may we join them in worship at the heavenly throne.