For if the message declared by angels was valid and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard Him, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to His own will. For it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking. It has been testified somewhere, “What is man that thou art mindful of him, or the son of man, that thou carest for him? Thou didst make him for a little while lower than the angels, thou hast crowned him with glory and honor, putting everything in subjection under his feet.” Now in putting everything in subjection to Him, He left nothing outside His control. As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to Him. But we see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting that He, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through suffering.
Hebrews 2:2-10 (Epistle from the Synaxis of the Archangels)
On November 8, we celebrate the Synaxis of the Archangels Michael and Gabriel, as well as commemorating all of the angels in the heavens. There is a lot of confusion and misconception when it comes to the angels. The first misconception is that we become angels when we die. That is not true. Perhaps it is correct to say that we become like the angels in the sense that we will surround the throne of God like they do. Matthew 22:30 says “In the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.” So, we will be like the angels but will not be angels.
The angles were created between the first two “days” of Creation, when God separated the heavens from the earth. The purpose of the angels was to keep the creation close to the creator. One of the angels was named Lucifer, and sought to become God. So the angels warred with one another and Lucifer (Satan) and the angels loyal to him were cast out of heaven.
There is not much revealed about the angels in the Bible. We know that there are nine orders of angels. Those who stand closest to God are the Cherubim, the Seraphim and the Thrones. We read about the Cherubim and the Seraphim in Isaiah 6, in Isaiah’s vision in the temple. The next three groups of angels are called the Dominions, the Virtues and the Powers. The final three groups, the ones that are the closet to us, are the Principalities, the Archangels and the Angels. From this group, we are most familiar with the Archangels, who are sent by God to deliver His most important messages to people. Archangel Michael guards the door of Paradise, the angel stationed at the gate to the Garden of Eden with a sword burning in all directions. The Archangel Gabriel brought the good news of Christ’s birth to the Virgin Mary at the Annunciation. The angels are the ones who guard each person, always ready to help us, and who protect us from falling. (Most of the information from the preceding two paragraphs was taken from an article entitled “The Archangels“ by Fr. Demetri Tobias.)
The Archangel Michael is celebrated alone on September 6. The Archangel Gabriel is celebrated alone on March 26. But all the angels (meaning the Archangels plus all of the nine orders) are celebrated on November 8.
The angels are mentioned in the Epistle lesson from St. Paul’s Letter to the Hebrews. He tells us that God send Jesus Christ into the world and made “Him for a little while lower than the angels.” (Hebrews 2:7) This means that He made Jesus Christ to be like us, to be fully human (as well as fully God), so that when Jesus was suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane, an angel came to strengthen Him, just as angels come to strengthen us. (Luke 22:43) Jesus was “lower than the angels” because He was in need of the comfort of the angels.
In our hymnology, we call the Virgin Mary “greater in honor than the Cherubim and in glory greater beyond compare than the Seraphim.” (Magnificat, 9th Ode of Matins, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes) This means that the Virgin Mary ranks in honor above ALL the angels, even the Cherubim and Seraphim who stand closest to God. We also believe that while the angels stand around the throne of God, that they do not touch God. This is an honor that the human beings have—to touch God in Holy Communion. So in this sense, God has honored us more than even the angels.
The angels are important in that they are God’s messengers, and they are our guardians. We believe in guardian angels, that angels look over each of us, that they provide protection and encouragement to do the right thing. They are the ones who put God’s voice into our minds and hearts. Think of the cartoon where a person is trying to make the right decision and we see a white angel sitting on one shoulder encouraging the good and a red devil on the other shoulder, encouraging the bad. This is actually pretty close to what we believe. That the angels bring the voice of God to our minds and hearts, while the devil (and his angels) bring the voice of doubt and temptation to each of us. It is proper then, for us to celebrate the angels, and to ask for their help and guidance to go towards what is good and to not fall to that which is evil.
O Chief Commanders of the heavenly armies, we the unworthy ones entreat you in earnest, that you might with your supplications fortify us, guarding us who run to you and beneath the protection of the pinions of your immaterial glory, and who with fervor shout: Deliver us, from every danger, as Captains of the hosts on high. (Apolytkion of the Synaxis of the Holy Angels, Trans. By Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Keep your mind and heart open to hearing the voices of God’s angels!