November 14, 2015 Length: 16:27
Fr. Gregory Hallam reminds us that although angels are immaterial beings and have undoubted brilliance and glory, we humans are to be measured with no less dignity, particularly if we take up our own vocation to praise God, to be His obedient messengers and His valiant fighters.
We must all learn to live the angelic life. However, we are not angels. We are flesh and blood. The gap between glory and flesh and blood might not be so great as we might suppose though. Angels can take on the appearance of men when the occasion demands. How else could some “entertain angels unaware” (Hebrews 13:2)? This is perhaps a reference to the angelic appearance to Abraham and Sarah whereby the holy couple received the promise of a son, Isaac, in their old age. On the other hand, the angel’s appearance is sometimes in dazzling white and blazing glory (Matthew 28:2-4).
Children, have perhaps you heard or felt or even seen an angel?
What do you think it would be like if it did happen?
Perhaps we can have a better understanding how we flesh and blood humans can live the angelic life if we consider for a moment what angels do.
The first and most important vocation of angels and men is to praise God. In our worship, you and I are called out of darkness into the light of the Gospel so that we might praise God for his deliverance with a thankful heart. This is what St Paul says:
May you be strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the Saints in light. He has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His Beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:11-14)
The praise of the angels is, therefore, also the joy of the redeemed. This is why the angelic choirs serenaded Christ’s birth when they appeared to humble poor shepherds in the night. The praise of God is given to humble poor people who can praise Him with a true heart. In these you see the faces of angels while at the same time seeing men, women and children. Living the angelic life, therefore, is to live a life of praise and thanksgiving for God’s love poured into the world in Christ and from thence into our hearts.
Such joy should infuse our prayer as well. St. John Chrysostom writes:
From beneath, out of the heart, draw forth a voice, make thy prayer a mystery …. Yea for thou art joined to the choirs of angels, and art in communion with the archangels, and art singing with the seraphim. And all these tribes show forth much goodly order, singing with great awe that mystical strain, and their sacred hymns to God, the King of all. With these then, mingle thyself, when thou art praying and emulate their mystical order. (Homily 19 on St. Matthew, The Lord’s Prayer).
The angels are also messengers of God. In the affairs of men this is how they are nearly always portrayed in the Scriptures. In the New Testament, the classic and most important instance of this is in the archangel Gabriel’s appearance to the Theotokos announcing that if she wills, Christ will be conceived by the Holy Spirit in her womb. This angelic message troubles her by the sheer immensity and privilege of the miracle. However, she shows herself truly to be living the angelic life by responding with obedience: “Let it be unto me according to thy Word” (Luke 1:38). Sometimes, like the Mother of God, we can be on the receiving end of an angelic message from God but at other times we must reckon with the possibility that we, ourselves, are called to be His messengers, His “angels”. Whether we are to receive a message or give a message the key to this is the same: attentive listening to God and a readiness, despite all contrary indications, to do His will.
Finally, angels are involved in a heavenly combat against their demonic counterparts, led of course by St Michael, Captain of the Bodiless Powers. For this reason, St Michael is often shown in iconography with a sword. However, this is not a sword of steel but a much sharper instrument, the Word of God. The devil cannot stand to hear God’s Word for that is always a judgement on his iniquity, the burning judgement of the love of God. He runs from it like a scorching fire. We in turn need the sword of St Michael to do battle with the enemies of our soles.
The sword of the Word of God has a dual sense: it means not only the words of scripture but the Word of God Himself, Christ. We can live the angelic life by taking up these weapons, standing with Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit and facing down our enemy. We dare not do this in our own strength but rather with the precise strategy and empowerment of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps one of the reasons why seemingly so many Christians fail to achieve victory over besetting sins is because they are unaccustomed to fight with and by the power of God. St Michael and all the Angels remind us that this is both a necessary battle and one which comes with an assured final victory of love.
In conclusion we might say, therefore, that although angels are immaterial beings and have undoubted brilliance and glory, we humans are to be measured with no less dignity, particularly if we take up our own vocation to praise God, to be His obedient messengers and His valiant fighters. May the archangels of heaven, among them Gabriel and Michael, and all the Bodiless Powers help us to live their own angelic life in the service and praise of God.