Today we celebrate the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels. This is the day on which we celebrate our Patron. Most Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Anglican churches have Saintly men or women as their Patrons. Some take their names from the essential moments of Christ’s life –like the Church of the Incarnation, Church of the Transfiguration, Church of the Nativity, Church of the Holy Cross, Ascension, and so on. We chose St. Michael & All Angels because we had a keen desire for heavenly protection and defense, strength and power, and the celestial joy and rapture that must envelop our spiritual pilgrimage.
And if the angels are to provide us with the service we desire, first we must have a better understanding of who they are. Angel comes to us from the Greek word aggelos, which means messenger or one who is sent. We know that angels are creatures who have been made by God, and so have not existed from all of eternity. Today’s Psalm verifies this truth when we sing, Praise Him, all ye angels of His: praise Him, all His host/…For He spake the Word, and they were made; He commanded, and they were created. (Ps. cxlviii. 2,5) St. Paul tells us that by Christ were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by Him, and for Him…(Col. i. 16) We know that they existed before the creation of the earth since God asks Job, with no small amount of imposing irritability, Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? Declare, if thou hast understanding… when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy? (Job xxviii. 4,7) We know that the angels were created to live for eternity since Jesus tells us that in the Resurrection of the Dead men will not die anymore but will be equal unto the angels… the children of God…(Luke xx. 36) Angels were the first offspring or children of God. And we know that they are pure spirits or intelligences and thus have no bodies since their creation predates the creation of any kind of matter. St. Augustine tells us that they are to be identified with the first created light in Genesis. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day. (Gen. i. 3-5)This could not have been physical light, since God would not make the sun until the fourth day.
So the Church’s Tradition has it that the angels were the first created spiritual light. They were the created spiritual and angelic light in and through which all else that was created makes sense. And lest the pure created light of God’s truth, beauty, and goodness should be darkened by ill will, malevolence, envy, jealousy, and pride, we read that God divided the light from the darkness. The darkness was not created, and so we believe that this must be that band of good angels who rejected God because they desired rather to bask in the radiance of their own beauty, truth, and goodness rather than God’s. St. John the Divine has a mystic vision into the creation and redemption of the world and describes the origins of evil through a description of the warfare between the good and bad angels. And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. (Rev. xii. 7-9) Because the good angels live in the Light of God, they are called created light and their lives constitute the first spiritual Day. The bad angels are called the darkness, and they live in the spiritual Night of everlasting darkness. (D.C.D. xi, xii)
So from the beginning of the creation we believe that the good angels were commanded by Michael, whose name means one who is like God. Michael is an Archangel, and this word comes to us from the Greek arcaggelos, meaning chief angel, and the Greek Church calls him arcistrategos, meaning chief commanding officer. If Michael has been involved in the warfare of heaven, we can rest assured that he will lead the charge in defending the redemption of creation that his fallen friend Lucifer is determined to disrupt. Michael and his fellow angels have never swerved from their intention to do God’s will. For as Richard Hooker reminds us, Michael and his friends beholding the face of God, in admiration of so great excellency they all adore Him. And being rapt with the love of His beauty, they cleave inseparably forever unto Him. And [their] desire to resemble Him in goodness maketh them unweariable and even unsatiable in their longing to do by all means all manner of good unto all creatures of God, but especially unto the children of men. (Eccl. Pol. iv. 1)
Michael and his friends desire to resemble and reflect God’s overflowing goodness, and so they long to transmit and impart this goodness to all of creation and especially to men. And why to men, you might ask? Because as Hooker says, when they look upon us they behold themselves beneath themselves. (Idem) So in us they see that spiritual potentiality and capacity that with them can know, adore, love, and serve God. In us they find another self –a friend, brother, sister, fellow child of God whom they long to aid, assist, and associate with the motions of God’s Word, even Jesus Christ our Saviour. And so their prayers and praises always surround us, to include us in their unending desire and longing for our salvation. They have always been one with God, and it into this unity that they passionately pray we might find our rest and home at last.
Their knowledge and love of God moves them into greater service when the Word of God will reverse man’s Fall in the Incarnation. Gabriel the Archangel foretells John Baptist’s birth to Zachariah. (Luke i. 13) He defines Joseph’s role as Foster-father to the Messiah. He calls Mary to become the Mother of the Word made Flesh: Hail thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee…Fear not….the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. (St. Luke i. 28, 30, 35) When the child is born, the heavens open with a multitude of the heavenly [angelic] host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. (St. Luke ii. 13) Then with Gabriel’s warning the Holy Family flees Herod’s murderous wrath. Much later, after their old friend Lucifer tries and fails to tempt Jesus in the desert, the angels came and ministered unto Him. (St. Matthew iv. 11) And prior to His passion and death, St. Luke tells that when His human nature felt its powerlessness to perform the task that lay ahead, saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done…there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him. (St. Luke xxii. 41-43) At the Crucifixion, the angels can do nothing. They are silenced with all creation into wonder and awe at the unimaginable need for this Word made Flesh to die. G.K. Chesterton reminds that they stand at attention ready to do battle for their Lord, but must look on and learn what Christ’s Love alone must do to bring man home to God.
Seeing Him fallen where thou couldst not follow,
Seeing Him mounted where thou couldst not fly,
Hand on the hilt, thou hast halted all thy legions
Waiting the [It is finished] and the acclaim…
St. Michael and his friends come to learn that the Crucifixion involves warfare beyond their strength which the Son of God alone can fight and win in order to free man from the bad angels and reconcile him to God. They return to active duty revealing the truth of the Resurrection to those who believe. One of them rolls away the stone from the entrance to the tomb, and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here: for He is risen….(St. Matthew xxviii. 3-6) With Christ’s Ascension they understand the nature and meaning of the new life Christ died to unleash and discharge, and so they ask, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven. (Acts i. 11) And so the angels will forever thereafter assist Peter, Paul, and all faithful others who long to become the sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father.
The Pseudo-Dionysius, a 6th Century Syrian monk, tells us that St. Michael & All Angels have three functions. They carry purification, illumination, and unification to us. (Hier. Coel. ix. 2, op. cit. Danielou; The Angels and Their Mission) What they bear to us from Jesus is the purification of our bodies, the illumination of our souls, and the Spirit’s new desire for our unity with God. If we pray for their protection and defense, they will surround us, make a safe place for Jesus’ sanctification of our souls, and carry the gifts of His love into our lives. As the first offspring of God, they long without ceasing that we should become their brothers and sisters, as God’s will that is done in the Heaven for them, might be done in like manner on earth in us. And so it is with great thanksgiving that on this day we sing with Edmund Spenser:
…O the exceeding grace
Of highest God, that loves his creatures so,
And all his works with mercy doth embrace,
That blessed Angels, he sends to and fro…
How oft do they, their silver bowers leave,
To come to succour vs, that succour want?
How oft do they with golden pineons, cleave
The flitting skies, like flying Pursuivant,
Against foul fiends to aide us millitant?
They for vs fight, they watch and dewly ward,
And their bright Squadrons round about vs plant,
And all for love, and nothing for reward…(Fairy Queen ii. viii)