[guardian] angel will not retreat from us, unless we drive
him away by our evil deeds. As the smoke drives bees away,
and stench the doves, even so our stinking sin drives away
from us the angel who protects our life.”
Saint Basil the Great
The Angels were created long before man
John of Damascus tells us: “God is Himself the Maker and
Creator of the angels; for He brought them out of nothing
into being and created them after His own image. They are
an incorporeal race, a sort of spirit or immaterial fire,
even as the divine David says that ‘His angels are
spirits, and His ministers a flame of fire’” (Psalm 103:6).
were among the first part of God’s creation. In the Creed
we say, “I believe in one God...Creator of heaven and
earth, and of all things visible and invisible.” Holy
Scripture says, “When the stars were made, all My angels
praised Me with a loud voice” (Job 38:7, LXX). The Apostle
Paul tells us “By Him all things created that are in
heaven, and that are on earth, visible and invisible,
whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities,
or powers” (Colossians 1:16). Heaven that was created in
the very beginning according to Genesis (In the beginning
God created the heaven and the earth) is generally
understood by the Fathers to be an invisible heaven
inhabited with powers on High. They believed that God
created the angels long before He created the visible
Man has always known the Angels
knew about the existence of angels from their first days
in Paradise. From Genesis we know that a Cherubim was
placed with a flaming sword at the gates of Paradise after
Adam and Eve were expelled. Later, Abraham encouraged his
servant Nahor telling him that the Lord would send His
angel with him to protect him. (Genesis 34:7). Jacob saw
angels during his sleep and while awake. (Genesis 32:1-2).
the time of the New Testament an angel informed Zachariah
of the conception of the Forerunner and the Virgin Mary
the Theotokos of the birth of Jesus. Angels announced the
good news to the shepherds at the birth of Jesus and
prevented the Magi from returning to Herod. Angles served
Jesus after His temptation in the wilderness and appeared
to strengthen Him in the Garden of Gethsemane. It was
angels who informed the Myrrh Bearing Women about His
Resurrection. Angels informed the Apostles of His second
coming as the time of His ascension into heaven. Angels
help the apostles. The freed Peter from prison and
instructed Cornelius. They told Paul to appear before
Caeser. And angels are the foundation of the revelations
given by John in his book of the Revelation.
The nature of Angels
and men are unique among all of God’s creatures. Only
Angels and men have a nous, and thus a
noetic capacity. The nous differs from
the mind (in Greek diánoia. The mind
affords us a rational, and intellectual capacity to “know”
things around us. The nous enables men, along
with the angels, to “know, love and serve God.”
of this noetic capacity, Angels and men can “communicate
spiritually” with one another
are active spirits with intelligence, will and knowledge.
They serve God to carry out His will and glorify Him. The
angels are bodiless and invisible to our physical eyes.
They have no bodily needs or desires and passions, no
cares about food, drink, clothes or shelter. Nor do they
possess the impulse and cravings for procreation. They
neither marry nor are given in marriage (Matthew 22:30).
Angels are active spirits They have no worries about the
future either, and no fear of death. For, though God
created them before man, they are neither aged nor aging,
but unchangingly youthful, beautiful and strong. They have
no anxiety about their salvation and no struggle for
immorality, being already immortal (Luke 20:36). Unlike
men, they are not faltering between good and evil, being
already good and holy as when God created them.
informs us that in their might and power they surpass all
earthly governments and authorities (2 Peter 2:10-11). But
as created beings they have limitations. They do not know
the depths of the essence of God (1 Corinthians 2:11).
They do not know the future that only God knows (Mark
13:32). They do not fully understand the mystery of the
Redemption yet they wish to (1 Peter 1:12). They don’t
know human thoughts (III Kings 8:39). And thy cannot be
themselves perform miracles without the will of God Psalm
angel, then, is an intelligent essence, in perpetual
motion, with free will, incorporeal, ministering to God,
having obtained by grace an immortal nature. The Creator
alone knows the form and limitation of the angelic
essence; but all that we can understand is that it is
incorporeal and immaterial. For all that is compared with
god, Who alone is incomparable, we find to be dense and
material. For in reality only the Deity is immaterial and
incorporeal.” Saint John of Damascus.
The number and ranks of Angels
are an extraordinary number of angels. In the book of
Daniel is says, “thousand thousands ministered unto Him
and the thousand times ten thousand stood before Him”
(Daniel 7:10). And In Luke it is recorded that “a
multitude of the heavenly host” praised our Lord (Luke
can only assume that with such a number there differing
degrees of perfection among their ranks. In Scripture we
see some called angels and others archangels
(1 Thessalonians 4:16; Jude, v 9)
Tradition of the Orthodox Church teaches us that there is
a Heavenly Hierarchy of angels. This was documented
Saint Dionysius the Areopagite one of the Seventy Apostles in
On the Heavenly Hierarchy. He explained the angelic
world as divided into nine ranks made up of three
hierarchies with three ranks each.
Thrones, Cherubims, and Seraphim: those closest to God
Seraphim (which means “flaming”) are aflame with love for
God and kindle others to such love. They are closest to
God as the prophet Isaiah saw, saying: “And the seraphim
stood around Him, each having six wings” (Isaiah 6:2).
They are fire-like, “For our God is a consuming fire.”
(Hebrews 12:29); “His throne was a flame of fire” (Daniel
7:9), “Who makes his angels spirits; his ministers a
flaming fire” (Psalm 103:4).
the Seraphim, are the many-eyed Cherubim (which means
“great understanding”) who are radiant with the knowledge
of the mysteries of God and the depths of His Wisdom.
Through the cherubim wisdom is sent down to others and
spiritual enlightenment is given to see of God and gain
knowledge of Him.
are the Thrones. On them God noetically resides. Residing
on them in an incomprehensible manner, God makes His
righteous judgment, according to the word of David: “You
have sat upon a throne, You Who judge righteousness.”
(Psalm 9:4). They serve His justice, glorifying it and
pouring out the power of justice onto the thrones of
earthly judges, helping kings and masters to bring
Dominions Virtues and Powers
Dominions dominate the rest of the angels. They send down
power for prudent governing and wise management to
authorities on the earth set up by God. Further they teach
how to control the senses, how to subdue in oneself
dissolute desires and passions, how to enslave the flesh
to the spirit, and how to rule over one’s will and be
above all temptations.
Virtues (Authorities) work miracles and send down the
grace of miracle-working to those worthy of such grace, so
they may work miracles. They help people laboring and
those overburdened by troubles and they bear the
infirmities of the weak. They also strengthen every man in
Powers have power over the devil, to restrain the demons,
to repulse the temptations brought upon people by them.
They help those wrestling with passions and vices to cast
out evil thoughts.
Angels, Archangels, and Principalities: those closest to man
Principalities direct the lower angels. They are entrusted
with the management of the universe and the keeping of all
the kingdoms and princedoms, of lands and all peoples,
races and nations. They raise worthy people to various
honorable offices and direct them so that they take power
for the sake of spreading and augmenting of God’s holy
glory, and for the sake of the benefit of their neighbors.
Archangels are the heralds of good news. They reveal
prophecies, knowledge, and understanding of God’s will
which they receive from the higher orders of angels and
announce to the lower order. They strengthen people in
faith, enlightening their mind with the light of knowledge
of the holy Gospel and revealing the mysteries of devout
Angels are the junior of all the orders and the closest to
man. They announce the lesser mysteries and intentions of
God and teach people to live virtuously and righteously
before God. They are appointed to guard each of us who
of the heavenly orders are also called by the common name
“angels”. Although they have different names according to
their situation and grace given by God (as seraphim,
cherubim, thrones and the rest of the orders), yet all in
general are called angels, because the word “angel” is not
a denomination of essence, but of service, as it is
written: “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth
to minister” (Hebrews 1:14). But their service is
different and not identical: each order has its own service
This ranking is also
found in other early Church documents such as the
Saint Gregory the Theologian,
Saint John Chrysostom,
Saint Gregory the Dialogist,
Saint John of Damascus,
and others. These nine ranks can be found in Holy Scripture.
A few archangels are given specific names.
Michael (He Who is Like God), Daniel 10:13,12:1; Jude 1:9 and Revelation 12,8
Gabriel (The Man of God), Daniel 8:16,9:21, and Luke 1:19-26
Raphael (The Help of God), Tobit 3:17, 12:15
Uriel (The Fire of God), 2 Esdras 4:36, 4:1
Salathiel (The Prayer to God), 2 Esdras 5:16
Jegudiel (The Praise of God)
Barachiel (The Blessing of God)
The ministry of the Angels
Angels were created as
the most perfect reflections of His grandeur and glory.
Angels that are closest in rank to humans are seen in
Scripture as heralds of God’s will, guides, and servants
of an individual’s salvation. Some angels are appointed
for the governance of the heavens and the world. Others
continually glorify God.
Orthodox Church believes that each person is assigned a
guardian angel. Christ said, “Take heed that you not
despise even one of these little ones, for I say unto you,
that their angels always behold the face of My Father
which is in heaven” (Matthew 18:10).
was originally from the Jews that the Church inherited
this belief in the ministry of the Guardian Angels. The
Psalmist had declared, “The angel of the Lord encamps all
around those who fear Him, and delivers them” (Psalm
34:7). And again, “He will give His angels charge over
you, to keep you in all your ways” (Psalm 91:11)
Orthodox Christians know
that at Baptism a Guardian Angel is "yoked" to them, as
the Prayers of the catechumens explicitly state.
Prayers to our Guardian Angel:
of God, my holy guardian, given to me from heaven,
enlighten me this day, and save me from all evil.
Instruct me in doing good deeds, and set me on the
path of salvation. Amen.
of Christ, holy guardian and protector of my soul
and body, forgive me everything wherein I have
offended you every day of my life, and protect me
from all influence and temptation of the Evil One.
May I never again anger God by my sins. Pray for
me to the Lord, that He may make me worthy of the
grace of the All-Holy Trinity, and of the blessed
Mother of God, and of all the saints. Amen.
The “Cherubic Hymn,” the song of the angels
Cherubic Hymn is the song of the angels, sung during every
Divine Liturgy of the year except those of Holy Thursday
and Holy Saturday. It occurs after the Gospel reading and
is interrupted by the Great Entrance. The Cherubic Hymn
was added to the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom by order
of the Emperor Justinian near the end of the sixth
century. Let’s be sure we grasp what this means.
Think of the words to
this well known hymn of our Divine Liturgy:
“Let us who mystically represent the Cherubim, and
who sing the thrice-holy hymn to the Life-giving
Trinity, lay aside all the cares of life so that
we may receive the King of all, Who comes
invisibly escorted by the Angelic Hosts.”
we live faithfully the Orthodox way, we draw closer to God
and we become more like the angels. It is a great gift of
the mercy and love of God for us that we, who are sinful,
impure, fallible, weak are allowed to be His servants, as
are the angels. It is a great gift of the mercy and love
of God for us that our Lord Jesus Christ became Incarnate
– for He identified Himself completely with us by sharing
fully in our human nature. He did not do this for the
“Fans” (rhipidia) used in the liturgical services
When we celibate the
Divine Liturgy we gather as the Church triumphant and the
Church Militant. This means with those who are still on
this earth and all those who are in the heavenly realms.
We are joined with the angels as well as the saints. The
altar boys represent visibly the angels and carry the fans
with the Seraphim and the inscription, “Holy, Holy, Holy.
Lord of Sabaoth, the earth is full of your glory. (Isaiah
6:1-3),” the hymn of the angels. The fan at the right is
used at Saint George Cathedral.
know that such fans were used as early as the fourth
century in the Church services. According to the
(VIII 12:3-4) two deacons stood by the altar
and waved fans. Here is one that was used in
Constantinople in the sixth century.
Monday is the day of the week dedicated to the Holy Angels
Orthodox Church has dedicated Monday to the holy angels.
Therefore, every Monday in the church services we are
reminded of the holy angels with praise and prayer: “Holy
Archangels and Angels, pray to God for us.”
Saint George Greek Orthodox Church, Greenville, SC