“O Michael, you are the leader among the Divine Ranks, and the commander of the Power’s on High. As you ever walk with us all preserving us from every assault of the devil, today you summon us to a feast! Therefore, come all who love Christ and the Feasts of the Church, take up the flowers of virtues! With pure thoughts and upright conscience, let us honor the Archangel’s assembly; for as they stand forever before God and chant the thrice-holy hymn, they pray that our souls may be saved!” –Litiya Verse from Great Vespers
Around Halloween, we talked an awful lot about demons and the influence that we sometimes allow them to have on our lives, but on today’s feast that the Church calls us to, we remember and celebrate the bodiless hosts who (if we permit them to) have been protecting us from the day that we came out of the baptismal font!
There are so many wonderful things to learn about angels, but I thought this morning, in their honor, we could mention two things that we know about them that can help us along in our spiritual lives.
Does anyone remember from scripture and from the writings of the Church Fathers how many Angels there actually are in the universe? INNUMERABLE! Revelations 5:11 says: “The number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, times ten thousand, and thousands and thousands…”. Anyone have a calculator?
St. Dionysius: “So numerous indeed are the blessed armies of transcendent intelligent beings, that they surpass the frail and limited realm of our physical numbers.” The Saints say we cannot even comprehend the number! Why is that a big deal? It reminds us of how precious and unique it is to be a human being…how precious every single person is in the eyes of God.
Next week starts the Nativity Fast, and we are going to be preparing ourselves for the coming of God down to His creation. We are reminded throughout that 40 days that God didn’t appear to us as an angel…it was through the body of a Human Being. This is why a jealous Satan truly hates us, and it is why he sends demons into our thoughts to try to turn us against God and against each other. Every life of every human being is precious. The Angels and their numbers serve as a wonderful reminder of this reality!
The second and last thing I will mention about angels this morning, is perhaps even more important. Like us, both Angels and Demons have a free will. They have the freedom to either serve God, or to completely turn away from him. However, there is one big difference from the freedom that we have and the freedom that they experience.
Angels exist outside of time and the physical laws of space. This is a concept that is extremely hard for us to grasp, because we have no experience of what this kind of existence is like. For us, there is always a past, a present, and a future. We can’t fathom what it is like to be outside of time!
We do get a taste of being “outside of time” when we come to Church. We begin the Liturgy: “Blessed is the Kingdom” and not “Blessed is the Kingdom which is to come”. In a few weeks, we will sing hymns on Christmas saying; “Today, a Virgin Gives Birth…” not “2,000 years ago, a Virgin gave birth.” “Christ is Risen” not “Christ was Risen”. We celebrate these events and enter into their reality, because when we come into the Church, we walk into the Kingdom which is outside of time.
Does your brain hurt? It’s ok, you aren’t meant to comprehend space time this morning. All you need to know is that for angels who exist outside of time, there is no tomorrow. There is no later, which means they are incapable of changing the direction of their lives.
Today, I as a human being can live in accordance with the Divine Life God has offered me. I can pray, do things for my neighbor, feed the hungry, worship God with all of my heart, but then I have the freedom to wake up tomorrow on the wrong side of bed, get angry at someone, spit in their face, disregard everything before turning around the next day and restoring the Image of God that is within me. This is sometimes the cycle of our relationship with God…but what angelic freedom reminds us of is that there will come a time when we will lose that ability to change.
St. John of Damascus compares this kind of angelic freedom to humanity after we fall asleep to this world. We leave the confines of space and time, and the direction of our lives is fixed, and we won’t have the ability to repent. This is why in that beautiful Romanian Tradition for the departed, all of the faithful lift up the wheat and bread in the center of the Church with a candle in the center, representing the soul of the departed who can no longer repent for itself. The image that this gives to the world is that when we pray for the souls of our departed loved ones, we are literally lifting them up in prayer, which they can no longer offer for their own repentance.
The angelic reality reminds us that now is the time for us to walk towards Christ. Now is the time to (as the hymn said) take up the flowers of virtue and to stand before God with every breath we take, praying like the Archangels that our souls may be saved.