What Orthodox Christians Believe About Angels
"The [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
Created Long before Humans
Saint 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 (Ps 103:6).
Angels were among the first part of God's creation. In the Creed we say, "I believe in one God...Maker 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" (Col 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 world.
Mankind Knew the Angels
Mankind 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. (Gen 34:7). Jacob saw angels during his sleep and while awake. (Gen 32:1-2).
In the time of the New Testament an angel informed Sachariah 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 Myrrhbearing Women about His Resurrection. Angels informed the Apostles of His second coming as the time of His ascension into heaven. Angels help the apostles. They freed Peter from prison and instructed Cornelius. They told Paul to appear before Caesar. Angels are the foundation of the revelations given by John in his book of the Revelation.
Nature of Angels
Angels 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 (Matt. 22:30). 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.
Peter informs us that in their might and power they surpass all earthly governments and authorities (II Peter 2:10-11). But as created beings they have limitations. They do not know the depths of the essence of God (I Cor 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 (I Peter 1:12). They don't know human thoughts (III Kings 8:39). And thy cannot by themselves perform miracles without the will of God (Ps 71:19).
"An 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.
Number and Ranks of Angels
They are an extraordinary number of angels. In the book of Daniel it 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 2:13).
We can only assume that with such a number there are differing degrees of perfection among their ranks. In Scripture we see some called angels and others archangels (I Thess 4:16; Jude, v 9)
The Tradition of the Orthodox Church teaches us that there is a Heavenly Hierarchy of angels. This was documented earliest by St. 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.
The Seraphim (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." (Heb 12:29); "His throne was a flame of fire" (Dan 7:9), "Who maketh his angels spirits; his ministers a flaming fire" (Ps 103:4).
After the seraphim, are the many-eyed Cherubim (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.
Next are the Thrones. On them God intellectually resides. Residing on them in an incomprehensible manner, God makes His righteous judgment, according to the word of David: "Thou hast sat upon a throne, O Thou that judgest righteousness." (Ps 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 forthright judgment.
• Dominions Virtues and Powers
The 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.
The 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 patience.
The 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
The Principalities direct the lower angels. They are entrusted with the management of the universe andthe 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.
The 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 Gaabrielstrengthen people in faith, enlightening their mind with the light of knowledge of the holy Gospel and revealing the mysteries of devout faith.
The Angels are the lowest 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 believe.
All 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" Raphael(Heb 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 Apostolic Constitutions, writings of Saint Ignatius, Gregory the Theologian, Saint John Chrysostom, Gregory the Dialogist, John of Damascus and others. These nine ranks can be found in Holy Scripture.
A few archangels are given specific names:
Michael (Means like God) found in Dan 10:13,12:1; Jude 1:9 and Rev 12,8.
Gabriel (Man of God), found in Dan 8:16,9:21, and Lk 1:19-26.
Raphael (The Help of God), Tobit 3:17, 12:15
Uriel (Fire of God) found in 2 Ezdras 4:36, 4:1
Salathiel (Prayer to God), found in 2 Esdras 5:16
Jegudiel (Praise of God),
Barachiel (Blessing of God).
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.
The Orthodox Church believes that each person is assigned a guardian angel. Christ said, "Take heed that ye despise not ye of these little ones, for I say unto you, that their angels do always behold the face of My Father which is in heaven" (Matt 18:10).
It 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" (Psalms 34 :7). And again, "He will give His angels charge over you, to keep Jedudeilyou in all your ways" (91 :11)
Most Orthodox believe that you receive a guardian angel when you are baptized.
Prayer to our Guardian Angel:
O 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.
O angel 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 Barachieltemptation 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.
Cherubic Hymn - the song of the angels
The 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.
"We, who mystically represent the Cherubim,
And chant the thrice-holy hymn to the Life-giving Trinity,
Let us set aside the cares of life
That we may receive the King of all,
Who comes invisibly escorted by the Divine Hosts."
As 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 angels!
Fans (rhipidion) Used In Liturgical Services
When we celibrate 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. (Is 6:1-3)," the hymn of the angels. The fan at the right is used at Saint George Cathedral.
We know that such fans were used as early as the fourth century in the Church services. According to the Apostolic Constitutions (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 Dedicated to the Holy Angels
Our 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."
For more information, see:
Angels in the Old Testament
Angels in the New Testament
On the Heavenly Hierarchy by Saint Dionysius the Areogapite
Orthodox Dogmatic Theology by Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky, pp114-123
Online excerpt covering these pages.
The Church's Belief in Guardian Angels By Fr. Patrick Reardon
A n g e l s - Blessed Messengers of God - Missionary Leaflet 14E, Holy Trinity Orthodox Mission, Editor: Bishop Alexander (Mileant)
The Lord's Prayer A Devout Interpretation & Three Lessons of the Orthodox Church by St. Nicholai Velimirovic, St. Paisius Orthodox Monastery, Safford, AZ. 2001, pp. 71-88. (Angels: Our Elder Brethren)
Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, Book II, Ch. 3. by Saint John of Damascus
SYNAXIS OF THE ARCHANGEL MICHAEL & THE OTHER BODILESS POWERS: GABRIEL, RAPHAEL, URIEL, SALAPHIEL, JEGUDIEL, & BARACHIEL - November 8th
SYNAXIS OF ARCHANGEL GABRIEL - July 13th
The Great Synaxaristes of the Orthodox Church - November, Trans from Greek by Holy Apostles Convent, Buena Vista, Co.
Angels by Semann
Angels by By His Holiness Amba Shenouda III