Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015. The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website! Fr. Stavros has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God. Luke 2:13
Good morning Prayer Team!
Who are the angels? They figure very prominently in the Nativity story. And they are mentioned sporadically throughout the Bible.
In Genesis 3, after the Fall of mankind, we read that God “drove out the man (from the Garden of Eden); and at the east of the Garden of Eden He placed the Cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the Tree of Life.” (Genesis 3:24) Orthodox tradition holds that this is the Archangel Michael. This is why on the icon screen of every church, the Archangel Michael is depicted on the left side of the icon screen. And his icon is a door from which all processions begin. They procession “comes out” of the Archangel Michael door, because he guards the door from which we “came out” of the Garden of Eden.
In Isaiah 6, the Prophet speaks of a vision of the Seraphim, another type of angel: “I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and His train filled the temple. Above Him stood the Seraphim; each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory.’” (Isaiah 6:1-3)
The Psalms speak of a Guardian Angel, who watches over us: “Because you have made the Lord your refuge, the Most High your habitation, no evil shall befall you, no scourge come near your tent. For He will give His angels charge of you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands, they will bear you up.” (Psalm 91:9-12) Cartoons often depict a white angel sitting on the shoulder of a character, encouraging him or her to make a good decision, with a red devil sitting on the other shoulder, tempting him or her to make a bad one. And while we do not depict such a thing in our iconography, we believe both that the devil comes to tempt us (not necessarily in obvious ways like a red-horned man sitting on our shoulder but through more subtle ways) and that angels come to guard, guide and protect us. Though we do not have a white angel sitting on our shoulders, we believe that we have guardian angels, unseen guardians that guide and guard us.
The angels bring messages from God to us. The Archangel Gabriel figures prominently in the Nativity narrative. In Luke 1:19, it is the Archangel Gabriel who tells Zacharias that he and Elizabeth would bear the Forerunner of Christ in their old age: “And the angel answered him, ‘I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God; and I was sent to speak to you, and to bring you this good news.’” (Luke 1:19) It is also the Archangel Gabriel who makes the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary: “In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a Virgin betrothed to a men whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the Virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said: ‘Hail, O Favored One, the Lord is with you!’” (Luke 1:26-28)
The angels were created by God. Orthodox theology holds that there are nine orders of angels: Angels, Archangels, Thrones, Dominions, Principalities, Authorities, Powers, the Cherubim and the Seraphim. In Colossians 1:15-16, St. Paul writes: “He (Christ) is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; for in Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities—all things were created through Him and for Him.” And St. Basil, in the Anaphora of his liturgy, writes: For You are praised by the angels, archangels, thrones, dominions, principalities, authorities, powers and the many eyed Cherubim. Round about you stand the Seraphim, one with six wings, and the other with six wings; with two they cover their faces; with two they cover their feet; with two they fly, crying out to one another with unceasing voices and ever-resounding praises.”
So, the role of the angels is to be God’s messengers. In the Nativity account, the Archangel delivered the news to the Virgin Mary of the Incarnation of Christ. And the multitude of the heavenly host delivered the message to the Shepherds. How AWESOME it must have been for even one angel to deliver the good news. But then imagine a multitude of the heavenly hosts appeared, surrounded by God’s glory, what a sight that must have been to behold. It would be beyond awesome. And STILL the busy city of Bethlehem did not notice—that almost seems to defy comprehension as well.
We, too, are surrounded by angels that guide us, guard us and give us messages and signs from God. Are we like the shepherds, in awe of the message? Or are we like Bethlehem, totally oblivious?
One more comment on angels, which is this—God has sent His angels to guard, guide and protect us. However, He has also empowered US to play this role for one another. If God can work through powers that are unseen, He most certainly can work through people who ARE seen. We also must take on the role of angels, in the sense of encouraging people to do what is good, and encouraging others to do what pleases God. If we hope to one day be with the angels, then we must learn to act like angels as well.
Praise Him, all you His angels; praise Him, all you His hosts. To You, O God is due our song. (The Praises, Orthros of the Nativity, Trans. Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Be “angelic” today!
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The Orthodox Christian Network (OCN) is an official agency of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops. OCN offers videos, podcasts, blogs and music, to enhance Orthodox Christian life. The Prayer Team is a daily devotion written by Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis, the parish priest at St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, Florida. Devotions include a verse from scripture, a commentary from Fr. Stavros, and a short prayer that he writes to match the topic.
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