The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him, and delivers them.
What is an angel? In the Creed which we recite at the Divine Liturgy, we begin with a confession of “I believe in One God, the Father, Almighty, creator of heaven and earth and all things visible and invisible.” God created angels as part of an invisible world that was created before the visible world. In Job 38:7 we read “While the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?”(NIV) There are nine orders, grouped in three hierarchies, of angels that have been identified. The Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones are the first hierarchy, and they stand closest to God. The second hierarchy are the Powers, Dominions and Principalities. The third hierarchy include Virtues, Archangels and Angels. These are the ones that are closest to man.
The Archangels are God’s messengers. The Archangel Gabriel is identified as the specific angels who told Zacharias about the birth of John the Baptist and who told the Virgin Mary about the Incarnation of Christ. In Luke 2, we hear of the multitude of angels announcing the Incarnation to the shepherds.
In the Orthodox Church, we believe in guardian angels. Whether there is a specific angel who is assigned to our lives (as some believe) or whether angels (plural) are around us (as some believe) is not what is most relevant. We believe there are angels around us, protecting us, guiding us, praying for us, and comforting us. At every Vespers, Orthros, Divine Liturgy and wedding, we pray a petition, “For an angel of peace, a faithful guide, a guardian of our souls and bodies, let us ask of the Lord.” In other words, we are praying for God’s angels to be close to us at all times, to guide us to live faithful lives, and to guard both our souls and bodies, keeping us safe from harm that might come from others and harm that might come from ourselves (bad thoughts which lead to bad actions).
Psalm 34:7, today’s verse, reads “The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him, and delivers them.” The “Him” in the verse refers to the Lord, not to the angel. This Psalm is entitled “Praise for Deliverance from Trouble.” “Fear of the Lord” is not so much that one is frightened or scared but that one has an “awe” of the Lord, a healthy respect for the Lord. That almost sounds too casual. When I celebrate the Divine Liturgy, I have a healthy respect for what I am doing—calling down the Holy Spirit, handling the Holy Gifts. I am not in fear, in the sense of being frightened. If I was so frightened, I wouldn’t celebrate the Divine Liturgy. I do, however, have a sense of awe, reverence and respect for what I am privileged to do. I have also a sense of fear of God’s judgment on my life and at times wonder am I really worthy to be doing this or should I stop, for fear that I am not. And this is where Psalm 34:7 comes in, and provides a sense of comfort and reassurance that what I’m doing is okay, and that angels are camped around me, watching, guiding and protecting me in what I am doing.
I’m sure there are many jobs where someone has a healthy fear, or awe of what they are doing. A surgeon comes to mind—what they do is so delicate, it has to induce at least a little bit of fear once in a while. There are many jobs where there is little or no margin for error—the obvious air traffic controller, police officer, and firefighter are the first that come to mind. How about architects and engineers? One mistake there and a bridge might collapse. Teachers have the power to screw up students. Parents have the power to mess up their children. There are lots of things where there seems to be little margin of error. And this is where we pray God’s angels come in, to guide our thoughts, our words, our actions, our hands (for the surgeons) and our lives.
Since angels praise God and they are around us, we can conclude that angels also help us to praise God. The hymn that is quoted below is a beautiful composition we sang a few days ago on the feast of St. Andrew. “Christ is born, glorify Him” (Christos Genate) was sung beginning on November 21, the “official announcement” if you will that we have entered the Nativity season. It is sung every day from November 21-December 25. The next hymn mentioning the Nativity is “I Parthenos Simeron”, the Kontakion sung at the Divine Liturgy from November 26-December 24. And the third hymn is on November 30, at the end of the Orthros on the feast of St. Andrew. The hymn summarizes the event of the Incarnation and concludes with the words “Let everything that breathes praise the Lord.” Angels, guardians of our souls and bodies, not only speak to us and protect us, they also help us to praise God. When we pray the words of Psalm 50/51:15, “Lord, open Thou my lips, and my mouth shall show forth Thy praise,” it is the angels who are helping us to do this. And because it is always an “awe”-some thing to praise the Lord, we should not only be in awe of the Lord but in awe of the angels who help us to praise Him and who help guide us to Him, as the faithful guardians of our souls and bodies.
O Bethlehem, welcome the Mother-city of God. For she is coming to give birth to the never-setting light. Angels in heaven, marvel; people on earth, give glory. Magi from Persia, bring your triply precious gift. Shepherds in the field, sing the Thrice-holy hymn. Let everything that breathes praise the Lord who does all things. (Ke nin, from the praises, on November 30)
Personal Reflection Point: What kind of fear do you think the psalmist is telling us about?