November 21, 2015
Today we have the opportunity to celebrate a feast which is unique in our Church calendar, the feast of the Angels. All of the other saints which we celebrate, like St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, St. Herman of Alaska, St. Seraphim of Sarov, and so many others, were human beings, flesh and blood just like us. But today we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Archangel Michael and all the nine ranks of the holy, heavenly, bodiless hosts – including our own Guardian Angels. Because they are spiritual and bodiless, we relate to them in spiritual ways. Because we are earthly and weighed down with worldly cares and passions, this feast presents a great challenge for us.
When we human beings say things like “from the beginning” we are often referring to the beginning of human history or the beginning of civilization, or even to the beginning of the creation of our cosmos. But Holy Scripture testifies to us that when God created the stars in the heavens, all His angels rejoiced. So before the beginning, so to speak, there were the spiritual powers, and at the Creation of the Universe two worlds were created – the heavenly, spiritual world – and the earthly material world which we inhabit.
Speaking of the creation of the angelic hosts, St. Gregory the Theologian said, ”Since for the goodness of God it was not sufficient to be occupied only with the contemplation of Himself, but it was needful that good should extend further and further, so that the number of those who have received grace might be as many as possible (because this is characteristic of the highest Goodness) — therefore, God devised first of all the angelic heavenly powers; and the thought became deed, which was fulfilled by the Word, and perfected by the Spirit … And inasmuch as the first creatures were pleasing to Him, He devised another world, material and visible, the orderly composition of heaven and earth, and that which is between them.”
The question arises: “How do we know anything at all about the nature of the angels, not being able to see them with our physical eyes? It turns out that if we read our Bible, we will see that the angels are featured there in many places. The Holy Archangel Michael was assigned to the people of Israel, who were often disorderly and disobedient. The Archangel Michael shepherded them in the wilderness, turned their hearts back to the true worship of God when they began to worship idols, and gave them victories over their adversaries. The Archangel Gabriel spoke the words of the Annunciation to the Most Pure Virgin at the moment when the Holy Spirit conceived in her womb. The Archangel Raphael healed Tobit of his blindness. And the Holy Apostle Paul, as we know, was raised to the third heaven where he saw the spiritual world invisible to us with all its order and splendor. St. Paul had a disciple, St. Dionysius the Aereopagite, to whom he described this other world, and St. Dionysius describes for us the ranks and orders of the heavenly hosts.
What is important for us to understand on this feast? I would present you with two things. First, we all need to be more aware of our guardian angel. The guardian angels are the lowest of the ranks of the angels (in contrast to the Cherubim and Seraphim, who stand ever close to the throne of God and proclaim “Holy, Holy, Holy” without ceasing) and are the closest to us humans. Our guardian angel is assigned to us at our baptism, and he rejoices when we do good – but weeps when we do evil. St. Niphon, bishop of Constantia, with his spiritual eyes was able to see and converse with one man’s guardian angel. The angel was outside on the street weeping, and told St. Niphon that he was weeping because the man to whom he was entrusted had been in continuous sin for several days. The angel could not go near him and grieved for the man who so ignorantly gave himself over to evil. When we are considering indulging some sinful passion, when we have the urge to do something wicked, we should know that our guardian angel is there nearby, waiting for our decision. It is interesting that we often call little children angels, because we are enamored with their sweet appearance. It’s not really theologically correct of course, but there is some truth in this habit of ours. One of the special missions of the guardian angels is the protection and spiritual nourishment of children. While the young soul is being formed and before it can choose good or evil, the angels mystically whisper good things to the child and prepare the child for the time when he or she will experience the world as a fully-formed person. This is why children often see things we do not see and say the most perceptive things in the time before they are weighed down with choices and temptations.
Second, we need to understand that if we are being saved by the grace of God and the Holy Mysteries of our Church, then our destiny is with the angels. We are supposed to eventually inhabit the world in which they live, the heavenly and spiritual world. Sometimes when I see how quick we are to hurt each other, how evil we can be, how easy it is for us to kill, to harm, to destroy, I have a hard time believing that our destiny is with the angels. I wonder why we have horror movies. The evening news is itself a horror movie. Spin the globe and put your finger anywhere. It will land on a place where people are killing, bombing, stealing, raping, looting, and harming each other. But when I meet holy people, and thank God I have met some holy people, I realize that it is not so impossible – our destiny is truly with the angels. We humans have a wide range of capability. It’s part of our specific and unique nature – unlike the nature of the angels which are bound and confirmed forever in holiness – we can descend to a level lower than the animals. Or we can ascend to the level of the angels. With this in mind I have a proposition to make. If our destiny is with the angels, could we please not wait until we DIE to begin this journey toward the heavenly and spiritual world? Let us begin this journey now, while we are living in this earthly and material world. If we do this we will become more light, more compassionate, more patient, more delicate, less coarse, less rough, less passionate. May God, through the intercessions of His Most Pure Mother, the Holy Archangel Michael and all the holy heavenly bodiless hosts, help us to do this beginning today. Amen.
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April 09, 2017
April 03, 2017
Given at Christ the Savior Orthodox Church in Wayne, WV after Pan-Orthodox Vespers.
What was it that made St. Mary different from us? What made her into such a wondrous saint? And as we look back on our Lenten struggle, and as we look forward to Holy Week and Pascha, what is there left for us to do?
What did St. Mary say herself about her life of repentance in the desert?
April 02, 2017
Given at the Hermitage of the Holy Cross during the Sunday Liturgy.
On this Fifth Sunday of Lent, we commemorate St. Mary of Egypt. We have become acquainted with her throughout the whole of Lent. We first chanted about her works in the first week of Lent during Compline when we chanted the Great Canon. We next heard of her life only a few days ago when the Great Canon was chanted in its entirety during Matins this past Wednesday. Today, as we come toward the end of this time of Lent and repentance, we reach the summit of our awareness of St. Mary on this Sunday dedicated to her commemoration.
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