Synaxis of the Holy Archangels
Every morning and evening, as well as at every Divine Liturgy, faithful Christians recite the Symbol of Faith, the confession into which they were baptised and became members of the Church, the Body of Christ. In this Creed, we confess our belief in one God who is maker “of all things visible and invisible”, that is, of both the material and spiritual parts of creation. The tradition of the Church tells us about an invisible spiritual world which is much more vast than the material world we see with our eyes, the inhabitants of which are far more numerous than us human beings: “angels, archangels, thrones, dominions, principalities, authorities, powers, the many-eyed Cherubim” and the six-winged Seraphim, as we read in the Divine Liturgy of St Basil the Great.
Today we celebrate the Synaxis of all the bodiless powers of heaven, but in particular the two great Archangels Michael and Gabriel.
The Archangel Michael, who is normally depicted with a sword in his hand, is the defender against evil and sin. In many icons we see Satan, the former angel of light Lucifer, beneath his feet. As you know, the fall of man was preceded by the fall of a third of the angels — “I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven”, says the Lord (Luke 10:18). This fall is described in greater detail in the Revelation of John: “There was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him” (Revelation 12:7–9).
Tradition tells us that Michael, on seeing the fall of Satan and his angels, cried out to the remaining angels, “Let us stand with awe, let us stand with fear!”, exhorting them to remain faithful.
We too, at every Divine Liturgy, begin the anaphora — the summit of Christian worship — with the same exhortation: “Let us stand with awe, let us stand with fear, let us attend to the holy oblation, that in peace we may offer mercy, peace: a sacrifice of praise”. We use the Archangel’s words because that war is also our war, because it is not only angels and demons who belong to the invisible world — we human beings do too. Man is unique among creatures in that he alone is both material and spiritual, and the purpose of man is to unite those two parts of creation — the material and the spiritual — and as priest of creation to offer back to God the whole of the world in order that the whole world may be united to Him.
This is why we see that, with the fall of the angels, only angels fell, but with the fall of man, the entire world fell. This is also why it is not enough for man to say “Let us stand aright” (Stomen kalos), but we also need to add “let us attend to the holy oblation” — in other words, humanity must fulfil its role as the “royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9), which is only possible when man is in communion with Christ as a member of His Body.
And it is this position that Gabriel, the second Archangel, calls us back to, when he with the words “rejoice” and “fear not” announces to us the restoration of humanity through the incarnation, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Fr Kristian Akselberg