The Archangel Michael (detail, north door)

The Holy Archangel Michael
and all the Bodiless Powers
of Heaven (November 8)

The angels of God have been commemorated by men from the earliest times, but this commemoration often degenerates into the divinization of angels (IV Kings 23:5; A.V. II Kings). Heretics always wove fantasies round the angels. Some of them saw the angels as gods and others, if they did not so regard them, took them to be the creators of the whole visible world. The local Council in Laodicea, that was held in the fourth century, rejected in its 35th Canon the worship of angels as gods, and established the proper veneration of them. In the time of Pope Sylvester of Rome and the Alexandrian Patriarch Alexander, in the fourth century, this Feast of the Archangel Michael and the other heavenly powers was instituted, to be celebrated in November. Why in November? Because November is the ninth month after March, and it is thought that the world was created in the month of March. The ninth month after March was chosen because of the nine orders of angels that were the first created beings. St Dionysius the Areopagite, writes of these nine orders in his book, “Celestial Hierarchies.” These orders are as follows: six‑winged Seraphim, many‑eyed Cherubim, godly Thrones, Dominions, Virtues, Powers, Principalities, Archangels and Angels.

In Mother Alexandra’s book, “The Holy Angels,” these nine orders are further divided into three hierarchies. The third level includes Michael with the Principalities, Archangels, and Angels. Their special domain is the earth. they execute God’s will, are continuous guardians of the children of men, and messengers of God. The holy angels are “more than the bearers of divine messages and the guides of men: they are bearers of the very Name and Power of God … they are flashes of the light and strength of the Almighty Lord.”

The leader of the whole angelic army is the Archangel Michael. He is mentioned by name four times in Scripture: twice in Dan (10:13 ff. and 12:1), where he is represented a the helper of the Chosen People, once in Jude (v.9), disputing with the devil over the body of Moses, and once in Rev. (12:7–9), fighting the dragon. In Joshua 5:13–15, a “man” with a drawn sword in his hand appeared before Joshua, identifying himself as the “commander of the army of the Lord.”

By tradition, the Archangel Michael also represents the "cherubs and the fiery sword that turns about to keep the way of the tree of life" from Adam and Eve after God had expelled them from the "Garden of Delight" (Gen. 3:25. Since the sanctuary represents the Kingdom of Life, the movement from the sanctuary is always out through this door, while the door with the Archangel Gabriel represents our return to Paradise, because he announced to the Virgin the Good News that Immanuel was to come: God with us.

Archangel Michael also plays an important part in the apocryphal literature, e.g. in the “Assumption of Moses,” in “Enoch,” and in the “Ascension of Isaiah,” where he appears as “the great captain” “who is set over the best part of mankind.” In connection with the scriptural and apocryphal passages he was early regarded in the Church as the helper of Christian armies against the heathen, and as a protector of individual Christians against the devil, especially at the hour of death, when he conducts the souls to God. His cult originated in Phrygia, where he was chiefly venerated as a healer, and many hot springs were dedicated to him both in Greece and Asia.

When Satan, Lucifer, fell away from God, and carried half the angels with him to destruction, then Michael arose and cried to the un-fallen angels: “Let us give heed! Let us stand aright; let us stand with fear!” and the whole angelic army sang aloud: “Holy, holy, holy Lord God of Sabaoth; heaven and earth are full of Thy glory!” Among the angels there rules a perfect unity of mind, of soul and of love; of total obedience of the lesser powers to the greater and of all to the holy will of God. Each nation has its guardian angel, as does each individual Christian. We must keep in mind that, whatever we do, openly or in secret, we do in the presence of our guardian angel and that, on the Day of Judgment, a great multitude of the holy angels of heaven will be gathered around the throne of Christ, and the thoughts, words and deeds of every man will be laid bare before them. May God have mercy on us and save us at the prayers of the holy Archangel Michael and all the bodiless powers of heaven. Amen.

The Archangel Gabriel (detail, south door)

The Other Bodiless Powers Commemorated

That the angels are constantly involved in this world is testified to, clearly and unmistakably, in Holy Scripture. Both from the Scriptures and from Holy Tradition, the Orthodox Church has learned the names of the seven leaders of the heavenly powers: Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, Uriel, Salathiel, Jegudiel and Barachiel (and to these is sometimes added an eighth, Jeremiel).

  1. “Michael” in Hebrew means “Who is like God?” or “Who is equal to God?” St Michael was depicted in the earliest Christian times as a leader, bearing a spear in his right hand with which he attacks Lucifer, Satan, and holding in his left hand a branch of green palm. At the top of the spear is a plaited braid with a red Cross. On our icons, Michael and Gabriel have lightening bolts streaming from their heads, signifying the speed with which they move from one place to another. The Archangel Michael is considered especially to be the guardian of the Orthodox faith and a fighter against heresy.
  2. “Gabriel” means “man of God” or “power of God.” He is the herald of the mysteries of God, especially the mystery of the Incarnation and all those that are linked with it.
  3. Raphael” means “God’s healing,” or “God the Healer” (Tobias 3:17; 12:15).
  4. “Uriel” means “fire” or “light of God” (II Esdras 4:1; 5:20)
  5. “Salathiel” means “one who prays to God” (I1 Esdras 5:16).
  6. “Jegudiel” means “one who glorifies God.”
  7. “Barachiel” means “the blessing of God.”
  8. “Jeremiel” means “God’s exaltation.” He is venerated as an inspirer and awakener of those higher thoughts that raise a man God‑ward.

— Composite of the Prologue, ODCC, and Mother Alexandra, The Holy Angels.

Troparion Tone IV

Supreme commanders of the heavenly armies, we, the unworthy, do ever entreat you, that by your prayers ye surround us with the protection of the wings of your immaterial glory, preserving us that earnestly fall down before you and cry aloud: Deliver us from misfortunes, in that ye are the leaders of the hosts on high.

Kontakion Tone II

O ye chief commanders of God, ministers of glory divine, captains of the angels and instructors of men: beg ye great mercy and that which is profitable for us, for ye are the supreme commanders of the bodiless hosts.