Saint Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessalonica – Sermon on the Entry of the Mother of God into the Temple.
If a tree is known by its fruit, and a good tree bears good fruit (Mt. 7:17; Lk. 6:44), then is not the Mother of Goodness Itself, She who bore the Eternal Beauty, incomparably more excellent than every good, whether in this world or the world above? Therefore, the coeternal and identical Image of goodness, Preeternal, transcending all being, He Who is the preexisting and good Word of the Father, moved by His unutterable love for mankind and compassion for us, put on our image, that He might reclaim for Himself our nature which had been dragged down to uttermost Hades, so as to renew this corrupted nature and raise it to the heights of Heaven. For this purpose, He had to assume a flesh that was both new and ours, that He might refashion us from out of ourselves. Now He finds a Handmaiden perfectly suited to these needs, the supplier of Her own unsullied nature, the Ever-Virgin now hymned by us, and Whose miraculous Entrance into the Temple, into the Holy of Holies, we now celebrate. God predestined Her before the ages for the salvation and reclaiming of our kind. She was chosen, not just from the crowd, but from the ranks of the chosen of all ages, renowned for piety and understanding, and for their God-pleasing words and deeds.
According to the teaching of the Orthodox Church, before creating the visible world the Lord God created the invisible world, i.e. the angels. Among these superior beings there occurred a battle which led to the division of all the angels into good and evil spirits. At the head of the first stood the Archangel Michael, whose feast we are now commemorating, while the second were led by one of the supreme angels who had wrongly understood his perfection. Enticing others to go along with him, he arrogantly rebelled against God. From that time on these tainted forces, having been thrown down from heaven, relentlessly do evil to people, pushing them into the abyss of sin and eternal torture in which they themselves sojourn. They are combated by the good angels, who, on the contrary, restrain man from all bad things and direct him towards salvation in the Heavenly Kingdom. As a loyal host, some of them surround the throne of God, singing continuously: Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Sabaoth, heaven and earth are full of Thy glory, while others announce God’s will to people, which is indicated by the very word “angel,” which means messenger. And, finally, there are still others who are appointed by the Lord to oversee both entire peoples and cities, as well as individuals, and they are therefore called guardian angels. Thus, one of the supreme angels was sent to Joshua in the Old Testament. Angels were sent many times to aid the Israeli judge Gideon, the prophet Elias, the prophet Daniel, and many others. In the New Testament the Archangel Gabriel brought to the Virgin Mary glad tidings of the beginning of salvation, angels announced the nativity of Christ to the shepherds, an angel warned of Herod’s evil intentions, and an angel appeared to the magi, restraining them from going back to Herod. An angel comforted the Saviour before His sufferings, and angels brought glad tidings of Christ’s resurrection to the myrrh-bearing women. Angels appeared to the apostles in prison, to Apostle Philip, to Cornelius the centurion, to Apostle Peter, and to many others. And finally, when the Son of man returns to earth in glory, He will be accompanied by all the holy angels.
As we celebrate the synaxis of the holy Archangel Michael, let us turn our pious attention to the image of the leader of the heavenly host and make use of the instruction which the Church wishes to give to all the faithful through him. On his icon we see Archangel Michael depicted in military dress. What does this mean? Why does a denizen of heaven, where peace and love reign, appear to be fully armed? In heaven, where, according to the Scriptures, nothing unclean can enter, there is undoubtedly no movement of impure passions such as we have on earth, and there is a total absence of the impure desires that cause strife among people, and, therefore, everything in heaven is peaceful and harmonious. But there was once warfare even in that kingdom of peace and love. Who rose up and fought against whom? One of the supreme spirits, who possessed the greatest perfection – Lucifer, rose up with arrogance and pride against his Creator and Master of all; he was followed by many other spirits, who made up a terrible host of disturbers of heavenly order. It was then that from the midst of the angels emerged a fighter for the glory of God – the holy Archangel Michael. Gathering all the angelic ranks and hosts that were loyal to God, he loudly cried out: “Let us stand in good faith before our Creator, and let us not take part in any revolt against God.” Then, standing at the head of the bodiless spirits, he sang the triumphant hymn: “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord of Sabaoth!” And soon afterwards all the evil spirits were cast down from heaven.