Leonty, Metropolitan of Moscow – Why does the Archangel Michael have a martial appearance?
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.
It is for this reason that the Archangel Michael, as the major combatant for the glory of God, as the vanquisher of the devil and his angels, is considered by the Church to be the leader of all the angels, supreme among all the heavenly hosts and commander of all heavenly ranks. For this reason he is always depicted in military fashion, with a sword or lance in his hand, and having under his feet the dragon, the evil spirit whom he conquered and cast down.
The victory over the evil spirits that took place in heaven was only the beginning of the warfare that went on and to this day continues on earth. God’s enemy, cast down from heaven, arose with renewed fury and power against God’s entire earthly kingdom: out of envy towards the bliss which God had granted to man, he upset the paradisiacal life of our forefathers, and amid sweet paradise he sowed thorns and thistles. It is impossible to even list all the misfortunes, all the sorrows and suffering of mankind which this enemy of God and man brought into the world, to even enumerate all the machinations which this “original man-killer” employs against humans, in order to hinder our communion with God and bar our way to rapture. He was an enemy of man not only prior to the coming of the Son of God into the world to destroy the devil’s deeds, but even now, after the coming of the Saviour to earth, after the devil’s kingdom has been destroyed, he continues to wage war against the Church of God and against each one of us.
He either incites wars and struggles between nations, or sows heresies and schisms or the chaff of iniquity and depravity among the faithful; he spies upon man’s innermost thoughts, notices his weaknesses and inclinations, flatters his passions, leads him into temptation, uses every possible instance to destroy the servants of God and, in order to seduce them more easily, often transforms himself into a bright angel.
No one is free from his wiles. Who is it, then, who combats this ancient enemy here on earth? Undoubtedly the holy Archangel Michael and his heavenly warriors are among the first to do so. So to what does the martial appearance of the leader of the heavenly host, who zealously fights for the glory of God, spur us? To have the same zeal for God, to always be alert, to always be ready to stand firm against the devil’s attacks. It spurs us, while we are being attacked by God’s enemy, to appeal to the Archangel with a prayer for help and intercession, for the leader of the bodiless host in heaven is obviously the best defender of those who are subjected to the devil’s attacks on earth.
In order for us to be in constant contact with the heavenly forces, we must follow the example of their purity and loyalty to the Lord of the hosts. Otherwise, what will we have in common with the heavenly host if we allow our heart to become the domain of vices and passions? What help will we receive from the heavenly warriors if we ourselves, through transgression of God’s commandments, maintain a criminal union with the enemy? For this reason the holy Church, summoning us to this present feast, proclaims: “Come, all ye faithful of Christ, let us venerate the host of the Archangels with pure thoughts and in good conscience.” O holy Archangel of God Michael, together with the host of the bodiless powers, save us from our enemies! Amen.