St John of Kronstadt – Sermon on the Synaxis of Archangel Michael.
Today, dear brethren, we celebrate the glorious feast of the lightning-like Archangel Michael and all the heavenly bodiless powers. On this day let us talk of the boundless world of the angels; of their nature, of their hierarchy, and of the infinite mercy of God which has added us, Orthodox Christians, to this angelic host and has a formed a single Church made of angels and men; and subsequently of our responsibility to venerate them in a worthy manner and try to emulate them as our future compatriots in the celestial homeland; for which we earnestly pray to God, our common Creator.
St. Cyril of Alexandria says: If our earth, which serves as a focal point between two worlds, carries upon itself such a countless multitude of people and various other creatures, then how many times greater is the number of denizens inhabiting the immaterial heaven, which is so immense and incomprehensible to the mind?
The angels have a spiritual, immaterial, subtle, and immortal nature, free of all corruptibility, but limited, not like that of the Lord Himself, the Spirit – existing everywhere and unique, without beginning and all-encompassing. He brought forth the angels from nothingness into being, sanctified them with His word, and for their steadfastedness against evil confirmed them in the Holy Spirit (i.e. they can no longer fall into sin); their nature is full of wondrous, ever-shining light, holiness, goodness, beauty, wisdom, power, immortality, and an ardent love for their Creator, for each other, and for mankind, over whose salvation they rejoice, and whom they wish to have as their eternal compatriots in the kingdom of eternal light and incorruptibility, peace and joy. St. Dionysius the Areopagite, a disciple of the Apostle Paul who had been raised by the Holy Spirit to the third heaven, heard from him the mysterious teaching on the angelic world, recorded it, and passed it on to the Church.
The angelic world is divided into nine orders, and these are divided into three ranks each. The leading radiant angels (Michael and Gabriel), as the shining dawn of the Most-holy Trinity, stand directly before the fiery throne of God, are illuminated by His light, and pass on the illumination and the knowledge of God’s mysteries to the lower ranks, and the lower ranks are ruled by the higher ones. This heavenly citizenry, this universal, holy, radiant, and blessed assembly of celestial denizens is known as the heavenly hierarchy.
Let us contemplate with wonder God’s all-benevolent and wise providence, His immeasurable bounty, which has destined us for eternal co-habitation and bliss with the angels in our future homeland, and which established a single Church composed of radiant and incorruptible angels, and chosen and worthy humans. What humanly indescribable bliss awaits Christians who are loyal to God, if they remain true to their Christian calling to the very end. In order for us to be worthy of eternal co-existence and blissful life with the angels in heaven, we must honor them, follow their example of holiness, modesty, love, absolute loyalty to God, and loftiness of thought; and we must live in abstinence, prayer, fasting, charity, compassion for one another, and ardent mutual love.
The holy divinely-inspired observers of God’s mysteries and angelic visions – the prophets and the evangelists – saw the angels constantly turning to one another and with one accord singing the praises of the Holy Trinity. This teaches us, too, to treat each other with ardent love and to live in concord, earnestly serving our mutual Creator.
Glory to God’s immeasurable bounty, which prepared for us an eternal kingdom, a kingdom of radiant light, peace, and immovable bliss, together with the countless hosts of angels!
Let us use the small amount of time that we have here on earth to progress in Christian virtue in order to inherit that boundless rapture, and may the Lord grant it to us by the prayers of the Most-pure Theotokos and the intercession of the honorable celestial bodiless powers, especially the radiant, lightning-like Michael and Gabriel, and our holy guardian angels. Amen.
From the spiritual diary of St. John of Kronstadt, “My Life in Christ”
The angels’ mission in people’s lives
In the matter of God’s providence towards mankind, there must be intermediaries between people and God from the spiritual world, (since mankind occupies a middle ground between the spiritual and the physical worlds), who would guide us towards the higher realm, to wit: the angels. All of the Lord’s affairs exhibit amazing sequence and order; in all things He has lower ranks being guided by higher ones; from this stems the need for Christians who have been redeemed by the Lord’s blood to have guardian angels. Moreover, the angels themselves are filled with love for us and rejoice at the conversion of even a single sinner; and since love is an active force, the Lord gave full rein to this noble and useful endeavor of theirs. Guardian angels are also necessary to humans because of the evil spirits’ malicious action towards people: people themselves do not see them. Humans are very frail in spiritual life. Besides the grace of God there is still need of an entity filled with this grace, wise and strong in nature, and such are the angels. Moreover, after departure from this life, there must be witnesses to human actions on earth in order to counter the demons.
On venerating the angels and the saints
In venerating the angels we become filled with the life-giving conviction that there is another world of sentient beings who are absolutely pure, simple, and bodiless, and that consequently the existence of our soul after death is not only possible, but factual. And in venerating the saints we become accustomed to the same idea that there is life for us after death; that virtue and holiness are rewarded after death, and this means that if we live virtuously, we will be likewise rewarded; that evil is punished, as it is presented in the Gospel parable of the rich man and Lazarus, and this means that we, too, will be punished for the evil that we do here. In general, the veneration of angels and saints leads to significant spiritual benefit.
The Holy Spirit and the evil spirits
The Holy Spirit is called Comforter by His nature, which is peace, joy, and eternal rapture, and by His impact upon the souls of believers, whom He comforts as a mother in their virtues, their sufferings, sorrows, and illnesses, and their spiritual endeavors on behalf of faith. He is called Comforter in contrast to the spirit of dejection which often attaches itself to us. Each manifestation has a cause. Thus, having done a good deed, you rejoice and find comfort in your soul. Why? Because within you is the Spirit-Comforter, Who is everywhere present and fills all things, Who is the Treasury of good things, Who comforts us. Conversely, having done something bad, or not even having done anything, you sometimes feel terrible dejection in your soul. Why? Because you have allowed the evil spirit of dejection to overwhelm you. For example, you stand in prayer and you are overcome by dejection, whereas before prayer there was none; or you try to read a spiritual book, the Holy Scriptures for example, and again you are overcome by dejection, laziness, doubt, little belief, or lack of faith. Why? Because you are being tempted, you are being attacked by the evil spirits of dejection, doubt, and disbelief. You are standing in church at a divine service, and you become bored, depressed, lazy – this means you have been attacked by dejection. Why again? Because you are being overwhelmed by these same evil spirits. Or you take up some spiritual activity – and there is darkness and coldness in your heart and mind, and a weakening of your entire body. Why? Because the invisible enemy is attacking you. It is easy to prove: only cease doing all this, and everything will become so easy and pleasant, and there will be such openness in the soul and heart – you wonder from where it came. For this reason the Holy Spirit is so absolutely essential to all of us in our good deeds: He is our strength, power, light, peace, comfort.
The demons’ battle with the Holy Spirit
Since the Holy Spirit is a mighty power and the fear and torment of the demons, they use all their hellish wiles to oppose the Holy Spirit and to blaspheme Him. Since the Holy Spirit is a spirit of salvation, a spirit of unity, love, and peace, the demons comprehensively oppose unity, love, and the salvation of people. They were the cause of the division of churches into Eastern and Western – note that the division occurred precisely over the dogma of the Holy Spirit; they were the cause of further splintering of the Roman West into Lutheranism, Calvinism, and Anglicanism; they were the cause of the schism in our Orthodox Church. The demons also try their utmost – and have largely succeeded – to uproot faith in the Gospel and the Church of Christ from the hearts of Christians, which is also blasphemy against the Holy Spirit; they try their utmost to submerge Christians in deeds of the flesh and its iniquities, so that the Spirit of God would not dwell among men, as happened to antediluvian mankind; and do we not see how people have given themselves over to avarice, gluttony, drunkenness, and debauchery to such a great extent? What kind of corruption are we living in?! O, woe unto us, and very soon it will be even worse… The evil spirits also attack the Holy Spirit in the thoughts and hearts of individuals by shaking their belief in Him. Woe unto us! Let us not blaspheme God’s life-giving Holy Spirit, the Spirit of ineffable love, Who intercedes for us with unutterable sighs (Rom. 8:26); let us spend our entire life worshipping Him and glorifying Him, just as we worship and glorify the Father and the Son – with indivisible and equal honor. Let us honor the universal creed – this salvific guide to faith for believers of all times and all places. Let us not insult with a single thought of doubt the Holy Spirit living within us and reviving us, Who loves us immeasurably, as do the Father and the Son.