1. THE ARCHANGEL MICHAEL
The Archangel Michael is one of the three angels whose names we know. The two others are Gabriel and Raphael.
Our Church reminds us of the angels in numerous ways: through their icons, their feast-days and in the divine services. On the 8 th of November, the three of them are celebrated together. It is the feast-day of the "Summoning of the Commanders of all angelic hosts, Michael and Gabriel and the other non-corporeal and heavenly hosts".
In the divine service of the feast-day, in place of the apostolic reading, we hear an excerpt of the Epistle to Hebrews (2, 2-10). In it, among other things, it is said that God created mankind slightly inferior to the angels and crowned him with glory and honor (psalm 8,6). However, Satan coveted man's good fortune, so the Lord's sacrifice was necessary in order to dissolve Satan's work and for the closed gates of Paradise to re-open.
The downfall of Satan is also mentioned in the evangelical reading of the feast-day of the holy non-corporeal hosts (Luke 10, 16-21). The seventy disciples of Christ (the outer circle) on their return from one of their travels, confess Satan's defeat in view of the miracles that they performed. Their Master reassures them that Satan indeed lost his authority and his might: "He (Christ) said to them: they saw Satan fall from the heavens like a streak of lightning" (Luke 10, 18).
The preceding excerpts are related to the feast day of the angels. The evil spirits, before falling from their high posts, were benevolent and radiant angels. However, they had shown -out of arrogance- their desire to become similar to God. That is why Basil the Great says: " it is as though the first sin was hubris and arrogance" (BGF 56,111)
God justifiably punished those rebels. Those angels, who were originally servants of good, had become inspirers of evil. Their reckless deed became an example to be avoided by the others. " Michael, the distinguished Chief of the non-corporeal Powers..., on seeing the defector (Satan) fallen, summoned the hosts of angels and after declaring 'Let us take heed!' he praised with his voice the Lord of all, as if saying: "We that were created, have taken heed to that which happened to those who were with us, who until now were light and have now become darkness. Hence, this summoning was named the Summoning of Angels, in other words, for attention, concord and unity " (from the feast-day readings)
The first battle against Satan and his hosts was won by the Archangel Michael. But it was not the only one. The Holy Bible mentions Michael in battle with Satan and finally defeating him in the war that will take place at the end of time. "And there was a war in heaven; Michael and his angels were battling against the dragon; and the dragon fought with his angels, but he was overpowered and there was no place for him ever again in heaven. (Revelation 12, 7-8)
In view of this perpetual struggle between the archangel Michael and Satan, it is only natural that this high-ranking angel is mostly portrayed in military attire, with a bared sword in hand in most of his icons. This is the way he is portrayed on the right-hand portal adjacent to the Main Portal to the Holy Altar; he is accompanied by the archangel Gabriel, who is portrayed on the left portal adjacent to the Main Portal. They are the two, ever-watchful guardians of the Inner Sanctum. With his "unsheathed sword in hand", the archangel had also appeared to Joshua in the past (Joshua 5, 13-15)
Consequently, in our rough and painful battles against evil, we are not alone or undefended. We are shadowed by the grace of the archangel and are thus fortified. The illustrious light of the archangel dissolves the darkness of evil and becomes the beacon that sheds its light around us. In this way, we can easily discern the vicious adversary's trickery. This is what the poet in his glorification hymn praises :
" Wherever the shadow of your grace falls, Archangel , there the power of the devil is driven away; the fallen Lucifer cannot bear to remain in your luminance. Hence we ask you to extinguish the flaming arrows that he aims against us, delivering us from his scandals through your mediation, o praiseworthy Archangel Michael "
The hymns of his feast-day, the 8 th November, are not only victorious paeans that exalt and proclaim the triumph of the primate of the angelic hosts, Michael; they are also glorifications and thanksgiving prayers of the faithful. They combine with the hymns that are perpetually sung by the angels in heaven as they encircle God's throne. Thus, the archangel Michael -as the commander of all divine hosts- invites all the faithful who live on earth to "join the joyous celebration of the Summoning, along with all the angels".
Together with the angels, the "blessed powers", we cry out to the Lord, saying: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Sabaoth; the sky and the earth are filled with your glory. Hosanna to the One on high. Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna to the One on high." However, there is a difference that makes the prayer of the faithful even more fervent. It is underlined in the celebrational hymns of the feast-day. We are reminded that the lips of the angels are non-corporeal, fiery and flaming. Their mouths are spiritual and never silent, and their hymn is incessant. We, on the other hand, are unworthy - our lips are earthen and "materialistic".
This abysmal difference between holy angels and the struggling faithful is stressed in a hymn of the feast-day, in the question posed:
"What mortal of nine-month gestation can possibly say something worthy enough
for the nine Legions (of angelic hosts) ??
The nine legions of angels are:
Apart from the feast day on the 8 th of November, there are other days in which we honor the holy angels: on the 26 th March and 13 th July we celebrate the Summoning of the Archangel Gabriel; on the 6 th September our Church celebrates a miracle by the Archangel Michael; from the days of the week, Monday has been dedicated to the angels.
After all that we said about the angels, and especially Michael, let us examine an icon of the majestic Archangel .
Description of the icon. The icon that is found in the Byzantine Museum of Athens is of the 14 th century, of excellent craftsmanship, and originates from the school of Constantinople . The Archangel is upright, facing forward and looking straight at the observer. His broad shoulders with the powerful wings are indicative of his power. He wears a red garment, and on top of it, he wears a dark mantle that covers his left shoulder. On his right forearm, he bears the band that normally distinguishes angels. In his right hand, he is holding a staff, symbolic of a messenger and his authority. In our icon, the staff also acts as a weapon. With it, the archangel strikes and exterminates the enemies of the faithful and also performs miracles with it. In his left hand, he holds the sphere that symbolizes the world, with a cross on it. On the sphere are inscribed the letters Χ Δ Κ (Christ the Just Judge ).
He has a thick crop of hair. We can discern the band that it is tied with, and the ends of the band that appear to be windblown. As for the armband - we see it in every depiction of angels- it " denotes the purity of their mind..... given that they are pure and non-corporeal beings, this armband is a kind of insignia of their absolute and celestial chastity. And just as their hair appears to be bound, signifying that they do not preoccupy themselves with miscellaneous and redundant things but only the divine and the necessary, thus is their mind likewise bound, in its heavenward preoccupation" (Simeon of Thessaloniki, PG 155, 869B).
The archangel's face shows sweetness, tranquility and a commanding presence. It is the mirror of his holiness and his ethical perfection. The liveliness of his gaze adds to his features a certain intensity and severity; this, however, is very appropriate for his ministry: he is an annihilator; he is the vindicating angel.
The icon is inscribed: THE ARCHANGEL MICHAEL - THE GREAT COMMANDER OF HOSTS.
As we look upon the icons of angels, a petition of the Church rises to our lips:
"Let us ask from the Lord an angel of peace, a faithful guide, a guardian for our souls and our bodies."