The Orthodox Pages



18th OCTOBER 2012











































































































































In recent years there has been much interest in the supernatural and especially on the powers of angels and demons. From the days of the Exorcist, a film which dealt with the practice of exorcism by the Roman Catholic Church, people were awakened to the reality of the devil and that his evil works are very real in the world. At the time the film was very frightening and shocking with hideous, blasphemous and gruesome details. Many people were reported to had been taken ill on seeing the film, which probably added to the high level of interest and curiosity; a curiosity for the unknown world of spirits and an unusual interest in the devil. Since then hundreds of films have come off the conveyer belt dealing with the supernatural and evil forces: each trying to be more frightening that the last. The majority were just cheap and silly productions, though some tried to approach the subject of the devil through scripture, but all fell short of the truth because the scriptures were interpreted though rational western minds and the film industry's need to exaggerate with the intent to shock. The more frightening the film, the more appealing it was to the public, the more cash in the industry's pockets.

But even though the films were not religiously correct, they did bring people face to face with the question of whether there was an ongoing spiritual battle between the forces of evil and the forces of good. People needed to know more and emphasis was now turned from the demons to the angels and their protective powers. A whole industry developed cashing in on the good powers of the angels and even fortune tellers who once used tarot cards for their false predictions turned to using angel cards, angel coloured rays and supposedly angel healing powers; these being more appealing than the older methods which many people associated with evil.
With such interest in angels and demons, and many fantasies and myths that surround them, we need to know what Scripture and the Church teaches on these entities. To begin, demons need not be mentioned because they too are angels that fell from the grace of God and from being angels of light became angels of darkness.
Angels are heavenly creatures created by God before the creation of the material world and man. Our Symbol of Faith says: "I believe in One God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible." The invisible world was God's first creation, the material world his second creation and third and last God created man which is both spirit and material.
In the Book of Genesis it says that: "in the beginning God created heaven and earth". The word heaven has been understood by some of the Fathers of the Church as meaning the invisible heaven; the world of angels and not the firmament which is part of the material world and therefore created later.
We do not know exactly when the angels were created although it is believed that they were created at the same time as heaven or just after. It is logical to say that as the earth was created before man as a ready habitation for him, so also heaven was created first before the angels as a ready habitation for them. From scripture we know that the angels were created before the stars for it says in the Book of Job: “When the stars were made, all Mine angels praised Me with a loud voice.” (Job 38:7)
Angels vary between themselves according to rank and illumination. St. Dionysius the Areopagite, a disciple of the Apostle Paul says that there is a spiritual hierarchy of the heavenly bodiless powers. There are nine ranks of angels which are known to us from scripture, which are divided into three groups of three. The first and highest group and those that stand closest to God consists of angels known as the Six-winged Seraphim, the many-eyed Cherubim and Thrones. The second group are known as Dominions, Powers and Authorities and the third group as Principalities, Archangels and Angels.
Many Church fathers like Sts. Ignatius the God-bearer, Gregory the Theologian, John Chrysostom, Gregory the Dialogist, John of Damascus and others all agree that the ranks of angels are nine. We know the names of these ranks through Holy Scripture. The existence of angels and archangels is witnessed throughout Holy Scripture. The Book of Genesis, Exodus and the Psalms mention the Cherubim, The Book of Isaiah the Seraphim. The other ranks of angels are known to us from the Epistles of St. Paul to the Romans, Ephesians and Colossians. That these names refer to created beings is clear from the Epistle to the Colossians which says: "For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him." (Colossians 1:16)
It is possible that there are also other ranks that are not known to us. St. John Chrysostom and others were of the opinion that there were numerous and unimaginable other ranks of angels that inhabit the heavens. This they based on Paul's letter to the Ephesians where he says that the Father raised up Christ: "and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come." (Ephesians 1: 20-21) From this we understand that there are names that are unknown to us now, but in that future time will be revealed to us. These ideas, however, are regarded by the Church not as dogma, but as personal opinions which may or may not be true.
So what are angels, what is their nature, why were they created, what is their purpose in relationship to God and what is their purpose in relationship to man? Let's begin with what are angels and what is their nature.
As pure spiritual beings, the angels don't have a material body and therefore do not have bodily needs. They are sexless, in other words, because they have no body they are neither male nor female and cannot multiply nor have any such desire. They do not decay or die and, as with the creation of man, they also were created in God's image with the gift of free will and independence, having the possibility to choose between obedience or disobedience to God.
St. John of Damascus says of the angels: "An angel is an intelligent essence and rational, in perpetual motion, with free-will, bodiless, ministering to God, having obtained by grace an immortal nature: and the Creator alone knows the form and limitation of its essence. But all that we can understand is that it is spiritual and bodiless. An angel is spiritual and bodiless in relation to us, but when compared to God who alone is incomparable, the angel is found to be dense and material. For in reality only God is bodiless and spiritual.
The angel, as a created nature is subject to change for only God is unchangeable. Thus an angel like man created with intelligence, free will and subject to change, has the power to either abide or progress in goodness or to turn towards evil.
But unlike man who, because of the weakness of his body, has the possibility to repent, an angel, because he has no body, is not disposed to repentance. It is the body that makes repentance possible in man, the angels having no body makes repentance impossible for them. But even though they have the power to move towards evil, they do not change easily: they are more steadfast in faith and obedient to God than man and as we shall see later, after the fall of Lucifer, they have remained forever steadfast in holiness and goodness and can no more fall into sin. Thus the angels were not created as perfect beings. They are changeable and like man are continually moving towards perfection, continually moving upwards to learn and understand God's never ending glory. They have the possibility to be perfect by continually partaking in the grace of the Holy Spirit, which is the source of their holiness. In other words they are not holy by nature, because then they would be identified with the Holy Spirit, they are holy because of their communion with holiness.
Angels receive their light and holiness from God. They do not constitute of themselves a source of light and holiness, but receive the light and holiness from the Holy Spirit. Thus they are called secondary lights and the higher ranks of angels transmit this light to the lower ranks and to men.
The angels are immortal, but like the soul of man which also is immortal; this immortality is not by nature, but through the grace of God. All that has a beginning also has an end: only God is without beginning and without end. Only God is truly eternal, or rather above the eternal for as the creator of time he is not under the dominion of time, but above time.
Angels can move from place to place at great speeds, but as created beings, they are circumscribed, they are not omnipresent, in other words they are not in two places at the same time. When they are in Heaven they are not on earth: and when they are sent by God down to earth they do not remain in Heaven. Also as spiritual beings they cannot be restricted by walls and doors.
Angels are the most perfect spirits, superior to man in their spiritual powers; but even they, like all creation; are bound by their limitations. Their mind has a much more exalted quality than that of the human mind and in power and strength they transcend all earthly authorities. (II Pet. 2:11) Their strength is witnessed at the Resurrection when the angel, with ease, rolled the stone away from the tomb, yet would have needed many human hands to move it. They have no need of tongue or hearing, but without uttering words they communicate to each other their own thoughts and counsels.
The nature of an angel is higher than the nature of a man, but as King David says in the Psalms concerning what man is to God: "Thou madest him a little less than angels, thou hast crowned him with glory and honour and thou hast set him over the works of thy hands: thou hast put all things under his feet." (Psalm 8:5) Angels were created as ministering spirits as the Apostle Paul writes: "Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?" (Heb. 1:14). Thus for now their nature is higher than the nature of man but when the time is fulfilled man will be exalted above the angels.
Angels have their limitations. Holy Scripture tells us that they do not know the depths of the essence of God, which is known only to the Spirit of God: "The things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God" (I Cor. 2:11). They do not know the future, which is also known only to God: " But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven." (Mark 13:32) The angels are also incapable of fully understanding the mystery of redemption, which they "desire to look into" (I Pet. 1:12) but cannot. They are even incapable of knowing all human thoughts (Kings 8:39), and cannot perform miracles on their own but only by the will of God. "Blessed is the Lord, the God of Israel, Who alone doeth wonders" (Ps. 71:19).
So why did God create the angels? God did not create the angels for his own needs, but out of his immeasurable love and goodness so that they might share and partake of his divine blessedness. They see continuously the face of God and this is their nourishment.
The main work of the angels is to continually hymn the glory of God, but also to serve the events of divine economy concerning the material world and care for the salvation of man. The name angel means messenger and refers to their ministry as messengers of God to the human race. It is believed that some stand before the great God while others are set in command of elements, the heavens, the world and all that is within it. Each angel has received under his control and protection some particular part of the universe. According to the vision of the Prophet Daniel, there are angels to whom God entrusts the fate of the kingdoms and peoples of the earth (Dan. chapters 10-12). Based on the Book of Revelations, it is believed that certain angels are set in charge of the kingdom of nature for example it says: : "And I heard the angel of the waters say . . ."; "I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, nor on the sea, nor on any tree;": Rev. 7:1 : "And another angel came out from the altar, which had power over fire". Rev. 14:18
We do not know the numbers of the angels, but Holy Scripture depicts them as innumerable. When the Prophet Daniel saw the Ancient of Days in a vision, he saw that "thousand thousands ministered unto Him, and ten thousands of myriads attended upon Him" (Dan. 7:10).
Imagine all mankind, from Adam to the present day. Great is their multitude, but it is small in comparison with the angels, whose numbers are greater. From the parable of the lost sheep, it is interpreted that the angels are the ninety-nine sheep, whereas the human race is the one lost sheep. By the greatness of a place one can judge the numbers of those who dwell in it. The earth we inhabit is a mere dot in the heavens, thus the heaven that surrounds it must have a much greater number of inhabitants. As is has greater space, the heavens of heavens hold their innumerable number.
I mentioned that the angels are divided into three groups: those belonging to the lowest hierarchy being the principalities, archangels, and angels. It is these angels that are closest to man and who watch over the world, protecting and guarding every kingdom and principality, every province and people, every tribe and nation. Each place has its angel as guardian and governor.
In Revelations we also read of "the seven spirits which are before God's throne" (Rev. 1:4) and later we are told that these seven angels are the angels of the seven churches. According to tradition these seven are the Archangels. The Archangels are called the great heralds of good news, announcing to men great and wondrous things. They deliver prophecies to men and enlighten them so that they may know and understand the will of God. Scripture has revealed the names of four of these archangels as Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael and from the Hebrew masoretic text Uriel. Certain traditions and sources also give the names of the other three but they are not in agreement with each other.
Michael, meaning he who is like unto God, is mentioned by name in the Book of Daniel (Dan. 10:13; 12:1), in the Epistle of Jude (Jude 1: 9), and Revelation (Rev. 12:7-8). He is mentioned as the archangel and in the Book of Joshua he reveals himself as "the chief captain of the host of the Lord" (Joshua 5:14)
Gabriel, meaning "Man of God" is mentioned by name in Daniel, but especially in the Gospel of Luke where he announced to Mary that she had been chosen to give birth to the Saviour of the world.
Raphael meaning "help of God" accompanied Tobit for many days and revealed himself saying "I am Raphael, one of the seven holy angels, which present the prayers of the saints, and which go in and out before the glory of the Holy One." (Tobit 12:15)
Both the Old and New Testaments are full of references to angels and how they interact with the world and men. From the New Testament alone an angel announced the birth of John the Baptist to Zacharias; and as already mentioned Gabriel announced the birth of the Saviour to the most holy Virgin Mary. An angel appeared in a dream to Joseph. A mighty host of angels sang the glory of Christ's nativity; an angel announced the birth of the Saviour to the shepherds and stopped the Wise Men from returning to Herod; angels ministered to Jesus Christ during His temptation in the wilderness; an angel appeared to Him in the Garden of Gethsemane; angels announced His Resurrection to the myrrh-bearing women; and at His ascension angels proclaimed, His second coming. Angels loosed the bonds of Peter and the other Apostles (Acts 5:19) and again of Peter alone (Acts 12:7-15); an angel appeared to Cornelius the Centurion, telling him to send for Peter who would instruct him in the word of God (Acts 10:3-7). An angel announced to Paul that he was to appear before Caesar (Acts 27:23-24) and lastly the Book of Revelation is full of the vision of angels and is the foundation of the Revelation of St. John.
The Orthodox Church believes that every person has his own Guardian Angel. Our Guardian Angel helps and protects us in every step of our life; he suffers with us and guides us in the spiritual life. The Lord himself said that each of us has a guardian angel when he said: "Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones, for I say unto you, that in heaven their angels do always behold the Face of My Father Which is in heaven" (Matt. 18:10). When it is time for our soul to leave this world, our guardian angel accompanies and protects us until we reach the throne of God. Of course these things happen if we believe, love and honour the angels. We can drive away our guardian angel and lose his protection by leading an evil life. The Church has many prayers directed towards our guardian angel and all angels in general: from the service of Little Compline the last prayer of the day is a prayer to our guardian angel and says: "O Holy Angel, guardian of my wretched soul and miserable life. Do not thou forsake me a sinner; neither do thou depart from me because of mine intemperance." During the Divine Liturgy reference is made to the angels many times. Beginning with the Little Entrance the Priest prays that at the entrance the angels may also enter the Sanctuary to co-celebrate with us. The hymn Holy God, Holy and Strong, Holy and Immortal is the hymn of the angels as heard by the Prophet Isaiah. At the Great Entrance we sing the Cherubic hymn and say: Let us who mystically represent the Cherubim and chant the Thriceholy hymn to the life-giving Trinity, now lay aside all earthly care. That we may receive the king of all. Invisibly attended by the angelic hosts. Alleluia. After the Entrance the priest prays "For an angel of peace, faithful guide and guardian of our souls and bodies, let us entreat the Lord." Before the consecration of the Holy Gifts again we sing the angelic triumphal hymn "Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of Sabaoth" and at the dismissal we call upon the protection of the heavenly bodiless hosts.
There is much more we can say on angels, but we need time to also look at the dark angels called demons.
God created only angels of light, but as mentioned earlier, they were created with free will and independence. They were free to be obedient to the will of God or to rebel and be disobedient.
Lucifer or Eosphoros as he is known in Greek and whose name means light-bearer was a mighty and beautiful angel, either an Archangel or Cherubim according to the Book of Ezekiel which says: "From the day that thou wast created thou wast with the cherub: I set thee upon the holy mount of God... Thou wast perfect in thy days from the day that thou wast created, till iniquity was found in thee... Thine heart hath been lifted up because of thy beauty; thy knowledge hath been corrupted with thy beauty: because of the multitude of thy sins have I cast thee to the ground." (Ezekiel 28:12-18)
He was one of the most perfect and radiant of angels, as his name implies. He had been richly endowed by the Creator and should have ever held his eyes on the Lord, but instead he concentrated his attention on his own perfection; he fell in love with it and was seized with pride. By doing this he left the path of truth, which united him with the Source of Life and Light, and entered the path of destruction. He forgot that he owed all to God, that all his perfections were the gift of God. He ascribed them to himself, and so seemed exceedingly great to himself. He was so blinded by the idea of his own greatness and considered, "is there any who is equal to me? Is there another angel equal or even God himself? Thus he said to himself "I am divine, I myself am a divinity!" In his self conceitedness he rose up against the Lord and with him also a third of the angels who were loyal to him. This information is received from Revelation which says "And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth (Rev 12:4)
The Prophet Isaiah says of Lucifer's arrogance: "How is Lucifer fallen from heaven, that rose up in the morning! He is crushed unto the earth that sent light to all the nations. But thou hast said in thy mind, I will ascend into heaven, I will set my throne above the stars of heaven: I will sit upon a lofty mount toward the north: I will go up above the clouds; I will be like the Most High". (Isaiah 14: 12-14)
In our earthly language there was a war in heaven. The holy Chief Commander Michael, the faithful servant of the Lord, appointed by God as general and commander over the entire assembly of the nine angelic orders together with his angels fought against Lucifer and his angels. The Book of revelation again informs us of this war saying: "And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him." (Rev: 12:7-8)
Christ says of the fall "I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven." (Luke 10:18).
Orthodox tradition says that when Lucifer and his angels fell, the Archangel Michael gathered all the ranks of the angels and cried aloud: “Let us stand upright, let us stand with fear”, in other words, let us attend not to fall with the devil and his angels and from that time the angels remained steadfast in their loyalty and obedience to the will of God and with a special grace of God have remained steadfast in holiness and goodness and can no more fall into sin.
Lucifer and his angels, having fallen from the grace of God and the source of their light and radiance became dark angels. From thereafter Lucifer was called the devil from the Greek word diavolos meaning divider, and Satan a Hebrew word meaning "enemy." His angels were called demons and although the etymology of the Greek term daimones means spirits and doesn't specifically refer to evil spirits, it has come to mean the fallen angels.
The fall of Satan and his demons must have taken place after the creation of the world, but before the creation of man. The space between heaven and earth, the whole expanse of the air, which is visible to us under the heavens, serves as the dwelling for the fallen angels. The holy Apostle Paul calls the fallen angels "the spirits of wickedness under the heavens", (Eph. 6:12) and their chief "the prince of the powers of the air". (Eph. 2:2)
Having lost their place in heaven they also lost their bright beauty and became as frightful beasts. Cast down and beaten, the love they once had for God was turned to hatred and from that moment on their only purpose was to oppose and sabotage whatever is from God and whatever God favours. The holy angels are nine ranks, but some say that they were originally ten, the tenth being Satan and his fallen angels. It is also said by some that God created man to take the place of the fallen rank. This certainly would have made Satan envious and revengeful, but man was not created as a ministering angel. God created man so that man may sit by his right side and rule with him. God created man so that man may become a god by grace. God's plan for man was to be superior to that of the angels. Satan wanted to sit at God's side and be a god and for this he was cast out of heaven, but now God created another being who was destined to do just that. Envious of God's love for man, man became the object of Satan's hatred and deployed the force of his hatred to destroy him. He had not the power to destroy man bodily so he craftily sort out to bring man's downfall, to make him, like himself, disobedient to God. You all know the story of man's fall from paradise, how in the guise of a serpent Satan tempted Eve to disobey God's command not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil saying that God lied to them when he told them that if they eat of it they would surely die. Satan played on their innocence and succeeded in bringing man down to his level, but with a difference. Satan disobeyed God through his own free will from within himself; man on the hand did not discover evil by himself; he disobeyed God because he was tempted from without by the devil. Because of this God gave man the opportunity to repent and ask for forgiveness.
The result of man's fall was expulsion from paradise and death, but unlike Satan's fall, God put into motion a plan to save man and return him to paradise. Thus the battle between Satan and God, between Satan and man continues with Satan and his army of demons opposing man's return to his original homeland.
But how does the Devil wage war on man? Many of the films mentioned in the beginning portray the devil with supernatural powers that can kill man at an instance, control and cause havoc with nature and destroy nations. Angels have indeed super powers, but these powers can only be used according to God's bidding. If the Devil was free to use his angelic powers he would have done so by now and we would all be dead. God does not allow Satan to use these powers although Satan can influence others to do his bidding. Directly Satan cannot harm man bodily unless God allows it. The only way for the devil and his demons to attack humans is through temptations. Man acts through his senses and feelings. The enemy is aware of this and through lies and deceits, by stimulating the thoughts and feelings he tempts people into willingly giving their consent to sin. But whatever temptation the devil hurls at us, it is never above our power to resist it. He cannot violate our independence and cannot offend our free will. The devil's power is not forced upon us, but always depends upon our freedom. If we give in to temptations we alone are responsible. We are free to say no to the devil and yes to God or vice versa. The fathers of the Church say that man is never left alone. If for example he departs from the grace of God, he becomes subject to satanic influences. If our bodily members are not being used by Christ as armour, they are used by the devil with man's consent and cooperation.
But even though the devil cannot violate our free will, the presence of evil spirits among us presents a real and constant danger. That is why the Apostle Peter extols us: "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour" (1 Peter 5:8). And Paul says: "Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places." (Ephesians 6:11-12)
A Christian should never forget that God's grace can protect him from evil forces. He must, however not take God's protection for granted; he must invoke God's help. How? Through constant prayer and fasting, participation in the Sacraments, devoted meditation, regular Bible reading, keeping the commandments especially the commandment to love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself; these are the weapons against temptation from demons. The inclination of the individual toward sinful desires is not sin in itself, but it is a weakness which needs protection; it is a weakness which evil spirits try to exploit. The Christian prays constantly to our Father to lead us not into temptation and to deliver us from the evil one. We on the other hand should not freely expose ourselves to temptations by using drugs, pornography or loose living, which are the products of sinful thinking. The Christian should be alert, day and night, to ward off the evil temptations that surround him. A Christian should not blame others or God when yielding to temptation for as James says in his Epistle: "Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death." (James 1:12-16)
The Christian should not always blame Satan when he himself opens the door wide open to him. Without the will of man Satan cannot win his desire to tempt him, either to do bad or to become alienated from God. Man can invoke the Grace of God and His blessings to fight and win against evil. If one is not strong and submits to the desires of temptation, evil can easily "possess" him. If one permits evil spirits to develop and progress through indifference and a compromising attitude toward moral standards, then he can easily become influenced and "possessed" by evil. If one does not discriminate between good and evil and right and wrong, he can easily become "possessed" by evil. If one lacks faith in God and through this lack creates an emptiness in his heart and soul, he can easily become "possessed" by evil and be filled with certain "demonic" forces which will direct him in all he does.
From scripture we know that angels have appeared to people and conversed with them. They do not appear with wings as most people mentally conceive them, but as men. The wings in religious art are symbolic of their speedy flights from place to place. Demons have also be known to appear to people often appearing as angels of light or as saints deluding people into thinking that they are worthy of such angelic visions. We do not have time to look in depth on these visions but next week we will continue with this subject looking at angelic and demonic visions, ghosts and demonic possession and if and how the church performs exorcisms.
Before finishing for today there is something that should be said concerning people's beliefs on angels. Many people believe that angels are the spirits of human beings who after living good and righteous lives have earned their wings and are transformed into angels, or babies that have passed over and because of their innocence become beautiful little cherub angels. This belief has been encouraged by that old Christmas classic "Its a wonderful life" where Clarence got his wings after stopping George from contemplating suicide. Also in recent years many TV programmes have portrayed departed people as angels. This concept is also a belief of the Mormons. For us Orthodox Christians this idea is ludicrous and even demeaning. Not that angels are undignified, but God did not choose to become a ministering angel; he became a man and in so doing he raised man higher than the angels. Also angels have no bodies, but we believe that in the general Resurrection our souls will be reunited to our bodies. To believe that angels are the spirits of men is to betray this belief because angels have never had and will never have a body.