Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS AND IS AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ. ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ
Bless the Lord, O my soul! O Lord my God, You are very great: You are clothed with honor and majesty, Who cover Yourself with light as with a garment, Who stretch out the heavens like a curtain. He lays the beams of His upper chambers in the waters, Who makes the clouds His chariot, Who walks on the wings of the wind, Who makes His Angels spirits, His ministers a flame of fire... [vs. 1-4]
On September 23rd Our Holy Orthodox Christian Church commemorates, honors and entreats the holy intercessions of the following Saints, Forefathers, Fathers, Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, Preachers, Evangelists, Martyrs, Confessors, Ascetics and Teachers of Our Holy Orthodox Christian faith: The conception of Saint John the Baptist; Saint and virgin Martyr Rhais of Alexandria; Saint Andrew of Sicily; Saint John and his sons Peter and Antonios of Syracuse; New holy Martyr Nicholas Pantopolis at Constantinople; New holy Martyr John of Konitsa; New holy Martyr Archimandrite Arsenius of Russia.
THE CONCEPTION OF SAINT JOHN THE BAPTIST. On this day are celebrated God's mercy, His wondrous act and His wisdom: His mercy towards the devout and righteous parents of Saint John, the aged Zacharias and Elisabeth, who had all their lives begged a child of God; the wonder (miracle) of the conception of Saint John in Elizabeth's more-than-aged womb; and the wisdom of the dispensation of man's salvation. For St. John, God had an especially great plan: that he should be a Prophet and the Forerunner of Christ the Lord, the Savior of the world. Through His Angels, God revealed the birth of Isaac to the childless Sarah, and of Samson to the childless Manoah and his wife, and of St. John the Baptist to the childless Zacharias and Elisabeth. Through His Angels, God revealed the birth of those whom he had a special plan. How could children be born of aged parents? If someone is curious to find out, let him not ask men, for men do not know, nor does natural law (it being beyond natural law), but let him turn his gaze to the power of almighty God, Who made the whole universe from nothing and who, for the creation of Adam, the first man, used no parents, either young or old. Instead of being curious, let us thank God that He often reveals to us His power and mercy and wisdom beyond the natural law, by which we would otherwise be fettered and, without these special wonders of God, would fall into despair and forgetfulness of Him.
+By the holy intercessions of Your Saints and Holy Prophets, O Christ Our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
TODAY'S SACRED SCRIPTURAL READINGS ARE THE FOLLOWING:
Holy Epistle Lesson: Galatians 4:22-27
Holy Gospel Lesson: St. Luke 5:1-11
FOR YOUR PERSONAL REFLECTION AND CONTEMPLATION
"There is a widely-accepted misconception among us: that when one becomes involved in work at home or in business, immediately one steps out of the godly realm and away from God-pleasing activities. From this idea, it follows that once the desire to strive toward God germinates, and talk turns toward the spiritual life, then the idea inevitably surfaces: one must run from society, from the home to the wilderness, to the forest. Both are erroneous". [Saint Theophan the Recluse]
THE HOLY ANGELS AN ORTHODOX PERSPECTIVE
[source: Angels: Our Elder Brethren written by Saint Nicholai Velimirovic, Bishop of Zica and Compiled by ArchimandriteNektarios Serfes]
"Whom Christ loves, His Angels love too." St. Nicholai of Zica (1880--+1956
Our Holy Bible starts with this sentence: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."
By Heaven is meant not an empty space beyond our space, but the living world of invisible spirits. Thus, the above sentence could be phrased in other words: In the beginning God created the invisible and the visible world, as it is said in the first article of our Creed. The Psalmist says: By the Word of the Lord were the heavens established, and all the might of them by the Spirit of His mouth (Psalm 32:6).
In this case, according to the interpretation of the Fathers of the Church, the Father is called the Lord; the Son, the Word of the Father; and the Holy Spirit, the Breath of the Father.
The Prophet Isaiah saw Seraphim's (6:2) and Ezekiel the Cherubim's (10:8) with some other strange creatures around the Throne of the Highest.
Micah said to the king Ahab: I saw the Lord sitting on His Throne and all the host of heaven standing by Him on His right hand and on His left (I Kings 22:19).
Nehemiah said in his prayer: Thou, even Thou, art Lord alone; Thou has made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host (Neh. 9:6).
The great Daniel saw God on His Throne-and a thousand thousands ministered unto Him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him (Chapters 9 and 10).
Saint Paul speaking of the power of Christ says: Who is this image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: 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. And He (Christ) is before all things, and by Him all things consist (Col. 1:15-17; cf 1 Peter 3:22).
We read in the Book of Job, how the Lord gave answer to the complaints of that suffering man, saying: Where was thou-when the morning stars (i.e., first created Angels) sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy? (Job 38:1-17).
Our Orthodox Church has dedicated Monday to the holy Angels. Therefore, every Monday in the Church services we are reminded of the Holy Angels with praise and prayer: "Holy Archangels and Angels, pray to God for us."
The Nature of Angels
The nature of Angels is in some ways quite different from the nature of man, and in other ways similar to it. On the one hand, the differences are these: The Angels are bodiless and, as such, invisible to our physical eyes. Having no body, they consequently have no bodily needs or desires and passions, no cares about food, drink, clothes or shelter. Nor do they possess the impulse and cravings for procreation. They neither marry nor are given in marriage (St. Matthew 22:30). They have no worries about the future either, and no fear of death. For, though God created them before man, they are neither aged nor aging, but unchanging youthful, beautiful and strong. They have no anxiety about their salvation and no struggle for immortality, being already immortal. Unlike men, they are not faltering between good and evil, being already good and holy as when God created them.
On the other hand, the Angels are similar to men in that are personalities, everyone being individually conscious of himself. Like men, they have intelligence, emotions, free will and acting capacity. And withal they bear personal names like men. Some of their names we know either from Holy Scripture or Church Holy Tradition. They are: Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, Uriel, Salathiel, Barachiel, Jeremiel, Jegudiel.
Comparing men with Angels, Saint Paul quoted the words of an ancient Prophet who spoke of God: O Lord-what is man, that Thou art mindful of him? Or the son of man, that Thou visited him? Thou madest him a little lower than the Angels; Thou crownest him with glory and honor, and did set him over the works of Thy hands; Thou has put all things in subjection under his feet (Hebrews 2:6-8; Psalm 8:4-6).
Indeed, God gave a tremendous dominion over His works to the first sinless Adam, before this man despised God's Commandment and joined Satan, God's adversary. Before the sin, man was equal to God's Angels in power, purity and beauty. But through sin man's dominance over God's works dwindled to almost nothing. Nature became disobedient to him who as disobedient to God. The Apostle speaks of that as follows: For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the son of God, in order to be again obedient and happy, as in Eden. Until then the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now, being itself in the bondage of corruption, like its fallen lord (Romans 8:19-22).
Yet, regenerated through Christ, man will again be Angel-like, clothed with Christ's glory. Meanwhile, his elder brethren, the holy and unsoiled Angels, are ministering to him, as physicians to the sick, toward his health and salvation. As it is written: Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation? (Hebrews 14:14).
The Appearances of Angels
The appearances of Angels are different purposely as to different persons and occasions.
The appearance of an Angel to Moses was as follows: When Moses was a shepherd in the desert, the Angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush; and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed. And God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, "Moses, Moses" (Exodus 3:2, 4). Moses saw no face and no figure but the fire, and out of the fire he heard the voice calling him and instructing him as to what to do.
The appearance to whole people of Israel, when they fled from Egypt: And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud...and by night n a pillar of fire, to give them light (Exodus 13:21).
This was not the Lord Himself but His Angel. Moses confirms that: When we cried unto the Lord, He heard our voice, and sent an Angel, and hath brought us forth out of Egypt (Numbers 20:16). Here, as somewhere else, the Angel is identified with the Lord, God. For My name is in him, says the Lord God (Exodus 23:20-21).
It was the Archangel Gabriel who appeared to Zacharias, the father of Saint John the Baptist. And though his appearance was not so terrifying as that which Daniel saw, yet Zacharias, when he saw him, was troubled and fear fell upon him. And the Angel said unto him: Fear not, Zacharias! (St. Luke 1:12-13).
As to the appearance of Archangel Gabriel to the Ever-Virgin Mary at Nazareth, we presume that the appearing was in a gentle human form, unlike those terrifying forms in which the Angels appeared to the Prophets of old. Yet, the Panagia (All-Holy) was frightened and troubled. No wonder, for not only extraordinary appearance frightens us, but also the suddenness of it. The Angel therefore encouraged the Holy Virgin by saying: Fear Not, Mary! (St. Luke 1:29-30).
When our Lord Jesus Christ was born, an Angel appeared to the shepherds at Bethlehem. And, lo, the Angel of the Lord came upon them, and the Glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the Angel said unto them: Fear not (St. Matthew 28:3-5).
The Myrrh-Bearing women at the sepulchre of the Risen Lord saw an Angel: His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow: And for fear of him the keepers (of the tomb) did shake, and became as dead men. To the women, however, the Angel said: Fear not ye! (St. Matthew 28:3-5).
The Angels of the Lord do not want to be worshipped. When an Angel showed Saint John the new Paradise in Heaven with all its marvels, Saint John fell at the feet of the Angel to worship him. But the Angel did not allow that, saying: Do it not, for I am thy fellow servant, and of thy brethren the prophets, and of them which keep the sayings of this book: worship God (Revelation 22:8-9) yea, we worship God alone.
The first time that an Angel, a Cherub, is mentioned in the Holy Bible is when Adam and Eve are ousted from the Garden of Eden (earthly Paradise). Then God placed Cherubim's-and a flaming sword, which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life (Genesis 3:24).
The Angels are executors of God's judgments. We quote only a few instances: The city of Sodom was wallowing in most horrible vices (homosexuality, sodomy). The Lord sent two Angels to save the only righteous man in Sodom, Lot. They came to Lot and urged him to get out of that city, for the Lord sent us to destroy it. And they razed Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes, by brimstone and fire from the Lord out of Heaven (Genesis 19:12-25).
About the guardian Angel Saint Basil the Great says: "The Angel will not retreat from us, unless we drive him away by our evil deeds. As the smoke drives bees away, and stench the doves, even so our stinking drives away from us the Angel who protects our life".
Angels: Servants of Christ's Church
The New Testament is full of Angels: They were hovering around Christ as their Creator, Lover and Lord from the beginning of His Incarnation, always ready to serve Him. They worshipped Him on earth as they worshipped Him in Heaven, and they loved Him on His Cross as they love Him in His Heavenly Glory, with a glowing transcendent love. With gladness and attentiveness they supported His work, that is, His Church on earth. They are doing so now, and will do so until the end of the world. When He was born in a poor stony cave, there appeared a multitude of the heavenly host praising God (St. Luke 2:13). After the temptation in the desert, when the devil left Him, behold, Angels came and ministered unto Him (St. Matthew 4:11). Our genial artists were right in painting many Angels around Christ, as at His baptism when the Heavens were opened unto Him, at the Transfiguration, around His Crucifixion, at the descent into Hades, at the Resurrection and at His Ascension...
Whom Christ loves, His Angels love too. He loved children, and ordered His Angels to be their guardians. Said He: The Angels do always behold the face of My Father, which is in heaven (St. Matthew 18:10). He then identified Himself with little children saying: Whoso shall receive one such little child in My name receiveth Me (St. Matthew 18:5). He then threatened terribly those who mislead, scandalize and cause children to sin. It would be better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea (St. Matthew 18:6). He also said: Suffer the little children to come unto me for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven (St. Matthew 19:14). (This is the very foundation of Christian education, that is, to let the children come unto Christ.) This is the reason the Angels love and protect children.
Angels: God's Harvesters
In His Parable of the sower and the seed, the Lord Jesus explained: The field is the world; the good seeds are the children of the Kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one; The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the Angels...The Son of man shall send forth His Angels, and they shall gather out of His Kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; and shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the Kingdom of their Father. Who has ears to hear, let him hear (St. Matthew 13:38-43). But before the end of the world the end of many of us will have already come: Lo, when poor Lazarus died, Angels into Abraham's bosom carried his soul; and when merciless man died, his soul dropped into hell (St. Luke 16:19-23). Remember then, O man, that your end is for you the end of the world. For at your death you shall be either the harvest of Angels or of the wicked one. It is a good thing to trust in God's mercy, but to trust in God and to go on sinning without repentance is to mock God. Here is what our Savior says: I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the Angels of God over one sinner that repenteth (St. Luke 15:10). But woe unto them that die in sins without repentance.
Adorned with shinning beauty All the Angels of the Pantocrator Approach the inexpressible Glory of Christ Singing to Him day and night: Blessed art Thou, O God, forever. [St. Theophanis - Matins hymn, tone 6]
How can we be equal unto the Angels, the glorifiers of Christ, we, who are blaspheming daily by our sins? First of all, Christ speaks of those who shall be accounted worthy, and, secondly, by the love of Christ which passeth all understanding (St. Luke 20:35; Ephesians 3:19; Phil. 4:7).
Let us then humble ourselves, and listen to what a seer of heavenly mysteries says: Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him (I Corinthians 2:9). Here is the key to the mystery: those who love God, be they Angels or human beings, are equal before God.
In this sense also we call the Angels our elder brethren, honoring them and praying to them from this valley of tears:
"O holy Archangels and Angels, pray to God for us sinners!"
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God