Holy Archangel Michael, with your lightning-fast sword, drive away from us the evil spirit that tempts us.
O great Archangel of God Michael, victor over the demons! Conquer and put down all our enemies visible and invisible, and pray to the All-Sovereign Lord that He save and preserve us from sorrows and all sicknesses, from death-bearing plagues and from sudden death, now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit!
Today, my beloved friends, is the feast and glorification of Archangel Michael and the innumerable hosts of angels. This is a great feast for the entire Orthodox Church, and for us especially since the church we are in today is dedicated to the Archangel Michael—the chief and leader of all the Heavenly Angelic Regiments, the faithful and zealous servants of the Almighty Creator and God. This day (November 8 according to the Church calendar) is the most important of all the feasts in honor of the Holy Angels. People commonly call it, “St. Michael’s day,” and it is greatly honored by the faithful. But the Church calls it the Synaxis of Archangel Michael and all the Heavenly Bodiless Powers. It is a synaxis, which means “assembly”—the totality of all the holy angels with Archangel Michael at the head, for they all together and with one voice glorify the Holy Trinity and serve God with oneness of soul.
The Church has dedicated this day, my dear ones, to Archangel Michael, the leader of the Heavenly Powers, and depicts him on the icons with a threatening and warlike appearance. On his head is a helmet, in his hand is a sword or spear. Under his feet is the dragon he has trampled. With whom and against whom does this valiant leader wage war?! We know, my friends, that the whole angelic world, which was created even before man and the entire visible world, was at the time of creation given great perfection and gifts of grace. And great and glorious was its purpose. Amidst this angelic world, one of the ruling angels—Lucifer—discovered the source of evil and pride in himself and rebelled against his Creator. The angels, like people, were created with free will. And at the beginning they were able to abuse this freedom and fall into sin—which Lucifer did. He desired to be independent from God. The spiritual world was shaken, and a portion of the angels followed after him. At that moment, from amidst that same angelic assemblage a fighter came forth for God’s glory and showed that he knows God, and recognizes Him alone as the One God, Creator, and Ruler of the whole universe. “There is no one like God!” he boldly and decisively proclaimed, witnessing to God’s greatness. By this act he manifested his personal qualities: steadfast faith, boldness and decisiveness of action, and the ability not only to believe but also to witness to God—radiating and spreading the divine Light he had received to the whole world. The struggle was hard, for Lucifer was gifted with great sophistication. But the powers of good overcame the powers of evil… Lucifer was cast out of Heaven along with his followers. Then Archangel Michael was confirmed as the leader of the whole angelic world faithful to God. From that time on Archangel Michael has always had a sword in his hand, for satan, cast down from Heaven, never ceases to wage war against the dwellers of heaven. The fallen angels’ ability to penetrate into the higher realms of the world’s foundation has been severed from them. That is why they turn all their malice toward people, and first and foremost upon those who believe in God.
Could the Archangel Michael’s sword possibly remain idle under such circumstances? Of course not! The Archangel does not cease warring with the spirits of evil and darkness, protecting God’s true children from their cunning machinations. And this struggle will intensify before the end of the world. By now we should all understand why the Archangel Michael is depicted with such a militant appearance. He is the defender of God’s Church. And his appearance should bring God’s enemies to fear. But we should rejoice that we have such a valiant defender—the leader of the Heavenly Powers under Heaven. We should remember that his protecting sword will always be on our side, if we would only not ally ourselves with that same enemy against which the Archangel Michael wars. As time went on, the angels who remained faithful to their Creator and who comprise the regiments of Archangel Michael have so strongly confirmed themselves in goodness that sin has become impossible for them. Not because they, having free will, cannot go against God’s will, but simply because they will never want to do that, they will never want to sin. My friends, pay attention to these words. They will never want to sin! How instructive this is for us. Not wanting to sin means receiving the possibility to come closer to God and see Him as the angels see Him. To serve Him and only Him, fulfilling His commands.
Being in direct closeness to God, the angels are filled with exaltation, God’s grandeur, His holiness, wisdom, and the Creator’s extreme love for His creatures. A certain divine light flows through them freely as a broad river. However, it not only flows through them as along a free channel, without any hesitation, never flowing then drying up, but flowing as it flows, sparkling and shining like light as it falls upon a precious stone. The light reaches the center and reflects from there in responsive radiance, and spreads and multiplies, coursing in all directions; refracting in the facets it is adorned with exquisite light, illumining and at times even blinding with its beauty. In this is the image of true sanctity. The Heavenly Powers received in themselves God’s light. They refract it in themselves, and reflecting and refracting it into a multitude of beautiful rays, they have spread it around themselves, giving it to people who are capable of receiving it. And in this reflected radiance of divine light—a radiance that is unwaning and unfading, but is multiplied and joy-producing, bringing life—we come to know God! If it weren’t for the angels we would never even to the small extent accessible to man be able to feel and perceive divine light. We ourselves are not capable of seeing and feeling God’s glory—we need mediators who thus transform it, so that it would become accessible to us also. And the angels are those very mediators for us.
My friends! Do people reflect this light they receive from God? Are humans capable of this?! People of irreproachable life and fiery love for God shine with this divine light in a way that people around them can see at certain moments of their lives. We find many examples of this when we read the Lives of the Saints. The texts of the divine services tell us about these people: “Having lived like an angel on earth…” or, “Thy life was equal to the angels’.” I will name you for example two of our people who lived very close to us in time. These are the well-known St. Seraphim of Sarov and the lesser-known Holy Hierarch Meletius. Both of them bore an ardent love for God in their hearts. Remember also the story from the Acts of the Apostles. When Archdeacon Stephen was being condemned to death, he said that he saw the heavens open and the glory of God—and everyone sitting in the Sanhedrin saw his face as if it were that of an angel. This testifies to the possibility and accessibility for us of becoming like the angels while still in this earthly life—if only we on our part had the striving for this.
The holy angels do not only serve God by praising Him. They also strive to emulate Him in deed. The angelic world is comprehended by the true spirit of reason, the actual participation in human history. As it is written in the Holy Gospel, the Son of God came to earth to serve people and to save them. And the angels are sent to earth with the same goal—service to people. The first Christians knew the honorable bodiless Powers’ intercession for them through revelation and experience. So that we also might actual feel the existence of angels and their constant presence, let us purify our hearts and souls from sinful thoughts, desires, and especially deeds. Stand constantly on guard over your souls, take care for their purity—and you will see the angels, and with their help come closer to God and see Him, for it has been said that the pure in heart will see God (cf. Matt. 5:8). Cleanse your heart and you will become worthy of exalted joy, like once did our forefather Abraham, who received angels under his canopy. Try to avoid conversation with sinners and don’t commit sinful deeds yourself—and then, like righteous Lot, an angel will lead you by the hand out of the destructive surroundings of worldly vanity. Be meek, humble, and conquer evil with good. And then, as once they did Jacob, the hosts of angels will meet you on your path to God (cf. Gen. 32:1).
Make it clear to yourselves, my friends, how important it is for us to vigilantly watch our behavior, so as not to separate ourselves from our faithful helpers—the angels.
In the opinion of the teachers of the Church, man was created in order to replace the fallen angels. That means that we should enter into the Synaxis of Angels. Just think, my dear ones, how pure and holy our lives must be In order to do this; how we should prepare ourselves here on earth in time to live with the angels, to ascend to their bright and holy Synaxis—that very Synaxis that we solemnly celebrate today! But in order to do this we must acquire angelic thoughts and feelings. We have to clear a place for love, prepare our hearts to receive supernatural love, the love that God expects from us. And this is not complicated! Live according to the Gospel commandments and you will attain what is needed. They are not impossible to fulfill. And again the angels will help us in this, by enlightening our minds through the knowledge of the Holy Gospel. Recognizing our close union with the angels, let us make it our goal, my friends, to live every day in a way that would not separate us from the angels but bring us closer to them, especially to our Guardian Angel. For this it is very important to read daily not only the prayers to the Guardian Angel, which are part of the morning and evening prayers, but also the “Thoughts for each day on the angels” specially composed to aid us. There are only thirty-one of them, according to the number of days in a month. They are brief. And they help us to love God as his faithful children should—especially if we repeat often the words of the thought for day 19. “Breathe into my heart, O my Angel, if only a few sparks of the love with which thou art aflame!”
In conclusion to our very brief explanation of the significance of today’s feast in honor of the Archangel Michael and the Synaxis of the Angels of God, we add the following: We know from Holy Scripture that on the day of the Lord’s Last Judgment, on the eighth day, when the Son of Man will come in His glory with all the holy angels, the Lord will send angels to gather the harvest all over the world to burn the tares, but to gather the wheat—that is, God’s chosen and faithful children—into His storehouse. Oh, if only they would then gather us into ranks of the chosen, whose assembly we celebrate today with honor!
From Archimandrite John (Krestiankin). Sermons, Vol. II (Pechory: Holy Dormition Pskov Caves Monastery, 1994).