In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today the Holy Church celebrates the memory of the Holy Archangel Michael and All the Bodiless Powers. The Creator of Heaven and Earth, as we know from the Creed, created the angelic world before the material world. In the angelic world, even before the creation of man, there was an event, the full meaning of which is beyond the strength of the limited human mind to comprehend. The first of all angels rose up against his own Creator, and was therefore cast down from his archangelic rank by the leader of the Heavenly hosts, Archangel Michael.
The number of fallen angels, as many holy fathers say, must before the Second Coming of Christ be replaced by those of the human race who have shown forth in sanctity. But can human reason comprehend this number? Can it fathom this system of enumeration of the angelic world? Hardly, for the measuring system of the angelic world is very different from the measuring systems of the sons of man. St. John Chrysostom teaches that God created the angels and archangels all at once, and there are so many of them that their number surpasses any that man can fathom. And although angels are bodiless, they are not without spiritual progression. They go from glory to glory, from intelligence to intelligence. The angels are adorned with such great glory, power, and perfect knowledge that are it is all impossible for the human mind to grasp.
Why did God create this powerful, beautiful, and all-perfect—in comparison with our imperfect human nature—world? Only so that the angels would give glory to their Creator, and adorn the created world with their perfection? No, not only for that. God has deigned, as St. John Chrysostom goes on to say, that the Higher Powers should serve man abiding on earth because of the dignity of the image by which God has adorned him. One angel is assigned to each one of us faithful Christians, while others are placed over nations, over Christian Churches. Thus, each of us has his own guardian angel, and our earthly fatherland has its invisible host of fiery angels. And the field of the Church is watched over by the guard of the Great Hierarch, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Only we often forget about our invincible warrior-guardians, who cast out human thoughts from our minds, as they did with the servant of the prophet Elisha, who was filled with fear when he saw the multitudinous army of the Syrian king come to take the prophet captive. “Alas, my lord! What shall we do?” he exclaimed when he saw those terrible forces. But the prophet Elisha answered him, “Be not afraid, for there are many more with us than with them.” And the prophet Elisha prayed to the Lord, “Open his eyes, that he may see.” And the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he saw that the hills were filled with horses and fiery chariots. This image of earthly warfare is similar to that of the spiritual, unseen warfare that satan’s army, fallen from the ranks of heavenly hosts, conducts against us. The Lord warned His apostles, and with them all Christians, that the fallen spirits would war against them: Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not (Lk. 22:31–32).
The prince of this world, as St. Macarius explains to us, troubles every soul that has distanced itself from God. And like wheat continually turning in the sifter, he troubles man’s thoughts, continually causing man to waver, and deceiving him with worldly deceits, fleshly pleasures, fears, and disturbances, searching for each one some bait according to his tastes. As our [Russian] saying goes, “Everyone is tempted according to his own passion.” Having stepped upon the path of Cain, the sinner who tramples on his own conscience, disdaining God’s commandments, becomes the heir to Cain, quaking and trembling in fear upon the earth. That is what the toy, or rather the victim, becomes in the claws of demonic powers. It is within our power to labor for a virtuous life, so that not only on the threshold of eternity the wondrous angelic world might be undeceivingly revealed to us; for there are times when to the Christian who leads a heedful life that mysterious council held in God’s right hand can be revealed even here, during his earthly sojourn, especially in those arduous moments when he ascends the cross and endures suffering for truth, for Christ, and for the faith. Why does this happen? To strengthen us in our faith.
Many of us may think, “Yes, but this testimony to the existence of the angelic world happened long ago, in the Old Testament, or in the early years of Christianity. But what about now?” In the course of my life, I met a man who lived in the Caucasus Mountains. He was given a blessing to live as a desert dweller in 1945 by Schema-Archimandrite Pimen of the Pskov Caves Monastery, who himself spent nearly half a century in those mountains. And when that man was tonsured a monk, Fr. Pimen saw him off with these words: You are the last desert dwellers. After you, there will hardly be anyone strong enough in spirit and body to endure it. And thus, this desert dweller, whose name was Schemamonk Vasily, told me about something that he experienced. It must be mentioned such people who have undertaken such a podvig are not given to sophistry; they have simplicity, and in their simplicity they are much like the angels, in whom there is nothing complicated—they are simple yet filled with strength and intelligence. He told me how when living high in the mountains, in the upper reaches of Amkhtel mountain, not far from the ever-snowy peaks of the Abhazi ridge, he fell seriously ill. This was a several days’ journey from any settlement, and he could not hope in human help. So he humbly prayed to God as he lay in his cell, not having the strength to even heat it. Having lost all his strength, he could only await the moment when his soul would be released from the bonds of the body. And while fervently calling out to God, he naturally prayed that God would help him, that He would have mercy on him, and would lead him out—since he considered himself to be an unworthy sinner, not yet ready to cross the threshold of eternity—of this sickness and sorrow. He had never experienced such a thing in all his life. But then an angel appeared to him and cried, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord of Sabaoth!” His sickness passed right then, and he was filled with such joy, that, as he said, he was ready to embrace and kiss anyone who might pass by; and this state continued for a whole week. He neither ate nor slept, and felt nothing other than the desire to praise God and be with God. I have heard about many other such experiences in recent times of manifestations of the angelic world, but there is no time to talk about them all.
But let us believe that Archangel Michael, the faithful servant of the Holy Trinity, and all the Heavenly Hosts, invisibly stand by us, as the angels stood by the Savior crucified on the Cross. And if we will carry our life crosses—and everyone has his own cross—then the angels will manifest their divine power both visibly and invisibly. And on this special day let us turn to the holy Archangel Michael with the words of the prayer after the Akathist to the leader of the Heavenly Hosts: And leave not without thy help and protection, O Archangel of God, also us who glorify thy holy name today... Illumine our minds with the light of God's countenance, which continually shineth on thy lightning-like forehead, that we may understand what the good and perfect will of God is concerning us, and know all that which we ought to do, and that which we ought to despise and abandon. Amen.