On November 21, the Church celebrates the Synaxis of holy Archangel Michael and the Other Bodiless Powers. We have asked several Russian priests to speak about the role the angels play in our lives and share some stories that involved angelic help.
“Maybe it was an angel who then prevented me from falling?”
The angels are bodiless powers who are invisible to our eyes, so in most cases their help is invisible too. For example, first dismal thoughts and malicious desires sweep over your mind, but then light began to shine in your soul because your guardian angel saved you from sliding down into the abyss. It is usually difficult to understand whether you have changed for the better or angels have inspired you. But sometimes the help we receive is more evident.
This only miraculous episode occurred in my early childhood, many years before I was baptized. I grew up in an ordinary Soviet, non-religious family. No one ever spoke about God or the spiritual realm. So we had nothing to do with religious life. That is why I couldn’t have understood what exactly happened on that day, and I didn’t try to evaluate the nature of the event either.
Actually, it was no large-scale miracle.
There was a writing desk in our two-room apartment in the Khrushchev-era (the late 1950s and early 1960s) five-storied apartment house in the city of Orenburg. It used to stand by the wall close to the window. My parents fixed a tear-off calendar to the wall above the desk. I was a boy of five, and though I couldn’t read yet, I already knew that every day a calendar sheet was torn off and I hurried to do it myself.
In order to get to the calendar a little child needed first to climb on the chair, then on the desk from the chair, then draw himself up to his full height and make a few steps. Next the calendar would appear before my eyes, and I would scrutinize it closely and carry out what I believed to be an important action—tearing off a sheet. But one fine day, having climbed on the desk and made a couple of steps along its edge, I turned to the wall and suddenly decided to look back. I was standing on the edge of the desk, so when I looked back and down, my head began spinning. I was small, while the desk was big. I staggered, twitched and closed my eyes. It was then that an unexplainable thing happened.
In fact there were no images, no visions, no physical sensations. But I felt as if someone folded me in his arms very warmly and with tender care and then seated me on the floor gently. I will repeat that I didn’t feel the touch of someone’s arms or a bodily sensation of any kind. But I began to feel inner peace, calmness and joy; there was no fear at all, as if someone had shown his protection in a kind and loving manner.
In childhood all of us stumble and fall. What happened on that day was in striking contrast to the rule. It was not until many years later, when I was baptized, that my heart was overwhelmed with the same feeling again—now we would call it “experiencing the grace of God”. I remembered that feeling in my heart above else and wished to experience it again so much!
What was my reaction at that moment? Firstly, I was puzzled, unable to understand what it was. Secondly, I wanted to experience the same again. So my only solution as a child was to simulate the same situation: I climbed on the chair, then on the desk, made two steps along the edge, looked back and down, and closed my eyes. This time there was no fear, yet no one miraculously picked me up and folded in his arms. Then I climbed down quickly and sat down in the same place to simulate the original situation. But despite my careful attempts I couldn’t feel the softness and tender emotion I had experienced on that memorable day.
After I had been baptized and started to go to church I thought over and over again: “Maybe it was an angel who then prevented me from falling?” What for? Why? I didn’t know. The height of the desk was such that I couldn’t have been injured—I could only have been scared. But ever since my Baptism I have fallen in my life all the time—both physically and spiritually. And there have been no more miracles of this kind since then.
And maybe the meaning of what happened to me is the following: God, the spiritual realm and the angels are near us even if we grow up in atheist families, know nothing about God and haven’t yet participated in any sacraments. We are shown evidence that the Supreme Being exists and that we are cared for, and this fact helps us understand that there is no reason why we should be despondent.
A friend of mine recounted how his neighbor Nina with whom they used to go to church together fell seriously ill. She was discharged from hospital as a fatal case. But she was a woman of prayer and kept calling out to God. At some point she saw an angel over her head for an instant. This aroused hope in her heart; from that day her state began to improve; and she lived for ten years afterwards.
Nadezhda, a woman who once attended the Higher Theological Courses, told me that back in 1986, the day before her thirty-third birthday, she ended up at a hospital on an operating table. During the surgery she saw her body from above and the doctors who were exchanging words anxiously. Next she saw angels who were bright, bodiless and light; they lifted her up and she felt light too. They uttered: “Come here, come to us.” Nadezhda heard celestial music, saw ineffable beauty, so she was overwhelmed by joy and wanted to remain there with all her heart. However, she had two sons aged six and four. And Nadezhda was ready to leave them, assuming that everything would be well with them. But her reposed father appeared to her and stopped her: “Nadezhda, it is too early for you to be here! You have small children!” After that the angels began to move away, and the angelic singing gradually died away; she came to herself in the operating room and decided to go to church every Sunday. By the way, her doctor asked Nadezhda twice if she had seen anything during the operation; the woman replied that she hadn’t, fearing that then she would be taken to a psychiatric hospital. But she kept her promise and began to attend church every Sunday. Thus the activity of angels was revealed to her during a near-death experience.
But I would like to conclude with a warning: don’t seek miracles. Visible help from angels is a very rare phenomenon, and there is a great danger that you will fall into delusion. So let the help of angels continue to be invisible; and our task is to pray to them from the depths of our hearts so they may deliver us from sins.
“These are the truths that should be the permanent subject of our reflection”
The word “angel” [derived from the Greek “angelos”.—Trans.] means “messenger”. They bring us a message from God. The most important message is the good news, or the “Evangelion” (Gospel) in Greek. The good tidings of Christ the Savior (Who is sometimes referred to as “the Angel of the Lord”) Who comes to earth from heaven. The Angel of the Great Counsel. God knew and knows beforehand all that has happened and will happen to us, all our sins; and at the Eternal Counsel it was decided that the Lord Himself would come to save man, His beloved creation. And to prepare the way to the coming of the Savior another “angel” was sent to mankind—St. John the Baptist, “the angel of desert” and preacher of repentance. These are the main truths of our salvation (and we cannot but mention “the beginning of our salvation”—the Annunciation—the announcement by the Archangel Gabriel to the Theotokos that She would conceive by the power of the Holy Spirit).
These are the truths that should be the permanent subject of our reflection and the content of our spiritual life. Why are we so curious to hear that a “winged angel” has appeared to someone? For lack of faith and idle curiosity. Besides, because of our fall we have become closer to the fallen angels, the demons who are the spirits of self-will and pride.
We want to see angels in order to think of ourselves as saints or at least that we are on the right track; but which path is the right one? It is said that he who sees his sins is higher than he who sees angels. Balaam’s donkey saw an angel as well, but it was not by the animal’s merit. The Holy Fathers [notably St. Silouan the Athonite.—Trans.] teach us: “Keep your mind in hell and do not despair, hoping in the mercy of God.” That is the right track. The more that is forgiven us the more we love; and our ultimate purpose is to love God.
How can we discern God’s will in personal matters? It is said that a wise man can learn from a fool, but a fool will learn nothing even from a hundred wise men. The Lord promised to stay with us to the end of the age. Among two or three who have gathered together in His name, in the Church and its sacraments, in every neighbor of ours who is the image of God and can proclaim His will to us, provided that we are ready to accept it. But our neighbor can be mistaken; how can we know if we should take his advice? And what if we see an angel in a dream or when we are awake? How can we know that it is not satan himself… transformed into an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14)? How not to fall into delusion?
We should judge the advice not by its “package” but by its contents. All that leads us to repentance and self-condemnation is from God. All that lures us into self-admiration and pride is from the evil one.
The Angels reign over the universe, give us good advice, strengthen us in doing good works, protect us from the evil spirits—and all of this is barely perceptible to us. We will see this component of our life in eternity when everything is revealed. True, such things occur even in modern times, but those who witness these phenomena are true servants of God and keep them secret out of humility.
And this is what happened in one monastery in our days.
A young novice was assigned with the task of delivering donated cement to the monastery to pack it into sacks. It was very dusty and dirty work and he was given no improvised tools to boot. Having protested in his soul, he turned around to leave; at the same moment he saw the Savior standing in his place and packing cement. The novice walked back and did his work with great pleasure without feeling the time pass.
As for me, I have never had visions of angels, though there was one interesting occurrence. One day I had such unpleasant problems in my parish that it was as if I had been stunned. I got into the elevator in my block and a girl of seven or eight entered behind me. When the elevator moved, she suddenly started singing: “How brightly the sun shines after the storm...” I got out on my floor, and the girl went up. Was it an angel or was she coming home from music school?
Holy Archangel Michael with all the Bodiless Powers, pray to God for us!
“The angels guide us to repentance”
There have been no cases of visible help from angels in my life or in the lives of my relatives and friends. But I am confident that they are not only near us all the time but also protect us and guide us to repentance.
I would like to draw the readers’ attention to the fact that each of us can be like an angel—the Lord’s messenger—to his neighbors. In pursuit of supernatural miracles and phenomena we tend to forget the more important things, namely love for God and our neighbors.
An example from the life of one holy ascetic who saw an angel in his church when he was serving the Liturgy is edifying. A priest whom he knew once came to him and said that he had made an error during the service. The ascetic was confused and during the next Liturgy he asked the angel whether his fellow-priest was right. The angel replied that his friend’s remark was correct and justified. Then the ascetic asked him why he had never corrected him before. And the angel said that he was not sent to teach and correct him—this ought to be done by his brothers, humans.
Let us recall that when the rich man asked Abraham to send Lazarus to his brothers and warn them about the place of torment that awaited them, Abraham answered that since they didn’t listen to Moses and the prophets they wouldn’t believe someone risen from the dead either (cf. Lk. 16:19–31). In other words, if we don’t live according to the Gospel, we won’t obey the angels even if they were to appear to us.
“We won’t be able to win a victory over the demons without our guardian angel”
Priest Lev Arshakyan, the spiritual father of the Deafblind Home in Puchkovo near Moscow:
The invisible world that we cannot see with our physical eyes exists. This is where the most important events take place. We usually think that we are sighted and very “smart”, but are often knocking our heads against a brick wall while seemingly seeing and understanding everything. It often happens that all our reasoning and logical actions result in what is expressed by the well known [Russian] saying: “We wanted only what was best, but it all turned out as it usually does.” This is because of our lack of understanding of the specific nature of the invisible world where the angels dwell. It is important to know that this world exists, and to be in contact with it through our guardian angels.
Of course, you feel and understand this better when you communicate with deafblind people, especially those who are totally deaf and blind. For them contact with angels is in some sense natural. Some of their stories truly astonish me; although they don’t always share these miraculous stories, because they simply think that that’s the way things should be and it’s nothing out of the ordinary.
Take Svetlana Dubrovskaya, a totally deafblind woman from Belgorod. She recounted that one day she went to a local shop. Though she knew well how to get to the shop, on the way she felt as if she was falling over. But someone’s hand caught her as she was falling and set her back on the road. And the woman proceeded. When Svetlana told her sister about this incident, the latter said that a big hole had been dug on the road to the shop. A pipe had probably burst there. According to Svetlana, she would have fallen to her death but for the angel’s intervention. But Svetlana said it simply and in a natural way.
So the world of angels has a strong impact on our material world. We should realize this, maintaining contact with our guardian angels and praying to them. Without them we won’t be able to avoid the obstacles and traps prepared in the invisible realm by the demons, the spirits of evil.