Saint Michael the Archangel, Defend Us in Battle!
The Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost.
The Holy Apostles Erastus, Olympas, Rhodion & Their Companions.
Parish Celebration on the Sunday following the Synaxis of the Archangel Michael and All Heavenly Powers.
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1:42 AM 11/11/2013 — As rich as the parable of the Good Samaritan is in symbolism and meaning, we've looked at it from a number of different angles in the past. We've looked at it in the context of the political situation between Judea and Samaria; we also looked at it in light of one particular popular icon of the parable in which the Samaritan is replaced with our Lord, reminding us that, when we act in a Christian manner toward our neighbor, we become another Christ, and drew from that an essential lesson about grace: that whenever we do what is right, it is Christ who acts through us. There is, of course, a school of thought that tends to reduce the parable to nothing more than a lesson about avoiding racial or national prejudices; but, I tend to think that robs the parable of its true message, which is one about grace.
It's ironic, therefore, that this particular Sunday occurs this year just on the heals of the Synaxis of the Archangel Michael and All Angelic Powers, since there's just no way to interpret that celebration with any kind of social concern agenda; for, there are few things found in Scripture more shrouded in mystery and more indicative of the supernatural than the angels.
And found in Scripture they are in abundance. They are all over the Old Testament, visiting Abraham, speaking to Isaiah, feeding Jeremiah in the wilderness, delivering the Word of God to Ezekiel, and on and on and on. The New Testament, of course, begins with an angel announcing to the Theotokos that she would be bringing God into the world in the person of Jesus. Angels announce to the shepherds His birth, they minister to our Lord in the desert and during his agony in the garden, and they appear again to bear witness to his glorious Resurrection.
The Blessed Evangelist John, in the Book of Revelation, takes us back to their origins in a highly symbolic way, recounting how they, too, were created with free will, and how one of them led an insurrection against God, for which he was banished with his minions to hell, and from where he and his followers, known as demons, continue to ply their rebellion against grace by tormenting us with temptations away from the truth. How literally you want to take St. John's narrative is up to you, but the moral truth he reveals to us is a matter of dogma, which is why it's in the Bible. Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, is particularly fond of reminding us of the reality of the Devil and the need to be vigilant against his deceptions.
Yet, in spite of their phrenetic activity throughout the Scriptures, only three angels are mentioned by name: Gabriel, Raphael and Michael, whose feast we celebrated on Friday, and around whose feast the Church has attached a commemoration of all of them.
Michael is a Hebrew name which means “Who is like unto God.” He is mentioned several times in the Book of the Prophet Daniel; in the Epistle of St. Jude, where he is given the title of “Archangel”; and, in the Revelation of St. John, in which he takes command of the army of angels tasked with putting down the Satanic revolution and driving Lucifer and his followers out of heaven. Hence, icons which depict him usually show him dressed as a soldier and brandishing a sword. Devotion to him as a popular saint probably began in Phrygia, which was a kingdom in central Anatolia, now present day Turkey, and which was the birthplace of ancient Greek Mythology. From there, it moved to Constantinople where it really flowered, and become particularly important as a symbol of the resistance against the many foreign invasions that continually beset the Eastern Empire. Hence, devotion to Michael and the angels has always been an important part of the spiritual life of the Eastern Churches. He is the defender of purity and truth, and we call upon his intercession particularly in times of temptation, when we are most vulnerable to attack by the Devil and his demons. In the Divine Liturgy, whenever the priest chants the Holy Gospel and distributes Holy Communion, fans called “rapidia” are held over his head which bear images of six-winged seraphim, testifying to the presence of the angels.
What celebrating this feast does is remind us of the fact that Christianity cannot be reduced to a mere social program, to a simple philosophy of brotherly love and concern. Its supernatural component is not something ancillary, a peculiarity of medieval superstition, something that modern Christians must now down-play to make their religion relevant in the contemporary world. Jesus Christ is not a moral philosopher, He is God; His Resurrection from the dead is not a pious fairytale, it's a historical fact; and the grace of redemption that His death and Resurrection transmit to us is necessary for our salvation. As I said to you not too many Sundays ago, our one purpose for being on this earth is to work out our salvation; everything else is just window dressing. If we are not enveloped in the grace of Christ given to us primarily through the Holy Mysteries of His Church, then we are not truly Christians.
The Latin Church has a prayer directed to the Archangel Michael, which some of you probably know. There's a lot of conflicting speculation about its origin; nevertheless, in 1886 Pope Leo XIII required that the prayer be recited at the conclusion of Low Mass in the Roman Rite, which is why it's sometimes referred to as the “Leonine Prayer.” It's use in the Mass of the Roman Rite was suppressed in 1964, but Pope Blessed John Paul II, soon to be Saint John Paul, had particular devotion to it. The Byzantine Churches, of course, would have never allowed such a non-patristical innovation to be added to the Liturgy, so we never had the custom; but, the words of that prayer sum up beautifully not only what devotion to the Archangel Michael is all about, but remind us of the true nature of what the life of the Christian is all about:
Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle; be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray: and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan and all the evil spirits who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls.