Monday – the Day of the Holy Angels

guardian-angel.jpg

Yesterday I set out to write a short piece on each day of the week. In the Orthodox calendar, each day of the week has its own particular dedication – an aspect of the life and ministry of Christ or of our life as Christians. Monday is remembered as the Day of the Angels. The hymns for this day will always reflect, in some manner, the ministry of angels.

The Scriptures are filled with the stories of angels – whether encounters with angels by men or women – or visions of angels (described in numbers that represent a near infinity) surrounding God or His throne.

The first sort of story I find of interest because it says we are not alone – that is – not alone among sentient creatures. We are not the only creature who can give voice to praise. We are told in Scripture that the angels are “ministering servants” – as far as we are concerned they are here to help.

I have collected (mentally) many stories of modern angelic encounters over the years and marvel at each one. Some are simply unusual but otherwise mundane – a stranger who acted on someone’s behalf and then seemed to have vanished. Others are stories of angels that could have been taken from Scripture – complete with wings! Among those is one related from the childhood of Mother Alexandra (the former Princess Ileana of Romania).

Of the visions recorded in Scripture – I find it interesting that there is no description of a heavenly vision of God or His throne (however obliquely God may be described) that does not include a numberless host of angels. God is not spoken of as the Alone – but as the Lord God of Sabbaoth (Hosts).

Thus I begin my Monday with a remembrance that I am not alone – my prayers and praises are part of a vast chorus that fills the universe and beyond. Nor do I dwell alone. I am watched and guarded by the good God who created me, and by His angels that surround me.

Troparion to St. Michael in the 4th tone

O Commander of the Heavenly Hosts,

We who are unworthy beseech you

That by your prayers you will encompass us

Beneath the wings of your immaterial glory

And protect us who fall down and cry:

Deliver us all from harm,

For you are the commander of the powers on high.

Comments

  1. says

    I finally attended my first Orthodox services this weekend. I understand that the Saturday Vespers was a combined service for evening and morning prayers and that some parishes have the morning prayers before the Divine Liturgy. I also attended DL on Sunday.

    There is way too much for me to process right now (and I’ll probably write it on my own blog), but your post reminded me of something.

    Vespers was small. The priest, a reader and the choir director (priest’s wife). The reader was a very pleasant tenor and the choir director alternated between the lead and alto as the particular hymn needed to sustain a proper harmony.

    I was invited to sing with them (I am a handy bass in a pinch). I have heard it said that while Orthodox are at least discouraged from praying with non-Orthodox (and often forbidden) that non-Orthodox may pray with Orthodox, so maybe this is the priest’s thinking. (He showed me how to cross myself and venerate icons, but I couldn’t get that comfortable.)

    My point? Sorry, getting there.

    I very distinctly had the impression that the building was not empty as it appeared from the small choir nook where the three of us stood for those two hours.

    I have had the unfortunate experience of holding Bible studies on Wednesday or Sunday night when attendance was light and it was always troubling, but my heart was not troubled at all.

    I can confirm something else. On Sunday I didn’t join the choir and so couldn’t follow the service at all and became very much an “observer” and while that did have some merit, it was meaningless compared to the hospitable participation I was allowed on Saturday.

    Does everyone chant that fast?! I think you wrote once how you were surprised at how slowly monks spoke the Jesus prayer. I longed for them to slow down so that I might savor the liturgy.

  2. says

    Dear David, boy can I relate about the speed of chanting! I attend a Russian parish and know quite a bit of Russian, but I cannot keep up with the Creed when it’s chanted in Slavonic! Too fast! Otherwise, my personal solution has been to get a book of the Divine Liturgy to help follow along. Of course, the prayers and readings that change aren’t in there, but it might help through the rest of the service. After a while, you get used to it, learn a lot by heart, and your ears speed up or something. :)

    Father, I really like this series on the days of the week. Thank you for doing it! I am learning a lot.

  3. says

    “I longed for them to slow down so that I might savor the liturgy.”

    Perhaps this is part of the problem, David. The Church isn’t about what I want or long for (else my own Orthodox Church would be singing Bach chorales!). It’s about the Church being the Church, and about us finding our place in it.

    Give it some time. For me, it was a long time before the song of the Church became what I want and long for…regardless of tempo, it is now my song, too.

  4. Meg says

    Oh, man, I’ve had that experience, too, of being “alone” in the church with the priest — I sing weekday liturgies — and feeling as if the place was packed to the gills!

    As for learning anything by heart — I remember when we had a Greek priest who would sometimes forget to say the Creed in English. Since the Creed is central to the faith of an Orthodox Christian, I figured I’d better learn it in Greek. I started with one or two phrases I recognized, like “Fos ek fotos” (Light of Light), and built it up from there. Took a couple of months, but now I can rattle it off with the best of them.

    I’m enjoying this series, too. GREAT idea, Father!

  5. says

    David,

    Such things will always vary. There is a certain amount of freedom in worship, and, interestingly, the more Old World the Church, the more likely you are to see varying practices such as kneeling or prostrations (most American Orthodox do not make prostrations on a Sunday). And you are very correct that a parish is not the same thing as the Church (or representative of every parish). I try to take things at a pace that can be clearly understood, as does our choir. But you see a variety of practice.

    One of the more interesting things is to read St. John Chrysostom’s sermons (they were written just as they were spoken). In some he makes asides and criticisms to the congregation that is very revealing of late 4th century worship. He fussed that some made the sign of the cross too fast and said that they looked like they were “swatting flies,” for example. He complained that more of the congregation knew the names of the charioteers (the racetrack was just next to the Cathedral) than of the Apostles. Some of it sounds very timeless…

  6. says

    C, I appreciate the truth behind your remarks, but they aren’t very helpful to me. I’m quite sure there are parishes that sing the liturgy slower than that. And I don’t see St John C or St Basil upset that I longed to know the fullness of the words they wrote.

    And I would not say it was “the Church” since “the Church” if I might be so pointed was largely mumbling or only occasionally voicing a line (in fact, there was a great deal of difference between how some parishioners worshiped and others). Some cross themselves once, some twice; some point to the floor, others touch the floor, others kneel and put their head to the floor (btw, these folks had a terrible time keeping up); some stood, some sat, some walked in and out with children; some lit candles, others placed flowers before icons; some kissed the hand of the priest when they venerated the cross, some didn’t.

    I could go on, but none of this is criticism and it’s beginning to sound that way. There is clearly a tension in Orthodoxy about conformity. It seems to me that there are varying demands depending on parish, priest and Bishop.

    BTW, the speed was the choice of the reader and the choir director (talented though they were) not “the Church”.

  7. says

    Getting acclimated to Byzantine worship takes a bit of time. I can’t remember a thing about the first Liturgy I attended except the homily, and that’s about the size of it for about the first five or six I attended. One thing I remember clearly, however, is realizing that in many respects the services aren’t exactly linearly organized. There are moments where the priest is doing something separate from what the congregation is doing and the deacon is potentially doing yet something else.

    I can understand what you mean about not being able to follow along without being part of the choir; there are those who say “the choir is the best catechism,” although there are also those who would strongly disagree with that sentiment. Again, it takes time.

    In terms of people in the congregation doing different things–C. S. Lewis once remarked, having visited Orthodox churches during his honeymoon in Greece, that the Orthodox worship was the most beautiful he had ever seen, but what impressed him even more was exactly your observation–“and nobody took the slightest notice of what anybody else was doing,” he concluded, noting that this was not just good Christianity, but good manners. There are tensions in Orthodoxy, to be sure, but what you saw was not necessarily one of them.

    Richard

  8. says

    Monday is the “ninth” day of the week, isn’t it? And on this day we commemorate the nine Angelic hosts. There were ten innitially, (and Judaism, who does not believe in “fallen” Angels, still holds to the same number), but one of these fell from the Heavens because of pride, and is meant to be re-completed by the number of those that live the angelic life here on earth: monks and martyrs, because they defy the body, though being themselves very much in the body. So, on the “tenth” day of the week, we commemorate the Desert Fathers, John the Baptist included. On the “twelfth” day of the week we celebrate the Twelve Apostles, along with all the saintly Church Fathers.

  9. says

    David,

    I sympathize with your frustration in not being able to understand the words because of the rapid pace, and sometimes a priest who slurs words or mumbles. In Orthodoxy the words sung at vespers and/or matins ARE important, and they need to be understood, but for a seeker, in most parishes most of the words will eventually be understood over time.

    If you really are interested in Orthodoxy, I would think the best advice for seekers is to go, to go often, to drink in the liturgical message and ultimately it becomes clearer to the listener. Eleven years ago when I began my journey to Orthodoxy, a friend gave me some wise advice. He told me to put the service books away as they can be a hindrance and distraction in worship and not try to follow every word but stand, listen, pray, and the beauty as well as the understanding of the liturgical services would be revealed over time. Today as I gaze around the Orthodox Churches, I see the people repeating the words to themselves, as the Liturgy becomes a real part of their worship experience.

    And the organic flow-in and out-of people coming and going can be disconcerting, especially when encumbered by pews. But ultimately those distractions are just that. They fade as one is overcome by the beauty of the Liturgy, its intricacies, its complexities, certainly its Biblical basis. Truly, there are times when an Orthodox service can be “heaven on earth.”

    And finally, if you witnessed bows, prostrations, continual veneration of icons, flowers, coming and going, you were blessed in being able to see the actions of the faithful. These kinds of scenes are much more prevalent in countries like Russia and are witnesses to a profound faith. And there is nothing more endearing than watching the children venerate icons.

    Be patient. If you are truly interested in Orthodoxy, understanding, perhaps not always patience with poor services, but comprehension of the fullness of the Faith will come to you.

  10. says

    David,

    Join the club!

    Here’s somethin’ that You might find funny `n’ interresting (though not helpful in the least — sorry! :p ) :

    cumecclesia.blogspot.com/2007/03/how-catholics-pray.html

    :-)

  11. says

    David –
    All I’m saying is that when I was still a Protestant, the more I worshipped with the Orthodox, the more I realized that the liturgy was not about my own preferences of tempo or key. It is what it is, and it was up to me to learn it well enough to be able to join in their song – not up to them to change it so that it is what I prefer or what is easiest for me.

    It was worth investing the time it has taken to learn the liturgy. The tempos and keys that the musicians decide to use might still not be what I would pick (I’m a former Protestant church musician) but all of that is really quite beside the point and has actually become quite unimportant – at least to me.

    Give it some time.

  12. David says

    Please understand C, I’m getting hit pretty hard in various “Orthodox” conversations I’m having.

    I’m getting more “tough luck” than “taste and see”.

    It’s almost like some aren’t satisfied with running the race or the works God has prepared, so they have to add their own “obstructions” to test whether I’m serious about my inquiry into Orthodoxy. They want to judge whether I’m worthy to receive the Truth. Bah!

    Temptations and the appetites of the flesh, pride and self-loathing, the labors under the heat of the sun, the toll-gates to pass through on death. All these things are enough.

    Orthodox ought to help people come to the church. One doesn’t look at a child trying to walk and say, “well of course your butt hurts, you aren’t standing up properly, eventually you might get it, but I’m sure you’ll just give up.” Instead you hold the child’s hands and assist them in learning to balance.

    Double bah!

    Sorry, I’ll stop now.

  13. says

    One doesn’t look at a child trying to walk and say, “well of course your butt hurts, you aren’t standing up properly, eventually you might get it, but I’m sure you’ll just give up.”

    This sentence reminded me of some dialogue-exchange in the ‘Sly’ thriller “Lock Up”:

    — Not yet! … He can take more!

    — Mr. Braden, … the inmates are tougher than you can imagine. >:)

  14. says

    David,

    I understand what you are saying, and I don’t think your concerns are entirely unjustified. There certainly are (likely) parishes where “the way things are done” is simply an excuse to remain apathetic toward outsiders who show interest. But, I think the others in this comment thread have expressed very well a central truth of Orthodoxy.

    I once read a remarkable essay comparing Catholicism to Baseball (the same could be said of Orthodoxy). The basic gist of the essayist was that you don’t dumb down baseball, or slow its temple (God forbid, it’s slow enough already). You don’t speed it up, you don’t cut the difficult rules that make a newbie confused. Part of the beauty of the game is its complexity, the fact that one must sweat and toil over years to truly appreciate and understand the game. Dumb it down, and the first thing that would happen is that it would cease to be the great pastime that it is.

    It may be that you’ve found a parish that is less than perfect. Perhaps they don’t show enough interest in “seekers.” I bet, though, given enough time, you’ll begin to understand more, that this is not the case.

    What if the best way to help you is to allow you to struggle? Besides, there are many here in this thread who are offering a kind hand and an open “hearth” to sit beside you and chat with you.

    Let me just say that I have struggled with the same feelings you describe, at least in my own way (I don’t mean to imply that I have perfect empathy or “know just what you’re going through… I don’t).

    Stick with it. “Show thyself a man.” Persevere even when others make it less than easy. You may find them truer friends than you ever imagined. Something about the wounds of a friend versus the kisses of an enemy comes to mind here…

    You may find yourself the one who someday is used by God in that very parish to enhance their ability to help outsiders by increasing their awareness of how inquirers think and feel, and what they need to do to help others in your shoes.

    Keep your eyes and heart on Christ; he is the center of Orthodoxy. This is the only reason it has flourished for two millennia now. He is there, at the altar, in the Church, in the Gospel, regardless of how the people around you act. Or how fast they sing. ;-)

    And now, just so I don’t completely acquiesce and abet the derailing of this thread, consider the angels. Can you imagine entering the presence of millions of angels, cherubim and seraphim, to worship the brilliance of the Lamb? Ought we not expect to have some semblance of “lostness” in such a grand and overwhelming host? But, this is exactly where we find ourselves in the Liturgy, no?

    Blessings, brother.
    Kevin

  15. says

    I could abuse your metaphor with other people in the stands refusing to explain the Infield Fly Rule because they think that if you don’t already know it or you are used to football you’ll never get it, or because they explained it to someone yesterday who they didn’t see back at the next game.

    My problem is not that Orthodoxy may be hard, or should be. My problem is that some one else might take it upon themselves to make it harder for their own purposes (even if they think they are doing God’s work). As for making it easier, there is plenty in scripture and in Tradition about baring one another not barring one another.

    And yes, I suppose this is a derail, stink! Sorry Fr Stephen.

  16. says

    David, I apologize for those who are less than helpful, less than welcoming. it should not be hard because someone intentionally made it so. Forgive them. Listen to God and look for God, if someone gives you a hard time or bad advice, ignore them and pray for them. Orthodox behavior embarasses me frequently when I hear stories of us acting in a way no Christian should act. And yet I would not be anywhere else. Instead, I would love to serve as their priest for a while.:)

  17. says

    David,

    Converts probably should refrain from anything other than “God help you,” for about 10 years or something. I must admit I’m tired of the “marine recruit” approach to those who are new. Christ told us to be of comfort to one another. Thus, don’t be discouraged. And ignore unhelpful things said by others. They think they’re being helpful – strange isn’t it. But it will be fine in time. And you’re not alone in your thoughts.

  18. says

    Fr Stephen, God bless you!

    Every day God draws me closer to Orthodoxy, despite myself, despite the world and despite those particular Orthodox :-)

    I will pray for them and I will take “God help you” as a motto for myself, if you don’t think it improper.

    I was just thinking earlier today how 10 years ago, I could not have known my present life. What wonders does God have in store 10 years from now?

  19. Lucy says

    Fr. Stephen,

    I don’t see a way to email you, so I’ll ask my question here. Is there a book or article that you would recommend for someone wanting to learn more about the intercession of saints and angels, particularly about how to ask the saints and angels to pray? I’ve been Orthodox for a few years, but this still is something I don’t know a lot about, nor do I practice it on a very regular basis. But I’m thinking more about something that could be read by someone who is not Orthodox that would explain both the “whys” and the “hows.”

    I sent this post as well as the one about guardian angels to someone who is interested in learning more. Perhaps you’ve written other posts about this subject? I looked through the archives somewhat, but didn’t find quite what I was looking for.

    I recently started reading this blog and have enjoyed it very much. Already, your writing has positively affected my faith. Thank you!

  20. says

    Lucy,

    I’ll take a look tomorrow to come up with some useful titles. To a large extent, most Orthodox prayers to saints are to be found in liturgical services, or particularly in services such as an Akathist (a large number of saints have akathists composed for them). But I’ll see what I can do on something that does a good job of why and how. It is sometimes the case that such a book has not been produced in English yet. I run across this a lot. I’m always saying to myself, “Now there’s a book someone needs to write!”

    But I’ll see what I can do in the morning (it’s my day off – so I blog a lot on Monday’s).