Holy Archangels / 22nd Sunday after Pentecost / 5th Sunday of Luke, November 8/21, 2021
Galatians 6:11-18; Hebrews 2:2-10; Luke 16:19-31; Luke 10:16-21
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.
On this day we celebrate the feast of the Archangel Michael and all of the heavenly hosts, so it is appropriate that we meditate for a few minutes on these servants of God and what they have to do with our salvation.
In the epistle reading from Hebrews appointed for this feast, we hear about the message that had been delivered by angels and was confirmed by God. What is this message? According to Orthodox tradition and to other references in Scripture, this is the Law of Moses, the Torah (Acts 7:53, Gal. 3:19).
So when we imagine the Prophet Moses receiving the Law, we should not have in our heads a picture of Charlton Heston alone on the side of Mount Sinai, as we see in the 1956 film The Ten Commandments. Rather, when St. Moses saw God and received the Torah from Him on Sinai, the Lord was present with His angels, the hosts of heaven.
If you read the Scriptures closely, you know that God is called “the Lord of Hosts” not just a few times but actually hundreds of times. And we sing that He is Lord of Hosts in the Divine Liturgy, right at its heart during the Anaphora. And who are these hosts over whom He is the Lord? They are the hosts of heaven, the angelic powers who serve Him and worship Him, and who are given care over creation, to steward the wind and waves, the sun, moon and stars, all the animals and plants, and most of all, mankind.
In the Old Testament especially, they are called the “holy ones.” Through the oddness that is the history of the English language, we may not realize that the same word in the Hebrew or Greek of the Scriptures that gets translated “holy one” is also translated as “saint.” People sometimes ask whether it’s right to refer to angels as “saints,” but if we know the Scriptures we understand that the angels are in fact the original saints.
It is no mistake that the same word—saints—came to be used for human beings who lived holy lives and were taken by God to be enthroned with Him in the heavenly places (Eph. 2:6). To understand what this means we should not ask whether we can all angels “saints”—as we have seen, angels are the original saints—but why human beings can be called by this same word that refers to the angels.
Why is an angel holy? He is holy because he participates in God by his obedience to God, by his participation in the works of God. An angel not only delivers messages from God but also stewards the creation, including mankind, and protects us from the dark, fallen powers—both the demonic fallen angels and demonic human beings who participate in those fallen works.
So then why is a saint holy? This is a redundancy, of course, because saint means “holy one.” But this is what we have to work with in English. But what makes this holy person holy? He is holy for exactly the same reason that an angel is holy—his obedience to God, his participation in the works of God. By doing this, the saint becomes more like God.
And so of course when we look at the saints, we see them doing exactly the things that the angels do. They serve and worship God, they deliver messages from God, they are stewards of the creation, and they protect us from evil. This special care that the saints have for us is why we have them as patrons of churches, of places, of families, and of persons. All of this ministry is exactly the same as the ministry of angels.
In the Gospel reading for this feast, from the tenth chapter of Luke’s Gospel, we see Jesus Christ—Who is the Lord of Hosts, being the Son of God—say that He sees the Satan fall like lightning. And this statement is said when the Seventy-Two Apostles (often numbered as the Seventy) return, rejoicing that they are able to cast out demons by exorcism in Christ’s name. What does this mean, and why do we read this Gospel passage for the feast?
In Genesis 10, we read the names of the descendants of Noah, from whom all the nations of the earth came. This number is traditionally seventy or seventy-two. And in the wake of the Tower of Babel, which comes right after this list, we see how they are divided up, described in Deuteronomy 32 as “according to the number of the sons of God” (Deut. 32:8). That is, the nations were each assigned one of the “sons of God,” who are angels, to be their patrons and protectors.
But these patrons fell into evil, because they accepted worship from the nations, and they became what we call demons. This is the origin of paganism, the worship of fallen angels. And so these seventy or seventy-two angelic protectors became demonic oppressors. They had been sent by God to be holy governors, but they became evil tyrants.
So when Christ sees the Satan fall like lightning from heaven, and when He sends out these seventy or seventy-two apostles to preach the gospel, they do this with casting out demons. In other words, they were sent to drive out the enemies of God and to become new protectors and patrons for the nations. That is why they have this number, a number which had been prefigured by the number of the elders of Israel, the Sanhedrin, in the Old Testament.
So what does all this have to do with us?
First, we can see clearly what the gospel is. It is the declaration of Christ’s victory over the powers of darkness that tempted mankind into sinful rebellion and enslaved us to their influence. The gospel is the proclamation of Who Jesus Christ is—the Lord of Hosts become man—what He accomplished—the overthrow of death and demons—and what He expects of us—that we should become saints.
But we also see what the task of the saints is. And since it is the task of all Christians to become saints, so this is our task as well. Our task is not only to believe that the gospel is true but also to become obedient to the gospel. And we do that by faithfulness to Jesus Christ.
And how are we faithful to Jesus Christ? First, we repent of our sins, turning away from the dark works of demons. But it does not stop there. We become faithful by looking at what the holy ones, both angels and humans who become holy, do in their service to Christ.
Above all else, we worship Christ. Why do you think we sing “Holy, holy, holy Lord of Hosts, heaven and earth are full of Thy glory”? Sometimes, this is rendered “Lord of Sabaoth,” but that means “Lord of Hosts.” We sing that not just in imitation of the angels, but in participation with the angels. We are worshiping as they worship. That is the song they sing. That is why we sing right before that that we “mystically represent the cherubim,” that is, the angels who guard the very throne of God and continually cry out to Him in praise of the Lord of Hosts.
But we also deliver messages from Christ—the gospel. We also steward the creation, not just by taking care of the land and plants and animals, but by taking care of the highest of God’s creation—our fellow human beings. We become the patrons and protectors of everyone and everything that God gives into our care. If we are faithful over the little we are given in this life, we will be given care over much in the life that is to come, entering into the joy of our Lord (Matt. 25:21).
In the baptism and chrismation that we are given, and in the Eucharist with which we are strengthened and divinized, we are given all that we need in order to become members of the hosts of heaven. The angels are the original saints. And so if we desire to become saints—which is the desire of every Christian who knows Christ—then we look to the angels first and also to the holy ones from among mankind who have joined them. And there we see what it means to be faithful to Christ, to become by grace what He is by nature, to become, in the words of Jesus Himself, sons of God, equal to the angels (Luke 20:36).
To the Lord of Hosts be all glory, honor and worship, to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.