Some years ago, when I was a young seminarian, I served with an Episcopal priest who greatly disappointed me in conversation one day by telling me that he saw “no need” for angels. “There’s nothing that angels are described as doing that the Holy Spirit could not do instead.” This kind of heavenly economy had never been offered to me as a theological reason before. When I thought about it, I realized that there was nothing that we could do that the Holy Spirit couldn’t do better, and wondered whether we existed. It seemed silly to me to posit something as not existing simply because you saw no need for it.
Later that week I was in a prayer group with this same priest (in his parish where I worked). It was a fairly informal group, and I have to confess to pure naughtiness when I said to the group, “Father said he sees no need for angels.” I don’t know what I expected, but the response was a sudden torrent of people sharing stories about angels that were purely wonderful. It included a story by an elderly woman who told of seeing an angel by the bed of her dying child. By the end of the evening, my priest friend had recanted and professed a belief in angels.
That is a story from the confusing time of an Anglican seminarian. What do you do when your professor and mentor just ups and denies a cardinal doctrine of the faith? I didn’t know at the time, so I probably did something wrong – though the outcome was good.
In the years since then I have had occasion in sermon or in a class to share a story about an encounter with an angel, or the intervention and help of an angel (I have a few such stories to tell). Without fail the result has been the same as that first night in a prayer group in Chicago. The story I tell is met with a torrent of similar stories. It seems that many people have angelic encounters but (at least in the circles I was in) were afraid to tell anybody.
Apparently if you live in a two-storey universe and you tell about an encounter with a second-floor creature, some people are afraid of the consequences. Thus we have the strange phenomenon of living in a one-storey universe where God is everywhere present, where the holy angels surround us moment by moment, and at the same time we have a great conspiracy of silence not to tell anyone about how things really are. Secularism is just one large myth.
Tonight my wife and I prayed the Akathist to the Archangel Michael (we were offering intercession for a friend). At the end of the prayers my wife said quietly to me, “St. Michael has always been a good friend to us.” It was a time for me to pause and remember how many times through 33 years of marriage we have stood together and asked St. Michael to come to our aid. Sometimes it has been through our own need, other times for the needs of others. But what we have known has been the faithfulness of the “Chief Captain of the Heavenly Hosts” to do battle for us and protect us in all of our spiritual battles.
I do not have an answer for someone who would deny the Holy Angels and subscribe to some form of theological minimalism. With a God who doesn’t make two snowflakes alike, what place does minimalism play in the universe? I’m Orthodox – which is always maximalist. Our God is a great God.
O chosen leader of the heavenly hosts and defender of the human race, we that are delivered by thee from afflictions offer unto thee this hymn of thanksgiving; and as thou dost stand before the throne of the King of Glory, do thou free us from all dangers, that with faith and love we may cry unto thee in praise:
Rejoice, O Michael, great supreme commander, with all the hosts of Heaven!
Kontakion 1 from the Akathist to St. Michael