The following is a short excerpt from Mother Alexandra’s (former Princess Ileana of Romania) small book, The Holy Angels. It is by far the best treatment I have seen on the subject despite its short length. This short account tells of her encounter with her guardian angel at age seven. In the service of Orthodox Baptism, the priest specifically prays that an angel of light be assigned to the life of the child being Baptized.
It was early morning, when I was seven years old, that I saw the angels. I am as sure of it now as I was then. I was not dreaming, nor “seeing things” – I just know they were there, plainly, clearly, distinctly. I was neither astonished nor afraid. I was not even awed – I was only terribly pleased. I wanted to talk to them and touch them.
Our night nursery was lit by the dawn and I saw a group of angels standing, as if chatting, around my brother’s bed. I was aware of this, although I could not hear their voices. They wore long flowing gowns of various soft-shaded colors. Their hair came to their shoulders, and different in color from fair and reddish to dark brown. They had no wings. At the foot of my brother Mircea’s bed stood one heavenly being, a little aside from the others – taller he was, and extraordinarily beautiful, with great white wings. In his right hand he carried a lighted taper; he did not seem to belong to the group of angels gathered around the bed. He clearly stood apart and on watch. I knew him to be the guardian angel. I then became aware that at the foot of my own bed stood a similar celestial creature. He was tall, his robe was dark blue with wide, loose sleeves. His hair was auburn, his face oval, and his beauty such as I cannot describe because it was comparable to nothing human. His wings swept high and out behind him. One hand was lifted to his breast, while in the other he carried a lighted taper. His smile can only be described as angelic; love, kindness, understanding, and assurance flowed from him. Delighted, I crawled from under the bedcovers and, kneeling up against the end of the bed, I stretched out my hand with the ardent wish to touch my smiling guardian, but he took a step back, put out a warning hand, and gently shook his head. I was so close to him I could have reached him easily. “Oh, please don’t go,” I cried; at which words all the other angels looked toward me, and it seemed I heard a silvery laugh, but of this sound I am not so certain, though I know they laughed. Then they vanished.
I was but a child when I saw my guardian angel. As time passed I still sporadically remembered and acknowledged his presence, but mostly, I ignored him…
Thank you for this post and for reminding me of Mother Alexandra’s book. I should continue reading it…
I have a picture of her that was unexpectedly in a small booklet someone had lent me; it is in my living room and is a great comfort to me. Various people in my church knew her and when I think of her and the other monastics I know of, I can only chide myself for not living in hope and quietness all of my days.
One of my greatest regrets in my old age is that when I was a teenager, the nuns at our school informed us that guardian angels were a “myth.” It’s only very recently that I have been trying to re-develop my childhood devotion to my guardian angel, and I feel as if I have wasted so many years when we could have been close. Well, maybe he’s the one who has kept me alive this long so that that relationship could *still* develop.
I must admit stories like this are a stumbling block for me. I suppose I’ve read so much on delusion and guarding oneself from visions that all these things are subject to skepticism. What are we to do when a friend comes to us and tells us they have seen an angel? The first thing I think of is demonic delusion, because it is what the Fathers taught these things typically are. Obviously, this was a very Holy woman, so I really should take this to heart, though it is hard for me. How are we to approach stories like this Father? Is my reserved attitude about visions healthy or is it not Orthodox?
It’s a balance thing for me. I do not want to be so skeptical that my heart becomes hard. Oftentimes our skepticism is born of our reaction to the excessive reports that populate the anxious religious world. However, when I hear the story of a child, I am far more open, and especially seek not to crush a young heart.
Dear Father, bless! With respect to Marcus’ comment (to which I think we can all relate, especially in this culture), it also helps when it is the account of an obviously saintly person, who is spiritually sober, theologically sound, and has a good reputation with all. I think it is also significant when the influence of the encounter is one that obviously leads to greater faith, love, holiness and sobriety in the person’s life. Personally, right now, stories of this kind are what I most long to read or hear. They encourage my faith more than many other things and are a needed antidote to the cynicism and skepticism of our age.
With respect to you i agree with Marcus,
“God is not angry at him who, fearing deception, watches over himself with extreme caution, even if he should not accept something which is sent from God… On the contrary, God praises such a one for his good sense.”
St. Gregory the Sinaite
Hi Karen – please forgive my assertiveness.
“… Thus St. NIcetas Bishop of Novgorod (Jan 31), entered on the solitary life unprepared and against the counsel of his abbot, and soon he heard a voice praying with him. Then “the lord” spoke to him and sent an “angel” to pray in his place and to instruct him to read books instead of praying, and to teach those who came to him. This he did, always seeing the “angel” near him praying,and the people were astonished at his spiritual wisdom and the “gifts of the Holy Spirit” which he seemed to posses, including “prophecies” which were always fulfilled. The deceit was uncovered only when the fathers of the monastery found out about his aversion for the New Testament (although the Old Testament, which he had never read, he could quote by heart), and by their prayers he was brought to repentance, his “miracles” ceased, and later he attained to genuine sanctity.”
Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov – volume one of his collected works
Two summers ago I visited Mother Alexandra’s grave at the Monastery of the Transfiguration in Ellwood City, PA. After the first visit there to pray, I was compelled to return 2 more times. I am thankful for her witness and for her work. I believe angels surround the Monastery.
I share your confidence about the surroundings of the monastery. Monasteries are great places of warfare. Father Stephen +
I am glad to read your last comment, Father Stephen. With all the emphasis on Christianity as a religion of “peace,” it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that actually, it’s a religion of unremitting warfare, and that genuine peace can only come about through incessant vigilance against the enemy of man and, when necessary, open warfare.
Katia, there’s nothing to forgive! Thanks for your many offerings of the wise words of our spritiual fathers. It is a blessing to me and to many I am sure.
The story of Mother Alexandra concerning her guardian angel is one I find difficult to accept, but to do so is to reject the plain teaching of both scripture and tradition. I am not familiar with Mother Alexandra other than having seen her book on the shelves, but Mother Gavrilía is one with whom I am very familiar, and she also speaks of angels, though not in the same way. My older sister in her childhood and young adulthood was always claiming to have seen angels, and it turned out that she was emotionally ill, and eventually turned to Mormonism because of its emphasis on “angels,” which also impressed me negatively. Lastly, I had some brief encounters with “beings” myself in the “New Age” movement, which I have analyzed as being delusional. What I find odd is that more of the “angel” sightings come from women than from men. I also am cautious because of holy apostle Paul’s contrasting sound faith principles and practices with those of people “who love groveling to angels,” possibly those who worshipped intermediaries between God and man other than Jesus. The whole question has many sides, and arguments in favor and against often both make sense.
I tried making “devotion” to my guardian angel part of my spiritual life both as an Episcopalian (Saint Augustine’s Prayer Book), and as an Orthodox, but have not been able to maintain it, because I do not see it as necessary. What it came down to was, yes, I believe there are angels, as indicated in scripture, but as for “tradition” about them, I am skeptical.
I think there is much unhealthy interest in angels in our culture – though I do not find it present in Orthodox writings (the unhealthy part). Mother Alexandra’s story is relatively uncommon, though I accept it as true.
I presume that our relationship with the angelic is no different than what I read in the Scriptures, thus I assume their constant and abiding presence and reality. But they, like us, serve God, so it is God I need to seek and not my angel. I do the standard daily prayer to my Guardian angel from the prayerbooks, and do this out of respect and sorrow for my sin which must grieve my angel to no end. But I do not seek to “experience” my angel. It would be delusional.
We are taught to seek God – though in seeking God we will likely also encounter angels and saints (He’s surrounded by them). Orthodox worship is a helpful guide for me.
“An Angel of peace, a faithful guide and guardian of our souls and bodies let us ask of the Lord,” we pray during services. The Orthodox Church believes every child receives from God a Guardian Angel. The Lord Jesus Christ said: “See that you do not despise one of these little ones; for I tell you, their angels in heaven always behold the face of My Father in heaven” (Matthew 18:10).
The Blessed Augustine writes, “The angels, with great concern, and with untiring eagerness, reside with us at every hour and in every place. They help us, they foresee our needs, serve as mediators between God and ourselves, lifting up to Him our groans and sighs … Accompanying us in all our travels, they go in and out with us, attentively watching if we deport ourselves with piety and honor among the evil species, and with what effort do we seek the Kingdom of God.” A similar thought is expressed by Basil the Great, “With every believer there is an angel, which, as a child’s leader and pastor, directs his life.” And in confirmation of this he quotes the Psalm that says about God that “He commands His angels regarding you to guard you in all your paths … The angel of the Lord encamps all around those who fear Him, and delivers them” (Psalm 91:11, 34:7). Bishop Theophan the Recluse instructs in one of his letters, “We must remember that we have a Guardian Angel and turn to him in our thoughts and heart. This is good during peaceful times and especially so during turmoil. When such contact with the angel is missing, he has no means of influencing us. For example, if one approaches quicksand or an abyss, and has plugged his ears and closed his eyes, how can anyone help him?”
Thus should a Christian remember his good angel, who for the span of all his life concerns himself with him, rejoicing in his spiritual achievements, and grieves over his downfalls. When a person dies, the angel takes his soul to God. Having found itself in the spirit world, according to many accounts, the soul recognizes its Guardian Angel.
The first half of the 1990’s saw an explosion of the number of books on angels. Many of these books contain touching accounts of the roles angels played in the salvation of people in their daily lives. Almost all these books advocate an openness to angels and a grateful acceptance of angels and their communications with mankind. Many of the authors encourage an angel-centered life and the hope for their regular influence and, at the same time, an awareness that angels sometimes appear in ways that are outwardly not very angelic.
Nearly all these books fail to consider that the devil and his legions of demons are fallen angels who can disguise themselves as angels of light to cause the destruction of our souls. From the letters of St. Paul (2 Cor. 11:14) to modern times, the writings of the Church describe how these fallen angels masquerade not only as angels of light but also as saints, the Virgin Mary, and Christ Himself.”
Dear Fr Stephen,
Though your comment right after mine was not directed to me by name, I still found it a sympathetic response to my concerns, and a very balanced instruction, “…they, like us, serve God, so it is God I need to seek and not my angel. I do the standard daily prayer to my Guardian angel from the prayerbooks, and do this out of respect and sorrow for my sin which must grieve my angel to no end. But I do not seek to “experience” my angel. It would be delusional.”
Thank you for these words.
I find my self somewhat perplexed with the skeptical attitudes on angelic visitation expressed here. Angels exist, people see them. Delusions exist, people have delusions. Demons exist, people see demons. They are three separate orders of experience. Two of the three are intimately bound to our falleness and the falleness of creation. As such they are anti-salvific.
But to reject angelic visitation simply because of the potential for being led astray is sort of like rejecting marital sex because of the temptation to prostitution, adultery and fornication. Seems like that to me anyway.
Certainly we need to guard our hearts and minds but we do not do that with a critical mind, but a mind that is immersed in the the Church, a humble heart and obedient spirit.
One thing that has always struck me about the stories of the monks deulded by demons, is that they did not submit their experience to their spiritual father immediately. The ‘visons’ only became problematic becasue of the failure of obedience and lack of humility.
As with icons, veneration of Mary and a whole host of other things in the Church, attitude and discernement are everything and we don’t really need to know why or how all the time. Somethings just are.
I think it’s just that comments get a little off subject or to the side. Your points are well made. Frankly, as a parish priest, the delusions I see most often are not of the “supernatural” sort, but simply the everyday delusions of sin and make us blind to the goodness of God and make our hearts hard. I suspect this is the most common thing. My belief, underwritten by the words of the liturgy, is that we are constantly in the company of angels. I also believe that were the universe not sustained moment by moment by the mercy of God it would cease to exist. Everything is a “miracle” for everything is Christ’s. But everyone’s read me saying such things before.
Isn’t in the book Unseen Warfare somewhere that the Devil doesn’t have to directly bother with most of us? He just let our own sin take care of it.
“I also believe that were the universe not sustained moment by moment by the mercy of God it would cease to exist. Everything is a “miracle” for everything is Christ’s.”
Amen and amen, Fr Stephen. Again, your experience and thoughts match mine exactly. Thanks for the encouragement you provide in this blog.
During one of my first “catechumen chats” with my priest, I cautiously shared with him a story from my childhood about an angel sitting on a stool by my bed. (I was five. I had misunderstood the news on TV that night, and went to bed believing that there was going to be a massive earthquake by a certain hour, and that we’d all probably die; I lay awake in terror, waiting for it to happen; then I looked over at the angel, who was matter-of-factly pointing at my clock. It was past the hour. “Oh,” I said, and went to sleep. When I woke up the next day, I was ecstatic to be alive [it was better than Christmas!], but later I decided that I had probably been dreaming.) My priest’s response was helpful because although he nodded and said it may very well have been my guardian angel, he said it wasn’t anything to dwell on or be proud of. I was just glad he didn’t think I was crazy to think that may have “really happened” ….
Particularly in the lives of children such stories are common (and, I believe, real). Your priest’s response sounds like what I think of as common among Orthodox priest. A matter-of-fact acceptance, without over-reacting.
I remember a football coach telling his players, “If you score a touchdown, don’t act like it’s the only time you’ve ever been in the endzone.”
Or my favorite quote from a Belorussian monk, who is a friend, “You Americans! You talk about miracles like you don’t believe in God!”
These things are simply real and part of our universe (and so is my spiritual delusion which is part of my sin). I do not always correctly perceive what is going on in the most common of things, which is to say that I am just as likely not to have a correct perception about spiritual things and thus need guidance, etc. But we should neither cultivate a skepticism nor be like the “unbelieving believers” who run from miracle story to miracle story, desperately looking for more proof that there really is a God. An Orthodox Christian should know there is a God and cultivate a peaceful heart in the matter. This is not easily done in our modern culture.
Father Stephen +
Father, thanks for that quote (“You talk about miracles like … “). 😀 It occurs to me now that I grew up with an Oma (Mennonite grandma) who matter-of-factly told us stories of miracles and angels different family members had seen in various hard situations, but always with the emphasis on the goodness of God in sending them. (One involved her little niece who accidentally was scalded to death in a tub of boiling laundry water, and as she died, she told her mother she could see her angels coming for her.) So I wasn’t surprised when I was five. It’s a shame that as I grew older I caught the sensationalism bug. And other bugs. My impure heart probably wouldn’t know an angel now if it whacked me on the head.
When I became Orthodox, the Archangel Michael “officially” became my patron saint, and I have a lot of difficulty praying to him, even though I do feel (don’t ask me why, I don’t know) cared for by him. It’s completely silly, but I catch myself thinking that I have to live up to having an angel for a patron saint, that somehow a human saint would be easier to relate to. Every thought I think seems hopelessly tangled with pride sometimes.
Thank you Father for this post.
My thought on this is we should not have any problem in someone telling what they encountered either by seeing angels or seeing some light after a prayer or group prayers. These things happen. We always rush into doubting.
Those people especially if they start to talk about it, they are presenting their witness. And being a witness of GOD’s gifts should not be doubted or should it be taken as a problem for the presenter.
In my sinfulness, I don’t trust my own judgment very much. First I check to see if the story is consistent with Orthodoxy: and guardian angels are real. Then I look to see what is the fruit of the spiritual encounter. In this case, a child who grew to be a woman who dedicated her life to God. Sounds okay, so far.
I look to see whether the recipient becomes the focus of attention: that’s pride & from the devil. Or does the encounter become the focus of attention, i.e. seeking visions, focusing on angels alone, or prophesy, etc. Again, that’s delusion, and not from God. Or does the encounter focus attention on God or one’s own sinfulness. That’s when you can have some faith that it is true.
Finally, I don’t think that I have to be the judge of everyone else’s experiences. My spirituality & beliefs are not based on my own or others’ visions. I rejoice to know that my guardian angel is always present & helping me. As such, he deserves thanks and apologies for my sinfulness. This vision warms my heart and reinforces the Orthodox truth of guardian angels, and that makes me thankful to God. That’s all I need to know. God knows the ultimate truth of every detail.
God Who is here,
God Who is there,
God Who is.
(“Here” meaning earth, “there” meaning heaven).
I had read this story of Mother Alexandra’s encounter with her guardian angel shortly before I visited her grave at the Monastery in Ellwood City, PA 3 summers ago. I was deeply touched. She would not want us to think of her as especially holy. She was chosen for a work that not many can do and that angelic appearance was one of the early course-setting experiences of her life.
I urge readers to support the work that she began at the Orthodox Monastery of the Transfiguration. And if you are able to visit there, do so. You will be richly blessed.
marianna, you make some good points. i think when someone has a true experience, it is a very personal thing, something one wouldn’t share with many, if anyone. i had one such experience a few years ago. i go back sometimes and remember it, especially when i am going through a difficult period. i felt that it was a gift i didn’t deserve, but i treasure it in my heart.