A homily by His Grace, Bishop Partenij of Antania, Abbot of the Holy Monastery of Bigorski, given at the Divine Liturgy on the Feast of the Holy Archangel Michael and all the Heavenly Powers, after the reading of the Holy Gospel on November 21st in the year of Our Lord 2021.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Today the Orthodox Church is adorned with the Feast of the Great Heavenly Archangel Michael, and along with him the entire Host of all the Holy and Honorable Bodiless Powers. The God-bearing name of the Commander of the Heavenly Host, Michael, derives from the Hebrew phrase mī kāʼēl which poses a rhetorical question: “Who is like God?,” the answer to which of course is: “No one is like God.” The Leader of the Angelic Host proclaims his name’s meaning not with words or explanations, but by living it. He shows us its meaning with the brilliance of the boundless light that he is composed of, and how he unceasingly gazes at the Face of God. The Fathers of the Church often refer to him and the other angels as the second great light, after the Sun of Christ God. The Holy Angels are a natural light, and they are our guides and illuminators on the path to the Kingdom of Heaven.
Truly, we humans are very privileged since we have the honor of being served and helped by God’s Angels, who were created before all else in the material world, even before human beings. They begin to serve a person when they are baptized; each baptized person receives a guardian angel at their baptism who will protect them from evil and guide them on the path of virtue and towards a sacramental life.
Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition teach us that likewise, each nation has its own guardian angel who cares for it and intercedes for it before the Lord, that the nation might be illumined with knowledge of God. Moreover, the Angels encourage us to be strong in faith, to persevere in struggles, and to be patient in the face of temptation.
At last night’s vigil when we were reading the Old Testament passages, I was particularly impressed by the story of Gideon, the Hebrew judge who came from the tribe of Manasseh, the smallest and weakest of the twelve tribes of Israel. In the 9th century BC, when this righteous and God-fearing man lived, the Israelites were not only politically fragmented, but also had been religiously and socially fragmented by the Midianites and other “sons of the East.” Having been persecuted, killed, and enslaved by the Midianites, the Israelites hid in caves and other places throughout Judea. Their conquerors sent bands of thugs to find and kill the children of Israel and ravage their land. Because of all this, the Jewish people were in extremely low spirits. They had heard from their fathers about the great miracles and glorious works that God had done for their people, like in the time of Moses, when He led Israel through the Red Sea and defeated the Egyptian Pharaoh and his armies. They also remembered the many other miracles that had happened through God’s intervention when the Israelites had traveled through the desert to the Promised Land and how He conquered that land with a very small army.
Like his countrymen, Gideon too was plunged into despondency. He too was tormented by the same dark thoughts: Where is the God of our fathers? Where is the God Who used to do such miracles? If He is our God, why has He now left us so weak and powerless, so that the Gentiles can enslave and exterminate us? While he was thinking like this and gathering grain from the threshing floor to hide it from the Midianites, an Angel of God appeared to Gideon and addressed him with the words: “The Lord is with you, you mighty man of valor!” Carried away by this vision, Gideon began to confess his thoughts and fears: “My Lord, if the Lord is with us, why has all this trouble befallen us? And where are all His miracles, of which our fathers told us, saying, ‘The Lord brought us out of Egypt?’ Now the Lord has forsaken us and delivered us into the hand of the Midianites.” Through an angel, the Lord encouraged him, saying to him: “Go in this might of yours, and you shall save Israel from the hand of the Midianites. Have I not sent you?” (Judges 6:12-14). Furthermore, the conversation continues with Gideon doubting whether it was really an Angel of God, so he asked him to stay in that place until he offered him a sacrifice. Gideon went to his home and brought bread and meat stew, to find out whether it was just a man or really a Heavenly Being. Then the Angel touched the food with the tip of his scepter and it all burst into flames, and he disappeared from Gideon’s sight. It was then that he realized that an Angel of God was talking to him, and he was filled with awe.
Having been instructed by the Lord through the Angel, this servant of God took 300 brave warriors from his people and defeated the great Midianite army. Thus, a man who had felt so powerless, a descendant of the weakest tribe in Israel, becomes a strong leader and delivers the Israelites from slavery. Saved from immense oppression, the people wanted to crown Gideon as their king, but he, being God-fearing, did not want to accept it, considering that there is only one King, the Lord. Thus, he was appointed judge of Israel. It was a time when the Jews were led by the so-called judges, who in a way were God’s chosen ones like the prophets.
We can learn a lot from this Bible story. First of all, that God cares for us in our troubles, talks to us through His Angels and sends them to protect and guide us. They banish despair and doubt from us, encourage us to pray and to have spiritual joy, and strengthen us in our struggles with temptations and evil. We talked about the Guardian Angel that we receive at baptism and who is charged by God to inspire us with good thoughts, to keep us obedient to the Church, and to help us fulfill the commandments of God. His hand often protects us from various evils, temptations, and dangers in life, although perhaps we are often not even aware of it. However, I think we have all noticed moments in our own lives when angelic help and intervention from above was obvious to us. This is our Guardian Angel, assigned to us by God, to be by our side in life’s travails. It is not by chance that at every divine service the Church reads a petition to give us “an Angel of peace, a faithful teacher, and guardian of our souls and bodies.”
We need to try not to grieve our benefactors, the Bodiless Powers, by leading careless and disordered lives. It is both a great honor and responsibility that we have them as our assistants and co-workers, and therefore we should imitate them in their unending glorification of God. From today’s Holy Gospel, which is read every time we celebrate the Heavenly Hosts, we heard that we should not rejoice so much that spirits obey us, but that our names are written in the Heavens. As we have heard, the Lord sent His Apostles to preach the Gospel and work against all kinds of snakes and scorpions, which in a figurative sense refers to the old snake Lucifer, who fell from the Heavenly Host because of his pride and rebellion against the Creator. The Apostles were given power that the evil of this world could do nothing to them. Through holy baptism and God’s grace through the mediation of the Holy Angels and Saints, we too are given such strength to defeat evil in this world. However, our Lord Jesus Christ points out that we should not particularly rejoice that evil spirits obey us, but we should rejoice most of all that our names are written in Heaven.
All of us, baptized in Christ, bear one common, great, and holy name: Christians. Most of us, on the other hand, bear the name of a Saint, with some deep meaning, and our life should be in accordance first with the name and calling of Christian, and then with the life of our patron and with the meaning of that name. We have mentioned the meaning of the name of the Holy Archangel Michael, who lives out his name in his works and appearance. We need to know the life of our patron saint, to reflect on their life, about the great deeds by with which they sanctified themselves, so that we would also imitate them and be counted among the dwellers of Heaven, which include all the Bodiless Powers, the Saints, and the souls of those who please God.
So, my beloved, let us rejoice that God writes our names in the Book of Life through baptism, and let us try to keep them there until the end. Not because God forgets or erases something, but we ourselves, through disordered lives of egoism and selfishness, can erase ourselves and fall away from God’s grace. May our strengths and thoughts be directed towards striving for obedience, humility, and love, so that we remain written in the Book of Life, which is the ultimate goal of our existence: to be forever together with our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ and the Triune God in the Heavens, where the Angels glorify Him unceasingly, exclaiming with ineffable voices: Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of Hosts, heaven and earth are full of His glory! Let’s praise and glorify God unceasingly and then we too will be messengers of His endless joy, carrying it in our hearts and bringing good tidings of peace to everyone around us.
May the Holy Angels help us in this!