November 8, 2018

Encomium to the All-Great Archangels Michael and Gabriel (St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite)

By St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite

If, my beloved fathers and brethren, I were granted the gift of acquiring one of the tongues which the angels have, as the Apostle of Christ Paul says, (“even if I speak in the tongues of the Angels”) it would be certain and only to be expected that I would be able to praise Michael and Gabriel, the Archangels of the Lord, in a manner befitting them, since it is natural that one thing can be praised and presented to others by something similar to it. Had I but one of those fiery and immaterial tongues which were given to the holy and divine Apostles, I would be able to speak with supernatural praise, as is their due, of the fiery and immaterial Chief Captains.

If, even for a short time- I had purified my tongue, as Isaiah did, with the coal from the Seraphim, there would be some hope that I might say something worthy of the Commanders. But since I do not possess any of these qualities and I do not have an angelic tongue, but a human one; not fiery, but earthly; not immaterial. but material; not pure but impure, and apart from all that, not rhetorical or methodical, but unlearned and without method; what can you expect to hear from me? Just a few, poor things about the holy Archangels.

I shall avoid examining the nature of the Archangels: when they were created, how and where, and in what way they think and perceive, how they move from one place to another and their other angelic features, concerning which the theologians teach, especially Dionysios the Areopagite. Instead, I shall show in this encomium only that divine Michael and holy Gabriel were particular servants of the exceptional energies and works of Almighty God, and take care that you understand.

According to the theologians, there are two main energies and particular features and characteristics of our Holy God: one is justice [righteousness], which is also called apportionment or judgement; the other is goodness, which is also called kindness, compassion, and mercy, concerning which David says: “Lord, I shall hymn your compassion and justice before you” (Ps. 100, 1). With justice, God judges people and disciplines them when they sin and do not observe His commandments. And, through His goodness, He shows mercy and compassion to them.

The Archangel Michael is the Angel of God’s justice, because we see him as the servant who chastens and reforms bad people, while also guarding and defending the good. This is apparent from a number of parts of Scripture, especially the death Michael dealt to the first-born of the Egyptians and the protection he gave to the first-born of the Jews.

The Archangel Gabriel, seems to be the Angel of God’s goodness and compassion, since he is the one we see as the servant who shows people God’s great mercy and compassion This can be seen in many instances, especially the joyful tidings Gabriel brought to the world concerning the great mercy of Christ’s coming into the world.

The greatest and most important works of God are three in number: first the creation of the spiritual world; then the creation of the perceptible world; and third the incarnation of the Word of God. In all three, He employed Michael and Gabriel as His primary and special servants.

God first created the spiritual world; He brought it out of non-existence into existence. He adorned it with three triads of hierarchies: Thrones, Cherubim and Seraphim; Dominions, Powers and Authorities; Principalities, Archangels and Angels. Above these nine orders, He placed the first princes and teachers, Michael and Gabriel. Listen to how and in what way.

Because Michael remained a most grateful servant of the Almighty God, he carried out spiritual warfare in heaven against the renegade Devil and his angels, when they puffed themselves up against the true God. Michael cast them into the nethermost part of the Earth. As the Revelation says: “Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back… and the great dragon was hurled down- that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him (Rev.12, 7-9). Because of his great achievement, he was appointed first among the nine orders of Angels and he taught them to display gratitude, obedience and humility towards God and to be always indivisibly united with Him.

Saint John Chrysostom tells us that to Gabriel alone was the mystery of the incarnate dispensation entrusted, as do the hymnographers of the Annunciation: “only to you do I entrust the Mystery”. He became God’s primary and most important servant, from the beginning to the end. He was appointed first prince and teacher of all the orders of Angels, even of the supreme Cherubim and Seraphim, and taught them all the hidden words and knowledge which are concealed in the depths of this mystery.

And even if Saint Paul says that it was His intention that “through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the Principalities and Authorities in the heavenly realms”, this should be interpreted as occurring though the mediation of Gabriel. According to Gregory of Nyssa, this manifold wisdom of God is that He will defeat opposites with opposites, i.e. pride with humility, glory with dishonour, strength with weakness, wisdom with foolishness. Gabriel learned this manifold wisdom from the incarnate Word Himself and from the Holy Spirit, Who is with Him, and so he passed it on to all the orders of the Angels, without stinting, as in the words of the Wisdom of Solomon: “I learned without guile and bestow ungrudgingly” (cf. 7, 13).

That Gabriel is the first among the nine order of Angels is clear also from the following: it is the common view of the Church, and, indeed, of Abba Isaak, that all the ranks of Angels receive all illumination from Christ, Who, according to Saint Paul, is above every principality, authority and power and every name in the coming age (cf. Phil. 2, 9-11). By the same token, we know that it is from the Mother of God, who is incomparably superior to the Seraphim, that the Angels have their illumination, as Gregory of Thessaloniki [Palamas] says, in his first discourse on the Entry and in his discourse on the Dormition.

Since no-one is closer to Christ and the Mother of God than Gabriel, it may be concluded that it is through him that all the ranks of the Angels are illumined. Even though Saint Dionysios [the Areopagite] says that the first order are the Thrones and the Archangels the eighth, this refers to the time before the incarnation. Because thereafter, the order was reversed, according to Saint Isaak and the first became last and the last first.

Secondly, God created the perceptible world in six days. He bedecked the heavens with the multitude of stars and the suns; He adorned the earth with all manner of plants and animals; He filled the air with the sweet trilling of the birds. Finally, He made people, placed them in Paradise and told them to observe His divine commandment. Alas, they broke His commandment and were exiled from the Paradise of delight and sent into this world of tears. Here, too, God employed Michael and Gabriel, the outstanding servants of His providence and judgement. Once Adam had been exiled, Michael felt sorry for him and showed him how to till the earth, since he did not know how to do so, how to sow, to harvest and generally how to run his exhausting life, from preparing food to making clothes, as is the opinion of some of the teachers of the Church.

Michael continued to care for and protect all the Forefathers before the Law: Seth, Enos, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the twelve Patriarchs. Sometimes he brought them to knowledge of the one true God; at others he chastised and punished those who opposed Him. He was the instructor and guide of the children of Israel, going before and alongside them, defeating the alien nations who fought against Him, and bringing them to the promised land.

Here, too, we should admire the majesty of Michael. Because the nations were divided among the Angels, and one looked after one and another another. The Israelites, however, were not under the care of an Angel, but of God Himself, as Moses says in his hymn: “When the Most High divided the nations, when He separated the sons of Adam, He set the bounds of the nations according to the numbers of the angels of God. And His people Jacob became the portion of the Lord” (Deut. 32, 8-9). But God often told Moses that He would appoint an overseer for Israel in place of Himself: His Angel, Michael, according to the teachers of the Church.

This, according to Dionysios the Areopagite, is why theology calls Michael the leader of the Jewish people. Do you see the providence? Do you see that, for the Jews, Michael was in God’s stead? Do you see that Michael was the invisible intermediary and servant through whom God gave the Law to Moses on Sinai? Because if, as Paul says, the Law was given by Angels (“for since the message spoken by the angels was binding” (Heb. 2, 2) and “Why, then, was the law given at all? It… was given through angels and entrusted to a mediator”. (Gal. 3, 19), how much more was it given by Michael?

Gabriel was also present, sometimes to bring glad tidings of birth to many sterile women, both before the Law and after it, and at others to interpret the Prophets, the revelations and visions they saw, and, in this way to lead them in the faith of the Messiah Who was to come. Gabriel is mentioned by name in the Scriptures, clearly revealing to the Prophet Daniel not only how Christ would be born and crucified, but how many years later this was to happen [Daniel 9].

Finally, the two Archangels appear united in Daniel’s prophecy which is read at Vespers on the eve of the Feast, which says: Daniel fasted for three weeks in Babylon and entreated God to liberate the Jews from their enslavement to the idolaters, that is the Persians and Babylonians. The Angel Gabriel offered Daniel’s petition to God. The Angel who was responsible for these idolaters resisted and hindered the liberation of the Israelites,- not with bad intent, but, as Jerome interprets this, because many of the pagans mixed with Jews and came to believe in the true God. It may also be that he resisted because God had not revealed the liberation of the Jews to him. Be that as it may, the Archangel Michael came and helped Gabriel and so the people of Israel were liberated.

At last, the moment came for the Son of God to come into the world, in order to carry out the great and exceptional task of the salvation of humankind. And in this, too, God employed His special servants, the two Archangels, but with this difference: Gabriel came first, then Michael. Because Gabriel, whose name, according to Saint Proclus, means “God and Person”, was to be the first servant of the Word, the God/Man. This is why the mystery was revealed only to God-pleasing Gabriel, as we mentioned earlier.

He was sent to the Queen of All and Ever-Virgin Mary and brought her the glad tidings, addressing her with the message that saved the world: “Hail, you who are full of grace, the Lord is with you” (Luke 1, 28). Gabriel himself announced to the shepherds the joyous nativity of the incarnate Master (cf. Luke 2, 9), led the Magi with the star (Matth. 2, 2-9), announced to the Myrrh-bearers the glad message of the Resurrection of the Saviour (Matth. 28, 5). And at the Ascension, having descended from heaven, he foretold to the apostles the second coming of the ascended Christ (cf. Acts 1,10-11).

Some believe that Michael was the Angel who strengthened and fortified Jesus when He was in anguish over the Passion, as Saint Luke says: “An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him” (22, 43), coming to this conclusion from his name, since Michael means “strength of God”. Together with Gabriel, he announced the joyful news of the Resurrection to the Myrrh-bearers, as Saint John the Damascan writes in the Canon for the Archangels. Together with Gabriel, he foretold to the Disciples the coming of the ascended Christ (cf. Acts 1,10-11). It was he, they say, who liberated the Apostle Peter from prison (cf. Acts 12, 7), and who punished Herod with sickness, filling him with worms so that he died (cf. Acts 12, 23). With what I have told you, I have shown that Michael and Gabriel were the two important servants of the great energies and works of God…

As long as we live, most merciful Chief Captains of God, keep us safe from the stumbling-blocks, the wickednesses and temptations of all our visible and invisible enemies. At the hour of our death, one on the right, the other on the left, help us sinners, covering us with your wings of gold, so that our souls may not see the ominous sight of the evil demons. And when you have taken us, bring us to the eternal and lambent tabernacles of the Kingdom of Heaven, that, with you, we may glorify the one Triune Godhead, to Whom belong glory, honour and worship, unto the ages of ages, Amen.