Supreme Commanders of the Armies of Heaven

The Eighth Day of the Month of Novem­ber — A Homi­ly on the Synax­is of the Holy Chief Com­man­der Michael and the Oth­er Bod­i­less Pow­ers — Trans­lat­ed by Fr Thomas Mar­ret­ta from the Slavon­ic-lan­guage Menolo­gion of Saint Dim­itrius of Ros­tov. Pre­vi­ous­ly pub­lished in Ortho­dox Life Vol. 45, No. 6  ‚Novem­ber — Decem­ber 1995.

It is this assem­bly of the holy angels that we ven­er­ate on the present feast of the Synax­is of the Angels; for they ever glo­ri­fy the Father, Son and Holy Spir­it atten­tive­ly and har­mo­nious­ly, with one mind, heart and voice.  May we mor­tals also glo­ri­fy Him unto the ages. Amen.

The Holy Church, which rejects the impi­ous wor­ship of angels devised by idol­aters and heretics of old, has received from the divine­ly inspired Fathers the tra­di­tion of cel­e­brat­ing with rev­er­ence the Synax­is of the Holy Angels.  In the days of the Old Tes­ta­ment, the peo­ple of God hav­ing fall­en away from their Cre­ator, began to wor­ship that which the Lord cre­at­ed.  They made idols after the like­ness of the things vis­i­ble, of that which is in heav­en above and earth beneath,  the work of  their own hands. 1 At that time, when the peo­ple offered obla­tions unto the sun, the moon, and the stars as gods, imag­in­ing that these things pos­sessed liv­ing souls, they also began to wor­ship angels.  The Book of Kings makes men­tion of this, say­ing that they burned incense unto Baal, to the sun, and to the moon, and to the twelve signs of the Zodi­ac, and to all the host of heav­en, 2 that is, to the angels; for the host of heav­en is com­prised of the angels, as is said in the Gospel: And sud­den­ly there was with the angel a mul­ti­tude of the heav­en­ly host. 3

...the feast be celebrated in November, the ninth month from March, when the world was created, since there are nine orders of angels...

  This impi­ous wor­ship of the angels spread through many lands in the days of the holy apos­tles.  The holy Apos­tle Paul sought to root it out when he wrote to the Colos­sians, say­ing, Let no man beguile you in vol­un­tary humil­i­ty and wor­ship­ping of angels, intrud­ing into those things which he hath not seen, vain­ly puffed up by his flesh­ly mind, and not hold­ing the Head, which is Christ. 4  For there were at that time cer­tain heretics who made a show of humil­i­ty but proud­ly imag­ined that they were like the angels because of their absti­nence and the puri­ty of their lives.  These men taught that angels were to be wor­shipped in the same man­ner as God.  After this, there arose oth­er heretics who taught that the angels were the mak­ers of  the vis­i­ble cre­ation and that they are more hon­or­able and exalt­ed  than Christ, the Son of God, inas­much as  they are bod­i­less.  These heretics called the Archangel Michael the God of the Hebrews.  Final­ly, still oth­ers appeared who devot­ed them­selves to sor­cery and deceived the peo­ple, call­ing upon the demons whom  they served under the name of angels.  This heresy grew espe­cial­ly strong in Colos­sae, a city under the juris­dic­tion of the met­ro­pol­i­tan see of Laodicea, where many secret­ly wor­shipped  the angels in an impi­ous man­ner akin to idol­a­try.  The local coun­cil of the holy fathers that met at Laodicea denounced this heresy.  But while it anath­e­ma­tized and reject­ed the hereti­cal wor­ship of angels, it decreed law­ful the pious and prop­er ven­er­a­tion of the holy angels as God’s ser­vants and guardians of the race of man, estab­lish­ing the cel­e­bra­tion of the fes­ti­val held in their hon­or this day.  Thus it was in Colos­sae, where the evil and hereti­cal wor­ship of the angels had once appeared in secret, that the Ortho­dox first began to cel­e­brate the feast  of the Synax­is of the Angels.  Many splen­did tem­ples ded­i­cat­ed to the holy Archangel Michael were built there, such as the most glo­ri­ous and won­drous church erect­ed in Chonae over the won­der-work­ing spring where the holy Chief Com­man­der Michael appeared to Saint Archip­pus.  The coun­cil decreed that the feast of the angels be cel­e­brat­ed in Novem­ber, the ninth month count­ing from March, when the world was cre­at­ed, since there are nine orders of angels, accord­ing to Saint Diony­sius the Are­opagite, the dis­ci­ple of the holy Apos­tle Paul.  Saint Paul was tak­en up to the third heav­en, where he saw how the holy angels are divid­ed into ranks, and he told his dis­ci­ple of this. 5  These nine ranks are grouped in three hier­ar­chies of three orders: the high­est, the mid­dle and the lowest. 

Seraphs stood round about Him, each one had six wings.

  The high­est hier­ar­chy of angels, which is the near­est to the Most Holy Trin­i­ty, con­sists of the Seraphim, the Cheru­bim, and the Thrones.  Clos­est of all to the Cre­ator and Fash­ioner, stand the Seraphim, beloved of God, of whom Isa­iah said, Ser­aphs stood round about Him, each one had six wings. 6  They are like fire, inas­much as they stand near­est to Him of Whom it is writ­ten: Our God is a con­sum­ing fire 7 and The sight of the glo­ry of the Lord was like a devour­ing fire 8  Since they stand before such fiery glo­ry the Seraphim are them­selves fiery, as it is writ­ten: He maketh His angels spir­its, and His min­is­ters a flame of fire 9  They burn with love for God and kin­dle the love of God in oth­ers, as their name itself reveals, for in the Hebrew tongue “Seraphim” means “burn­ing” or “con­sum­ing”.

The divine­ly wise Cheru­bim stand next after the Seraphim in the pres­ence of the all-know­ing God.  Who dwells in tran­scen­dent light.  These angles, who abide in God’s inef­fa­ble light,  them­selves ever shine more bril­liant­ly than the orders below them with the light of right­eous­ness and the knowl­edge of God and His wis­dom.  They are them­selves radi­ant and illu­mine oth­ers, there­fore, they are called Cheru­bim, which in Hebrew means “much wis­dom”, or an “effu­sion of wis­dom.”  Through the Cheru­bim wis­dom is poured out, and through t hem the noet­ic eyes of oth­ers are illu­mined, enabling them to see  and to know God.

Thrones are called God-bearing because they bear God within themselves.

  The Thrones stand after the Cheru­bim before the exalt­ed throne on high.  They are called God-bear­ing by Saint Diony­sius since, accord­ing to the expla­na­tion offered by Saint Max­imus the Con­fes­sor, God noet­i­cal­ly rests upon them as upon noet­ic thrones.  Saint Basil writes that they are called God-bear­ing not accord­ing to their essence but because of the Grace vouch­safed them and the ser­vice entrust­ed to them.  The flesh of Christ the Lord, how­ev­er, is God bear­ing; by essence, hypo­sta­t­i­cal­ly joined with God the Word Him­self.  Christ’s flesh bears God the Word in an undi­vid­ed union and is called, and ever remains, His  true and liv­ing flesh.  But the Thrones are called God-bear­ing because they bear God with­in  them­selves in an inef­fa­ble and inex­press­ible man­ner, not by nature but because of the Grace and ser­vice entrust­ed to them.  Seat­ed upon them in a way that can­not be described, God ordains His judg­ments, as David said: Thou hast sat upon a throne, O Thou that judgest right­eous­ness. 10  There­fore, it is through the Thrones that God brings to pass His right­eous judge­ments, for they are the min­is­ter of His jus­tice, impart­ing to the tri­bunals of mag­is­trates here below, and to kings and lords, the abil­i­ty to pass right­eous judgement.

Dominions pour down upon the authorities ordained by God here below power to rule wisely. 

  There are three ranks in the mid­dle hier­ar­chy of the holy angels as well.  Domin­ions, Pow­ers, and Virtues.  The Domin­ions are so called because they rule over the angels sub­ject to them, while they are them­selves free, since, as Saint Diony­sius says,  they have set aside servile fear and ever serve the Lord will­ing­ly and glad­ly.  They pour down upon the author­i­ties ordained by God here below pow­er to rule wise­ly and to exer­cise their domin­ion judi­cious­ly, gov­ern­ing well the lands entrust­ed to them.  They also teach us to rule over our own sens­es, to sub­due our dis­or­der­ly lusts and pas­sions, to sub­ject the flesh to the spir­it, to exer­cise author­i­ty over our will, and to pre­vail over every temptation.

Powers strengthen men as  they labor and are heavy laden in bearing the yoke of  their various burdens.

  The Pow­ers, full of divine might, serve the mighty and pow­er­ful will of the all-pow­er­ful and omnipo­tent Lord with­out hes­i­ta­tion or delay.  They work exceed­ing­ly great mar­vels and impart the Grace to work sim­i­lar mir­a­cles upon those of God’s favorite who have been deemed wor­thy to work won­ders, to heal every ill­ness, and to fore­tell  the future.  Like­wise, the holy Pow­ers strength­en men as  they labor and are heavy laden in bear­ing the yoke of  their var­i­ous bur­dens, strength­en­ing them to ful­fill the oblig­a­tions of their sta­tion in life and help­ing the fee­ble in  their weak­ness.  They assist every man to be patient and not to weak­en in tri­als but to endure all that comes to pass with nobil­i­ty of soul and res­olute courage, humbly giv­ing thanks for every­thing to God, who orders all things for our benefit.

The Virtues bear their name because they have author­i­ty over the dev­il.  They sub­due the pow­er of the demons and ward off the temp­ta­tions which the spir­its of evil bring upon men, and they for­bid the demons to harm men as they desire.  The Virtues con­firm those who labor for virtue’s sake in their spir­i­tu­al under­tak­ings and strug­gles, pro­tect­ing  them lest they be deprived of the spir­i­tu­al king­dom.  Those who war with their pas­sions and desires the Virtues help in the day of bat­tle, assist­ing them in dis­pelling every wicked though and the ene­my’s calum­ny and in over­com­ing the devil.

Principalities watch over the world to protect and to guard every kingdom.

  The  three orders in the low­est hier­ar­chy are the Prin­ci­pal­i­ties, Archangels and Angels.  The Prin­ci­pal­i­ties are so called because they have the rule over the angels below them and direct them to ful­fill God’s com­mands.  It is they who watch over the world to pro­tect and to guard every king­dom and prin­ci­pal­i­ty, every province and peo­ple, tribe and nation, for each of these has its own angel of this rank as guardian and gov­er­nor.  Accord­ing to Saint Gre­go­ry, it is the duty of this order to teach men to ren­der to all in seats of author­i­ty the hon­or due their sta­tion.  These angels ush­er wor­thy men into such posi­tions as they mer­it and instruct them not to use their offices for their own gain or prof­it, nor to become vain­glo­ri­ous or full of con­ceit, but to hon­or God, to increase His glo­ry and to spread word of it, for the ben­e­fit of all those under their authority.

Archangels spread abroad the faith among men, illuminating their minds with the light of the knowledge of the Holy Gospel.

  The Archangels are the great mes­sen­gers of good, emi­nent, and most won­drous tid­ings.  Accord­ing to the renowned Diony­sius, it is they who deliv­er prophe­cies to men, enlight­en­ing them so  that they may know and under­stand the will of God.  They learn of God’s will from the high­er ranks and entrust the secrets there­of to the angels below them, who in turn declare them to men.  Saint Gre­go­ry the Dial­o­gist says that they spread abroad the faith among men, illu­mi­nat­ing their minds with the light of the knowl­edge of the Holy Gospel and reveal­ing to them the mys­ter­ies of the Ortho­dox Faith.

Angels raise up  the fallen.

  The Angels occu­py the low­est posi­tion in the hier­ar­chy of heav­en and are the closed of its ranks to men.  They reveal the less­er mys­ter­ies of God and His inten­tions to men, whom they guide to live vir­tu­ous­ly and right­eous­ly.  Each of the faith­ful is entrust­ed to one of them.  They sup­port those of us who stand firm, and they  raise up  the fall­en. Even if we sin, they do not for­sake us but are always ready to help us, if only we desire it.  Nev­er­the­less, the name “angel” is prop­er to the high­er ranks of heav­en, for even if each has its own place and posi­tion and its own name which accords with the man­ner of Grace bestowed upon it, that is to say, “Seraphim”, “Cheru­bim”, “Throne”, and so forth,  they are still all called angels, for in this sense the name refers not to what they are in essence but to the man­ner of ser­vices they per­form.  All of them alike, are angels, for they ful­fill God’s com­mands, as it is writ­ten: Are they not all min­is­ter­ing spir­its, sent forth to min­is­ter? 11  Each order has its own min­is­tra­tion, and their min­is­tra­tions dif­fer, for the wise Cre­ator does not reveal the mys­ter­ies of His divine will to each rank equal­ly.  He man­i­fests His sacred will to the low­er orders through the high­er and through the lat­ter com­mands the for­mer to ful­fill the dic­tates of His will, as may plain­ly be seen in the book of Zechari­ah.  This book tells how, after a cer­tain angel had spo­ken with the prophet, that angel met anoth­er angel, who com­mand­ed him to return to the prophet and to reveal to him the future of Jerusalem.   Thus it is writ­ten: Behold, the angel that talked with me went forth, and anoth­er angel went with­out  to meet him, and said unto him, Run, speak to this young man, that is to the prophet Zechari­ah, say­ing, Jerusalem shall be inhab­it­ed as a town with­out walls for the mul­ti­tude of men and cat­tle  there­in, for I, saith the Lord, will be unto her a wall of fire round about. 12  Saint Gre­go­ry says con­cern­ing this, “When one angel says to the oth­er, ‘Run, speak to this young man,’ there can be no doubt that cer­tain angels dis­patch oth­ers here and there and that the low­er ranks are sent while it is  the high­er orders that send them.”  Sim­i­lar­ly, we find in the prophe­cy of Daniel that on angel tells anoth­er to explain to the prophet the vision which he saw. 13  There­fore, it is clear that the low­er ranks of angels learn of the will and inten­tions of the divine Cre­ator from  the high­er orders and are sent by the lat­ter to do His desire.


It is fit­ting that the Ortho­dox Church here below should cel­e­brate the synax­is and seek the aid of all nine orders of the holy angels on  the eighth day of this month of Novem­ber, send­ing up fer­vent entreaty unto them.  For on the fear­ful day of judge­ment, which the divine teach­ers of the Church all the eighth day, when He Who is the Son of Man and God, the right­eous Judge, shall come in His glo­ry, and all the holy angels with Him 14, as the Lord Him­self proph­e­sied in the Holy Gospel, all the ranks of angels shall be gath­ered togeth­er.  He shall send His angels with a great sound of a trum­pet, and they shall gath­er togeth­er the elect from the four winds, 15  that is from the east, the west,  the north, and the south.  May the Lord then sum­mon us, who rev­er­ent­ly cel­e­brate the Synax­is of the Angels, into the choir of the chosen!

Behold how the morning star, which lit up  the dawn, has fallen to earth and has been crushed!

  The holy Chief Com­man­der Michael, the faith­ful ser­vant of the Lord, was appoint­ed by God as gen­er­al and com­man­der over the entire assem­bly of the nine angel­ic orders.  When Satan exalt­ed him­self in pride, fell away from God into perdi­tion and was cast into the abyss, Michael called togeth­er all the ranks and hosts of angels and cried out with a might voice, “Let us attend!  Stand aright before Him Who cre­at­ed us, and do not con­sid­er doing what is not pleas­ing to God.  Behold what has befall­en those cre­at­ed with us, who until now were com­mu­ni­cants of the divine light!  Behold how they were straight­way exiled from light into dark­ness because of pride, cast from the heights into the abyss.  16  Behold how the morn­ing star, which lit up  the dawn, has fall­en to earth and has been crushed!”


When Michael, who stood fore­most among the Seraphim, the Cheru­bim, and all the ranks of heav­en, said this to the entire assem­bly of the angels, they began to glo­ri­fy the most holy and indi­vis­i­ble Trin­i­ty, one in essence, the one God; and togeth­er they chant­ed the tri­umphal hymn: “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Sabaoth, heav­en and earth are full of Thy glo­ry!”  It is this assem­bly of the holy angels that we ven­er­ate on the present feast of the Synax­is of the Angels; for they ever glo­ri­fy the Father, Son and Holy Spir­it atten­tive­ly and har­mo­nious­ly, with one mind, heart and voice.  May we mor­tals also glo­ri­fy Him unto the ages. Amen.

The local Coun­cil of Laodicea, which reject­ed the impi­ous wor­ship of angels in its thir­ty-fifth canon but decreed law­ful the pious ven­er­a­tion of angles and estab­lished the feast of their synax­is, was held short­ly before the first great Ecu­meni­cal Coun­cil which met in the city of Nicea.  The Coun­cil of Laodicea was con­vened in the year 319 after the Nativ­i­ty of Christ, or accord­ing to cer­tain author­i­ties, in the year 320 or 321, while Saint Sylvester was Pope of Rome.  Thir­ty-two bish­ops attend­ed this coun­cil, over which the Met­ro­pol­i­tan of Laodicea Nunechius presided.  Some say that Theodotus was Met­ro­pol­i­tan at that time, but it is more like­ly that it was Nunechius who presided at the council.

Tropar­i­on — Kontakion

Synax­is of the Archangel Michael, Com­man­der of the Heav­en­ly Host, Tropar­i­on, Tone IV 
Supreme com­man­ders of the armies of Heaven,/ we, the unwor­thy, do ever entreat you,/ that by your prayers ye ever sur­round us/ with the pro­tec­tion of the wings of your imma­te­r­i­al glory,/ pre­serv­ing us that earnest­ly fall down before you and cry aloud:/ Deliv­er us from misfortunes,// in that ye are the lead­ers of the hosts on high.

Kon­takion, in Tone II 
O ye chief com­man­ders of God,/ min­is­ters of glo­ry divine, cap­tains of the angels and instruc­tors of men:/ beg ye great mer­cy and that which is prof­itable for us,/ for ye are the supreme com­man­ders of the bod­i­less hosts.

Anoth­er Tropar­i­on, Tone IV 
O Com­man­ders of the heav­en­ly hosts,/ We who are unwor­thy beseech you:/ By your prayers encom­pass us/ Beneath the wings of your imma­te­r­i­al glory,/ And faith­ful­ly pre­serve us who fall down and cry out to you:// Deliv­er us from all harm, For you are the com­man­ders of the pow­ers on high!

Anoth­er Kon­takion, in Tone IV 
O Com­man­ders of God’s armies and min­is­ters of the divine glory,/ Princes of the bod­i­less angels and guides of men;/ Ask for what is good for us,/ And for great mer­cy, / O Supreme com­man­ders of the bod­i­less hosts.

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