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Angels and their Orders

Updated on November 4, 2011

The Angels

The awe and mystery of angels have been a great inspiration, cultural icon, and fantasy to the world. At ever turn you see little baby cherub angels gracing statues, card, and walls. They no longer have the context of the holy beings created to serve God and man. The fallen angels have taken the world by storm on t-shirts, movies, and tattoos. But the question that is asked, does the world know who the angels are and what purpose they serve other than decoration? In the, following few pages a brief explanation of the angelic world will be discussed as through the eyes of the church in the line of dogmatic theology.


Before God created man he created the spiritual world, and in it beings called angels to serve Him. In an article found the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America website, Fr. George Mastrantonis says. "The angels were created either before the creation of the material world, when the sense, of time is incomprehensible to man, or, it is thought by some fathers, at the beginning of creation, when light was created the first day." These angels were created "like man" in the image of God. The angels are not able to procreate because they are sexless. They have an innumerable number, but they, unlike God, are not infinite.

As man, the angels also have free will and choice. St. John of Damascus tells us that "An angel's nature then is rational, and intelligent, and endowed with free-will, changeable in will, or fickle. For all that is created is changeable..." (Damascus). We read what Satan did with his free-will in the book of Revelation, "And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him" (12:7-9).

As one can see above the angels waged war against God who allowed them to choose who they would follow. And, as mentioned above, each angel has his own identity. ln the scriptures only five angels, four heavenly whose names are Michael (Dan 10:13, 21, 12:1, Jude 1:9, Rev.12:7), Gabriel (Dan 8:16, 9:21, Luke 1:19, 1:26), Rafael (Tobit 5:4), and Uriel (Septuagint Book of Daniel) and the one fallen angel, Lucifer, known by other names in the scriptures, (Is 14:12) which is the enemy of man.


The Old and New Testaments give the angels such titles as messenger, minister and servant of God. The main purpose of the angels is to be servants in God's created order and especially mans helpers. Each of us in the world is assigned a special guardian angel by God (Matt 18:10), but the ultimate purpose of the angels is to glorify and praise God's Holy Name.


As mentioned above some of the angels are messengers. In the book of Numbers an angel comes to the prophet Balaam to give him a warning, and instructs Him to not curse the people he was sent to curse. "And the angel of the LORD said unto Balaam, Go with the men: but only the word that I shall speak unto thee, that thou shalt speak. So Balaam went with the princes of Balak” (Num 22:35). Also in the book of Luke in tells of Gabriel announcing to Zacharias that his barren wife would have a son: "And the angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to shew thee these glad tidings" (Luke 1:19). That son would be John the Baptist. These are only a few examples located in the scriptures.


Another role of the angels is that of minister. As Jesus suffered in the desert during His forty day fast Satan came to Him and tempted Him, asking Jesus to do things contrary to what is right. And when Jesus had conquered Satan's temptations angels ministered to Him. "And he was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted of Satan; and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered unto him" (Mark 1:13).


Another one of the many roles of the angels is being a servant to man. In the Divine Liturgy we implore God for "An angel of peace, a faithful guide, [and] a guardian of our souls and bodies." In the book of 2 Kings gives a good example of the protecting angels. When the Syrians were coming to war against the king of Israel his heart was afraid until Elisha showed him God’s gift against the enemy. “And Elisha prayed, and said, LORD, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the LORD opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain [was] full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha" (6:17). Another example is in Genesis when Sarah's servant Hagar ran away from her. She took her son and while in the desert they where about to die from thirst and God heard their plea. "And God heard the voice of the lad; and the angel of God called to Hagar out of heaven, and said unto her, what aileth thee, Hagar? fear not; for God hath heard the voice of the lad where he [is]" (Gen 21:17).


Ultimately all that God creates is created to serve Him. There are angels that continually are around the throne of Heaven and sing Holy, Holy, Holy are you God. Lucifer, the most beautiful of the angels dwelled in the presence of God and led this choir. But because of free-will Lucifer convinced one third of the heavens to rebel against their Creator. As the book of Revelation states that Lucifer was defeated and cast out of heaven. He and his co-conspirators because of pride and arrogance decided to separate themselves from God. Now they do their all to destroy mans salvation. These fallen angels became demons, the evil and unclean spirits of whom Satan is the chief. He plagues man with filth and tries to pervert all that God does. The demons "attempt to lead the faithful ones away from God by placing obstacles in their path and exploiting difficult events, such as illness, loss of job, poverty, prison etc." (Mastrantonis). But with Gods grace we have weapons against these demons.


In his writing, Pseudo-Dionysius tells us of the celestial hierarchy. He tells us that the angels have a definite organization under God. According to him the angels are divided into nine orders in three groups: the first-seraphim, cherubim, thrones, the second-dominions, principalities, authorities, the third-powers, archangels, and angels.


The seraphim, which means "fire makers" or "carriers of warmth", and the cherubim meaning "fullness of knowledge" are the angels that are superior beings. "This hierarchy possesses the highest order as God's immediate neighbor, being grounded directly around God and receiving the primal theophanies and perfections" (Dionysius pg 161). These descriptions describe what God is. They are to pass the undiluted light and pass God's wisdom. Their aim is to be, as the rest of the angels, like God without becoming king as Satan did. This first group shares in God's work because they are in direct communion with the Lord.


The second hierarchy or the middle ranks as Pseudo-Dionysius have with in it the dominions. The dominions are "a lifting up which is free, unfettered by earthy tendencies and uninclined toward any of those tyrannical dissimilarities which characterize a harsh dominion" (Dionysius pg 167). It fills all the empty places and rejects empty appearances and returns completely to the true Lord. The next is the powers. This title refers to "a kind of masculine and unshakable courage in all its godlike activities" (Dionysius pg 167). It is what aids in taking away laziness and lifts up to imitate God. And the third is the authorities. They receive God in a harmonious way and are not confused. They lift up those who are inferior to them to meet God, and makes conformity to with God. They pass on enlightenment to the other ranks from the first. So then the being of the second rank "receive enlightenment from the Godhead through the first rank" (Dionysius pg 168). As one can see you get a sense that the orders of angels help each other constantly to get in the ever holy presence of God.


The final rank of angels, the first called the principalities are the once as the name indicates the "princely" ones. They are the ones that try to bring other to the princely status. They are the ones that help one become like as Pseudo-Dionysius calls it the Principle of principles. The next are the archangels. They are the mediators of this final rank. They are the middle men so to say. They are the "interpreters of those divine enlightenments mediated by the first powers" (Dionysius pg 170). The final rank is the angels. They are the ones that are around the world and the human beings. They are the ones "in the trenches" and are the ones that guard us. They protect the revelation. They are not the lowest for all the angels are equal. What distinguishes them is that they are the farthest from God. The first order directs the second and the second order directs the third all getting direction from the Godhead. The Lord has distributed a number of angels to be at each nation on earth. They are the ones that carry out the messages and are our guardian angels. They are the ones that fight the demons on our behalf.

The reward of the angels that did not fall The angels that fell from grace have chosen their path and are no longer able to gain God favor. The angels that chose God as King can no longer be tempted, nor can they sin. "They are self-protected ever since their test and fall at the time of temptation. Through the grace of God, they are no longer in danger of falling" (Mastrantonis). This is a look into what is in store for the world. The populace of the world also has the choice as the angels did. Those who choose not to follow God inherit the fait of Satan and those "angels" that followed him.


As stated before the main role of the angels is to praise and glorify God and communicate and execute His will and commandments. The angels as taught by Pseudo-Dionysius tells of the orders of the angels. God is known as a God of order so all that He does would have the same quality. The angels closest to God, the first rank, are the ones that minister and sing of His glory always. The angels of the final rank are the angels that are closest to men. Their special task is to minister to the redemption of man. The angels where the ones that ministered to the world, even to the new born King lying in a manger to Jesus in His temptation and at His resurrection and ascension. The important thing to remember is that according to the scriptures that we will be judging the angels. They are, as we are created and not infinite beings. God is the only uncreated being in the universe as we understand it.

Aghiorgoussis, Maximos. article: Angels
Mastrantonis, George. article: Exorcism
Pseudo-Dionysius: The Complete Works. Mahwah, New York. Paulist Press, 1987.
Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, Volume 9: St John of Damascus. Peabody, Hendrickson
Publishers, 1999.

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    • jacksson47 profile image

      John Reeder 

      4 years ago from Reedley, CA

      A comment about angels from one of the Eastern saints,

      “When the first order of angels fell from the angelic glory and became demons, the other nine orders humbled themselves and worshipped the All-holy Trinity, and remained in their place and rejoice forever. We, too, my brethren, must reflect what an evil thing pride is - that it cast down the devil from angelic glory and he will always burn in Hell - and that humility kept the angels in Heaven, and they rejoice perpetually in the glory of the Holy Trinity. Let us then, my brethren, avoid pride, because it is the first daughter of the devil, is a path that leads to Hell; and let us have humility, because it is angelic, is a path that leads to Paradise.”

      - St. Kosmas Aitolos

    • jacksson47 profile image

      John Reeder 

      6 years ago from Reedley, CA

      You are quite a ways from Colorado.


    • IronKnight profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      Grew up in Colorado and now travel back and forth from New England to Southern FL. Different worlds from my country boy upbringing.

    • jacksson47 profile image

      John Reeder 

      6 years ago from Reedley, CA

      Hello again, IronKnight, You did such an excellent job on all of the other orders, etc and seemingly just skipped over the Thrones, so I thought that I might mention it to you. Really doesn't matter much to most of the readers, I am sure. To tell truth, I do not bother to comment on many of the hubs that I look at, just the good ones. BTW, where are you located, if you don't mind me asking? I live in the Fresno, CA area about 30 miles from the monastery where I attend church.

    • IronKnight profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      Thank you for your comments, Jacksson47. I didn't delve into the Thrones other than list them as part of the celestial hierarchy. You are correct about Pseudo-Dionysius, but as I was quoting from a western source, I kept the term for consistency. It is nice to find a learned Orthodox Christian to keep me on my toes with my hubs. Let your faith be a positive example to others.

    • jacksson47 profile image

      John Reeder 

      6 years ago from Reedley, CA

      Good Hub, IronKnight,

      Some comments:

      The fathers of the church consider Dionysius to be the same man mentioned in the Book of Acts of the Apostles, Dionysius the Areopagite. The Psuedo bit comes from the western world where they probably would have called John Psuedo-John if they could have gotten away with it.

      You left Thrones off the first hierarchy of angels:

      "The name of the most glorious and exalted Thrones denotes that which is exempt from and untainted by any base and earthly thing, and the supermundane ascent up the steep. For these have no part in that which is lowest, but dwell in fullest power, immovably and perfectly established in the Most High, and receive the Divine Immanence above all passion and matter, and manifest God, being attentively open to divine participations."

      And you could have also mentioned the following comment by Dionysius:

      "I see that the Angels, too, were first initiated into the divine Mystery, of Jesus in His love for man, and through them the gift of that knowledge was bestowed upon us: for the divine Gabriel announced to Zachariah the high-priest that the son who should to born to him through Divine Grace, when he was bereft of hope, would be a prophet of that Jesus who would manifest the union of the human and divine natures through the ordinance of the Good Law for the salvation of the world; and he revealed to Mary how of her should be born the Divine Mystery of the ineffable Incarnation of God.

      Another Angel taught Joseph that the divine promise made to his forefather David should be perfectly fulfilled. Another brought to the shepherds the glad tidings, as to those purified by quiet withdrawal from the many, and with him a multitude of the heavenly host gave forth to all the dwellers upon earth our often-sung hymn of adoring praise."


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