Angels and their Orders
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.
WHAT IS AN ANGEL?
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 PURPOSE OF THE ANGELS
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).
A SERVANT TO MAN
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).
THE FALLEN ANGELS
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.
THE CELESTIAL HIERARCHY
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 FIRST HIERARCHY
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
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 THIRD HIERARCHY
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. www.goarch.org article: Angels
Mastrantonis, George. www.goarch.org 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.