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Angels and Archangels

Updated on October 22, 2010

Several of the great religions of the world teach of the existence of angels, beings which are higher and wiser than men but still below God and created by Him. The word "angel" comes from the Greek word for messenger and it is chiefly as the messengers and servants of God that angels appear in the religious stories of the Persians, Jews and other peoples. In the Old Testament, for instance, there is the story of how the angel of the Lord appeared to Abraham to foretell the birth of his son Isaac, and in the same way, in the New Testament, it is told how the angel Gabriel was sent by God to Mary to tell her that she was to become the mother of Jesus.

The angel Gabriel is one of the few angels who are mentioned by name in the Bible, among the others being Raphael and Michael. These three are archangels, or chief angels, higher than the other messengers of God, but still His servants like the rest.

Angels not only deliver messages from God to men but also do His bidding in other ways. It was an angel, so it is told, who rolled away the stone that blocked the entrance of Jesus' tomb and told Mary Magdalene that He had risen from the dead. Another of the tasks of angels is said to be the care of human beings, each of whom is supposed to have a guardian angel to help to protect him from evil.

Although it is usually as messengers and servants of God that angels are mentioned in the Bible stories, we are also given an occasional glimpse of them in heaven, where they are said to attend on God in His glory. On the night that Jesus was born, for instance, the shepherds to whom His birth was announced by an angel saw also a great host or army of angels singing a song of praise to God. Very little is told in the Bible of the appearance of these heavenly hosts, although St. John describes in the Revelation his vision of God with His angels. But poets and others have imagined them surrounding the throne of God like a vast choir, shining like an enormous white flower with the-radiance of God as its centre. The angels, they say, are ranged in order of importance, the highest close to God and the lowest near to earth. There are said to be nine different types of angels: they are seraphim, cherubim, thrones, dominions, principalities, powers, virtues, archangels and, lastly, angels.

Many Christians believe that Satan (the Devil) was once an angel in heaven, and that he rebelled against God and was banished by Him. John Milton's poem Paradise Lost describes how Satan and other angels were thrown down from heaven and how Satan began to tempt mankind to sin.

Angels are supposed to be quite different from human beings and, except on special occasions, invisible to them. However, artists and writers have imagined them as having human form and the Bible tells how angels were sometimes mistaken for men on their visits to earth. Later they were represented with wings and this is how they most often appear in pictures nowadays.

There is a prayer that many children learn when they are small: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John Bless the bed that I lie on. Four corners to my bed, Four angels round my head, One to watch and one to pray And two to bear my soul away.

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