Faith and worship

The Lord is everything to me. He is the strength of my heart and the light of my intellect. He inclines my heart to everything good; He strengthens it; He also gives me good thoughts; He is my rest and my joy; He is my faith hope and love.

St. John of Kronstadt

Recent sermon

Michael and all Angels; a sermon with children in mind

7th November 2021

Today we are keeping the feast of St Michael and all the angels. It’s a big feast, as angels play a very important part in our lives, and in the life of the Church as a whole. There are countless numbers of angels and different types of angels. Some of the greatest angles are known to us by their names. Michael, the “chief” or “captain” or “most important” of the angels is a good example.

Michael’s name means “There is no one like God”. You might be thinking: “Well, that’s obvious. Of course there’s no-one like God. If there was anyone like God, God wouldn’t be God.” This is true. One of the most important things about God is that He is above and beyond anything or anyone we can think about or imagine. There is really no-one or no-thing like him. The theological word for talking about God in this way is “transcendent”. God transcends, or is above and beyond any conceptual image we may have of Him.

In fact, people have got into all kinds of trouble since time began, or even before time, by not being clear about this. The Bible tells us Michael cast Satan out of heaven, when he, Satan, rebelled against God. Satan was originally an archangel too, but he got mesmerised by the power and glory that he received by being so close to God, and started to think that he was actually like God. So, Michael’s name expresses something very important about his character. He took a stand against Satan, by defending the truth – the truth that “There is no one like God”.

Michael was victorious in this battle, but it’s a battle that carries on until the end of the world. For all of us without exception, there will always be temptations to lose sight of the transcendence of God, and to make images of Him and to worship them instead of God Himself. We need the help of the angels to keep us on the right track. Fortunately for us the angels are much closer to us than we often realise.
Let’s think for a bit about how the angels are close to us. Once, a young man walked into a church on a Saturday evening. A service was going on, but apart from the priest, the deacon, a small choir and few other people the church seemed to be empty. However, as the young man stood there, (it was the first time he had been in an Orthodox church), his impression changed. He suddenly felt, that instead of being empty, the church was actually full – full of people praying. They were not people he could see with his eyes, but they were people he could feel with his spirit, the angels and saints. When he left the church, he knew that he had found his spiritual home and that in due time he would become Orthodox. In due time he did become Orthodox and later a world-famous Bishop and theologian, Metropolitan Kallistos.

There are two ways we can be close to the angels. One of the most important happens every Sunday, but I wonder how much we realise it. The angels are present when we celebrate the Liturgy and the whole service if full of references to this.There is a prayer that the priest says secretly before he comes out with the book of the Gospels at the Little Entrance: 

O Master, Lord our God, who hast appointed in heaven orders and hosts of angels and archangels for the service of Thy glory: Grant that with our entrance there may be an entrance of holy angels, serving with us and glorifying Thy goodness. For unto Thee are due all glory, honour and worship; to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages, Amen.

The Bible tells us that the angels around the throne of God sing: “Holy, holy holy!” Day and night they never stop saying: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come." Rev 4:8

“Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”  Isaiah 6: 2 – 3

We sing this hymn before the reading of the Gospel, (and indeed repeat it many times in our daily prayers). Before that the priest reads a prayer that starts:

O holy God; who dost rest in the saints; who art hymned by the Seraphim with the thrice holy cry, and glorified by Cherubim, and worshipped by every heavenly power…. accept even from the mouths of us sinners the thrice-holy hymn and visit us in Thy goodness…

During the Great Entrance we sing:

Let us who mystically represent the Cherubim, and who sing the thrice holy hymn to the life-creating Trinity, now lay aside all earthly care. That we may receive the King of All, who comes invisibly upborne by the angelic hosts. Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.

And at the same time the priest prays secretly

For to minister to Thee is great and awesome, even to the heavenly powers…. For Thou alone, O lord our God, rulest over those in heaven and on earth; who art borne on the throne of the Cherubim, who art Lord of the Seraphim and King of Israel; who alone art holy and doth rest in the saints. …

And during the great prayer before the consecration of the bread and wine the priest says: 

Though there stand by Thee thousands of archangels and hosts of angels, the Cherubim and the Seraphim, six winged, many eyed, who soar aloft… singing the triumphant hymn, shouting, proclaiming and saying – and we sing “Holy! Holy! Holy! Lord of Sabaoth! Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory! Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the Highest!” And the priest continues: “With these blessed powers, O Master who lovest mankind, we also cry aloud and say: Holy art Thou and all-holy, Thou and Thine only-begotten Son and Thy Holy Spirit! Holy art Thou and all-holy, and magnificent is Thy glory!

During the Liturgy we also pray for “an angel of peace, a faithful guide, a guardian of our souls and bodies”. In fact, our guardian angel is with us all the time, loves us, protects us and teaches us how to grow closer to God. The angel is a friend we can turn to at any moment, both when we are happy and also if we feel lonely or bit lost in some way. We have this prayer because we need to become more aware of the angel and strengthen our relationship with them.

On this feast of St Michael and All the Angels, let us deepen our sense of the angels in our life, and through them our understanding that indeed, there is no-one like God!

Amen.