Written by Vladimir Moss



     The akathist to the Holy Archangel Michael, together with the other services to him in the Menaion, is astoundingly rich in teaching, much of it derived from Holy Scripture but some also from the unwritten treasures of Holy Tradition. Let us examine this teaching as it is revealed to us in the akathist especially:

     “Rejoice, first-created star of the world!” (kontakion 1). So the Archangel is the first of all the rational creatures. For the angels were created before men, and the great Michael is the “first-created star of the world”!

     “Manifesting within thyself the invincible power of zeal for the glory of God, O Michael, thou didst take thy stand at the head of the choirs of the angels against the malice-breathing morning star most proud” (kontakion 3). So the first virtue of the holy Archangel Michael, and the one which characterizes him most closely, is zeal. Now zeal, according to Archbishop Averky, is a certain fiery warmth of the spirit akin to love, without which the Christian life is simply impossible. Zeal is that which takes the Christian out onto the field of Christian combat. Without it, he would never venture out upon that path. He would be conquered even before the battle began!

     And who is the battle against? “The malice-breathing morning star most proud”. Our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers – that is, the demons. It is the free will of the devil that is the ultimate cause of evil. The evil of men is simply a following of demonic evil. When, in 1963, there was a major disturbance of church life in San Francisco, St. John Maximovich, the local bishop, was asked who was the cause of the disturbance. He refused to name a man, but firmly replied: “The devil”.

     It was by St. Michael that “the spirit of evil was laid low even unto hell” (Ikos 4) – that same event which the Lord described in the Gospel: “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10.18). As St. Dmitri of Rostov writes: “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 mighty 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! Behold how the morning star, which lit up the dawn, has fallen to earth and been crushed!”[1]

     The Archangel did many great wonders in the Old Testament. It was he who “struck down Pharaoh with his faithless Egyptians in his overweening pride” (ikos 8). It was he who was “the mediator of the law given by the hand of Moses on Mount Sinai”, and who refused to allow Satan to take away Moses’ dead body so that the Israelites could worship it as an idol (Jude 9, ikos 11). It was he who “gloriously led the Jews in their wanderings through the wilderness” (ikos 8). It was through him that “the judges and leaders of Israel found strength and protection”, and “the prophets and high priests of the Jews received the gift of knowledge from the all-knowing God.  (ikos 5) It was he who announced the good tidings to Manoah that he was to receive a son, Samson (kontakion 6), and who strengthened Gideon against the Midianites. It was he who told Joshua, son of Nun: “Put off they shoe from thy foot; I am the chief captain of the hosts of the Lord” (Joshua 5.13-15; ikos 6). It was he who “quenched the flame of the fiery furnace of Babylon” (ikos 8). It was he who lifted the Prophet Habbakuk from Judah to Babylon to give food to the Prophet Daniel in the lions’ den (Kontakion 8; Bel and the Dragon, vv. 30-38). It was he who, in answer to the anguished prayer of King Hezekiah, killed 185,000 warriors of the Assyrian King Sennacherib in one night (IV Kings 19.34-35; ikos 9). It was he who “strengthened the pious Maccabees on the field of battle” and “struck down in the temple itself Heliodorus, captain of King Antiochus”.

     Thus the holy archangel is “the untiring guardian of crowned heads”, “swift to overthrow those withstanding authority as they oppose the command of God” and “appeaser of the mighty wave of popular tumult” (ikos 6).  It is he who “sets up in the height of power the servants of God in time of need” and “brings down from the height of power the servants of strength and glory those who are unworthy and insolent” (ikos 12).

     The miracles of the Archangel in the New Testament are too numerous to mention. Often he appears as the instrument of the wrath of God on sinful humanity. Thus in the fifth century a terrible plague afflicted the Christians of Britain until, in 492, he was seen sheathing his sword at the place now known as St. Michael’s Mount in Cornwall. The plague immediately stopped…

     Again, in the life of St. Elizabeth the New Martyr we read the following. The Lord bestowed upon St. Elizabeth the gift of spiritual discernment and prophecy. Her confessor, Fr. Metrophan, once related that not long before the revolution he had a very vivid and clearly prophetic dream, but he did not know how to interpret it. It was composed of a sequence of four pictures, in colour. The first revealed a beautiful church. Suddenly, it became surrounded by tongues of fire, and the whole church went up in flames - a terrifying spectacle. The second showed a portrait of the Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna in a black frame; the corners of the frame sprouted forth shoots bearing lily buds that blossomed, becoming so large as to conceal the portrait. The third showed the Archangel Michael holding a flaming sword. In the fourth, St. Seraphim of Sarov stood on his knees on a rock, his hands upraised in prayer. Perplexed by this dream, Fr. Metrophan described it to St. Elizabeth one morning before the Liturgy. St. Elizabeth said she understood the dream. The first picture signified that there would soon be a revolution in Russia, that a persecution would be raised against the Church, and for our sins, our unbelief, the country would be brought to the brink of destruction. The second picture signified that her sister and the entire Royal Family would receive a martyr’s death. The third picture containing St. Michael signified that subsequently Russia would be overtaken by frightful tribulations. The fourth signified that by the prayers of St. Seraphim and other saints and righteous ones of the Russian land, and by the intercession of the Mother of God, the country and its people would obtain mercy.

     Again, St. Ephraim the Syrian identifies the destroyer of Gog and Magog (which according to some plausible interpretations is neo-Soviet power) in Ezekiel 38-39 with the Archangel Michael: "Then Divine Justice will call upon Michael, the leader of the hosts, and send him to destroy their camps, as [he did] the camps of Sennacherib. At the command, and with his mighty and terrible sword, the angel shall go forth and destroy their armies in the twinkling of an eye, and in the same moment Divine Justice, thundering from on high, shall destroy their camps with rocks of fire. Their slain shall lie upon the ground, innumerable as the sands. Beasts and men shall die, and the whole camp shall perish, and flame shall be set loose against the sea and against the islands. The bow of Gog, the evil king, shall fall from his left hand, and the arrows from his left (Ezekiel 39.3); and his camp shall be wholly destroyed. Then the Lord from His glorious heaven shall set up His peace. And the kingdom of the Romans [the Orthodox Christian empire] shall rise in place of this latter people, and establish its dominion upon the earth, even to its ends, and there shall be no one who will resist it..."[2]

     As champion of church truth the Archangel is especially close to those fighting for the Orthodox faith. For he is the “unconquerable opponent of the enemies of the faith and the adversaries of the Holy Church”, “who dost enlighten with the light of faith those sitting in darkness” and “who dost direct along the path of truth and repentance those made foolish through false wisdom” (ikos 10). Being bodiless, the angels are specially called to fight heresy, for this is a sin of the spirit and not of the flesh. And so we pray: “O archangels of God, leaders of the bodiless powers, by your boldness save us from all heresy” (Mattins canon, Ode 6, second canon to the angels).

     One such champion of the truth was St. Wilfrid, Metropolitan of York in the seventh century, who was having a long tussle with the Roman papacy over canonical matters. Once, as he was once returning to England from Rome, he fell seriously ill and was close to death. On the fifth day of his illness, St. Michael appeared to him: “I am Michael the messenger of the Most High God, who sent me to tell thee that years of life have been added to thee by the intercession of Holy Mary, the Birthgiver of God and Ever-Virgin, and by the lamentations of thy followers, which have reached the ears of the Lord; and this shall be a sign to thee: from this day thou shalt begin to grow better day by day, and thou wilt reach thy native land; and all the most precious of thy possessions will be returned to thee, and thou wilt end thy life in peace. Also be prepared; for after the space of four years I will visit thee again. Now remember that thou hast built churches in honour of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul; but thou hast built nothing in honour of the Holy Ever-Virgin Mary, who is interceding for thee. Thou hast to put this right and to dedicate a church in honour of her."[3] 

     Finally we come to the eschatological significance of the Archangel Michael, his service to God and men at the very end of the world. On the last day, Christ will descend from heaven “at the voice of the archangel” (I Thessalonians 4.16), and the Archangel Michael “shall gather the chosen from the four ends of the earth”. Then by him “at the voice of God sinners shall be committed like tares to the eternal fire”, and by him “the righteous shall be gloriously made to settle in the mansions of the heavenly Father” (ikos 12).

     St. John Maximovich, who was baptized with the name Michael, once said that two saints were especially important in the very last times: the holy Archangel Michael and the holy Great-Martyr George, who should be prayed to with special fervour. Let us follow this wise advice and pray to the holy Archangel Michael, remembering that God “has made one Church of angels and men” (Mattins, first canon to the angels, Ode 9, troparion), and that they are appointed to help us as their fellow servants of God, also made in the image of God. ! For, as the Prophet Daniel says, “At that time Michael shall stand up, the great prince who stands watch over the sons of your people” (Daniel 12.1).


November 9/22, 2016.

[1] St. Dmitri, The Great Collection of the Lives of the Saints, November 8, pp. 128-129.

[2] St. Ephraim, Sermon on Gog and Magog and on the end and consummation; translated by M.F. Toal, The Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers, London: Longmans, 1963, vol. 4, p. 355.

[3] Monk Stephen, Vita Wilfridi.

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