>I’ve painted several icons of angels over the years, (none of the images in this post are mine, however) and I’ve tried to cultivate a relationship with my own guardian angel, praying to him from time to time, but not very faithfully. So, when I heard that Joshua Armitage, a seminary graduate who works at St. John, was going to be teaching on angels on Wednesday nights, I was eager to hear what he had to say. Night One did not disappoint.
You see, on Wednesday nights at St. John Orthodox Church (some of the photos here are out of date, but at least you can see the schedule of events and directions to the church here in midtown Memphis… but the 2007 icon workshop is obviously over, as is the 2008 class) we have Vespers early, at 5:30 p.m., followed by a fasting meal (no meat or dairy on Wednesdays and Fridays) and a time of teaching. It’s all over by 8 p.m., very do-able on a school/work night.
Joshua used The Angels and Their Mission by Jean Danielou and David Heimann as one of the sources for his talk. He was quick to say that he didn’t like the book’s cover, with its Victorian representation of feminine-looking angels “with flappy gowns” that don’t inspire strength and courage. This is one reason I know I’ll be picky about book covers for my own books, if they ever make it to press, but sometimes writers don’t have much control over this.
Angels are bodiless, so however we represent them, unless we’ve seen them ourselves (and I know some people have) we can only depend upon descriptions of the forms they have taken when they’ve appeared in Holy Scriptures or other sources of Orthodox tradition.
So, last night Joshua gave the first of a series of talks about angels, beginning by saying that “real knowledge about the unseen world comes from experience, not from a venue like this—a lecture hall or a classroom.” So, right up front, we know this is a mystical topic, as much of Orthodox theology is. This emphasis on the “unseen,” as Joshua went on to say, was passed on from the Jews to the early Christians, and was especially taught by the apostles, who wrote about the angels in at least the following places in Holy Scriptures: Romans 8:38; Ephesians 1:18-23; Colossians 1:15-17; Hebrews 1;1-14; and Hebrews 2:1-4.
Josh divided up his talks on the activity of the angels into three arenas: Heavenly, Cosmic and Earthly. Last night he dealt mainly with their Earthly activity, as messengers, guardians, patrons and God’s avengers. He explained that because angels are in a realm that is richer and deeper than our own-the unseen world—it is their task to lead us to true knowledge of God.
Each of us has our own Guardian Angel, but each nation also has a guardian angel.
The unseen world isn’t all good, though… Satan and his demons are still there, or as Josh put it last night, “The Devil and his shadow government.” Shadow government—what a great image of Satan’s realm. Josh said that each government also has a “patron demon” who works to destroy the angel’s work.
The abbess of a woman’s monastery that I’ve visited over the years once told me that monastics have two guardian angels assigned to them, because of how devoted they are to the spiritual life, and how much more fierce their spiritual warfare was. (I don’t remember if she also said that monks and nuns have two demons assigned to them or not, but that would seem to follow….) Anyway, during the years that I was more intensely seeking to live in that realm, praying more, spending more time at the monastery each year, and chasing down my own demons with greater vigor, she told me that she believed I also had two guardian angels, at least while I was at the monastery. I never asked her if one of them stayed behind when I went back out “into the world.” I hope not, because I really have a hard time believing that the struggles of lay persons living outside the monastery are less than those of the monastics within. Different, but not less. But what do I know?
I’d love to hear from my readers on this subject—your own personal experiences with angels or spiritual warfare, other good books/sources on the subject, etc. Please leave a comment (click comment, below) or send me an email and let me know if it’s okay to publish it. I hope to post about angels weekly while Josh is giving the talks… except that I’ll miss the one on January 28, as I’ll be out of town. Maybe someone else will pick up the thread and send me an email to use as a guest post that week!
Holy Guardian Angel, pray to God for me.