Every year, a Saturday in early November brings us to one of the more unusual observances of the Armenian Church calendar: the feast day dedicated to the holy archangels Michael and Gabriel. We’ll greet it again this weekend, on November 9.
Angels in popular culture seem like benign, even childlike beings. But the bible depicts them as something else entirely—something truly incomprehensible to the human mind. “Fear not!” is the characteristic greeting that issues from an angel when it is sent to converse with a human being—suggesting that there is something potentially terrifying in our encounters with them.
The multitude of angels make up the “heavenly hosts”—the armies of God waging an invisible war against evil forces. The archangel Michael (whose name means “Who is equal to God?”) is symbolically shown as a warrior who protects God’s people and contends with Satan. Gabriel (“God is my strength”) is best known as the messenger who announced Christ’s impending birth to St. Mary.
The Christian tradition regards the angels as “bodiless powers”: Thought without physicality; Will without animal substance; beings of pure spirit, who do not occupy even a single point in space.
The very possibility of such creatures opens up deep questions about our experience of the material universe—and about man himself. For example: Are our thoughts just chemical reactions, or is human intelligence itself a sign of something beyond and above physical existence?
In that sense, the idea of angels enlarges our understanding of the universe that God has created, and of the place He has given to His human creations.
By Christopher H. Zakian