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The Orthodox Church on Angels

Herein, I will be appealing to three resources: Orthodox Wiki, Orthodox Info, and St. Anne’s Orthodox Church.

Two of them note, “The word angel means ‘messenger’ and this word expresses the nature of angelic service to the human race” and “The word ‘angel’ means ‘messenger’ and this word expresses the nature of angelic service to the human race.” Moreover, “the word angel means ‘messenger’ and implies service to God and to mankind” and “messengers or heralds of the will of God, guides for people and the servants of their salvation” and “Angels are the messengers and deliver only that which God reveals” and “execute God’s will, functioning as our guardians, and as messengers of God” and “angels are a reflection of God’s glory and exist to serve as God’s messengers.”

As we shall see, these simple statements will actually become very important in terms of categorization, in terms of the law of identity.

This is because, “Angels are organized into several orders, or Angelic Choirs” and “Before the visible world was created God had created the angelic orders.”

We are told, “The most influential of these classifications was that put forward by pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite (not to be confused with Dionysius the Areopagite, who was baptized by Saint Paul and lived in the first century, and from whom pseudo-Dionysius took his name) in the fourth or fifth century in his book The Celestial Hierarchy.”

Note that this is a pseudo source and one that dates to circa the late fifth and early sixth century AD: some half millennia after Jesus’ time.

We are specifically told that pseudo-Dionysius, “interpolated several ambiguous passages from the New Testament, specifically Ephesians 6:12 and Colossians 1:16” so let us read those, “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” and “by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.”

Thus, “ambiguous” was a key qualifier since we are Paul does not specify to whom he was referring no who belongs in which category.

Now, pseudo-Dionysius developed these categorization:

First Hierarchy: Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones

Second Hierarchy: Powers, Dominions, Principalities

Third Hierarchy: Virtues, Archangels, Angels

How Seraphim and Cherubim got added to the mix is certainly mysterious but they surely belong therein, somewhere.

Now, the Bible only reveals a fall or sin or casting out of Angels (1/3 of them—Rev 12:4) and something will become very important: one Cherub.

Note that Paul referred to how “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against…” which tells us that at least some of the rulers, authorities, cosmic powers, spiritual are malevolent—or, became that way. Again, who these are is un-elucidated.

Not only is this mostly based on pseudo-Dionysius from half a millennia after Jesus’s time but, “The idea of there being ten initial Angelic hosts is taken from Judaism, this number possessing a very deep significance in Jewish mysticism, being the numeric value…” but keep in mind that this does not refer to the Old Testament religion but to Rabbinic Judaism.

Thus, we are told, “one should be a bit cautious about taking pseudo-Dionysius’ model too concretely, as he is the only source we have for such a classification system. The author himself was a fairly early advocate of apophatic theology” and “many have accused the writer of wavering somewhere in between Orthodoxy and Neoplatonism.”

We are told, “When Adam was expelled from paradise after his fall, one of the cherubim with a flaming sword was set to guard the gates of Eden (Gen. 3:24)”: it was actually two Cherubim—and we will see that there was a good reason for this—or so it seems.

We are told, “By their nature, angels are active spirits…They are incorporeal spirits…Angels are the most perfect spirits…incorporeal spirits…being incorporeal spirits, are capable to the highest degree spiritual development…The Apostle Paul writes: ‘Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?’ (Heb. 1:14).”

This is a very, very common view and it is a very, very unbiblical view—but a very technical one that must be handled carefully.

The term “incorporeal spirits” is actually a very important one. Many would think that it is redundant since, by definition, spirits are incorporeal. Yet, while a spirit, proper, is incorporeal (Luke 24:39), spirits can take on a corpus. For example, God breathed into the mud/dust/soil man the spirit of life and he became a living soul: body, spirit, and soul. God is spirit, proper, but incarnated.

But Angles are described as looking like human males, the perform physical acts, and there is no indication that such is not their nature, no indication they shapeshift/morph, take on bodies when need be, etc.

But what about Heb. 1:14? Well, that was quoting Psalm 104:4. Now, what is interesting is that in both Hebrew and Greek one word can refers to/mean spirit of breath/wind: ruach and pneuma, respectively. The context of the Psalm is correlations natural phenomena thus, that statement is to be translated (as many have done) as that they are winds rather than spirits. Since the Psalm should read winds then so should Hebrews when it quotes it—I went over this in detail in my book What Does the Bible Say About Angels? A Styled Angelology.

While there are some spirits, proper, God created a physical/material realm and just because Angles, et al., have access to realms/dimensions to which humans have not access (whilst alive, anyhow) does not mean that those realms/dimensions are not physical/material—even if exhibiting characteristics of physicality/materiality that are unusual to us humans.

We are told, “They are incorporeal spirits, and because they belong to the invisible world” but Jesus was very physical when He resurrected and yet, could literally chose to stop interacting with the visible world when He wanted: He would become invisible—or, disappear (Luke 24:31).

Also noted is that, “St. John of Damascus writes: ‘When it is the will of God that angels should appear to those who are worthy, they do not appear as they are in their essence, but, transformed, take on such an appearance as to be visible to physical eyes’” which is an assertion.

Also, “In the book of Tobit,” an apocryphal or deuteron canonical text, “the angel accompanying Tobit and his son says of himself: ‘All these days I was visible to you, but I neither ate nor drank, this only appeared to your eyes’ (Tobit 12:19).”

Thus, we either establish our entire Angelology upon this one single statement or we base it on what I noted about how Angels are described (many times) and what is not said about them.

Now, “St. John of Damascus also writes: ‘An angel can only be called incorporeal and non-material in comparison with us. For in comparison with God, Who alone is beyond compare, everything seems coarse and material, only the divinity is totally non-material -and incorporeal.’”

That is closer to my view which is that Angels are ontologically like or much like Jesus is post-resurrection: physical/material enough to be touched, seen, eat, etc. yet, with access to other realms/dimensions so that He seems to walk through a closed door, can become invisible/disappear, etc. As we are told about humans, “Thou hast made him a little lower than the angels” (Psalm 8:5).

Now, getting back to the issue of categorization, we are told, “St. Cyril of Jerusalem writes: ‘…there are various degrees of perfections and therefore various ranks or a hierarchy of the heavenly powers. Thus Holy Scripture calls some angels and others archangels (I Thess. 4:16, Jude v. 9).”

Indeed, when it comes to Angels, proper, “Holy Scripture calls some angels and others archangels”—actually, not “others,” plural, “archangels” since only Michael is referred to as such (in fact, it is an issue whether there could be more than one arch).

We are told, “St. Dionysius the Areopagite, divides the world of the angels into nine ranks,” so this source was not detailed and accurate enough to note that it was actually “pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite (not to be confused with Dionysius the Areopagite…”

Also, “St. Gregory the Dialogist writes: ‘We accept the existence of nine ranks of angels, because from the evidence of the Word of God we know about angels, archangels, powers, authorities, principalities, dominions, thrones, cherubim and seraphim. The existence of angels and archangels is witnessed throughout Holy Scripture; it is principally the books of the Prophets which mention cherubim and seraphim.”

Now, I referred to “Angels, proper” since, sure, “Holy Scripture calls some angels and others archangels” when, that is, Angels are actually being referenced. Dividing “the angels into nine ranks” means that Cherubim and Seraphim do not belong therein.

If the Orthodox Church wants to insist in specifying nine ranks they will need to stop referring to nine ranks of Angels since some therein are not Angles, by definition.

Recall that we were told (and not the emphasis added for emphasis), “The word angel means ‘messenger’…means ‘messenger’…angelic service to the human race…means ‘messenger’ and implies service to God and to mankind…guides for peoplemessengersour guardians, and as messengers…serve as God’s messengers.”

Angels, Cherubim, and Seraphim 1) have different job titles, 2) different job functions, and 3) look different from one another thus, they are three separately distinct categories of being and ergo, it is a category error which violates the law of identity to lump them all together.

In fact, why assert that Cherubim and Seraphim are kinds of Angles rather than asserting that Angles and Seraphim are kinds of Cherubim or that Angles and Cherubim are kinds of Seraphim? See, it is an arbitrary mis-categorization.

For example, Angels are, “messenger…messenger…messenger…messengers…messengers…messengers,” as we were told, but Cherubim and Seraphim are not messengers.

Moreover, we were told they are in “service to the human race…service…to mankind…guides for people…our guardians” but there is no indication that Cherubim and Seraphim do any such things.

As for rulers, authorities, cosmic powers, spiritual forces, thrones, dominions, etc., we are told, “some Fathers of the Church express their personal opinion that the division of angels into nine ranks covers only those names and ranks which have been revealed to us in this present life; others will be revealed in the world to come.”

We are told, “In Holy Scripture we find the names of some of the highest angels. There are two such names in the canonical books, ‘Michael’ (‘Who is like unto God?’ Dan. 10:13; 12:1; Jude v. 9; Rev. 12:7-8) and ‘Gabriel’ (‘Man of God’ Dan. 8:16; 9:21; Luke 1:19-26)” but they missed one or two. “They have as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit. His name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek he is called Apollyon” (Rev 9:11) and one that is a maybe, “a great star fell from heaven…The name of the star is Wormwood” (Rev 8:10)—and I said “maybe” since star can sometimes refer to Angels, “I saw a star fallen from heaven to earth, and he was given the key to the shaft of the bottomless pit” (Rev 9:1).

Note that this source rightly ignored Lucifer aka Satan aka Devil aka etc. I say rightly because the fact is that he is not an Angel but is a Cherub. Now, I noted that Cherubim do not deliver messages but this one actually does yet, not from God: try as he may to pretend they are from God, “Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14): he disguises himself as an Angel, a messenger, and as one of light, from God.

This takes us back to the Cherubim guarding (being guardians is their job function, unlike Angels) guarding the way into the Garden of Eden: a Cherub had caused a ruckus therein, so two were stationed: 2 vs. 1.

Lastly, one source includes a “Prayer to our Guardian Angel.” While there are guardian Angels (again, see my book for details on every points I have made herein) in the Bible there is prayer to God and prayer to false gods—period, full stop.

Thus, it should be at least concerning when someone comes along later on with a tradition about doing something no one in the Bible seems to have realized they could do. This also potentially opens the door for Angles that are not our guardians—fallen/sinful/cast out ones who became demons—to answer our prayer, in a manner of speaking.

For more info, see the aforementioned What Does the Bible Say About Angels? A Styled Angelology as well as the book wherein I deal with Cherubim and Seraphim What Does the Bible Say About Various Paranormal Entities? A Styled Paranormology and also The Paranormal in Early Jewish and Christian Commentaries: Over a Millennia’s Worth of Comments on Angels, Cherubim, Seraphim, Satan, the Devil, Demons, the Serpent and the Dragon.

As a side note of a related issue, see Orthodox Priest Lawrence Farley writing “Of Giants and Grasshoppers.”

See my various books here.

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