This is just a thought about the Holy Archangels that came to me a few days ago, as I was praying for something to write to you on their Feast Day. I remembered something that happened in my first year in my Monastery in Moldavia, and that memory triggered this thought.
In our monastery, among other things, a novice was expected to do one hundred prostrations and three hundred bows (crossing oneself, then bowing down to the ground) each day. I soon realised that I am a physically weak young man, and that I am very easily prone to cut short the number of my daily prostrations and bows. I asked my Abbot about it, and he advised me to do them in church, rather than in my own cell. His thought was that since I was both lazy and proud, I should fight one temptation through the other. He was perfectly right, and I soon discovered that I could push through my pain and finish my prostrations just because I didn’t want the other brothers to see me giving up. I later found the same advice in St John’s Ladder.
In a corner of the church, I found an icon of Christ that spoke to me in a personal way, and I did all my prostrations and bows before that icon. Day by day, month after month, for at least one year, I poured my heart before Christ in front of that icon. About a year later, a team of restorers came to our Monastery to clean the walls of our church and uncover the original frescoes. One day, I asked them if they could also clean the soot that had almost covered the Face of Christ. They did, and this is how I found out that – for over one year – I had been prostrating, bowing and praying to Christ before an icon of the Holy Archangel Michael.
There is a connection between the Holy Archangels and Christ. There is a connection between Christ’s Person, and the unity of St Michael’s sword and St Gabriel’s lily. There is a balance, a spiritual oneness between what the sword symbolises and the joy of St Gabriel’s good-news.
Perhaps that is best expressed in the image of the Christ of Sinai – the oldest version of the icon of Christ Pantocrator, kept in the Monastery of St Catherine since the sixth century. One eye of the icon expresses Christ’s Judgement, while the other overflows with His Love. That unity, that balance between Christ-the-Judge and Christ-the-Saviour is also expressed through the Holy Archangels and their different ‘works’: one calls us to fight for the salvation of our soul, while the other confirms that our salvation is of the Lord. One speaks about our responsibility for our salvation, the other speaks about Him Who made our salvation possible.
One reminds us that we need to act, we need to change, we need to DO something (inside and outside) to become Christ-like, while the other takes away our fears by re-inforcing the Good News of Christ’s Incarnation. This is the balance to which we must hold on, this is the Truth of Christ – our salvation depends on us, as much as it depends on Christ. We are not automatically saved because of His Sacrifice, just as we cannot be saved exclusively through our acts, without His Sacrifice.
To lose this balance is to lose one’s way to the Kingdom. Christ asks us to get up and change our ways, He expects us to get better, He wants us to look at ourselves in the mirror of His commandments, and do what we can to become more like Him. In this world, and in a time when words have lost their depth and meaning, to say that Christ want us to love the world and sacrifice ourselves ‘for the life and salvation of the world’ can mean the exact opposite of what He asks us to do. In this world, to speak of love is dangerous, for love has either been romanticised to the point of losing all connection to Christ’s Death on the Cross, or has been openly transformed into another word for sex.
To remember that we are all brothers and that the only enemy is the devil, to forgive and turn the other cheek, to die for the world, to fight one’s demons so that we become sacrificial lambs and not sacrificing wolves, to let go of our idols (our culture, our heritage, our history, our logical arguments – anything that stays between us and Christ) – all of these things have become stumbling blocks for the vast majority of us, Christians.
These ideals are now seen as silly dreams of stupid people – not relevant to this world, not useful to this world, not of this world.
But then, I know One Who was also not of this world. And This One, hated by the world to His death, has prophesied that the time will come when His disciples will also be hated by the world, because they also are not of this world.
May the Holy Archangels protect us all – from the enemies outside, and from the enemy within. May they remind us the balance that is in Christ – the Good News of His Love goes hand in hand with the Judgement of His Cross. For this reason, Christ’s eyes Love and Judge from the beginning of the world to its end.
Happy Feast Day, everyone!