Council of Archangel Michael – Arandjelovdan in Orthodox iconography

The Christian dogma of angels is incomparably younger than the religious thought that speaks of them. The presence of angels was noticed already at the moment when Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:24), and since then they have been constantly appearing in the biblical chronology. Their role is partly explained by the name ἄγγελος itself, which in Greek means newspaper. At the same time, they are servants of God, which is reminiscent of various traditions where angels are anthropomorphic beings who were not deities and formed the link between Humanity and Heaven.

Because angels symbolize there medium earth, their shape is quite special. According to the Judeo-Christian religion, they have a human appearance (Dan. 8, 15/9, 21), wings and, paradoxically, they are both corporeal and disembodied. This controversy stems from Christology, where the philosophy of the spirited body is very deep and complex. Once upon a time, the nature of angels was less transcendental and believers tended to worship them as deities (2 Kings 23: 5). This lasted for a long time and at the Laodicean local council, around the year 320, the Christian Church had to, by canon 35, ban the worship of angels in order to support the monotheistic religion.

Archangel Michael, icon, 14th century, Constantinople, Byzantium

The celestial hierarchy of disembodied forces

True angelology begins with Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, writer and philosopher 5/6. century. In the work “Heavenly Hierarchy”, he, in relation to the holy books, established nine angelic choirs divided into three rows, thus introducing the trinity principle.

The first angelic triad includes: seraphim, cherubim and angels of the throne.

Seraphim are closest to God, they have six wings (Isa. 6: 2) and a fiery appearance (Exodus 24:17 / Heb. 19:29). Their name in Hebrew means “those who burn.” In the iconography, they are shown as a head with six wings – with one pair they fly, with the other pair they cover the legs, and with the third they cover the face.

The cherubim have more eyes and their name in Hebrew means “great wisdom.” In iconography, they are shown as heads with two, four or, less often, six wings, and their color is dark blue.

The angels of the throne surround and carry God to the throne. They are the only ones without an anthropomorphic appearance and, in iconography, they are shown as fire wheels with one eye in each of their two wings.

The next line are the angels of dominion, power and authority.

The angels of lordship are so named because they rule the lower orders, but also because they give wisdom to the rulers. Angels of power work miracles on Earth and give people the power to work miracles. Angels of power rule over demons. All these three choirs are depicted as young men dressed in verses, holding gold ribbons in their right hand, and a seal with the sign of the cross – Ꚛ in their left. They are surrounded by golden and green plowshares.

The last row is composed of angels, archangels and angels.

The angels of the principle are “the first of the last”, superior to the archangels, and each of them protects one principality, that is, the earth.

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Cathedral of the Archangel Michael and all disembodied forces, icon, 15th century, Novgorod, Russia

Seven archangels

Archangels are God’s messengers, they are visible to people and they are the only ones who have personal qualities and names. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, their names are theophoric, bearers of God’s grace, and end in “el”, which in Hebrew means God. The name of each of the archangels corresponds to a particular archangelic ministry or duty:

Michael – (Dan. 10, 13 / jud. 9 / Rev. 12, 7), “who is like God” in Hebrew. He is the Victor, the Archangel, the Commander of the forces that defeated Evil. He is the conductor of souls and during the Last Judgment he will hold the Scales of Justice. It can be noticed that his cult originates from several sources, because he has the characteristics of Anubis, Toth and Hermes.

Gabriel – (Dan. 8:16 / Luke 1:26), “the power of God” in Hebrew. He is a newspaper sent to the Virgin Mary, and also to the priest Zacharias, the father of St. John the Baptist.

Raphael – (Tob 3, 16/11, 1), “God’s help” in Hebrew. He is the healer of Tobias.

Urilo – (3 Ezek. 4, 1/5, 20 / apocryphal Book of Enoch), “fire and light of God” in Hebrew. He is the archangel who guards the gates of the Garden of Eden, and he also helped Enoch’s spiritual ascension, and he inspired Ezra.

Sarilo – (3 Ezra 5, 16), “the prayer of God” in Hebrew. He stopped Abraham’s knife over Isaac.

Varahilo – (Hebrew heritage), “God’s blessing” in Hebrew. He appeared to Moses on the mountain when he saw the Burning Bush.

Yehudilo – (Hebrew heritage), “praise of God” in Hebrew. He taught Shem, Noah’s son.

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Council of Archangel Michael and all disembodied forces, icon, 16th century, Greece

Guardian angels

Angels are closest to humans and appear to convey God’s secrets and intentions that are not of the utmost importance. They help people in their daily lives and each person has their own guardian angel.

In the iconography, the last three choirs are depicted as winged young men, dressed in military clothes or white tunics, holding a spear or a sword. In Paleo-Christian art, in catacombs and on sarcophagi, angels were depicted without wings and rather according to the ancient motifs of young men and demigods. Their wings appeared in iconography during the 4th century and, at first, were white, but later, in medieval art, they became gold or multicolored.

The number nine angelic choirs is not a coincidence. He is a symbol of fulfillment, a plurality that is a return to unity, but also, it symbolizes the crowning of effort and the completion of creation. The number nine exists, as a perfect number, in multiple mythologies, cosmogony, and philosophies.

The second element, decisive in the creation of the nine angelic choirs, is without a doubt the fact that there were nine levels of aristocracy and bureaucracy in the state of the empire of Constantine the Great, which reveals a comparison with the celestial hierarchy of the servants of the Emperor of the Universe.

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Archangel Michael, icon, 1676, Simon Ushakov, Moscow

The Council of the Archangel Michael and all disembodied forces

Of all the angels, the Archangel Michael has the strongest cult due to his status as the heavenly Duke. Being the commander-in-chief of the heavenly disembodied forces, he summoned them, led the fight against Satan with them, and won. The Council of the Holy Archangel Michael is especially celebrated in the Orthodox Church (November 8/21). He is also a healer in the Hon church and protector of Constantinople in the time of Constantine the Great.

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Archangel Michael on horseback, icon, 19th century, Russia

Along with all these performances, there is also a composition depicting the Archangel Michael on horseback. This motif was first seen in the Arilje church of St. Achilles in 1296. The fresco depicts Archangel Michael as a horseman with a sword in his hand. However, his identity is disputed because he is part of the composition of the Jesse tree, whose cycle equates him with Gabriel. On the other hand, the scroll he holds in his hand (Zech. 1: 1-17) identifies him as Michael.

This iconographic motif has been especially popular in Russia since the early 16th century and very quickly moved towards the eschatological visions of the Old Testament prophet Zechariah. Heavenly Duke Mihajlo has a very special role in these events, because he will not only be the commander of the heavenly forces that will announce the second coming of Christ, but he will also be God’s helper during the terrible judgment. He will hold the Scales of Justice and lead souls to Heaven or Hell.

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Miracle of Archangel Michael in Hona, icon, 17th century, Russia

Archangel Michael the Horseman

Archangel Michael is depicted on a winged horse reminiscent of Pegasus, a horse from ancient Greek mythology when Perseus rode off to free Andromeda and Bellerophon to defeat Chimera. The archistrateg holds a spear, one end of which is decorated with a cross, a symbol of victory through the sacrifice of Christ, while in the other hand he holds an incense burner (Rev. 8: 3-5), reminiscent of the last prayers of saints addressed to the Lord, before the first apocalyptic trumpet sounds.

The archangel’s feet are surrounded by clouds, he has a rainbow above his head, and in his hand he holds an open book with a censer (Rev. 10: 1-2). This vision illustrates a passage that speaks of the seventh and last trumpet, which means stopping the flow of time. Under the hooves of horses, burning in flames, Babylon collapses into the sea (Rev. 18: 1-23), marking the end of earthly life before the establishment of the heavenly Jerusalem.

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An angel guards a sleeping man, icon, 18th century, Palekh, Russia

The symbolism of this motif is related only to the vision of the eighth day and the sound of apocalyptic trumpets, which explains why the motif became popular from the 14th century, when the Eastern Church accepted the Book of Revelation among canonical texts. Despite everything, this motif was not limited to eschatological meaning, but it celebrated the Archangel Michael as the patron saint. That is why his cult and iconography existed from the very beginning of Paleo-Christian art.

The special role of Archangel Michael is beautifully explained in an ode sung to him by Theodosius:

“He is not one of those servants on earth. He is God’s help, the flame of fire.”


Source: Balkan Magazin – Aktuelnosti by www.balkanmagazin.net.

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