Friday, October 2, 2009

Feast of the Guardian Angels

(Angels Swinging Censers, ca. 1170. French; Made in Troyes. Pot-metal, white glass, vitreous paint, silver stain; 18 1/2 x 17 5/16 in. (47 x 44 cm). Gift of Ella Brummer, in memory of her husband, Ernest Brummer, 1977 (1977.346.1) Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, NY.)

Today is the Feast of the Guardian Angels, the patronal feast day of my parish.
St. John Chrysostom in his Homilies on the Epistle to the Hebrews (ca. 403 A.D.) talks about angels:

“Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?” [Hebrews 1:14.] What marvel (saith he) if they minister to the Son, when they minister even to our salvation? See how he lifts up their minds, and shows the great honor which God has for us, since He has assigned to Angels who are above us this ministration on our behalf. As if one should say, for this purpose (saith he) He employs them; this is the office of Angels, to minister to God for our salvation. So that it is an angelical work, to do all for the salvation of the brethren: or rather it is the work of Christ Himself, for He indeed saves as Lord, but they as servants. And we, though servants are yet Angels’ fellow-servants. Why gaze ye so earnestly on the Angels (saith he)? They are servants of the Son of God, and are sent many ways for our sakes, and minister to our salvation. And so they are partners in service with us.

Consider ye how he ascribes no great difference to the kinds of creatures. And yet the space between angels and men is great; nevertheless he brings them down near to us, all but saying, For us they labor, for our sake they run to and fro: on us, as one might say, they wait. This is their ministry, for our sake to be sent every way.

And of these examples both the Old [Testament] is full, and the New. For when Angels bring glad tidings to the shepherds, or to Mary, or to Joseph; when they sit at the sepulcher, when they are sent to say to the disciples, “Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven?” ( Acts i. 11 ), when they release Peter out of the prison, when they discourse with Philip, consider how great the honor is; when God sends His Angels for ministers as to friends; when to Cornelius [an Angel] appears, when [an Angel] brings forth all the apostles from the prison, and says, “Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people the words of this life” ( Acts v. 20 ); and to Paul himself also an Angel appears. Dost thou see that they minister to us on God’s behalf, and that they minister to us in the greatest matters? wherefore Paul saith, “All things are yours, whether life or death, or the world, or things present, or things to come.” ( 1 Cor. iii. 22.)

Well then the Son also was sent, but not as a servant, nor as a minister, but as a Son, and Only-Begotten, and desiring the same things with the Father. Rather indeed, He was not “sent”: for He did not pass from place to place, but took on Him flesh: whereas these change their places, and leaving those in which they were before, so come to others in which they were not.

And by this again he incidentally encourages them, saying, What fear ye? Angels are ministering to us. (Homily 3, Section 4)
(Available at Christian Classics Ethereal Library)

St. John has so many meaningful things to say here. It is good to think of ourselves as "heirs of salvation" -- not so that it leads us to presumption, but that it feeds us with hope. "...this is the office of Angels, to minister to God for our salvation" -- the word translated as "office" is the same Greek word from which the English word "liturgy" comes (λειτουργία [leitourgia]). We are told that we are doing "angelic work" when we work for the salvation of others; like angels, we have an important "ev-angelizing" role. Like angels, we are servants. I particularly like the last part: "What fear ye? Angels are ministering to us."

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