Tag Archives: Pseudo-Dionysius

Celebrating Archangel Light

by V.K. McCarty

Commanders of the heavenly hosts,
we who are unworthy beseech you,
by your prayers encompass us beneath the wings of your immaterial glory,
and faithfully preserve us who fall down and cry to you:
Deliver us from all harm, for you are the commanders of the powers on high!
(Troparion for the Synaxis of the Archangel Michael and the Other Bodiless Powers, Tone 4)

As the angels are gathering for the great Feast of the Synaxis of the Archangels, those of us wary of believing in angels at all may question their very nature. Yet we are standing as close to a mighty explanation as Psalm 104:4, and to Psalm 103:20-21 for the powerful efficacy of their ministry revealed. God who “makes his angels spirits and his ministers a flaming fire,” as the Psalmist says, is both terrifying and gorgeous to behold. That the angels of God “excel in strength, do his commandments, hearken to the voice of his word…and do his pleasure,” identifies them as front-facing essential workers in the economy of Salvation and in our lives among the faithful.

“Take a close look at a branding iron,” Basil the Great teaches us, “and the nature of angels’ holiness will become plainer: Remember that fire is required to heat it; yet, we would not claim that the branding iron and the fire are the same substance. The angels are a similar case; they are essentially aerial spirits, composed of immaterial fire, as it is written, ‘He makes his angels spirits, and his ministers a flaming fire’ (Ps 104:4). Angels exist in space, and when they are seen by those who are worthy, they assume an appropriate physical form” (On the Holy Spirit, PG38.138A). For us then, in our deepest prayer and praise, we are able to see the divine illumination of angelic appearances in the same manner as viewing, perhaps, a rainbow, which can truly appear visually and radiantly upon occasion, and can powerfully signify God’s promise in Scripture, but has no physical body.

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Episcopacy and Hierarchy

by Mark Arey

For many years now, the word “hierarch” has become a catch-all when referring to bishops with differing titles (e.g. Archbishop, Metropolitan, Auxiliary Bishop). Many of us have had that moment of discomfort when we address a “hierarch” and get their salutation or title wrong! The reactions can range from neutral indifference to a hurtful scolding. “Hierarch” has become a safe alternative, especially when in doubt. But it would be a mistake to leave “hierarch” as a mere synonym for any member of the Episcopacy.

All bishops, regardless of their titles, jurisdictions, antiquity, are hierarchs, or at least are called to function as hierarchs. As bishops, they ἐπισκοπεύειν, they “oversee” (literally) their flocks, hopefully in imitation of our Great Chief Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ. In all the Divine Services the bishops preside, and in the Divine Liturgy—the central and chief liturgy of the Church—they preside in the full complement of the signs of their episcopal dignity. The omophorion—the episcopal stole that represents the lost sheep carried home (Luke 15: 4-6). The crown—a late accretion but a referent of the Kingship of Christ. The sakkos—a vestment of the Byzantine Emperor shared first with the Ecumenical Patriarch and then with all bishops to honor their position. The staff—a wonderful mash-up of the Ascelpian staff and the brass snake that Moses raised in the desert (Numbers 21:9)—both symbols of healing. The dikērotríkēra—the set of candles in two (δίκηρον) and three (τρίκηρον) with which bishops bless the faithful. And there are others as well, some shared with presbyters and deacons. These vestments are not worn or used outside the celebration of the Sacred Services. Although these signs belong to the bishop, their symbolic value goes much deeper. Continue Reading…