“In the Image and Likeness of God – The Human Person in Orthodox Spirituality” a Lecture by Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware)

MILWAUKEE–This week I had the privilege to attend a lecture at Marquette University by one of the most preeminent authors, scholars, and theologians of our generation: His Eminence, the Most Reverend Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia, MA, D.Phil, titular metropolitan of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Great Britain.

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With his bishop’s hat, flowing robes, scraggly white beard, and distinctive British accent, this esteemed professor emeritus at Oxford could surely be mistaken for a Defense-Against-the-Dark-Arts instructor at Hogwarts. (To see what I mean, check out this interview with Metropolitan Kallistos on the Philokalia.)

A prolific theologian, many would count him a worthy candidate for eventual sainthood, possibly even of the kind called Equal-to-the-Apostles.

Like every Orthodox bishop I have ever met, his warmth, grace, and above all, humility was most noticeable. He’s very down to earth. What brought him to Milwaukee? Word has it His Eminence was drawn to view the collection housed at Marquette of the original manuscripts and writings of his esteemed Oxford predecessor, J.R.R. Tolkien. Thanks to Marquette for that! The Metropolitan gave us much to think about and mediate upon, particularly as we are about to embark upon our inner journey through Lent.

Given the state of the world “out there” today, our collective prayerful journey through the Lenten desert “in here” in 2016 may well be one of the most crucial, or perhaps most meaningful, of our lives. May our prayers bear much fruit.

Lenten Meditation: In the Image and Likeness of God

In Orthodoxy, we learn to hold our hand in a very specific way to make the sign of the Cross. Join together index, middle finger and thumb, to represent the holy Trinity. Fourth finger and pinkie, folded down into the palm, represents the dual nature of Christ as both fully God and fully human.

 

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Meditate upon this: three fingers together represent the Trinity, two fingers represent Christ’s dual nature, fully man and fully God–and our own true nature as well.

This theological symbol we make using our own hand could summarize Metropolitan Kallistos Ware’s lecture.

Paradoxical Duality

Like Christ’s paradox of being both fully human and fully God, Kallistos pointed out how we human beings, too, are full of paradoxical duality. Humankind embodies both hope and disappointment, frailty and strength, beauty and ugliness, “Godlike apprehension and the quintessence of dust,” he said. We are both earthly and heavenly, temporal and immortal, spirit and flesh. In theological terms, we know from Genesis that we are made “in the image and likeness of God,” while formed out of dust. Grounded in the earth, “our personhood reaches out into infinity and into eternity.”  This paradoxical duality causes us human beings to be a mystery–to our very selves.

Even though we may know we are “‘made in the image and likeness of God,’ we understand only a very small part of our personhood,” said Kallistos. “We don’t understand ultimate fulfillment. We don’t yet know what we will be. And so we ask ‘Who am I? What am I?’” Perennially, in every generation.

Human beings are born with a sense of needing something. We are driven to find it. It is like we’re born as a puzzle with a missing piece. There is always a sense of something missing, which drives us to go out and seek for something: a yearning for fulfillment.

Kallistos’ comment parallels a core teaching in  A Course in Miracles, how there is really only one problem in life –separation from God–we often go looking in the wrong places to find the solution. It might be relationships. It might be material wealth. It might be adventure, a good time, a sense of wonder. It might be creating a life of comfort around us, in which we feel physically safe—which we do by accumulating wealth or power. Or it might be investing our lives in something more than ourselves—raising our children, or contributing to a cause.

Yet none of these truly, deeply satisfy. When we chase things and power—we always seem to need more. When we seek fulfillment in others, they all seem to leave us, eventually: if they don’t let us down, they grow up and move way, or they die. When we seek wealth and power, we find it never lasts: the more we have, the less safe and more vulnerable we feel, and we never can take it with us. And though we may devote our lives to a “cause,” often that cause is never truly fixed, but continues on past our time here.

The only way to find that missing piece of the puzzle—to fully know ourselves—is through getting to know God.

“We have within us a God-shaped hole,” Kallistos said. “Only when it is filled can we become fully human.

‘You see, the two questions, ‘what is God?’ and ‘what is man?’ are intimately connected. It is only when we look into the depths of our hearts: it is there that we find God, reflected back to us. Self-knowledge and God-knowledge are utterly co-dependent. If you know yourself, you will know God. And if you know God, you will know yourself.”

In the image of God is the image of the Trinity, and the image of Christ, Kallistos explained. Quoting Charles Williams, he said: “It is not good for God to be alone.” God is three persons in relationship, loving one another, in an interpersonal way:  “not just a unit, but a union,” he said. God is communion. God is a relational being. God is social and dialogic. God is self-giving: sharing, reciprocal, responsive, and in solidarity.

We are formed in this same image and likeness. We, too, are social, relational beings, sharing, reciprocal, responsive, and in solidarity. Dialogic means two persons in communication with one another. “It means ‘I need you in order to be myself.’”

“I need you in order to be myself.”

I understand this idea very well. I was born into a wonderful, loving, kind, generous–yet flawed–family. Like so many families, mine suffered some kind of breakdown in structure long before I was born, leaving it bereft of stable emotional support structures. Emoting was just not safe. Love was conditional: fail to behave properly, and love was withheld.

For many years I suffered the consequences of conditional love: self-loathing, low esteem, self-harm, depression, suicidal thoughts. Thank God, my one attempt at suicide was very lame and I failed.

Psychologist Frank Dance described growth in human communication from birth on to traverse a spiral shape like a helix. At birth we are the center of our universe: there is only us and our needs. We cry, and God in the form of our mother meets our needs. We think we cause everything. As we start to move higher and see farther, we realize we share this world and live in the context of others: family, parents, siblings, cousins, extended family, neighborhood, city, state, planet. We circle back around, reflecting upon our past experiences while moving forward, higher up in an ever-enlarging circle. We learn that are NOT the center, we are not alone, who we are affects others, they affect us, and so forth.

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With each passing experience, our circle of experience grows bigger and we rise higher. Only by interacting with others do we see ourselves: our gifts, our talents, our abilities, within a context of a social structure. As we come around to higher levels we develop the ability to empathize: to imagine ourselves in someone elses’ shoes, feel what they feel. We develop perspective, empathy, and compassion.

But for some of us who grow up with conditional love, movement forward along the growth track can feel like an electric shock. Perhaps because of abuse, neglect, or addiction, we stop moving forward. We recoil. We put on thick gloves and shields. We build a wall. We, in essence, get stuck at a developmental stage of feeling like we are at the center of the universe. The world “out there” is going to harm us, and we have to defend ourselves, put up walls.

That was the kind of family I grew up in, emotionally. Lots of walls.

Then I had the transformative experience Metropolitan Kallistos described:  “I need you in order to become myself.”

I distinctly recall the moment. I was in my mid-20s, newly married, deeply in love with my new husband. We spent a lot of time gazing into each other’s eyes, sharing our stories. And then it happened. I saw myself as he saw me: I saw what he loved in me, in myself.  Unconditional agape love: so strong and pure, no matter what I  did, how I behaved, what mistakes I made, it forgives and endures forever. I will never forget the uplifting sensation of the opening of my heart, when I was first experienced seeing my own value, my own worth, reflected in the eyes of another. To clarify: it was not that I was validated by him. My husband did not validate me. My husband was simply the mirror–not the source. What I saw was who I REALLY am–love itself. I saw the I AM that is love, that is God–reflected in his eyes. I AM, HE IS, WE ALL ARE, that LOVE. There is only One.

God’s love. “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.”—John 4:16   There is no love but God’s love, says A Course in Miracles.

That sensation of opening, of seeing that love, felt uplifting, as a revolution completed in the helical journey. I was up at the next level, looking back, and a whole new vista appeared. I experienced level of compassion for my own broken family that I had never been able to perceive or conceive of before. They simply were stuck back there, and did not know about this kind of love! How sad! (I won’t get into the years spent trying to share it with them. That’s a whole ‘nother discussion!)

Our society today is stuck, like I was, in a conditional love. Society needs to move along the path of growth. We have all suffered so much hurt, so much abuse, so much pain, many of us frozen in fear, are afraid to love, afraid to move on, afraid to trust, afraid to fall, afraid to let go.

A wonderful anthem for this generation:  Let It Go!  Good Lord: help us let it go! (Queue up Disney.)

Here is the point: as tightly as we cling to our fears, that does not stop the unconditional love from being there, right here, right now, right before our eyes. Love is eternal. It has and always will exists. Remember: death was overcome! John 8:51. Why hold on to fear? What is needed is to open our eyes, to simply be able to perceive God which is love. In order to perceive it, we must seek mirrors — those who reflect that love back to us. We must become mirrors ourselves: we must look deeply and with love into the eyes of anyone and everyone with whom we interact, and reflect that love to them, and act upon our love.

An inner work

People make mistakes all the time, every day of the week. Whether surrounded by unloving people, terrorists, or conditional love, many in this broken world go through life alone, with conditional love. We withdraw our love for them, put them in prison, and leave them to suffer alone.

That, in a nutshell, is the problem.

“One human being in solitude is no human being,” Kallistos said.

We are not being fully human when we are like abused children, hiding alone in the closet. We all need to come out of the closet.

The answer, of course, is that we are never actually alone in the closet at all. So long as one child hides in a closet, we need to rescue them, get them out, look into their eyes, reassure them of the truth: What is real is Christ God within us, complete man and complete God, a relational being–that’s Who is real. He is right here, inside our hearts, ready for us to find him. He promised and he keeps his promises. A heart that seeks Him, finds Him.

This message is arguably the most profound truth in all of human history. This message represented a re-setting of our reality as human beings: an entirely new paradigm. It was so profound, back in the day, that it reset our consensus calendar to begin retroactively with Christ’s birth. Look at the calendar we all share. We are in the Year of Our Lord, 2016.

“Christ’s birth,” Metropolitan Kallistos said, “was the birthday of the whole human race. Not until then were the full dimensions of human personhood revealed.”

“Theology is actually a branch of Christology,” Kallistos said, not the other way around. Above all else, “we are to be faithful imitators of Jesus Christ.”

Kallistos issued a challenge to all Christians: we must go beyond simply imitating Christ. “We will greatly err unless we take it further.”

“Let us not forget Hamlet, who reminded us: ‘I have bad dreams,’” he said. “Human beings reside midway between majesty and lowliness. While we are flawed icons, always remember: Christ is our constant companion until the end of days.”

Freedom, Self-Knowledge, Creativity, Growth and Cosmic Dominion or Priesthood

Metropolitan Kallistos encouraged us to consider five points: freedom, self-knowledge, creativity, growth, and cosmic dominion or priesthood.

With regards to freedom, he challenged us to recognize that God’s freedom is absolute and unlimited, while human freedom is limited. It is within our limitations that our freedom is to be found. Don’t worry about shackles and injustice and prison bars. They mean nothing.”You must change your mind about the purpose of the world, if you would find escape,”as A Course In Miracles so eloquently states.

Self-knowledge

Knowledge of self arises out of knowledge of God. What is He always telling us? “God says: become your true self,” Kallistos said. That’s it. Everyone can become their true self. Everyone. “Recognize that nobody is dispensable, unnecessary, or useless. It is tragic that anyone ever feel that no one would notice if they died.”

Creativity

It is in our own creativity that we “bless the Lord….for in wisdom hast thou made them all.” (Psalm 103-104)  All of us are made in His wisdom.

Recognize that we humans are sub-creators, as Tolkien said. “God creates out of nothing, we create out of what God has given us.”  It is in offering what we make of the world, and giving it back to God, that we become truly ourselves. We transfigure, revealing in glory, what was hidden.

For example, God gives us wheat which we transform into bread and give back to him. Likewise, He gives us the gift of the vine, we transform it into wine, and give it back to him. He receives our offering, transforms both, and gives them back to us in the Eucharist. He told us to do this to re-call him back to us. Western Christianity translates it “do this in memory of me,” but the correct translation from the Greek is “do this to call me back.” It is in the Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist, prayerfully made by our own hands, in a circle of giving, that He comes back into us: his sacrifice was not just on the Cross. His sacrifice continues every week Divine Liturgy–a Eucharistic mystical supper of his body and blood transformed mystically–to keep us alive, spiritually.

Of course, Kallistos pointed out, human beings are not the only creatures to whom God loves and gives his fruits and seeds.

“Squirrels collect nuts,” Kallistos said, “but they don’t transform them into liqueur!” Only human beings can transform, transfigure, and transmute what God gives us into something else.

Growth

“To be human,” Kallistos said concerning growth, “is to be a pilgrim, a journey from the image to the likeness.” The image is essentially our equipment, whereas the likeness is holiness. The journey is “the act of reaching forward,” or as I describe, moving along that path of growth, in an ever widening spiral, higher up, seeing more.

And through all of eternity, Kallistos assured us, “God will always remain a God of surprises.”

Cosmic Dominion and Priesthood

Regarding cosmic dominion and priesthood, “dominion does not meant domination,” Kallistos said. It is always to good to “remember the gentle service of Christ washing the feet of his disciples.

“Christ said ‘I am the One who serves.’ We in modern times have forgotten this.”

“Reflect on the contemporary ecological disaster. To say ‘environmental crisis’ is not strictly accurate. The crisis is not ‘out there,’ but in the human heart. The ecological disaster is a spiritual problem. We have lost sight of our true relationship to the world God has given us. Our human image is grievously distorted. What we need is an ecological change of mind.”

It is important, he said, to bear in mind the distinction between the king, the steward, and the priest. The concept of a king is not popular and is widely misunderstood today.

Many Christian ecologists, Kallistos said, call upon us to be “stewards,” for the world belongs to God, not us. But there is a disadvantage in that view. By taking on a managerial or utilitarian point of view, our egos inflate and we succumb to the temptation to elevate ourselves above creation. How do we prevent this?

“See nature not as an ‘it’ but as a ‘thou,’” he said. “Act as priests of the Creation. We are ordained, through the laying on of hands, to a natural, intrinsic priesthood, that is both eucharistic and doxological. How we become our true selves is to be who we are: Man the Offerer.”

“We must turn the world itself into a eucharistic offering—requiring, on the one hand, sacrifice, and on the other, love,” said Kallistos. “Love is at the heart of the Trinity.”

A commandment of God not written down, Kallistos said, is:  “Love the trees.”

Many criticize organized religion for how it causes us to have to worship God, and to believe blindly. But God does not need us to worship Him. Nor does He need us to believe in Him. He exists whether we worship or believe in Him or not.

The fact is, it is us human beings who need to worship. That is our nature. Whether we worship money and stuff, logic and science, sports figures or movie stars, political heroes or villains–the truth of the matter is, we are eschatological beings: we have a need to worship. Why? Because we are designed with that missing puzzle piece that is God; we are designed to come into union with Him. That is what worship is. Worship is about opening ourselves to Him.

The truth of the matter is, “the human person is a mystery,” Kallistos said, “an inexhaustible mystery.”

A day without prayer is a wasted day.”—Metropolitan Kallistos Ware

“Today is all that we have. Pray every day,” he said. “A day without prayer is a wasted day. Today, make a fresh start in all these things. Show compassion. Show practical help to the people around you. Then you will be a true person.”

I am so grateful I got to hear him speak, particularly now, at the beginning of Lent.

And particularly this year, this Lent, in the year of our Lord, 2016, let us all meditate upon our hand and who we really are: you and I are both made in the image and likeness of God. Fully man and fully God;  relational, dialogical beings. In our hearts we find God who is love. We find ourselves, we who are love, and we become true selves: mirrors, divine sub-creators.

May your prayer bear much fruit this Lent, and may the Good Lord have mercy on us.

Amen.

Stories and Spiritual Athletics

St. Mary of Egypt and St. Zossima

Stories are so powerful, particularly the stories of people who led exemplary or extraordinary lives. One of the uncounted things I love about Orthodoxy is it’s edifying and illustrated storytelling. As part of every service, every day of the year, we tell stories and show pictures, yes from the Bible, AND from exemplars from throughout history. Exemplars who guide from the other side. Like athletes with mentors, Orthodox are spiritual athletes who look to the blessed saints for counsel and inspiration.

I also love that we tell not only HIStory but HERstory as well–we lovingly remember and revere women’s holy stories, too.

In the lifelong pursuit of ever striving to attain Theosis, success stories are edifying. We learn ways to build our own spiritual muscles. Studying those who overcame barbs and stings and snares and hurdles of difficult life journeys–of the soul’s longing for holiness–teaches strategies to apply to win our own game.

The Fifth Sunday of Lent is set aside for the telling of the miraculous story of the Holy Mother Mary of Egypt, as recorded by eyewitness St. Zossima. Some stories are worthy of a feast, and this is one. Clearly she was a victim of child sexual abuse and suffered greatly. As Victor Frankl’s story taught, in enduring the horrors of Nazi concentration camps, the choices we make, the thoughts we think, create the meaning of life. The meaning makes life. Story is life. In every moment we have this powerful gift. No one can take from us the divine gift.

Here is her story. In reading her story, may you find edification as well.

http://www.antiochian.org/stmaryofegypt

Dark force attractions, procrastination, and the heart-brain path to God

What a headline for this post, hey? Bear with me on this one…

A friend of mine of Facebook recently posted a series of very joy-filled messages to his friends, sharing his recent Chrismation into the ancient Holy Orthodox church. He is a very kind-hearted and bright person, and received dozens and dozens of OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAposts from friends congratulating him, being supportive.

This morning, on Holy Saturday, he posted a negative complaint of utter frustration with his own family, who apparently do not understand his journey, and have not been very supportive.

This is so very typical. I know that after I was Chrismated in 1999, I had a similar experience. I had been “high” on my newfound faith, my new discovery of the power of prayer, in love with God and my new church family, when I started having a series of very dark and frightening dreams, almost to the point of nightmare. Also, I suddenly experienced a major break in a relationship with a very beloved in-law family member, which threw me into a state of deep anxiety, self-doubt, anger and depression.

For my friend, for this to happen to him, now, during Holy Week, particularly, is very common. Priests, monks and laypeople engaged in dedicated spiritual practice will confirm that negativity always arises much moreso during Holy Week than at any other time. Every year on Palm Sunday, Fr. Bill reminds us of this in his sermon and shares his strategy of how to be on guard for it. He simply refuses to argue, be critical, or pass any judgment about anyone or anything during Holy Week. Period. If something negative or disturbing comes up, he uses procrastination and puts off dealing with it until Bright Week, after Pascha. He says that invariably, whatever the issue was, it dissolves into nothing by the next week.

Finally, a good use for procrastination! Maybe it could be used all the time! Any time anyone says something negative or you are tempted to get angry or pass judgment or you’re having fears or negative thoughts — just procrastinate. Put off the judgment, the fear, the worry, the concern, to next week.

I’m going to try this!

The reason excess negativity arises during Holy Week, and after blessed events like a Chrismation when we’re most prayerful, filled with light and love and hope, is because the enemy is attracted to the light. Yes, folks, there is an an enemy. He’s been very crafty this past century, getting people to think he’s a myth. What a great strategy for an enemy, hey? The fact is, the enemy is real, he lives in the dark, he has since the very beginning, and he’s always wanting more company, down there in the dark. Maybe the darkness is like a vacuum. This world is in darkness, we were born into. We’ve been mucking around in it our whole lives. And when we finally step out, into the light, maybe we pull some of that darkness along with us. Or the hole we leave behind gets filled and explodes out after us. And it does seem to have a certain kind of magnetism, that wants to drag us back into  the depths of anger, depression, anxiety, uncertainty, fear and other muck that is the darkness. That makes sense to me, as to how it works.

It is said in our faith that the Sacraments are the best way to cleanse us of these negative energies, and I have experienced that to be true.

I, too, have many dear friends and relatives who are hardcore atheists, or claim to be Christian but follow an avowed anti-Christian leader (Ayn Rand), or who are in the space in which I used to be. For decades I harbored grievances against organized religion for centuries of abuse and injustice to innocent men, women and children. I was particularly upset about the genocide of indigenous peoples–the wonton destruction of entire cultures which were peaceful and innocent. Today, a lot of people are very upset by the revelation of years of sexual abuse of children within the structure of one of the world’s major religions. It is completely understandable, and a good thing, to be outraged about that!

What I didn’t understand before I stepped out of the darkness and into the light is that God didn’t do these terrible things to man, through religion. Man did this to man. Religion is like anything – it can be wielded for good, or for evil. To condemn religion is like forbidding the use of cars because people die on the freeway in accidents. Or forbidding people from going swimming because some people drown. Or saying we should have no more corporations because some harm people. (I do draw the line on this analogy to guns. This does not apply because guns are designed for no other purpose than to kill or harm. If guns were built with auto-correction to NOT be lethal, but to only hit extremities, and with safeties that identified the trained user and would be disabled if say, a child picked it up–then I’d reconsider.)

Religion is not the problem. Mankind’s behavior is the problem. In fact, God’s been trying to help us out of this for millennia. He’s sent umpteen saints and messengers. He came down himself to teach us. He dictated an entire Course In Miracles for us to get it.  And still many of us are not getting it!

This culture we are in is ruled by dark side in a multitude of ways, primarily by false egoic identification with form. We’ve come to identify with *things*, losing sight of who we really are, made in the image and likeness of God. Our culture doesn’t support that teaching anymore; on the contrary, it teaches us that we are weak and vulnerable and need to live in fear. That stokes the ego big time.

What I’ve come to realize is that for people to turn, to see the light, what is needed is an experience of something bigger than them, that touches their hearts. Be it a near-death experience, the birth of a child, or something breathtakingly beautiful in nature that God created. Something that diminishes the ego enough for it to get out of the way, and allow the heart to see and to hear, with that inner vision.

That is what what I always pray for people, is for God to touch their hearts that they may see Him. When talking to such friends, I try to get them to just consider the possibility of having an experience like that. For example, musicians can hear harmonies and tones and chords that others cannot, because their ears have been trained. For those with untrained ears, they cannot hear those things; yet that does not mean they do not exist, simply because the untrained ear cannot hear it. If you start to study music, your perceptions change. You perceive sound in new ways. You perceive things you never could perceive before. This is how it is to find God. It is all about, as Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain said, tuning yourself to the channel of God, like dialing in a radio station. This is why A Course In Miracles includes 365 daily lessons on perception.

God is not an irrational blind belief, which is how many atheists perceive us who are pious. God exists whether we believe in him or not. He does not need us to believe in Him. He does not even need us to worship him. He simply loves us and wants us to find our way home. The worship is for our benefit, not his. Religous practice never was and is not now supposed to be forced on anyone. One of our greatest gifts, which He could have but has never taken back, is our free will. The only way to find our way home is to adjust our perceptions, to tune our hearts, to His frequency, because we want to. This is what ascetical practice is for. This is what the church and its traditions of fasting, prayer and the sacraments are all about — helping us get tuned properly.

Science is just now discovering that the heart contains neurological tissue on par with the brain.The heart is not just a pump–it is a sensory organ and a brain, processing information it receives from the world. This is good news, because God can only be experienced through the heart-brain, not the head-brain. More and more people, through the pursuit of science, will begin to experience His presence. I believe that to be true. To hear, feel, see, and get to know God, it takes training and practice, just like anything else. The Orthodox have preserved, in Christianity, the ascetical practices the best.

The Orthodox have also retained the translation of Christ’s teaching, at the last supper. To paraphrase the Greek, for which there is no English equivalent, partaking of the sacrament of the bread and wine, of the Eurcharist Supper, is the way He told us to “call him back” to us. It is much more than simply “remembering” him.  This is why the Eucharist in the Divine Liturgy every Sunday is the highlight of an Orthodox Christian’s life, and why every Divine Liturgy is like a little Holy Week and Pascha, or Easter service. He actually comes into the bread and wine, he becomes, again, a sacrifice, so that we may be healed or our negative afflictions, and live in the light.

So, if you’re having a great day, don’t be surpised when seeming “bad things happen.” Stay in the light, don’t get sucked in, by simply procrastinating on it. And remember that the path God is through the heart, not the head.

Was that too convoluted?

 

Angels and the Fullness of Faith

guardian-angel

Have you ever seen your guardian angel? I heard mine once, clear as a bell, and it saved my life.

I was in my car, driving home from work a little past 5, northbound through downtown Milwaukee on I-43. Traffic was moving well, about 45-50 mph. Radio on, thoughts random, I was in the middle lane and had just passed through the old courthouse tunnel when all of a sudden I heard a voice say “Laurel! Get in the left lane NOW!” The voice was loud, clear, imperative.  “OK,” I said reflexively, did a quick over-the-shoulder check and swung into the left lane — just as a huge piece of metal on the back the truck I had been following fell off and bounced into the road, right where I had been. It was huge. Would have gone right through my windshield. Talk about chills up my spine! On the drive home, I was in shock, said “thank you” repeatedly, and have told this story countless times in the years since. I am still grateful–both for being saved, and for the chance to hear my angel’s voice.

That saving voice confirmed what I’d felt since early childhood. Guardian angels are real, and I am blessed with one.

Discovering Orthodoxy many years later, I love its breadth, depth and inclusivity, cherishing with great deliberation and heart not only all of mankind and all created beings and matter here on earth, but also that which is beyond space and time. Angels grace every Divine Liturgy, where they are quoted and thanked, their presence visible to all in icons and palpable to some occasionally with prickles on the back of the neck. Prayers to our guardian angels are part of every little red pocket prayer book. And so are parties in their honor. How cool is that?

Every year on November 8 the Holy Orthodox Church celebrates the Synaxis of the Supreme Commanders Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, and of the other bodiless and heavenly orders, the Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones, Dominions, Powers, Authorities, Principalities, Archangels and Angels.

Some Orthodox prayers sung in their honor: angels

  • Troparion of the Angels, Tone 4
    Supreme Leaders of the Heavenly Hosts, we implore you that by your prayers you will encircle us, unworthy as we are, with the protection of the wings of your immaterial glory and guard us who fall down before you and fervently cry: deliver us from dangers, for you are the commanders of the powers above.
  • Another Troparion of the Angels, Tone 1
    Let us praise Cherubim, Seraphim, Thrones, Powers, Authorities and Principalities, Dominions, Archangels and Angels, for they are the Bodiless ministers of the Unoriginate Trinity and revealers of incomprehensible mysteries. Glory to Him Who has given you being; glory to Him Who has given you light; glory to Him Who is praised by you in thrice-holy hymns.
  • Kontakion of the Angels, Tone 2
    Supreme Leaders of God’s armies and ministers of the divine glory, princes of the bodiless Angels and guides of men, ask what is good for us and great mercy, as Supreme Leaders of the Bodiless Hosts.
  • Exaposteilarion of the Feast, Tone 2
    O Archangel Michael whose countenance is like lightning, gleaming in an ineffable manner with the illuminations of the Trinity, of exceeding divine brilliancy, thou dost traverse the whole creation like lightning, fulfilling the divine command, watching over, preserving, and sheltering those who joyfully laud thee.

For a summary of Orthodox teachings on angels see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=–KyZronQes

We must always remember that we have choices at every turn, and whatever we do, in open or in secret, we do in the presence of our guardian angel. Of that, I am convinced!  According to Orthodox teaching, each of us have been assigned a guardian angel. But it is possible to drive it away by our actions. I’m sure glad I didn’t dishonor or discourage mine, years ago.

Let me know if you’ve ever had an encounter with your guardian angel.

By the holy intercessions of Your Angels, O God, have mercy upon us. Amen.