The Feast of St. Michael and All Angels causes a great deal of angst for many Christians new to the sacramental and liturgical traditions of the Church. Those who grew up Roman-Catholics saw statues of angels and angel-adorned prayer cards all over the parishes, if not their homes. Those from an orthodox tradition were familiar with the icons of the various archangels and could likely list all three of the Biblical Archangels by name. Those who grew up in an Evangelical or charismatic background are already reaching for the Mylanta.
To those individuals, venerating the saints is a troublesome thing in and of itself. “Praying to the saints” is idolatry. Praying to angels is even worse! Angels, they retort, cannot be saints because they are not even human. They were created by God to be His ministers; how can they be “saints”?
First off, “praying to the saints” is misleading. None but the most misguided and ill-taught actually “pray” to the saints with the expectation that the saint will actually accomplish anything on their own. Someone who “prays to a saint” is really asking for that particular saint (or a group of them) to pray for the petitioner to the Lord. In the Hail Mary, the archetypical “prayer to a saint,” the only request a petitioner actually makes is “pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.” What some Christians sloppily dub “praying to the saints” is really asking those members of the Church Triumphant who stand before the throne to carry our intercessions to the Lord on our behalf. Very few have any objection to asking a fellow congregant or parishioner to do the same. Why not ask a member of that “great cloud of witnesses” to stand before the throne to do likewise. If we suffer through a grave illness or struggle, we gravitate towards those members of our congregation who have overcome the same illness or struggle. Why not seek out the intercession of a saint who stands before the Throne who has overcome the same illness or struggle?
Fine, so seeking the intercession of the saints on our behalf is not quite so idolatrous. Nevertheless, “angels are not saints,” raises the protester. By definition, a saint is one who leads a life of exemplary holiness. Holiness is a state of being set apart by God for his purpose. A man or woman is regarded a particularly holy if they avoid the temptations of the world and pursue vigorously the purposes to which God has called them. Then, excepting fallen angels, are not all other angels, by definition, “holy”? What are angels if not ministers whom God has created for a specific purpose who avoid the temptations of the world? Is it not really being redundant to refer to “St. Michael the Archangel”? If he is one of the greatest angels, is he not necessarily holy and therefore a saint?
Now, let us examine the specific case of the Archangel Michael. The Archangel appears three times in the Book of Daniel. In chapter 10, Daniel has a vision of a “man clothed in linen, whose waist was girded with gold of Uphaz! His body was like beryl, his face like the appearance of lightning, his eyes like torches of fire, his arms and feet like burnished bronze in color, and the sound of his words like the voice of a multitude.” (vv. 5-6) A few verses later, this angel explains that he had been sent to Daniel as soon as Daniel had begun to pray, but that the angel was detained by “the Prince of the Kingdom of Persia,” until “behold, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me…” (v. 13) In essence, the angel had been wrestling against one of the princes of the air until St. Michael, one of the Archangels, came and defeated the stronghold. These are the stories that charismatics love! Someone sets himself to pray and fast so that they might overcome a stronghold. They pray and fast for days to no avail, but after a full twenty-one days there is a breakthrough and a revelation. The stronghold is defeated and thrown down and the Christian receives the victory. As they picture this battle transpiring in the Heavenlies, they likely did not picture St. Michael the Archangel coming to reinforce their own guardian angel.
Also, in chapter 12 of the Book of Daniel, in his vision of the Last Days, the prophet reveals,
“At that time [the End of Days] Michael shall stand up, the great prince who stands watch over the sons of your people; and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation, even to that time. And at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone who is found written in the book.” (v. 1)
So, according to Daniel, the Archangel Michael will have a role in defending God’s people during the Great Tribulation.
That leads into an interesting legend regarding the Archangel. In 1886, Pope Leo XIII had just finished celebrating the Holy Eucharist, when he looked up and stared off into the church as the color drained from his face. A few moments later, the Pope came back to himself and finished the Mass, refusing to comment on what had happened. Later, he told his attendants that he had seen a vision of Heaven wherein, in an agreement no unlike that of Job, the Devil arranged with God to have sway over the affairs of the twentieth century. In response, the Pope commanded that a prayer calling on St. Michael to defend the Church be added to the end of every Mass that was celebrated. This mandate remained in effect until 1864.
In one of his addresses to the Church in Sursum Corda, our first Patriarch, Archbishop Randolph Adler wrote the following:
“If we take a look at the 20th century, we can see that it has been one of very difficult time for the Church. More martyrs have been slain in the 20th century than in all other 19 centuries combined! During the Soviet regime of Easter Europe, 40 million people were killed in the name of Communism, a large percentage of them being Christians. Under the leadership of Mao Tse-Tung in China, over 80 million people were massacred to promote an ideology that spare in the face of God. In the Sudan today, two million Christian have already been martyred, many by crucifixion, and the killing continues. We have also witnessed the acceptance of immorality, such as abortion and homosexuality, by many of our largest and most influential denominations.”
Keep in mind that this was written over a full decade ago. How much worse have things become in the ethnic cleansings of Africa and the downward spiral of American morality?
The Patriarch continued,
“Standing on the authority given to us from Christ, many of us have commanded demons to be cast out of a person. We had faith in the authority we were given, and the demons fled. But most of us have never considered speaking in faith to command angels to do battle on our behalf. And yet, they were created for our benefit, to minster unto us. (Hebrews 1:14)… God created these ministering angels to work for Him by ministering to us. They work under the authority of Christ, and if we are given that authority to build His Kingdom her on earth, then we must consider the power given to us to command His angels to protect us in battle. Are we not co-heirs with Christ? Did He not impart His power and authority unto the lives of men who were willing to subject themselves to Him?”
Archbishop Adler then his address to the Church by charging his people to “pick up where the Roman Catholics left off.” The Patriarch asked that:
“At the end of each Eucharistic service, we should pray the Prayer of St. Michael. By speaking in faith that Christ’s chief warring angel is protecting us against evil, we will begin to develop the understanding that we are not alone in this battle, that we are not without protection. St. Michael and his angels are simply waiting for us to invite them into the battle.”
In the Charismatic Episcopal Church we do not believe in Papal Infallibility; we do not believe in Patriarchal Infallibility either. Nevertheless, when our chief bishop asks us to pray in a manner that accords with Holy Scripture, we ought to do our very best to comply. Our bishops and pastors are the men whom God has placed in authority over us for our benefit. Archbishop Adler’s charge was never rescinded. The appeal still remains. In holy obedience to our first bishop, I encourage all members of the Charismatic Episcopal Church to revive this prayer and respond to our first patriarch’s request. As lay men and women, we can add this brief prayer to our personal private prayers in between receiving Holy Communion and the “Post-Communion Prayer.” It is also a wonderful prayer to teach our young children. As priests and pastors of congregations, we should prayerfully consider implementing this prayer as part of our regular liturgy.
The world around us seems to be getting darker and darker day by day. Yet God has not changed. Neither has His Prince of the Heavenly Host. Both are still in the business of casting down strongholds.
St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the Devil; may God rebuke him, we humbly pray. And do thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the power of God, thrust into Hell Satan and all evil spirits who wander through the world, seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.