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Angels in Divine Liturgy




Angels in the Divine Liturgy

"We are convinced that during this Divine Liturgy, we have once again been transferred spiritually in three directions: toward the kingdom of heaven where the angels celebrate; toward the celebration of the liturgy through the centuries; and toward the heavenly kingdom to come."
(Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew during the Divine Liturgy on the feast of Saint Andrew - Nov 30, 2006)

Small Entrance
When the Gospel Book is brought out it is symbolic of Christ coming into the world. When Christ was born the heavens opened with a large number of angels going up and down from heaven to earth, to the stable where Christ lay, chanting "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men" (Lk 2:14). At this entrance, called the small entrance, the priest says quietly, "O Master, Lord our God, Who has appointed in Heaven Legions and Hosts of Angels and Archangels for the service of Thy Glory, grant that with our entrance there may be an entrance of Holy Angels, serving us and glorifying Thy goodness; for to Thee are due all glory, honor and worship..."

The angels come at the time of the Divine Liturgy to fill the Cathedral to celebrate with the priest. The Angels actually perform the Liturgy with him. In the procession the Gospel is preceded by altar boys carrying candles representing the angels. John Chrysostom reports an incident with a priest who witnessed a large number of angels clothed in bright robes luminous like the sun. He said he was carried up to the altar offering their help, bowing their head in great respect, and then surrounded the Holy Table. At times they stood in silence and others chanted liturgical hymns along with the chanters uplifting their melody.(Gregory Hiermonk, The Divine Liturgy Commentary, p178)

The angels are "crowded with the faithful forming a union, in a common feast of the heavenly and the earthly!... Heaven and earth are one company on the journey towards the Holy Altar and are both praising and glorifying our Lord Jesus Christ..." Jesus Christ who is being escorted by Angels and Archangels is here, inside the Church Temple, and they are entering the Holy Altar in order for the Divine Liturgy to occur... The Christians who attend Church services ought to live the miracle of angelic presence, like the shepherds of Bethlehem!" (Experiences p 130). The Deacon announces the entrance with "Wisdom, stand upright" and the Gospel is taken into the Sanctuary and placed on the Altar.

Thrice Holy Hymn - Trisagion Hymn
Trisagion Hymn "Holy God, Holy Might, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us" is the heavenly hymn of the angels that they chant at the heavenly altar. We are acting out here on earth what takes place at the heavenly altar. While this hymn is being sung by all, the priest is praying, "O Holy God, Who resteth among Thy Saints, Who are glorified by the Cherubim, and praised by the Seraphim with a Thrice-Holy voice, and worshipped by all the Hosts of Heaven... sanctify our souls and bodies; and grant that we may worship Thee in holiness all the days of our life..."

John Chrysostom says, "And although, my good Christian, you are clothed in flesh and bone and in a multitude of weaknesses, nevertheless, you are made worthy together with the Bodiless Powers to praise and glorify the common Bishop and Lord. And despite you personal weaknesses, when you wish with all your might, then "tightly" and psychosomatically through the Holy Spirit you are accompanied by the Cherubim in the Thrice-Holy Hymn and with them–peacefully–you glorify the All-holy Triune God. A common heavenly and earthly feast is being set up; one is the Thanksgiving, one the exultation, one the joyful choir.
(Chrysostom P.G. 56, 97-98)

With the Thrice Holy Hymn the heavenly hosts of Angels and the faithful Christians who attend church services are united in an incessant and endless doxology of God.

Reading of Gospel
Just before the reading of the Gospel we chant Alleluia which means "glorify the Lord God!" "Simultaneously, angelic voices are heard, calling all the devout Christians to glorify God. "all of you, whose faith is living and steadfast. All of you who kept the Lord's word on patience up to the end. All of you who have devoutness and fear of God...All of you, who belong to the One Holy, catholic, Orthodox, and Apostolic Church!.. The word Alleluia is a continuous exhortation to glorify the triune God... They never get tired. The Angels and Archangels, the Cherubim and the Seraphim, Thrones, Principalities, Powers, Dominions, Authorities never feel they have praised and glorified the Lord our God enough."
(Experiences p 146)

Saint John Chrysostom tells us that the reading of the Gospel is the "Paradise where the source of the Holy Spirit flows. It is a source of myriads of rivers whose spring is not of water but of the gifts of the Holy Spirit themselves. This gift is offered to every soul, without being lessened, without being spent. It is whole to everyone and to each one separately and whole again"
(Chrysostom, GCF 9, 47-49)

Cherubic Hymn
At the beginning of the Liturgy for the Faithful we chant the Cherubic Hymn. "Let us who mystically represent the Cherubim and sing the thrice-holy hymn to the life-giving trinity, lay aside all worldly cares, that we may receive the King of all invisibly escorted by angelic hosts. Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia."

Saint Germanus of Constantinople writes the following:
" By means of the procession of the deacons and the representation of the fans which are in the likeness of the seraphim, the Cherubic Hymn signifies the entrance of all the saints and righteous ahead of the cherubic powers and the angelic hosts, who run invisibly in advance of the great king, Christ, who is proceeding to the mystical sacrifice, born aloft by material hands. together with them comes the Holy Spirit in the unbloody and reasonable sacrifice the Spirit is seen spiritually in the fire, incense, smoke, and fragrant air: for the fire points to His divinity, and the fragrant smoke to His coming invisibly and filling us with too fragrance through the mystical, living, and unbloody service and sacrifice of burnt-offering. In addition, the spiritual powers and the choirs of angels, who have seen His dispensation fulfilled through the cross and death of Christ, the victory over death which has taken place, the descent into hell and the resurrection on the third day, with us exclaim alleluia." (On the Divine Liturgy, p 87)

The transfer of the gifts lifts up our minds to the coming of the Lord of hosts Himself, at this moment those standing in the church are called upon to fulfill an angelic ministry This is described in the Cherubim Hymn: "Let us who mystically portray the Cherubim, and chant the thrice-holy hymn unto the life-creating Trinity, lay aside all earthly care, that we may receive the King of all, escorted invisibly by the angelic orders. Alleluia."
(The Holies for the Holy, Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky)

All those attending the liturgy "mystically represent the cherubim." The Church on earth is transformed into a piece of the heavenly Church the Church Triumphant. "All the faithful Christians who attend Church services, together with the priests, if ever there is a pang of conscience at least, we ought to be transformed into super-angels, for we are to become not simply escorts of the Heavenly King, but we are also going to receive Him in our hearts and through Holy communion enthrone Him in them. Therefore, we ought to become like the Cherubim, which we represent in Divine Worship."
(Experiences p 222)

Chrysostom says, "The soul of a Christian who has not learned how to become alienated from worldly cares during the Divine Liturgy, will never be able to admire the all-heavenly... Mind and heart will not be glorified in splendor by the inconceivable grandeur of the heavenly Altar and the angelic hymns."
(Chrysostom P.G. 47,414)

While the Cherubic hymn is being sung the priest says a personal confessional prayer. Again in this prayers the angels are mentioned. For "Thou alone, O LOrd our God, rulest over those in heaven and on earth, who art borne on the throne of the cherubim, who are Lord of the seraphim and king of Israel, who alone art holy and restest in the holy place."

The act of censing is also related to the angelic realm. John the Evangelist mentions that an angel of the lord came to him and stood on the Holy Altar, holding a golden censer. He was given much incense which were the prayers and supplications of the saints of he triumphant Church to reinforce the prayers of the faithful of the Militant church on earth and to offer them before God's heavenly throne. Censing is a strong urging for prayer. Since this is the meaning of incense it is the reason why the congregation stands and bows when the celebrant incenses. It is the reciprocal to the priest's invitation for prayer. The priest looks at all the congregation as if he is looking at each one of them separately and like the Angel of the the Apocalypse he offers incense "with the prayers of all saints". (Apoc 8:3)

Great Entrance
This procession where the Gifts are taken from the table of oblation and placed on the altar is led by the altar boys with fans and candles and incense which all represent the angelic hosts who escort the coming of Jesus. This can be thought of as Christ's journey of martyrdom from the Praetorium to Golgotha. We hear the thief's plea, "Remember us all O Lord our God, in your kingdom now and forever, unto the ages of ages."

Litany of Supplication
One of the petitions is "An angel of peace, a faithful guide, a guardian of our souls and bodies, let us as of the Lord." We are asking God to send us an angel that can be a faithful guide. Our guardian angel takes our prayers and offers them up to the heavenly throne of God. During our spiritual struggles our guardian angel battles with Satan for the preservation of our faith and soul's integrity. He carries the inner peace to our souls. He helps us fulfill our duties towards God and fellow man. He sends messages to our souls and to or mind and heart. When we were baptized we were offered an angel. This angel is interested in the salvation of our soul up to our last breath.

The Confession of Faith
As we recite this we affirm our faith in one God who is creator of all that is visible and invisible.

Holy Anaphora
When Lucifer was falling and taking along a large number of other angels Archangel Michael called out "Let us stand aright". THis is what the priest calls to the faithful at this point in the liturgy. He competes the call with "Let us stand with fear. Let us stand that we may offer the holy oblation in peace." He is calling to us to not forget the angels and archangels, cherubim and seraphim who are present around the Holy Altar and inside the church. For in a few moments we are going to all be united to offer our rational worship towards Jesus Christ. In the Liturgy we are on earth, but the bloodless sacrifice will ascend from the earthly church and be ascribed to the heavenly church. This is why we call this part of the liturgy the Holy Anaphora (which means ascension). The altar here on earth become one with the one in heaven.

Saint John Chrysostom says that "even if someone opened the doors of heaven and led you there to see your father or brother, you would not dare speak to them, similarly, no other than spiritual readings and prayers should be uttered here. For the church is also heaven." (Gregory Hiermonk, The Divine Liturgy p 253)

As we approach the Anaphora we come closer to the throne of God. While we are here on earth we are both on earth and in heaven. They are united. The physical and the spiritual are united at God's throne on the altar.

The hymn is sung "Holy Holy, Holy, Lord of sabaoth; heaven and earth are full of thy glory; Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest." This combines the hymn Isaiah heard "Holy, holy holy Lord of Saboath, heaven and earth are full of thy glory" with the hymn which the people of Israel received the Lord "Hosanna in the highest, blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord...." (taken from Psalm 117)

Saint John Chrysostom says, "The Angelic hosts above are glorifying; on earth the people in the churches are chanting in a chorus offering the same doxology. The seraphim above cry the Thrice Holy Hymn; on earth, crowds of people ascribe the same hymn. Common is the banquet that of the heavens and of earth that is being set up..." (Experiences p 333) Heaven and earth are having a common celebration.

Saint Maximos the Confessor says, Not only is the church's liturgical song being coordinated now with the angels' heavenly doxology, but it also foretells the Angels' common conduct and way of living with the people who will be saved, the Triumphant Church in the age to come...(Maximos P.G. 692 C)

"As the priest proclaims, "singing the triumphal hymn, proclaiming and saying..." he or the deacon lifts the Star from the Paten tapping it crosswise. "Every step, every move, every lowering of the head and knees...all moments of the hands, eyebrows, lips, tongue and heart of us priests, are observed by the myriads of Angels, who are surrounding the Holy Table on earth... The great moment is near, the heavenly Powers are chanting with great humility and reverence. They are chanting as the cover their faces with the angelic wings; They are chanting with great humility and contrition; they are chanting "Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord of sabaoth..."; they are chanting with the uncorrupt lips that are foreign to the filthiness of sin; they are chanting with a heart that is totally devoted to God; They are chanting with a fiery mind, which cannot take any secular grown thought of ours." (Experiences p 337)

It is in this place that the Holly Spirit descends and transforms the gifts offered into the actual Blood and Body of Christ.

Additional petitions
The priest immersed and radiant in the intangible invisible and inner sacred Light of this divine and inconceivable transfiguration, raises his right hand and blesses "And the mercies of our Great God and savior Jesus Christ be with you all."

Preparation to Receive Holy Communion
"With the Fear of God, faith and love, draw near," the priest proclaims inviting those who are prepared to receive the Blood and Body of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins and eternal life.


Primary reference: Experiences During the Divine Liturgy by Protopresbyter Stephanos K. Anagnostopoulos, G. Gelbesis Publictions, 2008