Angels are immaterial beings that worship God, (often referred to as “the Lord of Hosts”), and serve as His messengers or are sent by God to intervene in human affairs. St. Paul says they are, “ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation.” (Heb. 1:14). Our knowledge and description of angels and angelic hosts comes from encounters and visions by prophets and saints and from references to them in Holy Scripture, in both Old and New Testaments. Orthodox Christian worship on earth mirrors the unceasing worship of the angelic hosts in heaven.
The Apostle Paul, who was “caught up to the third heaven”, lists the Thrones as the highest rank of the angelic hosts (Col 1:16). The Prophet Daniel described the Thrones as “wheels” holding up the Throne of the Almighty (Dan 7:9). The Prophet Ezekiel mentions the “wheels” in four chapters of his prophecies when describing his vision of heaven and said the wheels were “full of eyes” (Ezekiel 10:12).
The Cherubim, “six-winged, many eyed” angelic hosts are mentioned several times in the Old Testament. They guard the entrance to Paradise in Genesis (Gen 3:24). The Prophet Isaiah proclaimed that God dwells between the Cherubim (Is 37:16). God instructed Moses to adorn the Ark of the Covenant and the curtain of the tabernacle with images of the Cherubim (Exodus 25).
In his vision of the heavenly liturgy, the Prophet Isaiah beheld the Seraphim: “…each one had six wings; with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he did fly. And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory” (Is 6:2-3). The Seraphim are described as “flaming fire”, and one seraph touched the lips of the Prophet Isaiah with a burning coal, foreshadowing the Mystery of Holy Communion.
In the Prophet Ezekiel’s vision of heaven, he describes a unique cherubic body, which is sometimes called the Tetramorph, which means “four-forms”: “Also out of the midst thereof came the likeness of four living creatures...they had the likeness of a man…every one had four faces, and every one had four wings…the face of a man, and the face of a lion…and the face of an ox; they four also had the face of an eagle” (Ezekiel 1:5-10). St. John the Evangelist describes the same angelic being in his vision of heaven (Rev 4:7). The Church identifies the four creatures with the four Evangelists: Matthew, the winged man; Mark, the lion; Luke, the ox; and John, the eagle.
Four Archangels, mentioned by name in Scripture, are depicted as young men with wings in the drum of the dome. According to tradition, these four archangels mystically stand guard at the four “corners” of the heavenly realm.
Michael, which means, "Who is like unto God?”, is the chief of the archangels. Holy Tradition teaches that the Archangel Michael was sent by God to carry out His will during several miraculous events in the Old Testament, including the exodus from Egypt, and the military battles of Persia (Dan 10:13), Jericho, Assyria and the Maccabees. For this reason St. Michael is the patron of soldiers and policemen. The Archangel Michael has appeared numerous times in the Christian era to intervene in human affairs and he will lead the angelic hosts to usher in the end of the world (Dan. 12:1). “For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first” (I Thess. 4:16).
Gabriel, "The Powerful” or “Strong Man of God," is most closely associated with the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary, when he announced to her that she would conceive and bear a son, Jesus, who would be “God with us.” The Archangel Gabriel also appeared to the Prophet Zacharias to announce that despite her old age, his wife Elizabeth would give birth to St. John the Baptist (Luke 1:19-38). Gabriel appeared to the Prophet Daniel to provide “understanding” for the visions he had concerning the future of Israel (Dan. 8:16; 9:21). Although not mentioned by name, Holy Tradition identifies the Archangel Gabriel with inspiring Moses to write the Pentateuch, with assisting Joseph to rule Egypt, and with the annunciation to Joachim and Anna that they would bear the Virgin Mary in their old age. Gabriel is also identified as the angel that announced the resurrection of Christ to the Myrrh-bearing women at the tomb.
Raphael, "The Healing of God," is only mentioned by name in the Old Testament book of Tobit, where he is sent to accompany Tobias on a treacherous journey from Nineveh. The archangel performed many miraculous deeds during the trip, including healing Tobias’ blindness. He eventually revealed himself to Tobias: “I am Raphael, one of the seven holy angels, which present the prayers of the saints, and which go in and out before the glory of the Holy One” (Tobit 12:15). The protection of the Archangel Raphael is recalled during the prayers for travelers when the priest asks that God would send an angel, “as unto Thy servant Tobias…preserving and delivering him from every evil assault of enemies, both visible and invisible.” The Archangel Raphael has also been associated with the angel that stirred the water of the sheep pool at Bethesda once a year to initiate healing (John 5:2-4).
Uriel, "The Light or Fire of God" appears to the Prophet Ezra (Greek: Esdras), the descendent of Aaron, to answer Ezra’s question why God allows the Jews to suffer (II Esdras 4:1). The conclusion of the prophecy is that the Savior will come to redeem Israel and Ezra writes extensively to encourage the Jews to remain faithful. The Archangel Uriel is associated with accompanying the soul after death on its way to judgment.
Holy Scripture records numerous events where unnamed angels or hosts of angels appeared to men, such as at the birth of Christ, where the “multitude of the heavenly host” appeared to the shepherds. Angels ministered to Jesus at various times, as at His temptation in the desert and at His agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. The book of Acts reports many miraculous encounters between the apostles and angels, like when the angel freed and escorted St. Peter from prison.
Christianity teaches that God assigns a guardian angel at baptism to provide physical and spiritual protection to the Christian (Matt 18:10), and after death, escorts the soul to judgment. “He shall give His angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways” (Psalm 90:11). Holy Scripture tells us that at the end of time, “the Son of Man shall come in His Glory and all the holy Angels with Him” (Mt. 25:31).
Holy angels, archangels and all the heavenly hosts, pray to God for us!