Propers: St Michael and All Angels (Mikkelmas), A.D. 2017 A
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Fairy tales—to paraphrase G.K. Chesterton—do not tell children that dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children that the dragons can be beaten.
I will not attempt to convince you that angels and demons exist. You already know that they exist. Indeed, one has to work quite hard to convince oneself otherwise. We have always known that we, as a species, are not alone. Deep down in our heart of hearts, in our collective unconscious, abides the persistent conviction that the world we can see is only the surface, the tip of the iceberg, and that we are surrounded at all times by a vast and spiritual ocean of Powers and Principalities that we cannot perceive, let alone understand.
There have always been dragons. We find them in all of the oldest stories we have. They are spirits of chaos, of disorder, discordant notes within the greater harmony of Creation. We associate them always with the frenzy of the sea and the storm, waters of chaos, waters of destruction. And there have always been heavenly heroes—demigods, supermen—who have stood up to the dragons and slain them, wrenching order out from chaos: Thor and World-Serpent, Sigurd and Fafnir; Michael and the Dragon!
For you see, we too have such a story, the Christian version of the myth—which is to say, the true version.
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
This, according to St Augustine, is the Bible’s account of the creation of the angels, beings of pure light—which is not to say physical light, as though they were made up of photons, but spiritual light: the light of knowledge, the light of wisdom. Angels are beings of pure mind, unencumbered by physical form or bodies of any sort. They are made up purely of the thoughts of God—sub-minds spun off like so many galaxies from the hub of His infinite Word. And like us, they were made purely out of love, purely out of grace, simply for the sheer joy of creating and sharing in the grand adventure that is existence.
They came about in infinite variety, some small and humble of thought, others so vast in understanding and brobdingnagian in power that they dwelt immediately in the ineffable Light of God’s own direct presence. These latter we call the Seraphim, or “Fiery Ones”—the dragons, that is, of God.
And the greatest of them all, the grandest and most glorious, mightiest in power, broadest in understanding, was Lucifer, the Light-Bearer, the highest being in all of Creation—a little too high, perhaps, because something happened to him. Something twisted him, some wicked thought that set him in disharmony against the greater symphony of God.
We don’t know what it was, exactly. Pride of some sort. Revelation implies that the angels were given a glimpse of the future: of the fashioning and falling of Man; and of the Creator’s plan to redeem the world by entering into His own Creation, as the old hymn has it, “through the guts of a girl.” And something about this offended Lucifer, for it is indeed quite shocking. Perhaps it was some deeper demand for punishment, for justice as he saw it. Perhaps he thought the whole business of the Incarnation beneath the dignity of the Creator of All Worlds. Or perhaps it was jealousy plain and simple—that Lucifer wanted to be vessel through which the Almighty would enter the world; Lucifer wanted to be the Theotokos, the Mother of God.
Whatever it was, in his pride and his wrath, the great Dragon misused the freedom granted to him by God’s love, and rebelled against the benevolent designs of his Creator—an act of highest treason. No longer would the Light-Bearer and his angels sit idly by while the Creator debased Himself with human sin. The Dragon knew better than God, he thought, knew enough now to judge right and wrong for himself! And so he raged, raged against the permissive Providence of a merciful God. And war broke out in Heaven.
A war of pure thought, of pure mind, unlike anything we can imagine here below.
But it proved a civil war, as the rebellion was not unanimous. A voice arose amidst the heavenly throng: the voice not of some great Seraph or Stronghold, but the voice of an Archangel, from the lower of the choirs. A small voice yet strong—for it did not rely on its own powers. “Who is like God?” demanded this smaller, braver being. “Who can ever be like God?”
And the cry was taken up in chorus—“Who is like God? Who is like God?”—until the firmament of the heavens was shaken by the clarity of its perfection. And so it was the reflected Light of God’s own Truth, rather than the innate powers of the angels themselves, that cast the Dragon down from Heaven and smote his ruin upon the earth. The angels had had their rebellion, and the faithful emerged from it like steel tempered from the forge.
And at their head stood that lesser angel, whose cry became his name: for in Hebrew, mī kāʼēl means “Who is like God?”—the Archangel Michael, Prince now of the Heavenly Host, Guardian of Guardians, and the faithful power upon whom God calls to defend the righteous and lay the wicked low. This, then, is the original story of the Hero and the Dragon.
So what, then, brothers and sisters, shall we take away from this most ancient and epic of tales? First, I suppose, that our instincts are true: we are not alone in this universe. We are surrounded by a Creation far higher and deeper than any presented before our eyes. The cosmos is filled with powers far older, far greater, and far wiser than we. And not all of them are kind. Evil is out there. It hungers, it hunts.
But the powers of darkness pale in comparison to the Light which bore them forth. Evil has no substance in and of itself; it is simply the wreckage of what was once made good. Demons are but broken angels who hide now away from the Light. Even Lucifer, the Light-Bearer, has withered away to Satan, the Adversary. His glories are long forgotten, and his position as the highest in all of Creation has been given over to a Lady far worthier than he. It is through her, upon a winter’s night heralded by angels, that God has come to earth to save us all.
Fairy tales do not tell children that dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children that the dragons can be beaten.
St Michael, Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our protection against the snares and wickedness of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray. And do thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the power of God, cast into hell Satan and all wicked spirits that prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. For who is like unto God?
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.