Assembly to Grand Leader Michael and Other Incorporeal Powers

(Russia; eighteenth century)

Russia; second half of the eighteenth century; 35 x 30.5 cm

Feast: November 8

History of the feast and reverence for the incorporeal powers

The liturgical year is a beautiful mosaic, formed by the feasts of Jesus Christ, the Blessed Virgin, countless martyrs and saints. In the middle of this magnificent mosaic is Jesus Christ. He is celebrated on earth, both day and night, through liturgies by the pilgrimaging Church, and in heaven his eternal glory is praised by the glorified Church, represented by many angels and saints. Holy Angels are God's choir of glory, they are God's guards and God's servants who play an important role in redeeming the human race.

The Holy Church, bearing in mind the great importance of angels for the glory of God and our salvation, has established a special place in the mosaic of the liturgical year to honour the angels (the incorporeal powers). In the first place, it is a feast - the Assembly to the Grand Leader Michael and other incorporeal powers. The truth is that by the time God created man, angels were already created. There are a countless number of these invisible, immortal, perfect and pure spirits, who have reason and free will. The prophet Daniel affirms this in his vision, where he saw the throne of God and “A thousand thousands ministered to Him; Ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him” (Daniel 7:10). St. John the evangelist also writes of many angels: “the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands.” (Revelation 5:11) Christ himself talks of the Legion of Angels in the Gospel: “Or do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:53).

According to Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite in the work On the Celestial Hierarchy, it was generally accepted in the Church to divide all incorporeal beings (angels) into nine heavenly levels, where they are grouped into three hierarchically conditioned groups in three-degree orders (triads). In the first group are Seraphim, Cherubim, and Thrones; in the second Dominions, Virtues and Powers, and in the third Principalities, Archangels and Angels. All the heavenly levels are collectively called angels because of their ministry, because the very word angel, from the Greek language ἄγγελος, means messenger. This name was given to the angels by the nature of their service, which God had ordained for them, for the salvation of the human race. The Holy Apostle Paul testifies to this: “Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation?” (Hebrews 1:14) According to St. Gregory Nazianzus, “angels are servants of God's will. As a result of their natural ability, abundant grace, the quick fulfilment of God's command, and their ease of being, they are transmitted to all places and are present to everyone everywhere.” According to St. Athanasius the Great: “angels are living, rational, incorporeal and immortal beings capable of singing spiritual songs.” St. Gregory Nazianzus also writes why angels were created by God: “God's goodness was not satisfied with looking at itself: it needed to pour out and spread goodness so that many might become partakers of goodness, the highest delight. It first invented angels and heavenly spirits. The thought did the work through the Word done in the Spirit. Thus, the second Lights were created to serve the original Light.” After the creation of the angels, some of them rebelled against God, as the Holy Apostle and Evangelist John writes: “And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer. So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.” (Revelation 12:7-9) On this basis, the Church, in honour of the angels, places the Holy Archangel Michael in the first place.

Respect for angels in the Christian East dates back to the beginning of the third century, while it was already widespread in the fourth century. The testimony is the church dedicated to the Holy Archangel Michael, built by order of Emperor Constantine the Great in the suburbs of Constantinople. Another testimony is the establishment of a feast - the Assembly to the Grand Leader Michael and other incorporeal powers in the fourth century. This feast is called the Assembly, because on this day the Church celebrates the congregation - the congregation of all incorporeal powers together with the Archangel Michael, as well as the congregation of the people on earth to celebrate the heavenly powers. This liturgical celebration, whether according to the Julian or Gregorian calendar, falls in November, which is not a coincidence, but an intention – the new year began on March 1 in the past, November was then the ninth month of the year, a symbolic expression of the nine angelic levels.

Description of the icon:

The Archangel Michael, the grand leader of the heavenly armies who defeated Satan, is at the top of the icon in the centre, which is also reflected in the inscription on the edge of the icon: “Michael is victorious over his enemies.” To his sides, in the left corner of the icon is a red six-winged cherubim and in the right corner a dark blue six-winged seraphim. They are among the most important angels in the heavenly hierarchy, who constantly accompany God and are closer to him than any other levels of angels. Below, to Michael’s right, is the Archangel Gabriel, which can be translated as “God is mighty.” He announced to Mary that she would become the mother of Jesus Christ and to Zechariah the conception of John the Baptist. The inscription, placed under the name of the icon, is related to him: Gabriel - the herald of God's mysteries. Next to the Archangel Gabriel, a little lower left, stands Salatiel praying for humanity. He is holding a medallion in his hand with the letters IC - an abbreviation of the name Jesus in Greek and Church Slavonic. At the bottom of the icon (on the viewer's left) is Raphael in a blue robe. The inscription on the margin points to his mission: “Raphael, the physician of human diseases.” He is holding onto an eight-pointed star in which Christ Emanuel is depicted. There are symbolic images of the holy evangelists in the four corners of the star. He is blessing a believer with two fingers, which indicates that he is God-Man. He is holding a scroll in his hand, a presage of the Last Judgment and the teachings of the Gospel. He is surrounded in a vertical line by red seraphim, who are constantly in God's presence and therefore cannot be absent next to Emanuel or on this icon.

 Jehudiel is first (glorifying God) and then Uriel (the radiant Divine Light) on the opposite side to the left of Archangel Michael. Uriel is holding a medallion with the letters XC (a Greek abbreviation of the word Christ) in his right hand. At the front, in a dark green robe, is Barachiel, according to the inscription: “The mediator of good things. The one who imparts God's blessing.” Together with Raphael, they are holding a red star consisting of two squares - the throne of Christ Emanuel.

The composition of the icon is characterized by impressive symmetry and harmony. The diversity of clothes, faces or poses of the individual characters is complemented by astonishing interplay, thus expressing their perfect unanimity, love and obedience, the subordination of lower ranks to higher ones and of all together to the Holy Trinity.