Yesterday, as I stood in the Vesperal Liturgy for the Feast of the Annunciation, I pondered on the nature and reality of the angelic hosts and their role in salvation history. During the litanies, we pray that our guardian angel may "be a guide and guardian for our souls and bodies." (See Matt. 18:10). What a guide Gabriel was for the Theotokos! First annoucing to her the good news and then patiently answering her honest questions about how the Incarnation would take place. One wonders what went through his mind as he waited in that crucial moment to see if the Virgin Mary would say "Yes" to God?....so much work had gone into that moment--would humanity finally turn back to God?
The Feast of the Annunciation gives us this answer! Now that the Annunciation is past, the following day the Church turns our attention to Gabriel, that supreme angelic messenger of God. Here is a bit on that from the Prologue from Ochrid:
"Gabriel is the announcer of the Incarnation of the Son of God. He is one of the seven archangels who stand before the Throne of God. He appeared to Zacharias about the birth of the Forerunner. Gabriel said of himself, "I am Gabriel, who stand before God" (St. Luke 1:19). His name Gabriel means "Man - God." The Holy Fathers, in speaking about the Annunciation, interpret that an archangel with such a name was sent to signify who and what He would be like, who must be born of the All-Pure One. Therefore, He will be Man-God, mighty and powerful God. Some of the Fathers understood that this same Gabriel appeared to Joachim and Anna concerning the birth of the Virgin Mary and that Gabriel instructed Moses in the wilderness to write the Book of Genesis. The Holy Fathers think that Gabriel has pre-eminence in the first and greatest order of heavenly powers, that is, the Seraphic Order, since the Seraphims stand closest to God. He is, therefore, one of the seven Seraphims, closest to God."
What a profound mystery! Here are the angels and all of the heavenly hosts before the face of God continuously and yet, in humility, they serve God by serving his creatures! They fight for us, they announce the messages and words of God to us, they travel with us, and in many other ways minister to us. Though these powers have not fallen through sin, they still deign to serve us fallen humans and are never ceasing in their efforts to lead us back to, as the Lenten hymnody says, "the paths of repentance." And yet, we are to judge the angels! (1 Cor 11:10).
During the Presanctified Liturgy (which we will participate in tonight) there is a hymn sung in a haunting chant that relates to this. As the Presanctified Gifts are transferred to the altar, the choir sings:
"Now the heavenly powers do minister invisibly with us. For behold the King of Glory enters. Behold the mystical sacrifice, all fulfilled, is ushered in. Let us with faith and love draw near that we may be partakers of everlasting life."
The Church, in her wisdom, gives to us today the Feast of Gabriel to help us see the glory, not only of event of the Annunciation on the previous day, but to show us what this Lenten season is all about. The heavenly powers of heaven are truly "with us." As are all the saints (Heb. 12:1). The Kingdom of God is just that: a Kingdom, a community, a people united in purpose. And it is "in faith and love" that we enter into the ascetic, sacramental, liturgical life of Lent and of the whole Church year. With all of the angelic hosts, with all the saints, with all of creation, we look to Christ, our "King of glory" "in faith and love."