Patronal Feast of St Michael Orthodox Christian Church
Children don’t really choose their parents. Parishioners don’t really choose their priests. And parishes don’t really choose their patrons. Instead, a patron is gifted to a parish, and the parish learns to love and pray to him; and to see that he truly is a gift from God.
St Michael the Archangel is truly a gift to this parish. Like all the holy angels, obedient to God, he humbly ministers to us.
And why would he do that? Why would St Michael, who is like God, minister to us? We were made a little lower than the angels. So why do the higher ones—the holy angels—serve us? Why would they humble themselves for our sake?
Why? Because it is their act of love, their sacrifice of thanksgiving, their heartfelt and sincere desire. That St Michael the Archangel—and all the nine ranks of angels—live to minister to you and serve you. And not grudgingly or reluctantly, or with hesitation, but joyfully, willingly, and obediently.
What a wonderful gift from our patron! By his service, he shows us the path our lives should take.
But do we truly see the way of the angels? Do we truly appreciate what our patron shows us about how we are to live?
You see, at our best we tend to divide our life in God into two parts: worshipping God and serving others. For a time, you can worship; and for another time, we can help and serve. But we can’t do both; and we can’t specialize in both, because they are two very different things.
Because we think this way, because we divide our life in two, because we say that praise God is one thing and help others is another, we think the angels are like us; that they are doing two things: praising God and serving us. But for him, it is one and the same thing. Not that he stops singing in order to help us. And not that he will occasionally take a break from helping us in order to spend some time praising God. He can do both at the same time! He is the consummate multi-tasker! While he ministers to us, he sings praise to God! And while he worships and adores God, he comes to our assistance. His unending contemplation and ceaseless prayer does not interrupt his continual ministry.
So what we learn from our holy patron is that our life is not parts, but one whole: the complete unit of standing before God in church while at the same time ministering to others. St Michael and the angels do this perfectly, and we are now to practice their example.
But St Michael’s ministry to us is even more impressive. He, apart from all other holy angels, leads the fight against Satan. Satan is the accuser, who accuses us day and night before God. He accuses us of not being worthy enough; of not being worth God’s effort; of not being worthy of God becoming one of us. And Satan accuses us of being too earthly minded, of being too caught up in our lusts and addictions and selfish desires. And Satan accuses us of not being grateful for Christ’s self-sacrifice; of preferring to chase after death; of loving lies more than Truth.
Those accusations may be true. In fact, those accusations are too often true. Because that is our way from the beginning: eating to live, rather than living to eat; and loving to be served, rather than loving to serve. Like the holy angels. Like St Michael. And so Satan stands before God, trying to convince God that we belong more to hell than to heaven; that we are not all that God made us to be; that His mercy, His Passion, His Mass is misspent on us.
And here comes St Michael—to fight off the devil. To ward off his lies which spin us to the grave. Here comes St Michael—to put to flight the enemy. To cast him away from us so that we might hear, and grasp, and hang onto to Truth Himself. And here comes St Michael—to lead his heavenly army to protect us, and defend us in the day of judgment.
You see, St Michael stands for us. He stands for us, not by refuting Satan’s accusations, but by clearing the path. So that when Satan rightly accuses us, we can see our way clear to hear God’s love and mercy. So that when Satan deceives us, we can see the Truth. So that when Satan depresses our spirit, we may be comforted by the Lord and Giver of Life. And so that when Satan lets us think that our bodies are worthless, we may look at Christ’s Body in the Church and see how very much Our Lord Jesus thought of our bodies—so much that He shunned the body of an angel, and instead chose to enmesh His divine substance with our vulnerable flesh.
You should be impressed with St Michael the Archangel. For He willingly, freely, humbly, and quickly stands for us. Not loving his own life, but offering it as a loving sacrifice so that we, who are lower, might be saved. The mighty protecting the helpless. The strong man protecting the weak. The one with everything fighting for those who prefer the nothingness of lies and vain promises. And the one offers his life for those who too often think the lives of others—especially those who cannot speak—are expendable.
But what should really impress you about St Michael is this: in addition to his unrelenting worship of God, even while he commands God’s holy angels; in addition to his unceasing song, even as he fights the devil and his demons; in addition to his genuflecting and kneeling before He who became not an angel but man, in order to save the entire universe—in addition to all this, for 35 years, St Michael has been our tireless patron. In addition to all of this, St Michael continues to plead our cause before the Lord God, making sure that this faithful group is not forgotten; that this family of God has what it needs to flourish; that this little parish can do from time to time, what St Michael the Archangel does minute by minute.
What a truly wonderful patron we have! What a great gift to this parish. So let us not make light of this gift, this patron. Instead, let us devoutly venerate him and pay him due homage and show him true respect—both by continually asking his prayers, and by imitating him. For is it not also possible that we, too, can be constant in our worship, untiring in our adoration, fulsome in our thanksgiving, and relentless in our attendance—even as we also aid those in need, and live to defend the vulnerable, and stand for the voiceless, whether unborn or dying, whether addled or disabled?
For this life of doing two things as one—standing in high worship while living for others, loving nothing else than to adore the Body of Christ and the bodies Christ died for, loving the heavenly liturgy while also loving others—this is the life that St Michael and his holy angels live to serve; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who is worshipped and glorified by all His angels and saints, now and ever and unto the ages of ages.
Rev. Msgr. John W. Fenton
St Michael’s Orthodox Christian Church, Whittier
2 October 2016