What Do Angels Guard?

angelguardianIt is a commonplace in our culture to speak of guardian angels, particularly when we have come close to a physical disaster and survived. Thus, a near-miss in an auto-accident, or even a survival from a terrible accident, conversation often lightly turns to mention of “my guardian angel.” Of course, such references also raise the question about those who do not survive their accidents, or when near-misses become “head-on.” Are we to infer that one person’s guardian angel did a better job than another’s?

The task of our guardian angels, as understood in the Church’s tradition, is the guarding of our salvation. That guarding may very well include physical protection – though the greater danger for us all in each and every day is the spiritual danger that surrounds us.

These dangers are not simply the things that assault us – but those things that assault us in such a way that our soul itself is imperiled. The mystery of what is to our soul’s benefit and what is to its harm is known to God alone, or to those to whom He choose to reveal it. It is this mystery that the guardian angels serve. “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and to lose his soul?”

The traditional “prayer to my guardian angel” guides our words to this understanding:

O Angel of Christ, holy guardian and protector of my soul and body, forgive me everything wherein I have offended thee every day of my life, and protect me from all influence and temptation of the evil one. May I nevermore anger God by any sin. Pray for me to the Lord, that He may make me worthy of the grace of the All-holy Trinity, and of the Most Blessed Theotokos, and of all the Saints. Amen.

The language of “angering God by sin” is the traditional metaphor of Scripture in which our sin sets us in opposition to God and thus puts us in the path of His “wrath.” It is not a description of a God whom we make angry.

In like manner, we pray that the Lord will make us worthy of saving grace and of the help of the prayers of the Theotokos and of all the saints. Of course, they will pray for us whether we are worthy or not (else who would ever be prayed for?).

However, the Tradition teaches us all a lesson, and that is to value our salvation above all else. Greater than our wealth, our physical safety, all things in our life. For our salvation (living communion with the True God) is nothing other than our true life. Without that true life we are not physically safe or wealthy or anything that the world values. Without true life we live in a deadly delusion. It is against such deadly delusion that our Guardian Angel and all the saints work and pray. They do not do so as substitutes for the grace of our good God, but in cooperation with that very grace. All of heaven yearns for our salvation and for us to know our true life.

May God keep us!

15 Responses to “What Do Angels Guard?”

  1. Moses Says:

    Thank for this reminder… it unfortunately is usually the case that we mainly acknowledge our guardian angels in dire moments! It was nice for a good explanation to be given regarding “angering God by our sins”; most explanations make God out to be a retributive judge which is common among the Catholics and more specifically the Protestants (just a very general conclusion).

  2. luciasclay Says:

    This is one that as as protestant I found ironic. We formally rejected tradition yet accepted without question the concept of each of us having a guardian angel. I’ve never heard that concept questioned. As far as I know the concept of a guardian angel is not expressed literally in scripture. So, as in many ways, rough and remote vestiges of the tradition we tried so hard to reject, yet were indebted to, lives on with protestant actions and thoughts.

    Now that I’m in the middle I ponder this in another way. If one believes sincerely one has a guardian angel, one who accompanies and watches over one their whole life, why on earth would we not speak to them ? To have a guardian angel and not offer requests and thanks and such does not make sense. And if perchance the angel was compelled to speak to us that is very scriptural and we’d panic and fall flat on our face just like always happened in scripture to those who were visited.

    One final observation. The idea of guarding the soul -vs- guarding the physical safety. Thats a powerfully important distinction. With respect to the nation of Israel coming out of Egypt, claiming the promised land etc. This poses a problem for many, and used to for me. How could a loving God allow seeming brutal things to be done in his name ? But when you finally understand that God is working for the salvation of our souls, when you understand that without Israel on this earth the Christ would not have been understood, that its existence was necessary in so many ways, you see the incredible importance of building a people to keep that knowledge and tradition alive until he came. God is the Judge and all are appointed to die. So the fact that some died at a time, place and manner that kept Israel together as a nation and in possession of the land is not tragic. Its actually incredibly merciful of God to have done so. And to those who died, he ultimately judged them correctly. God’s ways are mysterious. But God is love. And if it doesn’t look like he’s being loving in some ways, I’ve found its because I didn’t understand love.

  3. Steve Says:

    He will keep us Father, on earth as in heaven …

  4. clary Says:

    Thank you for the reminder that the most important part of our being is our soul, I believe we many times forget that. Knowing that there is an angel by our side make our life better, today I will seek his guidance.

  5. jamesk Says:

    The Church’s belief in the ministry of the Guardian Angels is amply supported by our Lord’s warning, “Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that in heaven their angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 18:10). Luke, likewise, in referring to Peter’s angel, testifies to that belief among the early
    Christians (Acts 12:15). These references indicate that the Guardian Angels were already well known to the readers of the Matthew and Luke; the idea required no explanation.

    As in other instances of Christian belief (the efficacy of prayer for the dead comes to mind), it was originally from the Jews that the Church inherited this belief in the ministry of the Guardian Angels. The Psalmist had declared, “The angel of the Lord encamps all around those who fear Him, and delivers them” (Psalms 34 [33]:7). And again, “He will give His angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways” (91 [90]:11).

    The clearest illustration of Jewish belief in the Guardian Angels is found in the Book of Tobit, preserved in the Septuagint.

  6. fatherstephen Says:

    Jamesk,

    Excellent. I wanted to give the references but was delayed last night and this morning (imagine a priest being busy on Saturday and Sunday!). But indeed, those are the key biblical references and themselves reflect a much larger body of belief viz. angels that was part of NT Judaism and adhered to by the Church – including such things as prayers for the departed, etc.

    Arguments against Orthodox practice are often based in a make-believe 1st century Judaism that has no historical facts or knowledge, other than the references about Pharisees and Sadducees in the NT. These false pictures of Judaism drive Jews crazy, too.

    The Reformation was not a removal from the Church (except for a few practices, such as indulgences) of foreign elements and a return to pristine Christianity. In many ways it was the Islamicization of Christianity – a result of much influence during the Middle Ages of Muslim thought in debates with those such as Averoes (the Muslim philosopher). Sola Scriptura is largely a Muslim concept (Fr. Thomas Hopko says that Islam is its true origin), as well as the notion of the competency of the individual believer (soul competency). The establishment of “Sovereignty” as the primary defining point of theology (as in Reform theology) has far more similarity with Islam than with anything in the Fathers.

    I know that is polemical, and I’m not saying it to beat up on contemporary Protestants (who have no conscious connection with Islam) but rather to state historical influences (unknown likely to the Reformers themselves) and to suggest that when early Christianity is studied, that it be accompanied by studies in historical Judaism rather than imaginary Judaism. Orthodoxy is not an abberation, but preserves the Truth as given in Christ. Practices that may seem strange to others says more about the ignorance of modern man than about Orthodoxy.

  7. Damaris Says:

    Whoa! Your comment about the historical effects of Islam on the Western church will keep me thinking a long time. It certainly is compelling. Is this your own insight? Is there anything I can read on the topic?

  8. fatherstephen Says:

    Damaris,

    As I noted, Fr. Thomas Hopko was the first reference I ran across that linked Sola Scriptura to Islam, and he made references, but it was in a conversation and I did not get a chance to make notes. He’s actually not very polemical, I took him at his word on the matter.

    But it’s not a great stretch, if you study medieval philosophy (Aquinas, etc.) to be keenly aware of the high level of dialog that took place between the West and Islam. Islam, for instance, had access to Aristotle, which the West did not at the time. Acquinas takes Aristotle and works on a reconcilation with Catholic doctrine (which had been dominantly Platonic before). That dialog had a great deal of impact on the West.

    The East had lived with Islam around it for much longer, and had never lost its own contact with ancient sources, such as Aristotle, etc. Thus its interaction with Islam was quite different.

    Islam’s label “people of the book” to describe Christians and Jews (as well as themselves), sounds correct to many Protestants, but would be heresy for the Orthodox. We don’t belong to the book – the book belongs to us. It is the Church that Scripture refers to as the “Pillar and Ground of Truth.”

    So, in answer to your question. I cannot point you to a text – some of my conclusions are my own, but not unknown among Orthodox thinkers. Some are from conversations (like Hopko). But I think the conclusions are accurate. Again, I’m not describing so much a conscious borrowing, but an influence that had begun to be rather commonplace in the West.

  9. Mary Says:

    I’m very happy to have come across this blog. I always wondered what it meant “Angering God by sin.” Things make a lot more sense now.🙂

  10. David Bryan Says:

    Fr. Tom goes into a bit of detail about the Reformers/Islam connection in his series, Putting Christmas Back into Christ.

  11. coffeezombie Says:

    Father, your comments on Islam’s influence on the West got me thinking along another line (sorry for contributing to the off-topic course this discussion has taken).

    I seem to remember hearing a while back that Protestant iconoclasm has its roots in Catholic Scholasticism. The argument went that the Scholastics were the ones who tended to see iconography as mainly being beneficial for the illiterate or the ‘weak,’ whereas those who are educated or ‘strong’ have no need of images or something like that. Protestants just took that down-playing of the role of iconography further than Catholics were willing to do.

    If, in fact, this is the case, perhaps it was due to the contacts you speak of with Islam that led the Scholastics down that path in the first place?

  12. fatherstephen Says:

    Iconoclasm in the East (7th and 8th centuries) likely had Islamic influence, or so the theories go. No direct proof…but the Byzantine Emperor kept losing battles to them. It was the Emperor who started the whole iconoclasm thing (more or less under a deuternomic reform theory).

    I would imagine that simply the rejection of the veneration of saints would explain the iconoclasm, destruction of relics, etc., that took place in the Reformation did not need any outside influence. That it was anti-Rome was often enough.

    For instance in the English Reformation, the Prayer Book of 1552 (Edward VI) directed that the minister should stand at the North side of the holy table (which had to be a simple table instead of the altars of previous time). There was no liturgical precedent for this position at all – only that it made a visual break with the Roman Mass.

    Not everything has a historical precedent. Sometimes people just make things up.

  13. Steve Says:

    James,

    Thank you for your comment on Jewish belief in guardian angels and the book of Tobit. I can see where this is heading.

    Christ in our midst!

  14. Andrew Says:

    Guardian angels have always been a mystery to me. It’s nice to see someone shed some light on the issue!

  15. Damaris Says:

    Father Stephen — Thinking more about the effects of Islam on Western thought, I remembered Maimonides’ “Guide to the Perplexed.” He writes to deal with the supposed conflict between physical language — God’s hand, God’s arm, God’s face — and the incorporeal nature of God. Why would he feel the need to do that at that time and place? The language of the OT had been acceptable to Jews for centuries; but I imagine that it was offensive to Muslims. Did Maimonides feel he had to combat claims that the God of the Jews was less holy, more anthropomorphized than Allah? I don’t know. Perhaps this idea has already been thrashed out. Nor do I know the extent of Maimonides’ influence on Christian thought, though I suspect there was some.

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