Archpriest Sergius Halvorsen is director of the Doctor of Ministry Program and assistant professor of Homiletics and Rhetoric at St. Vladimir’s Seminary. He delivered this sermon on November 8, 2018 on the Feast of the Synaxis of Archangel Michael and the Other Bodiless Powers at the Seminary’s Three Hierarchs Chapel.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today the disciples are excited. Jesus sent them out two by two, telling them to heal the sick and proclaim that the Kingdom of God is near. And now the disciples return, and they are excited.
They say, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!”
And Jesus says, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.”
“I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you.”
This must have made the disciples even more excited.
I know it makes me excited, to think about the power that God gives to his followers.
But then, Jesus does the strangest thing. Just as I start to get excited about my power, Jesus says, “Don’t rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
Wait a minute.
Sure, having my name written in heaven is nice, but having power over demons, now that is something to be proud of. That is impressive!
And this is probably exactly what the disciples were thinking: “Hey, look what we can do in the name of Jesus. This is impressive. We really have power.”
So when Jesus says, “I saw Satan fall like lightening from heaven,” perhaps it’s a warning—a warning against the pride that was Satan’s tragic downfall. Perhaps it was a reminder that “God has shown strength with his arm, he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts, He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree (Lk 1.51-2).”
Instead of glorifying God, the evil one chose to glorify himself, and this was his undoing. Satan fell like lightning from heaven, because he was proud, because he tried to use God’s gifts to glorify himself.
And how tempting is it for us to use our God-given talents to make ourselves look good?
“Look at my power.” “Look at my ability.” “Look at me.”
How easy is it to make the same mistake as the evil one—the mistake of thinking that I always know best, that my gifts and talents make me better than everyone else?
On the last day the books will be opened and the deeds will be tried. All my power, my status and my strength will be stripped away and my secret sins of pride will be revealed: all the times I used my God-given talents to make myself look good; all the times I put down my neighbor to exalt myself; all the times I expected others to serve me instead of, “Bearing my brother’s burden and fulfilling the law of Christ” (Gal 6.2).
God’s judgment comes upon the proud ones of the earth.
And this judgment begins today, for the way of pride is the road to hell. Because pride is more addictive and more toxic than the strongest narcotic. Pride gives you a fleeting moment of intoxication. You feel great about yourself, but like a flash of lightning, it is gone. And then I’m left in agony, craving praise, desperately looking for the next injection of self-glory. And even if we somehow manage a prolonged intoxication of vanity, we live in constant fear that other people are more popular and more well-liked; the hard work and success of others is not cause for joy, but a threat to my reputation, a threat to my glory.
There is no peace in pride, only the torment of the addicted. Slavery to self-glory is a living hell.
Yet our merciful Lord does not allow us to languish in sin and death. Christ rescues us from our pride through his extreme humility; through his humiliating death on the Cross, Christ shows us the humble path of salvation.
Today we celebrate Archangel Michael and the bodiless powers who show us the way of humility.
In all their angelic power, in all their spiritual splendor, in all their heavenly magnificence, the bodiless powers ceaselessly glorify God and do His will—in humility. It was the angel Gabriel that announced to the Virgin Mary that she would bear the Son of God. It was an angel who told the shepherds the good news of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem. It was an angel who rolled back the stone from the tomb, and said to the women disciples, “Do not be afraid; for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has risen, as he said….go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead.”
The name “angel” means messenger, and this is why we aspire to the angelic life, to be God’s humble servants, God’s humble messengers, using our God-given talents to glorify God.
But how, as flesh and blood human beings, do we glorify the invisible God?
St. John reminds us that, “If any one says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1Jn 4.20).
So, if I don’t love the neighbor whom I see, how can I love the unseen God? If I don’t honor the neighbor whom I see, how can I honor the unseen God? And if I don’t thank the neighbor whom I see, how can I thank the unseen God?
Our path of humility begins by honoring the people who love us and care for us, and help us in so many ways. Honor and affirm your patient and longsuffering family. Honor and affirm your faithful friends. Honor and affirm the people who work tirelessly on your behalf. Thank the generous benefactors who support your ministry. Thank the people who do their job faithfully day in and day out. Thank the strangers whose unsung service makes our life easier.
By loving, and honoring and thanking the neighbor, we follow Christ on the life-giving path of humility. And as we follow Christ to the Cross, we are escorted by angelic hosts who are arrayed in battle formation around us, protecting us from the fiery darts of the evil one.
With fear and love we draw near to the holy of holies to give thanks and glorify the almighty God, around whom stand thousands of archangels and hosts of angels, the Cherubim and the Seraphim, six-winged, many-eyed, who soar aloft borne on their pinions, singing the triumphant hymn: Holy, Holy, Holy! Together with these blessed angelic powers, we join in that angelic song, saying, “Holy art thou, O God, who so loved the world that you gave your only begotten son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have life everlasting.”