- An angel on the ceiling of the historic
Holy Resurrection Ukrainian
Catholic Church, Dauphin, MB
Representations of the Angels
The word “angel” originates from a Greek word that can be translated to “messenger”. Angels are indeed God’s messengers and they provide a service to the human race. They are sometimes called the “unseen and bodiless powers”. However, scripture records many instances where people have seen angels, so clearly they have the ability to reveal themselves at times in the visible sense.
The Church classifies Angels into a number of orders, or Angelic Choirs. Presumably, each order of angels has a particular function but scripture is limited in explaining this, so the better part of the functionality of angels may be viewed as a Holy Mystery. It is believed that each of us receives a guardian angel when we are baptised.
Angels have been venerated since long before the birth of Christ and there are many references to them in the Old Testament, Apocrypha, and New Testament. We best know Archangel Michael for his role as the captain of the heavenly host. The Prophet Daniel spoke of “the time of the end” saying, “At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people — everyone whose name is found written in the book — will be delivered.” (See Daniel 12: 1.) In the twelfth chapter of the Revelations of St. John we read of St. Michael waging war against Satan and his evil angels. Therefore, frequently he is portrayed with a sword in iconography. In his book The Ukrainian Icon, Sviatoslav Hordynsky gives many examples of this in icons between the 12th to 18th centuries.
- St. Michael on the iconostas of St. George
Ukrainian Catholic Church, Oshawa, ON
In St. George Ukrainian Catholic Church in Oshawa, Ontario, there is an icon on one of the deacons’ doors that illustrates St. Michael, with sword in hand, having just slaughtered the beast. The image contains more than a little western influence but it leaves no doubt as to the Archangel Michael’s role.
In addition to biblical references to St. Michael, many non-canonical works frequently reference him and there are numerous reports of his appearances. Abundant miracles attributed to St. Michael have been reported there over the centuries. St. Michael is the patron of many Ukrainian churches and he was also a patron saint of ancient Kievan Rus.
God employs angels as His messengers and, out of the four times that the Bible the specifically names Archangel Gabriel, he is always associated with the bringing of news. The Prophet Daniel tells us the Archangel Gabriel came to him in a vision to speak of “the time of the end” (Daniel 8: 15 17). In the following chapter of the same book, Gabriel comes again to Daniel to bring news of the Apocalypse. In the first chapter of the Gospel According to St. Luke, the Archangel Gabriel appears before Zechariah and tells him that he and his wife Elizabeth will be the parents of the great prophet, John the Baptist. Later in the same chapter Gabriel makes his most famous appearance when he announces to the Virgin Mary that she will give birth to the Son of God. In addition to these instances where Gabriel is specifically named, there are several places in the Bible where an angle appears but is not named and Archangel Gabriel is credited with some of these appearances. For example, some believe Gabriel was the angel who announced the news of Christ’s birth to the shepherds.
- St. Gabriel with the Virgin on the Royal Doors o
f Christ the Saviour Orthodox Church, Ottawa, ON
We commonly find Archangel Gabriel on Ukrainian iconostasi. He may be seen on a deacons’ door or Gabriel is also often found on the royal doors when there is a portrayal of the Annunciation there.
Throughout the history of Ukrainian churches, angels have played a very prominent role in iconography. Sts. Michael and Gabriel are the most popular and often we see them on the Deacons Doors of the iconostas. They are also commonly in the Diesis icon following after the Virgin Mary and St. John the Baptist.
Of course, Archangel Gabriel is a prominent feature in the icon of the Annunciation; however, iconographers rightly or wrongly also add angels to a great many other festal icons regardless of whether or not scripture describes angels as being present.
While one does not always see images of archangels other than Michael and Gabriel, in the tradition of Western Ukrainian iconography one does sometimes see the Archangels Raphael and Uriel. For example, Edmonton artist Peter Lipinski wrote a large icon of the Archangel Raphael for Holy Trinity Bukowinian Orthodox Church in the 1930s.
- Archangel Raphael, from the former Holy Trinity
Bukovynian Orthodox Church, Ottawa, ON
Aside from the archangels, the six-winged seraphim are very popular in Ukrainian iconography. Scripture informs us that they are positioned close to their Creator and the prophet Isaiah wrote: “Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying.” (Isaiah 6:2). Seraphim resemble fire and the word actually means “enflamed” in Hebrew. Perhaps this is why we often see the image of a seraphim on the eternal light placed before the iconostas in Ukrainian churches.
- The eternal light from Sts. Peter and Paul Ukrainian Orthodox Church near Hampton, SK
Angels are frequently found around the lower part of the central dome in Ukrainian churches. They also often can be seen in various other parts of the walls and ceilings of churches. People associate Angels with beauty and we frequently see images of angels used as a sort of generic embellishment.
- Angels in the central dome of Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Ukrainian Catholic Church, Star Peno, AB