Saturday, March 10, 2012

Saintly Saturday: The Archangel Michael

I am going to break pattern today. Although it is the feast of St. Quadratus and his companions who were martyred at Corinth, Conrad of Joy and Forgetfulness asked me this week for my thoughts on the Archangel Michael.

The name Michael means like unto God or Who is like unto God?

As I mentioned when I wrote about the Archangel Gabriel, the word angel means messanger. This is indicative of one of their primary purposes, exemplified by Gabriel who is the messenger par excellence; however, angels also protect — as indicated by the existence of guardian angels. Michael is the protector par excellence.

In Scripture, he is explicitly mentioned in:

  • Chapter 10 of Daniel where he helps to defeat the Persians.
  • Chapter 12 of Daniel it is revealed that he will appear in the end times to protect the people.
  • St. Jude in his epistle mentions that Michael battled the devil over the body of Moses (1:9).
  • In Revelation (12:7-9) he battles Satan and his angels and hurls them down to earth.

By tradition, however, his first appearance in Scripture is in Joshua (5:13-14) as the man standing in front of Joshua with a drawn sword in his hand. When Joshua challenges him by asking what side the man was on, the archangel responds:
neither…but as the commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.
This is the origin of his title Archstrategos or Chief Commander.

The Church Fathers have also equated Michael with the following:

  • The pillar of fire and pillar of cloud that led the Israelites from Egypt.
  • The destruction of the 185 thousand soldiers of Sennacherib the Assyrian emperor (4/2 Kings 19:53).
  • The smiting of Heliodorous (2 Macc 3:24-26).
  • The angel that transports Habbakuk from Judea to Babylon in order to give food to Daniel in the lions’ den. (Bel and the Dragon v. 33-39).

On the Greek island of Symi there is a miraculous icon of the Archangel that has a pair of traditions associated with it.

  • Michael is known to grant favors of those who ask, though something must be given in return. The most popular choice is that of a broom. The monks of the monastery report that they often hear the archangel using these brooms to sweep the monastery at night. Those that ask favors but do not offer anything, the archangel will let you know of his displeasure. This most often manifests as the inability to leave the island. Any boat that one tries to leave on will be unable to sail/the engine won’t start until the offering is fulfilled.
  • People will place prayers to the Archangel in bottles which they then throw into the sea. These messages end up in the harbor where the monastery is. They have thousands on display.

According to the Hagiography of St. Mercurius, the archangel appeared to the saint to give him his sword.

The Archangel Michael is actually one of the reasons that I feel completely comfortable with the idea that D&D is compatible with Christianity. Often depicted in armor and wielding a sword or a spear, Michael is a reminder that the life of a Christian is spiritual warfare. We are constantly being assailed by temptations and, from an Orthodox Christian perspective, the devil and his angels. Every day we must gird ourselves with the Lord and go into battle, because sometimes the spiritual bleeds into the physical (just ask St. Quadratus and his companions).

As I have stated many times before, FRPGs and D&D (in its older forms in particular), make excellent metaphors for this spiritual warfare. Monsters are sins personified. Demons walk the earth in physical form. PCs represent (Christian) Civilization as it goes to battle with the (Demonic) Wilderness.

Of particular interest to me is the endgame of (older editions of) D&D. PCs are expected to carve out a piece of land, clear it out and build a stronghold — reclaiming a portion of Wilderness and making it safe for Civilization. This manifests, in game form, the great reclamation project of Christ and His Church. Christ did not become a human being just to save humanity, He came to save all of creation. As His royal priesthood, the Church endeavors to sanctify and restore creation — to properly orient it towards God.

In his role of protector and his multiple battles with the devil and his angels, the Archangel Michael personifies this aspect of D&D. An aspect I continue to explore and present in both this blog and the way I play the game.


St. Michael’s Brooms

Though these brooms appear to be normal, mundane items (although many might have a cross carved in the handle), they radiate of divine magic. They may be used to ask favors of the Archangel. Whenever such a boon is requested, two dice are rolled instead on one for the next roll a player makes. They are then allowed to take the result of either die.

This boon, however, requires an offering. Most often, the broom itself is offered and in such cases it will turn to dust. Other offerings may be made it the broom’s place. Anything of value (a level to be determined by the Referee) may be substituted. Such substitutions will turn to dust.

If a boon is asked, but no offering is forthcoming, the player must roll two dice for everything and choose the most detrimental result until something is offered.


  1. Gosh. Thank you very much Father. To be honest, I really wasn't expecting such a prompt response!

    Your articles on Saints never fail to interest me.

    1. It was my pleasure. Your request made me realize that I had been neglecting Michael in more ways than one, so it spurred me to reaquaint myself. Thus, I was inspired to write this post. Therefore I really should be thanking you.

  2. By any chance, do you have identifying info about that second image? I did some preliminary searches on St. Michael Moscow based on the file name, but didn't come up with anything. It's very impressive.

    1. For some strange reason, this image is mislabeled. It is from the Lechitic Gate in Kiev, Ukrain. Sorry about the confusion.

    2. Thanks for the clarification. It's a beautiful statue.

  3. havent read the scipture many times,
    I am confused why the old school DnD cleric can not use a sword . . .

    Luke 22:36
    He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one."

    and many other references to the
    Christian welding the sword . ..

    1. It is more of a game mechanic thing than a thematic thing. All the best magic weapons in OD&D are swords. By limiting weapons used by MUs and Clerics allows these magic weapons to belong solely to the Fighting-Man. The Cleric and MU get spells, the Fighting-Man gets swords.

      This, of course, falls apart in later editions, but the no-swords-for-clerics is a remnant that stuck until around 2e.

      The beautiful thing about the game, regardless of which edition you play, is that if you don't like a particular element, house rule it...

    2. Speaking of house rules, the limitations on weapons by class is one of those things that always bugged me for various reasons. While reading the the B/X Companion recently, I ran across the idea of mostly disconnecting damage from weapons and tying it to class, instead. So, Fighters do a d8 damage (d10 if the weapon is 2H), Clerics do d6(d8), &c. [Page C24]

      While I'm sure this wasn't the first time the idea had been proposed, it was new to me and seems an elegant way to address my objections. (While, I admit, it does also take away the Fighter's exclusive purview over the best magical weapons.)

    3. Class based damage is the method that I like too, though I use 2DTH (roll two dice, take the highest) for two-handed weapons and dual wielding rather than bumping the die up. I also allow anyone to wear any armor, but track encumbrance strictly and give magic-users a chance of spell failure and thieves a chance of skill failure on a d6 when wearing armor.

      You could also still restrict magic weapon bonuses to fighters, which I was considering.

  4. Fr. Dave,
    Great post. One question, I have always assumed that the Commander of God's army in Joshua 5 is the physicalized manifestation of God himself and not Michael. When Joshua falls to the ground in worship, the Commander accepts the worship, whereas with other angelic visitations (Samson's parents, John's revelations) when men are tempted to worship angels they are always roundly chastised not to do so. This contrasts with the Commander's acceptance of the worship offered, and the further command that Joshua should remove his shoes because he was standing on "holy ground" cf. Exodus 3:5 when God reveals himself to Moses in the burning bush. Interested to hear your take.
    By the way, I usually allow clerics to carry swords at lower damage than fighters.

    1. Great question! In the LXX, which is the version of the OT the Fathers most often used, the Greek word you understand as worship literally means “to throw oneself down.” Though sometimes associated with worship, when it is used on its own, it connotes respect (and possibly fear) but not worship.

      The command to remove the sandals is an invitation to compare this encounter with the encounter Moses had at the burning bush where God revealed His name. The reason the Fathers understand this to be Michael is tied to his name. When asked as the question, “Who is like unto God?” the appearance of Michael as a man reveals that God intends to become a man — this is a prophecy of the incarnation of Christ.

  5. Fr.Dave,
    Thanks for your prompt reply. I love these discussions. I have never heard the interpretation you give above. I believe (I can't remember) my theory came from the Targums use of the word memra (Word) in instances like these led to my conclusions. Thanks for your comments. I really enjoy your blog.

  6. Don't get me wrong I've played my share of war games on PC, but I believe there is a point were you over do it. Please don't let it become an obsession that takes away from you doing actual spiritual warfare by attending Church, reading Scripture, reading about the Saints, and ect.