Hierarchy and Orders
First Sphere – Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones
Seraphim (plural; singular form is Seraph) – Isaiah saw the Seraphim in his famous vision. They stood above Jehovah as He sat on His throne (Isaiah. 6:2; 6). They are divine creatures from the Old Testament, associated with the Cherubim, and later taken to be angels. The root of Seraphim comes either from the Hebrew verb seraph (‘to burn’) or the Hebrew noun seraph (a fiery, flying serpent). Because the term appears several times with reference to the serpents encountered in the wilderness (Num. 21.8, Deut. 8.15; Isaiah 14.29; 30.6), it has often been understood to refer to “fiery serpents.” From this some suggest that the Seraphim were snake-like in form and in some sense “fiery” creatures or associated with fire.
They dwell in the presence of God and cleave to Him, and are immediately united to Him. They receive revelations of God before the other angels and then relate such information to them.
We identify them with the fire of healing and love. Each Seraph radiates powerful light – a light so powerful that the Thrones and Cherubim cannot look at them. It is said that anyone who lays eyes on a Seraph would instantly be incinerated due to its immense brightness (Isaiah notwithstanding). They are described as tall, with six wings and four heads, one for of the cardinal directions. They use one pair of wings to fly, one to cover their eyes (a token of humility), and one to cover their feet (a token of respect). They stand in the direct presence of God. They bear a general resemblance to the human figure in some aspects. Writers other than Isaiah describe them with a face, voice, feet, and hands. In this way, they passed from Jewish tradition to Christianity as angels.
They remain close to the Throne of God. In fact, they serve as caretakers of God’s throne and are always in His presence. They circle the Throne in perpetual adoration of God. Some scholars describe them as angels of unadulterated love, light and fire. The Seraphim that Isaiah saw hovered above and on both sides God’s throne, forming two opposite choirs and presenting antiphonal worship. Their occupation was two-fold: to celebrate the praises of Jehovah’s holiness and power and to act as the medium of communication between heaven and earth. From their antiphonal chant (“one called out to another”) we may picture them ranging in opposite rows on each side of the throne.
Cherubim – Name signifies “fullness of knowledge.” God often dispatches them to the physical realm to do specific tasks such as the expulsion of man from the Garden of Eden and the Annunciation of Christ. They remain on duty at the entrance of the Garden of Eden in order that man cannot find his way toParadiseto eat from the Tree of Life.
God directed Moses to place two golden Cherubim on the top of the Ark of the Covenant, where they are fastened to the Mercy Seat, and, facing each other, stretched out their wings so as to form a screen over the seat. Cherubim were also woven into or embroidered upon the inward curtain of the Tabernacle, and later the veil that opens into the Holy of Holies in theTempleproper.
Solomon instructed two Cherubim to be placed in the firstTemple. They were made of olive wood, overlaid with gold. They had bodies ten cubits high, and stood on their feet like men. Length of their wings was five cubits.
They are filled by participation in Divine Wisdom, and through them, lesser orders of angels receive knowledge and wisdom. Their name means, “Streams of Wisdom.”
Thrones – Lesser known group of angels, but as important. They are exempt from and untainted by any base and earthly things. Because of their high rank, they are worthy of fellowship with Jesus Christ and possess the highest knowledge that angels can have of the works of God. In fact, some say that the very essence of God’s Spirit is conveyed to and through these angels, who then pass on the message to men and/or lower classes of angels.
Thrones are known to be involved with justice in the heavens, and are some of the most powerful angels in service to God. Their primary function is to carry out or fulfill the divine justice of God. They have the ability to channel the energy and purpose of God and transmit that message to others. Because they retain such a high position and responsibility, they come closest of all angels to spiritual perfection.
Second Sphere– Dominions, Virtues, Powers
Dominions — Some sources refer to them as the Hashmallim. Their primary function that God delegates to them is the task of regulating the duties of lower angels. As their name implies these angels present order to the lower ranks and will on occasion make themselves known to man. They preside over nations. The Dominions are believed to look like divinely beautiful humans with a pair of feathered wings, much like the common representation of Angels, but they may be distinguished from other groups by wielding orbs of light fastened to the heads of their scepters or on the pommel of their swords. They are purified, illuminated and perfected by the divine Illuminations bestowed on them in a secondary manner through the first order of angels.
Virtues – Responsible for the maintenance of the physical universe. Their primary duty is to supervise the movements of the heavenly bodies in order to ensure that the cosmos remains in order. They possess great strength and appear to be “workhorses” of the angels.
Powers – Some sources list Powers as the bearers of conscience and the keepers of history. They sometimes serve as warrior angels, fiercely loyal to God. Some believe that no Power has ever fallen from grace, but another theory states that Satan was the Chief of the Powers before his fall. They work diligently to oversee the distribution of power among humankind, hence their name.
Third Sphere – Principalities, Archangels, Angels
Principalities – We usually see these entities wearing a crown and carrying a scepter. Their duty also is to carry out the orders given to them by the Dominions and grant blessings to the material world. They oversee groups of people. As beings related to the world of the ideas, they inspire living things to many branches of knowledge such art and/or science.
Archangels – We know Archangels from the Bible, but we don’t know as much as we may think. We usually associate these “chief” angels as the great heralds of good news, announcing the great and most glorious. According to Dionysius the Areopagite, their principle service consists in revealing prophecies, knowledge, and understanding of God’s will, which they receive from the higher orders of angels and announce to the lower order ( the angels), and through them, to men. St. Gregory says that the Archangels “strengthen people in the holy faith, enlightening their minds with the light of knowledge of the holy Gospel and revealing the mysteries of devout faith.”
Archangels govern affairs of the messengers of the various realms. Their presence on earth usually signals great change. They can take human form and can cause occurrences or change the tide of events for/on behalf of humanity. They are perhaps the most confusing of the Angelic Orders in that we often use their rank for other angelic beings. In addition, they are among the few angelic beings mentioned specifically by name in the New Testament (See Jude 1:9 where the Archangel Michael contends with Satan over the body of Moses). Gabriel, although not specifically named anArchangelin the Scriptures, is generally regarded as such in Christian thought.
Angels – Messengers that commune with various life forms within the physical worlds. This Order includes guardian angels of mankind, and as such, are the most accessible angels to humans. They are more properly named angels by humans than those of higher rank because their Order is more directly in contact with humans.
We see them as spirit beings that exist to fulfill the tasks given to them by God. As their name suggests, they are chiefly messengers of God and/or higher Orders of angels. In Muslim tradition, two angels are assigned to each person at birth. One angel records the person’s good deeds while the second records bad deeds.
In Psalms, we learn the concept of “guardian angels”:
“For He shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.” Psalms 91: 11, 12.