Monday, October 03, 2022

Bulgakov on the Holy Guardian Angels

In this type of icon the guardian angel is shown holding and protecting the soul in his care

October 2 is the feast of the Holy Guardian Angels, although this year (in 2022) it was supplanted by the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost (or, in some places, the external solemnity of Our Lady of the Rosary). Each year I feel, more strongly than before, that we must turn our minds and hearts to our angel guardians and rekindle a warm devotion to these resplendent companions on our journey, persons to whom the Lord entrusts us from our conception onward, into, we hope, a joyous eternity of friendship. Indeed, we should consider consecrating ourselves to our guardian angels, as I explain here.

Readers of my recent work at NLM will be aware that I have a bit of a fascination with Sergius Bulgakov’s Spiritual Diary, recently translated into English for the first time and published by Angelico Press. Apart from a few stray anti-Roman comments, I found it a nourishing book to read, with many profound spiritual insights and (at times harrowing) accounts of the author’s spiritual struggles, which he seems to have “worked out” for himself through immersion in liturgical prayer—something I find entirely relatable and believable, as it has been my experience too over time.

I was particularly struck, reading it, at how often and how movingly Bulgakov’s mind turns to his guardian angel or to the angels in general. I have gathered the finest of these passages here for the reader’s edification.

The icons reflect a few of the different types that exist in the Byzantine tradition. It is rather difficult to find good images of guardian angels in Western art.


Lord, here I begin a new day of your grace, a new page of life. Help me so that the day may not remain barren on account of my laziness, as has been true of most days of my life, and that it may not be covered over by my vile sins, both voluntary and involuntary, committed in knowledge and in ignorance,55 but grant that this day may be marked by even the smallest bit of service to You. Guard me and my dear friends through your holy angels on this day, shield them from every evil, grant it to all of them this day to fulfill Your will so that You may not repent, all-blessed Lord, that You gave us, unworthy as we are, this day of our life [cf. Gen. 6:6]. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. (82)

In this type of icon the guardian angel is shown with a cross in one hand and a sword in the other


We pray and appeal to our guardian angel. He is our friend, given to us by God, yet how faintly and weakly does our heart sense this friend, how little it gives thanks and how little it loves! If only our eyes could be opened, then we would constantly see him, the “guardian of our souls and bodies.” We would comprehend that, in those situations when—by some sort of confluence of circumstances—we were unexpectedly saved from deadly troubles or misfortunes, it was he who saved us, our luminous guardian. And when some good word or thought came into our hearts, it was he, our friend, who implanted this thought in us. Our entire life would appear to us not so lonely and gloomy as we see it, but as a life of two, a life with a loving, solicitous friend. Yes, our guardian angel has been appointed to us by God, but he is no superintendent; rather, he is a friend, he loves us, we are loved by him. And this is why, according to the Church’s pious belief, our angel “weeps” when we sin or perish, and he fights for us and with us (but only in the spiritual world) against the spirits who tempt us.


How can we open our hearts to our guardian angel, how can we come closer to him? By praying to him, thinking about him, reaching for him, by attending inwardly to that barely audible whisper that resounds in our hearts at the time of prayer and after it, in those blessed hours when prayer envelops us. For he is our “kind guide,” he guides us with open eyes while we walk blindly, for we do not know the world of spiritual beings that surrounds us, we do not know the beginning and the end of the path. Be attentive then and hearken to the secret whisper of your soul, for that is the voice of your guardian angel. (91)

Ask of God faith and patience. Ask of God a guardian angel for our souls and bodies. Know that without his help and protection we would be torn to pieces in body and soul by demons: the insanity of demoniacs and of Soviet rule is only a partial example of what demons wish to do to us due to their hatred of God, their hatred of God’s creation, their hatred of man. Before us would be revealed a world of dark powers (which we in our frivolity at times recklessly try to catch a glimpse of), all possible ailments would assault us, we would not last even one hour if we did not have an angel of peace, a faithful guide, a guardian of our souls and bodies. For the Apostle says that the devil, like a roaring beast, seeks whom he may devour [1 Pet. 5:8]. And can we really stand before him on our own strength without the constant protection of our guardian angel? (97)

In this type of icon the angel is shown holding the hand of and guiding his charge


Holy guardian angel, pray to God for us! What joy, what cheer, what comfort it is to know that we have a guardian angel, a true and buoyant and good friend, and that we may call upon him in prayer. Immediately after praying the canon to one’s guardian angel, there is such a freshness and clarity in the soul, as if he—a true guide and friend—had brushed me with his wing, as if my soul had drunk from the cup of celestial beings. And somehow, my soul joyfully knows and believes that it is he, yes, he, that is with me and with all of us. What immeasurable joy there will be when our eyes are opened and we see the entirety of our life, and, through it all, our faithful companion, preserving us and our sweet loved ones from plunder, from being torn apart, from evil demons and from those who serve them; what immeasurable joy there will be when we discover this love for us (which we have done absolutely nothing—besides being neglectful—to merit) and discover this prayer that is uttered for us, together with the angelic doxology, before the throne of the Most High. (116)


Holy guardian angel, pray to God for us. What comfort and strength we find in prayer to our guardian angel, to our friend who is always close and who belongs to us. We must at least once in our life see our guardian-friend, we must find him in prayer so that we may carry in our hearts the joy and hope he brings. What fear, but also what great joy, await us when we will come to know him face to face, to see him after we cross the threshold of this earthly life, when we depart from the flesh. How great a teacher and guide in this life we have in him, who knows our life, who has lived all of it with us, who has wept over our falling and rejoiced in our rising again. He knows how to teach us the first lessons we need for the new life that awaits us after the grave. Oh, we shall not be alone there, we shall not be abandoned. For no human friendship—not even the loftiest and most tender—can compare with this spiritual friendship: disinterested, not disdainful of our foulness and stubbornness, but conquering all things through love. Even here he is with us, he stands behind us, covering us with his wings. Holy angel, our guardian appointed by the Lord, pray to God for us! (119)

Western depictions, where they exist, tend to be of the last sort

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