Archangels are the highest degree of the angelic realm, and there are only four. Archangels are the chief angels, and they are Michael, Gabriel, Raphael and Uriel. There is a hierarchy in the angelic realm, and the archangels are at the top, the generals over the ranks. And among these four, Michael is the top gun, the chief of chiefs.

Each of the four archangels has a specific mission as well. Michael, whose very name means “who is like God,” is the great warrior, the defender of the good, protector and one to call upon for defense against evil. In fact in exorcisms, Michael has traditionally been called upon for help in freeing a person in spiritual bondage from the evil spirits. He appears in scripture, and in art, sword in hand, battling Satan himself. Stories from the Hebrew scriptures show Michael engaged in global geopolitics, battling demonic spirits who have strongholds of power and try to cause evil in the affairs of nations. In one account, Michael appears to Daniel of the ancient scriptures, and tells him he was dispatched to answer his prayers immediately, but he had been delayed by a battle with the prince of Persia. Powers seen and unseen are the territory of Michael. In some mystical traditions, it is even suggested that Michael actually gave up his angelic form to come to earth as God’s son. Controversial? Yes. But it is a legend of Michael.

Raphael’s special mission is healing. The most graphic story of Raphael is found in the book of Tobit in the Hebrew scriptures. There, appearing as a man and not revealing his true identity until the end of the story, Raphael journeys with Tobiah, son of Tobit, and assists him in a family mission as well as in the healing of his father’s blindness. He performs other healings along the way, and even teaches what seems to be some holistic healing methods, such as the marvelous uses of different parts of a fish — from the burning of the fish’s heart and liver being used as an incense to drive away evil spirits, to a salve made out of the fish’s gall to cure blindness caused by cataracts. Only at the end of the journey, having helped and healed this family in need, does Raphael reveal who he truly is — a mighty angel of the Lord. An archangel. Raphael says he is “one of seven angels who enter and serve before the Glory of the Lord.” Though he mentions seven angels, these are not all archangels. The name Raphael means, “God will heal.” According to Jewish tradition, Raphael is also one of the three angels who appeared to Abraham.

Gabriel appears in many places in scripture and is the announcing angel. Gabriel is the one commissioned to announce major historical events. The most well known of these is Gabriel’s role in revealing to Mary of Nazareth that she will become pregnant and bear the son of God. This is depicted in art over and over and even has a feast day named for the event, “The Annunciation.” Gabriel appeared to Joseph to guide him in the matter of Mary’s pregnancy, he warned Joseph when they needed to flee to Egypt, and he announced the birth of the messiah in other ways. He also announced the pregnancy of Elizabeth, wife of Zechariah, in old age to her disbelieving husband while he was serving his turn in priestly duties at the temple, burning incense. Zechariah was struck dumb for the duration of the pregnancy as punishment for, well, “dissing” Gabriel with laughter at the suggestion his wife who was beyond child-bearing age and had never borne a child, would now do so. Not only that, but this child would be the one who “made way” for Jesus with his preaching . . . he would be John the Baptist.

Gabriel also appeared at other crucial events recorded in biblical history, such as the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, where he warned Lot and his family of the impending destruction, and instructed them on how to escape. And Gabriel is believed to be the announcing angel at the end of time as well. The name Gabriel means, “strength of God.” He seems to have a short fuse, if disrespected. His announcements are to be taken seriously!

Uriel is the low-key archangel. Not a lot is known beyond his name. It is said Uriel is the angel of comfort, one who comforts in times of great loss. His name means, “Fire of God,” and he is not actually mentioned by name in the sacred scriptures of any of the religions of the book. His inclusion as an archangel is from tradition and stories outside of religious canons of scripture. He is mentioned in the Book of Enoch, an apocryphal book. (or considered important, but not part of scripture) as the angle who warned Noah of the impending end of the earth by flood. In fact the Book of Enoch has much to say about angels.

The existence of archangels and their appearances in faith history occur in the sacred writings of all three of the great monotheistic world religions — Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. This is a very striking incidence of common ground. For all the differences, your find the archangels present in the belief system, the stories of faith.

It’s also worth noting what the archangels are not: They are not, for instance, guardian angels. In fact the concept of individually assigned guardian angels is more in the category of folklore than anything that has ever been noted in sacred writings. The legions of angels that exist, watch and learn, but seldom intervene in the affairs of humans unless commanded to do so, unless given permission to do so. Archangels, if we think of them like generals, are directing and commanding lower echelons of angels, and get directly involved only in extraordinary circumstances — such as appearing to Mary of Nazareth on the cusp of a world changing event.

Archangels are not trivial, as many internet sites might suggest. They are not channeled. They don’t avail themselves to occult practitioners, quite the opposite. They are the most powerful of angels, and they serve at the pleasure of God. And there are not many archangels as some internet sites would suggest either. There are four, as there are four directions. The number itself is significant.

Archangels are not “saints,” as in “St. Michael.” That is a popular title but completely erroneous. They are angels, not humans, and “saint” is a designation man gives to some people they consider particularly holy. Angels are another form of created being, and those faithful angels (as opposed to fallen angels) are pure and holy — period.

Many people believe they have encountered angels and indeed they may. And a few have encountered archangels.

Of the four archangels, Michael especially has inspired artists through the centuries. Below is a slide show with samples of some of the many depictions of Michael. He is most often shown with one foot on the serpent, or dragon, in imminent victory over Satan. Michael has his own prayer, for protection from evil, which appears in the slide show as well.

Author's Bio: 

MaryEllen O'Brien, M.A. is a freelance writer, professional clairvoyant, energy healer and spiritual teacher. Among the types of readings she does are Angel Readings where she receives communication from the angelic realm.