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What is with the Angels in the Cherubic Hymn?

QUESTION:  The Catholic Melkites include in their liturgy a Cherubic Hymn where the Cherubim are called “many eyed” and the Seraphim are “six winged” and soaring on their “pinions”. Can you please take some time and explain some of the meaning?

ANSWER:

As for the Cherubic Hymn, the emphasis is that we enter into the angelic praise and glory to Almighty God. The Sanctus serves a similar purpose in the Roman Catholic liturgy: Holy, Holy, Holy. The more traditional Trisagion is found in our Good Friday Liturgy and is a component of the Divine Mercy Chaplet.

“We, who mystically represent the Cherubim, and chant the thrice-holy hymn to the life-giving Trinity, let us set aside the cares of life that we may receive the King of all, who comes invisibly escorted by the Divine Hosts.”

Holy God, Holy [and] Mighty, Holy [and] Immortal, have mercy on us.
Holy God, Holy [and] Mighty, Holy [and] Immortal, have mercy on us.
Holy God, Holy [and] Mighty, Holy [and] Immortal, have mercy on us.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, both now and ever and to the ages of ages. Amen.
Holy and Immortal, have mercy on us.

Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy and Immortal, have mercy on us.

While the gravity is with God and not the angels, the description of the angels is taken from Isaiah 6:1-3.

“In the year King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne, a with the train of his garment filling the temple. Seraphim were stationed above; each of them had six wings: with two they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they hovered. One cried out to the other: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts! All the earth is filled with his glory!’”

The references to wings and eyes are all symbolism. Seraphim are pictured with six wings and are associated with the purification that comes from fire. Cherubim are imaged as with four wings and many eyes or faces. They are understood as all seeing. Catholic tradition places seraphim at the first rank of the angelic hosts and cherubim at the second. St. John of the Cross writes that the seraphim covering its face with its wings symbolize “the darkness of the intellect in God’s presence.” He continues that the covering of the feet symbolizes “the blinding and quenching of the affections of the will because of God.” It thus constitutes humility of the creature before the Creator.

“With the two remaining wings they flew, indicating both the flight of hope toward things that are not possessed and the elevation above all earthly or heavenly possessions that are not God” (The Ascent of Mount Carmel, II, 6.5).

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