A reader recently asked about the “middle” division of angels. Perhaps that is something others wish to know too, so I may as well review the whole topic.
In icons, there are three divisions of angels, and each has three ranks of angel. All together form the nine choirs/orders of angels. Here they are, in descending rank:
First Choir/Order (Slavic лик/lik, plural лики/liki, Greek: τάγμα/tagma, plural τάγματα/tagmata):
Seraphim (Slavic: серафимы — Greek: σεραφὶμ); six wings
Cherubim (Slavic: херувимы — Greek χερουβὶμ); four wings
Thrones (Slavic: престолы — Greek θρόνοι); winged rings/wheels, with eyes in the wings.
Dominions (Slavic: господства — Greek κυριότητες)
Virtues (Slavic: силы — Greek δυνάμεις)
Powers (Slavic: власти — Greek ἐξουσίαι )
Principalities (Slavic: начальства (начала) — Greek ἀρχαὶ)
Archangels (архангелы — Greek ἀρχάγγελοι)
Angels (ангелы — Greek ἄγγελοι)
Here is an 18th century icon (showing some Western influence, as you may notice). It depicts various angelic appearances in the border images, and as the title in the text block tells us, the nine ranks of angels as the central image:
First, let’s dispose of the angelic appearances in the border, which include:
- The Appearance to Moses;
- The Vision of Daniel;
- Appearance of the Trinity to Abraham;
- Prophecy of Ezekiel;
- Appearance of Michael to Joshua Son of Nun (Isus Navin);
- Penalty of King David;
- Michael troubles the pool (of Siloam);
- Jacob Wrestles with the Angel;
- Miracle of the Archangel Michael at Khonae;
- Dispute over the body of Moses;
- Archangel Michael frees Peter from prison;
- The Angel appears to the women at the tomb of Jesus;
- The Angel leads a soul to Paradise;
- Archangel Michael appears to Pakhomios
- The saving of the Hebrew Youths from the Fire
- Archangel Michael blocks the path of Balaam.
That — along with the image of a church at the bottom — completes the “angelic” border images.
As you know from a previous posting, the large central image at the top is the Coronation of Mary — a type borrowed into Eastern Orthodox iconography from Roman Catholic art. The “triangle” halo on God the Father is also a Western borrowing.
Here are the central ranks of angels:
The symbols held by the various ranks of angels differ from example to example. In the icon above, we see that the “thrones” are depicted as normal angels, but holding a throne as their symbol (though in other icons, they are shown as winged wheels). The Seraphim hold their hands in an attitude of prayer and adoration. The Cherubim hold open books. The Dominions hold scepters The Virtues hold mirrors. The Powers hold spears/lances. The Principalities hold crowns. The Archangels hold scales. And the Angels hold souls in the form of infants.
The icon pattern below — titled “Image of the Holy Nine Ranks of Angels” is somewhat different:
Here the Seraphim are shown as six winged, the Cherubim as four winged, the Thrones are dressed as bishops, the Dominions hold censers and mirrors, the Virtues are depicted as warriors with swords, the Powers are crowned and hold scepters, the Principalities hold staffs, the archangels merely gesture, and the Angels hold scrolls and books.
In addition, the nine Archangels are shown again with their names in a ring around the central image of “Lord Sabaoth” (God the Father), Jesus, and the Holy Spirit as a dove, arranged in the “Fatherhood” (Paternity) icon type, called in Slavic Otechestvo.
In the icon below — ОБРАЗ ДЕВЯТИ ЧИНОВ АНГЕЛЬСКИХ/OBRAZ DEVYATI CHINOV ANGEL’SKIKH — “IMAGE OF THE NINE RANKS OF ANGELS” — with the Archangel Michael as the central image, we see the ranks arranged somewhat differently:
From top to bottom at left, we see Cherubim, Angels, Dominions, and Guardian Angels:
From top to bottom at right, we see Seraphim, Virtues, Thrones and Principalities:
At top center, we see the Archangels in the usual “Sobor” (Assembly/Council) form:
So we can see this icon has substituted “Guardian Angels” for the “Powers” Rank.
That is a brief summary for reference of the types and ranks of angels in Eastern Orthodox iconography.