• Archangel

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    ARCHANGEL

    So what comes to your mind when the word Archangel
    Is spoken? We probably think of an angel with great power
    And highest rank in God’s Kingdom – a leader of the
    Lord’s armies. Most of us know the Archangel Michael,
    Who in Revelations 12:7-12 conquers another Archangel
    – Lucifer, The Son of the Morning. His sword held high,
    with his foot on the beast.

    archangel

    There are other Archangels – Gabriel and Raphael are
    the most mentioned in the Scriptures, but Michael
    is the most prominent – many believe that he is the chosen
    one who heralds the return of the Savior.

    But there is another Archangel. This one has been attacked
    many times over the centuries, spends a lot of each year
    in semi-darkness, is bound by ice five months at a time, and has been leveled many times only to rise again from its ashes.
    It is the city of Archangel in Far Northern Russia, on the
    Barents Sea, just south of the Arctic Circle.

    In the 12th century a group of Russian Orthodox Monks
    trudged North from Novorsok (an area east of Moscow)
    and founded a Monastery at the mouth of the Dina River
    where it flows North into the Ocean. If you hiked North from
    the city onto the ice you would cross between Spitzenbergen
    and Franz Joseph Land (both ice covered, Franz Joseph
    with 191 islands and a total population of 9), touch the North
    Pole, then head south, eventually being greeted by Eskimos
    and Oil Workers on North Slope of Alaska.

    The Monks, knowing that they would need all of the
    help they could get, named their Monastery after Michael
    the Archangel – The trusted one of God – and the name
    of the settlement and eventual city became Archangel.

    And help they did need, first the Norwegians, then the Finns, then other Russians came calling with axes, swords and all other manner of weapons time and time again. Eventually Peter The Great pried St. Petersburg away from Sweden. and Archangel was confined in trade only to what they could use themselves, reducing the population to near zero.

    During World War Two, when St. Petersburg was in the
    Hands of the Germans, most of the Allied Aid came through Archangel. Lenin and then Stalin with efficient ruthlessness almost eliminated the population of the city, perhaps because the residents strongly supported the White Guard over the Bolsheviks (Reds) during the Russian Revolution. They also destroyed the Monastery and any other churches in the area.
    Its still a grim city to this day – surrounded by snow and ice much of the year and endless white birch trees.

    Archangel 2

    Anyway, enough background. Our little Christmas story is located in Archangel in the middle 1800’s – a long time ago – the Romanov Czar reigned on his throne over all of Russia. Michael had always had a special spot in his heart for the city that carried his name, and looked in from time to time to see if he could be of help.

    The central character in our tale is a ten-year-old girl named Lara – beautiful, with unusual blond hair, blue eyes and high
    cheekbones – maybe from a long ago Swedish Conqueror
    – similar to the Lara in Dr. Zivago. The time is just before
    Christmas, the winter solstice, darkest day of the year.
    The sun does not shine on that day this far north, just
    gray twilight with and the northern lights to streak the sky.

    It was now just six months since her mother had died, and her father spent all his time drinking. Their cabin was out of town, a dacha that her father had broken into – on a little lake set back in the thick birch trees. Each day he sent Lara out to beg or steal food so they could survive. She could hear the wolves calling at night and some animal had left deep claw marks on their wooden door.

    Archangel 3

    Lara was especially afraid of the wolves. She had heard the rumor of a family that was out in their Troika (Three Horse Sleigh) that was beset by wolves on the ice. The horses galloped furiously but the wolves surrounded them, trying to bring them down. People in the town said they finally tossed the youngest child (Lara’s age) from the sled and escaped as the wolves fell upon her. Everyone said it was just a rumor and that she probably just fell, but Lara shivered at the thought.

    Lara was thin, more like a rag doll, with a coat full of holes, an old gray scarf, no socks, and shoes too large, stuffed with bark – a small gold cross on a thin chain around her neck – given to her from her mother on here eighth birthday. Her appearance made people pity her and give her something, but also shy away, not wanting their guilt to last as they passed her by. She often thought about her mother, tears trickling and then freezing on her cheeks. An old song kept ringing in her ears:

    “Bring me back my Momma, on this Christmas Day
    For I’ve been so lonely since the Angels took her away.

    You can give the other Girls, my dolls and candy too,
    But bring me back my mama, that’s all I ask of you.”

    She wondered what would finally happen to her, if they
    ran completely out of food, or firewood to keep warm.
    Would death be better, with plenty to eat, and a warm?
    hearth as the Church promised? All she had been able
    to steal that day were two candles. She sagged against a
    building, her feet and hands tingling with frost. Please God,
    she whispered, please help me and my Dad.

    God does hear all prayers, but this one he turned over to Michael. Michael wanted to jump right in and provide everything Lara needed to get through the winter. But the Lord reminded him that much of this life involved trials and that we were made stronger by undergoing them.

    Michael wasn’t sure that he completely believed that,
    especially for those that were right on the edge of
    death and despair, so he decided to look in every day
    on Lara and see how she was doing.

    Christmas Morning came and Lara’s father told her to go
    into town and beg, that people would be more generous
    on this day. He told her to go by the Monastery to see if
    the Monks would give her food. It was bitter cold with a
    wind off the Sea Ice, but she did as she was ask and began
    wading through the snow the half-mile to the main road that led into town.

    Only one other set of footprints were in the snow and she
    tried to match the steps. Then she heard a sound, and at
    first thinking it was just the tree limbs crackling with frost.
    She was more than halfway from the cabin to the road
    anyway. Then she heard the noise again – behind and to
    the side. Turning quickly she thought she caught a quick
    glance in the gloom of something grey in the trees.
    The next noise was to her right and just a bit ahead.
    Lara was frightened, the wolf story fresh in her mind. Then she
    saw them, three on each side of her. Heads down, eyes alert,
    mouths open, getting closer. As terrified as she was, she wondered if she was going to be the Wolves’ Christmas Present.

    archangel 4

    Her hands were too cold to try to climb a tree and she had nothing to defend herself, so she kept trudging though the snow. She heard the whispering of feet behind her and quickly turned to see the largest wolf just 10 yards behind, crouching, getting ready to spring. As she started to run, losing one of her shoes, she thought her last thoughts – that except for the pain of the attack, she hoped she would soon be with her mother.

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    As the wolves closed in to render her body, Lara clutched her cross and knelt in the snow – praying. Michael had seen enough. Nothing this little girl can experience from now on will make her stronger or a better saint. And with an oath he came between Lara and the wolves in all his might and glory – his sword raised high. The wolves were unimpressed and were gratified that their meal would be even larger. Then Michael smiled and with a terrible cry moved among them with the speed given only to an Archangel. Since it was Christmas he didn’t slay them, only using the flat hard side of his sword to drive them off.

    Then he turned to Lara, putting his robe around her.
    “Would you like to see your mother again?” he said. She
    nodded, fearful tears still in her eyes. And with that, the
    Archangel Michael took her in his arms, and for now bade
    farewell to the city that bears his name – gently taking Lara
    from this earth to heaven – and into the waiting arms of her mother.

    December 2012

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