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St. Raphael Archangel

St. Raphael Archangel by Lewis Williams, OFS

Artist's Narrative:

Raphael, one of the seven angels that “stand before the Lord,” and with Michael and Gabriel, are the only three Archangels mentioned by name in the bible. Raphael is mentioned by name in only one Book, but the Book of Tobit describes a great story. He appears disguised in human form as an unexpected traveling companion of young Tobias, who, at the request of his blind father Tobit, journeys to collect a debt. In his role as Azarias, Raphael protects the youth through many hazards, including binding the demon Asmodeus. This demon had killed the seven previous husbands of Sarah, each on their wedding night. Tobias weds her safely and returns, with the debt, to his father. At the request of ‘Azarias’, Tobias uses a liniment made from a fish to cure the blindness of his father, and Raphael is revealed as the healing angel. Raphael’s name means, “God has healed.” He is known as the angel of medicine, science and knowledge, and the most sociable of all archangels.

In his role as Patron of Travelers, Raphael is seen in this icon as a special protector of those who travel by air, and those who work in the troubled airline industry. In the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the airline industry has been reeling in financial woes as many individuals refuse to fly. The memories of that day are vivid in the minds of many who do fly, making travel a fearful endeavor.

In this image, the circles of a mandala surround Raphael. In an icon, a mandala is evidence of the space between heaven and earth. Raphael enters into our earthly realm, offering his strength and support to protect those who fly. He offers reassurance in a time of terror, that we who journey, and those who labor for safe travel, are not alone, and faith, as with Tobias, is a liniment that heals.

His feast day is October 24.

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The name of this archangel (Raphael = "God has healed") does not appear in the Hebrew Scriptures, and in the Septuagint only in the Book of Tobias. Here he first appears disguised in human form as the travelling companion of the younger Tobias, calling himself "Azarias the son of the great Ananias". The story of the adventurous journey during which the protective influence of the angel is shown in many ways including the binding "in the desert of upper Egypt" of the demon who had previously slain seven husbands of Sara, daughter of Raguel, is picturesquely related in Tobit 5-11, to which the reader is referred. After the return and the healing of the blindness of the elder Tobias, Azarias makes himself known as "the angel Raphael, one of the seven, who stand before the Lord" (Tobit 12:15. Cf. Revelation 8:2). Of these seven "archangels" which appear in the angelology of post-Exilic Judaism, only three, Gabriel, Michael and Raphael, are mentioned in the canonical Scriptures. The others, according to the Book of Enoch (cf. xxi) are Uriel, Raguel, Sariel, and Jerahmeel, while from other apocryphal sources we get the variant names Izidkiel, Hanael, and Kepharel instead of the last three in the other list.

Regarding the functions attributed to Raphael we have little more than his declaration to Tobias (Tobit 12) that when the latter was occupied in his works of mercy and charity, he (Raphael) offered his prayer to the Lord, that he was sent by the Lord to heal him of his blindness and to deliver Sara, his son's wife, from the devil. The Jewish category of the archangels is recognized in the New Testament (1 Thessalonians 4:15; Jude 9), but only Gabriel and Michael are mentioned by name. Many commentators, however, identify Raphael with the "angel of the Lord" mentioned in John 5. This conjecture is based both on the significance of the name and on the healing role attributed to Raphael in the Book of Tobias. The Church assigns the feast of St. Raphael to 24 October. The hymns of the Office recall the healing power of the archangel and his victory over the demon. The lessons of the first Nocturn and the Antiphons of the entire Office are taken from the Book of Tobias, and the lessons of the second and third Nocturns from the works of St. Augustine, viz. for the second Nocturn a sermon on Tobias (sermon I on the fifteenth Sunday), and for the third, a homily on the opening verse of John 5. The Epistle of the Mass is taken from the twelfth chapter of Tobias, and the Gospel from John 5:1-4, referring to the pool called Probatica, where the multitude of the infirm lay awaiting the moving of the water, for "an angel of the Lord descended at certain times into the pond; and the water was moved. And he that went down first into the pond after the motion of the water was made whole of whatsoever infirmity he lay under". Thus the conjecture of the commentators referred to above is confirmed by the official Liturgy of the Church.