Mother Alexandra (Princess Ileana of Romania)
Light and Life Publishing Company, Minneapolis, 1987
"It was early morning, when I was seven years old, that I saw the angels. I am as sure of it now as I was then . . . . This, my own experience, stands both at the beginning and the end of this book . . . .The Angels have a stupendous reality. Their activity among us has become to me a vital, positive reality."
Mother Alexandra was born in 1909 in Bucharest, Romania, the youngest daughter of King Ferdinand and Queen Marie and was christened Ileana. She lived through the harrowing events of World War I and, being a perceptive child, fully comprehended the suffering which surrounded her and early learned to follow her mother in works of charity.
At 22 she married Archduke Anton of Austria and lived in Sonnberg, Austria, giving birth to six children, two born during the second war. In March 1944, wishing to get away from the Nazi oppression, she moved the children to Romania. Here, at the foot of her castle of Bran, she built a hospital in the memory of her mother, Queen Marie. She devoted herself to the care of the war-wounded and lovingly served the surrounding population. Subsisting and still working at the hospital, it was here she witnessed the end of the war and the Communist takeover in August 1944.
Then began the sad exile's life, the "D.P." no one wanted. She and her family went first to Switzerland, then Argentina, and finally, obtaining scholarships for most of the children, they settled in Newton, Massachusetts. Their needs were met by the sale of jewelry and Mother Alexandra's extensive lecture tours. When all the children were either married or had found sufficient employment, she fulfilled her great desire to devote her life entirely to God and became a nun. She is now abbess of the Orthodox Monastery of the Transfiguration in Ellwood City, Pennsylvania.
It was early morning, when I was seven years old, that I saw the angels. I am as sure of it now as I was then. I was not dreaming nor "seeing things"—I just know they were there, plainly, clearly, distinctly. I was neither astonished nor afraid. I was not even awed—I was only terribly pleased. I wanted to talk to them and touch them.
Our night nursery was lit by the dawn and I saw a group of angels standing, as if chatting, around my young brother's bed. I was aware of this, although I could not hear their voices. They wore long flowing gowns of various soft-shaded colors. Their hair came to their shoulders, and different in color from fair and reddish to dark brown. They had no wings. At the foot of my brother Mircea's bed stood one heavenly being, a little aside from the others—taller he was, and extraordinarily beautiful, with great white wings. In his right hand he carried a lighted taper; he did not seem to belong to the group of angels gathered around the bed. He clearly stood apart and on watch. I knew him to be the guardian angel. I then became aware that at the foot of my own bed stood a similar celestial creature. He was tall, his robe was dark blue with wide, loose sleeves. His hair was auburn, his face oval, and his beauty such as I cannot describe because it was comparable to nothing human. His wings swept high and out behind him. One hand was lifted to his breast, while in the other he carried a lighted taper. His smile can only be described as angelic; love, kindness, understanding, and assurance flowed from him. Delighted, I crawled from under the bedcovers and, kneeling up against the end of the bed, I stretched out my hand with the ardent wish to touch my smiling guardian, but he took a step back, put out a warning hand, and gently shook his head. I was so close to him I could have reached him easily. "Oh, please don't go," I cried; at which words all the other angels looked toward me, and it seemed I heard a silvery laugh, but of this sound I am not so certain, though I know they laughed. Then they vanished.
I was but a child when I saw my guardian angel. As time passed I still sporadically remembered and acknowledged his presence, but mostly, I ignored him. Paradoxically, it was evil and distress that brought me up short and cleared my vision.
Perhaps due to all I had witnessed and undergone in the War and under Communist occupation, I was, in the following years, plagued by demonic nightmares. My only salvation while in these dreams was to make the Sign of the Cross. I have always known that I was asleep; it was a conscious dreaming—but to drag myself out of sleep into wakefulness was torture.
One day, in looking through a collection of old icons, I came across one done in three panels representing the guardian angel; in the middle panel, he is defending his sleeping charge from bad dreams. Later, when plagued once more by one of my most fearsome of nightmares, upon wakening I suddenly remembered the icon, and with overpowering clarity I recollected that as a child I had seen my guardian angel.
With utmost certainty, at that instant, I turned to my guardian angel as I had not done since my childhood; and I knew positively as I did when I saw him, that he was standing by me to protect me. Reassured and at peace, I fell back into deep, restful sleep.
This, my own experience, stands both at the beginning and at the end of this book, for without it I would probably never have started upon my study. Also, without all I have studied this experience would have remained simply a remarkable experience (at least to myself), but unexplained and meaningless. Today, for me, it has a very real and uplifting significance and the angels have taken on a stupendous reality. Their activity among us has become to me a vital, positive reality. I no longer seek to see them, the knowledge of their presence is enough. To try to have a vision of angels or to hope or ask for such a thing is wrong. To seek intimacy with them by any other means than the grace of God is useless; Christ is our only way of union with the Father and with all his creatures.
Angels are pure spirit, but they do not necessarily lack a consistency, the nature of which is beyond our ken. When we see them we behold a reality. It would perhaps be wrong to call such an experience a "vision," if we mean by the word vision a trancelike state, and not simply a faculty of sight. What we see on such occasions, we perceive quite effortlessly, all in knowing that materially speaking there is nothing there to see. According to the records in the Scriptures, and also from the testimony of the saints, the emotion is described as one of joy and wonderment, sometimes fear, in which the mind remains perfectly clear and judgment is unimpaired. St. Simeon says that "those who are worthy . . . perceive, both by the senses and by intellect, that which is altogether above both sense and intellect."1 St. Joan of Arc said in her trial that she grasped her vision of St. Catherine and St. Michael around the knees, but when asked what she held in her embrace she was unable to explain. I do not believe that the angels materialize in the physical sense of the word, yet they do have a spiritual concreteness. They are not transparent like ghosts, but appear to those who see them as completely substantial.
Our guardian angel is believed to be the spiritual image of all our true and good qualities; this renders him intensely personal and our very own specific angel. He is, accordingly, nearer or further from us, as we are nearer or farther from our true nature.
Even as our good characteristics are given us by God so is our angel given to us, to protect and foster these traits, until we grow into the full maturity of our God-given and God-like nature. He is indeed our guardian and our mentor, and beholds the face of God. He is incorruptible and always with us, but he may not always be able to reach us, because of our willful perversity. The evil angel, or demon, on the other hand, can only approach us as far as our bad qualities, or rather our indulgence in them, makes him our shadow. He too, upon occasion, can be seen or felt by the perceptive. But when I speak of him as a shadow I do not mean to imply that the Devil has no reality, for only those who have never resisted temptation, who, in other words, have not stood up to Satan, could doubt his existence, for they have not had occasion to feel his strength. It is just this experience of the tremendous power of temptation that confirms my belief in the fallen angel.
The holy angels are immortal by the grace of God. They have a positive and dynamic selfness and existence independent of all else except God. They are far from will-less, but their will is completely attuned to God's will, because of their utter love and adoration of the Lord. The misery of time is unknown to them.
To worship the angels, in the heathen sense, is definitely wrong and forbidden by the Scriptures and the Church, but to pray for their help and to reverence them is quite Scriptural. Prayer is the great bond of unity, the welding substance by which all God's creation stands as one before him.
The holy angels of God guard us, shepherd us, lead us, tending us when we fall, cheering us upon our way. Our personal angel and also the guardians of our different nations, mingle their prayers with ours, carrying them to God on High, until we shall all stand before the Throne of God and know even as we are known (1 Cor. 13:12).
It is meet, right, and our bounden duty, that we should at all times, and in all places, give thanks unto thee, O Lord, Holy Father, Almighty Everlasting God.
Who, in the multitude of thy Saints, has compassed us about with so great a cloud of witnesses that we, rejoicing in their fellowship, may run with patience the race that is set before us, and, together with them, may receive the crown of glory that fadeth not away.
Therefore with Angels and Archangels, and with all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify thy glorious Name; evermore praising thee, and saying,
HOLY, HOLY, HOLY, LORD GOD OF HOSTS,
1Works of St. Simeon, Part II. Smyrna ed., 1886, p. 1.