The name Gabriel comes from the Hebrew meaning "Man of God." It has alternately been translated "God is mighty" or "the strength/power of God." The Prologue from Ohrid explains his name this way: "Man-God. The Holy Fathers, in speaking about the Annunciation, interpret that an archangel with such a name was sent to signify who and what He would be like, who must be born of the All-Pure One. Therefore, He will be Man-God, mighty and powerful God."
Gabriel and Michael are the archangels who figure most prominently in the Bible, though it could be argued that Gabriel's role is the better developed. In the Old Testament, he is only mentioned by name in two visions of the Prophet Daniel (see Daniel 8 and 9). Here he explains to Daniel the future of Israel. Holy Tradition also credits Gabriel with inspiring the Prophet Moses to write either Genesis or the entire Pentateuch. Later Jewish Rabbinical literature states that he was the angel who taught Joseph the 70 languages needed to rule in Egypt, but this is not in the Genesis account.
The reason why Gabriel is most celebrated, though, is his role in the Annunciation and other events in New Testament times attributed to him by Tradition (although his name may not be mentioned explicitly in the text). Starting in Luke 1, Gabriel first appears to Zachariah, the father of John the Baptist. Zachariah initially refuses to believe that his barren wife, Elizabeth, and he will have a child in their old age. This is the moment in which Gabriel says, "I am Gabriel. I stand before God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this this good news" (Luke 1:19)1. He then strikes Zachariah mute until the birth of his son because of his disbelief.
Often Gabriel is also recognized as the angel who announced the birth of the Theotokos to her parents Joachim and Anna and who came to Joseph the Betrothed in a dream, telling him that Mary's pregnancy was indeed miraculous and that he should protect and care for her. He then appeared to the shepherds near Bethlehem, telling them of the Nativity. Thus he was the key figure in revealing to humanity the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also announce the Second Coming of the Lord by blowing a trumpet.
Finally, Gabriel was present during the Passion and Resurrection of the Lord. He is identified as the mysterious "young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment ... following Jesus" who fled naked after he was seized during Christ's arrest in Gethsemene (Mark 14:51-2)1. Most importantly, it was Gabriel who announced Christ's Resurrection to the Myrrh-bearing Women outside the tomb.
Gabriel in Iconography
Because the Angels are incorporeal beings, though they nevertheless take on human form when appearing to mankind, it can be difficult to differentiate one from another in icons.
However, Gabriel is usually portrayed with certain distinguishing characteristics. He typically wears blue or white garments; he holds either a lily (representing the Theotokos), a trumpet, a shining lantern, a branch from Paradise presented to him by the Theotokos, or a spear in his right hand and often a mirror—made of jasper and with a Χ (the first letter of Christ (Χριστος) in Greek)—in his left hand.
He should not be confused with the Archangel Michael, who carries a sword, shield, date-tree branch, and in the other hand a spear, white banner (possibly with scarlet cross) and tends to wear red. Michael's specific mission is to suppress enemies of the true Church (hence the military theme), while Gabriel's is to announce mankind's salvation.
Troparion (Tone 4)
- Gabriel, commander of the heavenly hosts,
- we who are unworthy beseech you,
- by your prayers encompass us beneath the wings of your immaterial glory,
- and faithfully preserve us who fall down and cry to you:
- "Deliver us from all harm, for you are the commander of the powers on high!"
Kontakion (Tone 8)
- Supreme commander Gabriel,
- you are the glorious intercessor and servant
- before the all-radiant, worthy, all-powerful, infinite and awesome Trinity.
- Ever pray now that we may be delivered from all tribulations and torments,
- so that we may cry out to you:
- "Rejoice, protection of your servants!"
- Prologue from Ohrid
- Synaxis of the Archangel Gabriel (OCA)
- Synaxis in honor of the Archangel Gabriel and Synaxis of Archangel Gabriel (GOARCH)
- Gabriel the Archangel (Roman Catholic)
- Information, Pictures, and Links regarding Archangel Gabriel (non-denominational collection)
- Archangel Gabriel on Wikipedia
- Archangel Gabriel from "Sarah's Archangels" (non-denominational)
- Smiljka Gabelić. "The Archangelos Xorinos, or the Banisher." Dumbarton Oaks Papers. Vol. 50 (1996), pp.345-360.
- 1 Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.