St. Michael: Defender of the Faithful — and Sochi!

A medal carrying the name and image of Michael the Archangel. (CNS photo/Nancy Phelan Wiechec)
A medal carrying the name and image of Michael the Archangel. (CNS photo/Nancy Phelan Wiechec)
The Winter Olympics Games put a spotlight on Sochi, Russia, as the host city. The media has largely focused on the venues of events, unfinished hotels, and one athlete using his strength to escape a bathroom in the Olympic Village. If you take a closer look at the city of Sochi itself, you will make the unique discovery of the presence of a particular saint — St. Michael the Archangel.

There are two landmarks carrying the image of Michael, most notably the Cathedral of St. Michael the Archangel. It’s the oldest Orthodox church in Sochi and was restored at the beginning of the post-Soviet era in the 1990s. (Sochi’s Wikipedia page identifies Michael as the Patron Saint of Sochi.) Another attraction devoted to St. Michael is an Archangel Column built in memory of Russian soldiers who died in Sochi during the Caucasian War. A bronze statue of Michael the Archangel stands at the top of the column.

St. Michael is traditionally regarded as the defender of the faithful and safeguard and protector from forces of evil. Michael is mentioned throughout scripture and his title as “archangel” is often considered what places him above the other angels and celestial beings. Similarly, the traditional Catholic prayer of Michael identifies him as the “Prince of the heavenly hosts.”

I have repeatedly encountered Michael on my journey of faith, as Michael is my middle name, and he is my patron saint. As a child, the image of a protecting angel always at my side was comforting. My adult language can now identify Michael as the personification of the unyielding protection of our loving God. Michael is a reminder of God as an intimate presence and powerful shelter.

What an appropriate saint for reflection during an experience like the Olympics. Michael is often regarded as defender, protector, and warrior. For athletes, these images might feel even more relatable during these Olympics games. Defense is a practical skill. Imagine how the hockey goalie or the short track speed skater might use defense as their primary strategy. Some athletes might feel the need to defend their presence at the Games or perhaps defend their event as a competitive sport. All in all defense is prevalent at the Olympics.

Protection is another important theme. Many Winter Olympics events are dangerous. My heart skips a beat every time I watch the luge or skeleton. One U.S. skier was injured during warm ups even before the Games began. Another snowboarder cracked her helmet on a fall during an event.

Finally, the notion of warrior is likely an image many athletes can relate to. The Olympic athlete may feel like a warrior, heading to battle on the snow or ice. Many athletes have overcome defeat and injury, worked tirelessly, and grown in talent and strength to get to where they are. It’s appropriate that St. Michael is one of the most prevalent spiritual images in Sochi.

On that note, it is also important to recall Michael as an angel and spiritual being. His presence is not one of the win-at-all-costs competitor or the perceived harsh Russian culture. Michael, as an angel, brings God along on the journey of the athlete. Michael’s presence in Sochi can help calm the nervous heart or give courage to the fearful competitor. For the Olympian, the tourist, the competitor or those of us watching at home, Michael’s presence in both Sochi and the spiritual life should not be forgotten.