Andrey Muzolf, Lecturer of the Kiev Theological Academy answers.
The Book of Psalms contains these words: “…what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor…” (Psalm 8: 5-6). So who is ultimately higher, man or angels?
According to the famous Orthodox theologian Archimandrite Cyprian (Kern), angels are higher than people, surpassing them in spirituality, which makes the angelic world closer and more akin to God. At the same time, it is not entirely correct to believe that the superiority of angels over people is established by God forever. St Gregory Palamas notes that man, based on his vocation, is in many respects superior to the angels. He connects such superiority primarily with partaking of God, possible to man and not possible to angels. According to the saint, man’s great advantage over angels is his being able to become a partaker of the Body and Blood of Christ and thereby enter into the closest possible relationship with God by uniting with Him. In addition, the presence of a material body imparts certain completeness to human nature. St Gregory Palamas sees that completeness as another man’s advantage in relation to angels.
One more aspect of human nature noted by the holy fathers in context of man’s superiority to angels is God’s image ingrained in it. According to St John of Damascus, this image is present in the angelic nature to a lesser extent, while St Anastasius Sinaita asserts that the angels are deprived of it altogether. We see a similar thought expressed by St Gregory Palamas whom we have already mentioned: “The soul’s mental and verbal nature alone possesses the mind, the word, and the life-giving spirit. Only the soul is superior to angels in being created by God in His image. This cannot be changed, even if a soul does not know its dignity or fails to act worthy of the One who created it in His own image.”
Finally, one more argument in favor of man’s superiority to angels can be expressed in the following way: everything created by God was created hierarchically, from the lowest to the highest. The fact that man was created last shows him to be the “apex of creation”, a two-part being uniting two worlds, the spiritual and the material.
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds