1963 (4) Holy Prophet Elias
Holy Prophet Elias
Orthodox Life, 1963
The Orthodox Church commemorates the Holy Prophet Elias, also "Elijah" in English, in Russian Ilia, the righteous man of God whose prayers opened and closed the heavens on July 20/August 2; and throughout the Orthodox world thousands of churches are dedicated to him, thus bearing witness to a profound veneration of the Holy Prophet among Orthodox Christians of all times and places. But today, among many Orthodox, his Feast is almost unobserved. through hardness of heart, lack of zeal, and increasing immersion in worldliness, many neglect the Holy Elias -- and at a time when we should be turning towards him with even greater fervor than our forefathers.
In the whole of the Old Testament, there is no more extraordinary figure than "Elias the Theshbite," the "terrestrial angel and celestrial man." Who does not stand in awe before this Holy Prophet to whom the soldiers of the idolatrous King Ochozias were sent? "And the captain of the fifty spoke to him and said, O man of God, the King has called thee, come down. And Elias answered and said to the captain of the fifty: If I am a man of God, fire shall come down out of the heaven and devour thee and thy fifty. And fire came down out of heaven and devoured him and his fifty." 4Kings1:9,10] Who does not marvel at how singular a destiny was his? For he was raised up alive in a fiery whirlwind into some hidden heavenly realm, there to await the Last Days alive and undying in eternity while thousands of years pass by upon the earth. Let us ponder the magnitude of this miracle.
We know the Holy Prophet Elias both through Scriptures and Sacred Tradition as well as through actual spiritual contact with him. Orthodox believers have indeed experienced for centuries his powerful intercession before the throne of God, and particularly his power over fire, lightening, and other elemental forces of nature. For God gave to him a degree of control over the natural elements entrusted to no other man, likewise, the Holy Elias possesses a great importance in Orthodox Christian spirituality as the prototype of ascetics and monastic solitaries, perfectly embodying the poverty, chastity, and obedience of monastic life. The Scriptures tell us that this strange and wonderful hermit of Mount Horeb stood up "as a fire" [Eccles.48:1; he was a man of prayer, a holy ascetic filled with the fire of the spirit, a fierce avenger and obedient servant of God, an extraordinary prophet whose mission was to manifest the righteousness of God and reveal His Judgments in an ancient Israel which lay submerged in darkness, in idolatry, and soul-destroying passions.
To the sinful and apostate King Achab, the Holy Prophet Elias revealed the Judgment of God -- "As the Lord liveth ... there shall not be a dew or rain these years, but according to the words of my mouth" [3Kings17:1]. Thus did the "fire" of Divine Judgment leave the earth parched and dry as evil passions burned within the people, obscuring and consuming the image of God in which man was created. The inward state of man produces outward effects in nature, and the latter changes in accord with the former. The "drought" of the soul, brought on by impiety and the fire of passions, must eventually bring down the "fire" of Divine Judgment upon the earth, as manifest in various forms of natural catastrophes -- in plagues, in famines, and in droughts. "The word of Elias was a torch" [Eccles.48:1], we are told, and for three years and six months not a single drop of rain fell on the Israelite Kingdom; the trees, the grains, the roots dried up and died; the streams stopped running, and all nature groaned under the Judgment of God upon the idolatry and sinfulness of man.
And the Holy Prophet Elias retired to a cave in the wilderness beyond the Jordan, and there the great ascetic was miraculously fed by ravens.
Thus in Orthodox iconography, the Holy Prophet Elias is most frequently shown either with the raven at the mouth of his cave, or ascending into the heavens in his chariot of fire.
Through his righteous purity, and sanctity of person, not only the elements but also the wild animals were subject t him. Such it was also with the Desert Fathers and with out great Russian Anchorites of the northern forests. To them, also, the wild animals were subject and peaceable -- for righteousness and constant prayer in a holy man reestablish the harmony of paradise and reveal man's true sovereignty over nature. To the holy man freed of all impurities and passions, even the lion becomes a friend and servant -- for the viciousness of the animals, even among themselves, is traceable to the sinfulness and Fall of man, and its infection of all creation. But when man assumes once again that image in which he was made, the natural world itself responds accordingly. And we should think long and deeply on these spiritual truths in the contemporary world wherein there exist naive yet Satanic plans for the "conquest" of space and the "control" of elemental forces of nature by means of the "genius," power, and contrivances of self-deified "Man."
From his cave, the Holy Prophet Elias was commanded by the Voice of God to "arise and go to Sarephta" [3Kings17:9], and there he was received by a devout widow, not of the "Chosen People" but a Sidonian gentile. Yet she was worthy to receive this extraordinary and holy prophet under her roof. In her suffering and poverty, she did not hesitate when he -- who, unknown to her, had closed the heavens and had the power to open them -- begged of her: "Give me a little water in a vessel that I may drink" [3Kings17:10]. And he assured her that if she gave him but a single cake of meal to eat, her pot of meal and cruse of oil would not diminish as long as the drought and famine lasted. As the widow gave to the Holy Prophet Elias, may we give to those strangers who ask charity of us, and our Lord shall reward us with the very oil of mercy which we have dispensed to others. Indeed, the smallest act of charity may bring to us a miracle no less great than the undiminishing flour and oil, for we know not who may be asking us. Does not the Lord Himself sometimes descend among us? Is not what we do unto the least of His brethren done unto Him? Will not the Holy Elias himself ask bread and water of the unsuspecting when he appears on earth again in the "days of great tribulation"?
Foreshadowing Christ's raising of the dead Lazarus, the Holy Prophet Elias brought to life the son of the Sidonian widow. Breathing into the face of the child and stretching himself out over him three times the Holy Prophet pleaded for the life of the child, and "the Lord heard the voice of Elias and the soul of the child returned" [3Kings17:21]. The great avenger of God, the righteous ascetic who brings down fire from heaven is no stranger the Love of God; the tragedy of a dead child and a mourning mother move his heart profoundly. And in his raising of the dead gentile child, he anticipates the Love which Christ was to bring into the world, the tender Mercy of God Who calls all men to Salvation in His Holy Orthodoxy.
The words of the Holy Prophet Elias were pointed and direct. To king Achab, the worshipper of Baal, who insolently asks him, "Art thou he who has troubled Israel?" The Holy Elias instantly replied, "I have not troubled Israel, but thou and thy father's house who have forsaken the commandments of the Lord" [3Kings18:18]. Similarly, having had the people of the King Achab called together, he immediately inquired, "How long do you halt between two sides? If the Lord be God, follow Him; but if Baal be god, follow him" [3Kings 18:21]. In other words there can be no compromise, for in the words of Christ our God, "No man can serve two masters" [St.Matt.6:24]. Here the Holy Elias speaks to us also,in these days which are characterized by compromise -- compromise with Communism and the Soviet Power, compromise with heterodoxy and "ecumenism", compromise with worldliness. If Christ is God and His Holy Orthodoxy is true, then to follow Him involves uncompromising opposition to the Communist Power, to "ecumenism," and to worldliness. The Soviet Power is legitimate, "ecumenism" true, and worldliness to be condoned only if "Baal be god." No one can serve Holy Orthodoxy and any of these at the same time; and those who think to do so, in fact serve but one master - the Deceiver and Father of lies.
The Holy Prophet Elias was a servant of God and so great a man of prayer that before the assembled people of Israel his prayers brought down fire from heaven which with a blinding flash descended and consumed not only the sacrifice of bullocks, but also the very stones around it. The prayers of the idolaters had failed, the people fell on their faces before the true God, yet so great was the iniquitous power of the priests of Baal over the people that the Holy Prophet Elias was then commanded by God to slay them.* How terrible and unpleasant a task for so holy a man. Yet in perfect obedience to God and filled with Divine Power, he fulfilled the command, and then went up to the top of Mount Carmel and cast himself down upon the earth, and prayed. And as he prayed that the drought might end,a cloud rose up out of the sea. "And the heavens grew dark with clouds and wind, and there fell a great rain" [3Kings18:45]. He who had brought down fire from heaven, now brought down rain to the parched and suffering earth; the Love and Mercy of God were manifest.
*It may be noted here that certain Protestants erroneously hold that Christ's rebuke of Saints John and James, when they urged him to bring down fire from heaven to destroy the Samaritans, imputes culpability to the Holy Elias both in regard to his slaying the priests of Baal and his bringing down fire to consume a number of people. But in the words of St. John Chrysostom, "Let no one imagine that we blame Elias as being imperfect. We affirm nothing of the kind, for he was an extremely perfect man; but this was in his own times" [Homily on St. Matt.LVII]. Similarly Theodoret writes, "They who accuse the prophet speak against God, for He it was Who sent down fire. It is indeed an act of excessive audacity to be angry at the administration of God" [Inter.XV,4Kings].
Even the greatest of Saints, however, are but men, and so it was with the mighty Prophet Elias. Knowing that his life was sought by the mighty Queen Jezebel, he fled into the desert, the shadows of her threats assuming unreal proportions to him -- "Then Elias was afraid" [3Kings19:3], for even he was still subject to despair. And he fell exhausted upon the earth crying, "it is enough for me O Lord, take away my soul, for I am no better than my fathers" [3Kings 19:4]. Thus God allowed the Holy Elias, the great prophet and desert solitary to be humbled by fear and despondency, he whose words had brought fire and rain from heaven. So great were the powers entrusted to him that it was necessary for him to be humbled to recognize his utter dependence on God. Yet, with him as with everyone, the various trials and struggles he underwent were meant to bring him to greater perfection. Of course, the Mercy of God never abandoned him, and on being awakened from a deep sleep by the touch of an angel, the Holy Elias found that the angel had brought him a cake of meal and a vessel of water. "And he arose and ate and drank, and he walked in the strength of that food for 40 days and 40 nights unto the Mount of God, Horeb" [3Kings 19:8] -- Mount Horeb, the site of the burning bush and the Revelation of the Law, a holy place of Divine manifestation. Here the Holy Elias once again took up abode in a cave.
And there "the Lord passed by" -- "Behold, a great and strong wind rending the mountains and crushing the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the voice of a gentle breeze. And it came to pass when Elias heard, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went forth and stood in the cave. [3Kings19:11]. The Lord was in the gentle breeze; His Mercy endures forever. And symbolically, the gentle breeze represents the Heavenly Kingdom and the "New Earth" manifest after the terrible Judgment and catastrophic End of the world. Nor is it without significance that this passage is read as a parable on the Feast of the Transfiguration.
"What doest thou here, Elias?" inquired the Lord as the Holy Prophet stood in the mouth of the cave. To this inquiry, the great Elias plaintively cried unto God: "I have been zealous for the Lord of hosts, for the children of Israel have forsaken Thy covenant; they have torn down Thy altars; they have slain Thy prophets with the sword, and I alone am left, and they seek my life" [3Kings19:14. And among other matters, God revealed to him that Eliseus was to be his disciple and that far from being the only faithful one left, at least 7,000 Israelites "had not bowed before Baal" [3Kings19:18]. His estimate of the situation had been overly pessimistic and not true to reality. And we might well recall this example today when atheism and apostasy are so rampant in the world, when even many Orthodox hierarchs are falling away from the Truth and sliding into the abyss of the New False "Orthodoxy", when the holy Russian land lies in the cold grasp of the Soviet beast and the hierarchs of the Soviet "Patriarchate" support this beast. Naturally enough all these factors combine sometimes to make us despair. But as there were 7,000 Israelites who had not bowed before Baal, are there not many and many Orthodox believers throughout the world who have not in their hearts bowed before the Antichrist idol of "ecumenism" and have not been infected with the New False "Orthodoxy"? Are there not many millions within the Soviet Satanocracy who have escaped the terrible pollution of Marxism, who preserve the Holy Faith undefiled and bow not before the blood-drenched idols of Marx, Lenin, and Khrushchev? Of course, for Christ shall never abandon His Church and his faithful people, whose number may diminish, but who shall never altogether perish.
Seeking out Eliseus, who would work wonders through him and fulfill the commands of God, the Holy Prophet "cast his mantle upon him", and although Eliseus was working in the field and had never seen Holy Elias before, "he forthwith left the oxen and ran after Elias" [3Kings 19:20] to be his servant and disciple. But Elias would not remain on earth much longer, and one day while he was speaking with Eliseus -- "Behold a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and it separated between them both; and Elias was taken up in a whirlwind into heaven. And Eliseus saw and cried: "Father, father, the chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof! And he saw him no more" [4Kings2:11,12]. The Holy Elias had entered into a secret heavenly abode.
We know that St. John the Forerunner, many centuries after the ascension of the Holy Elias, went forth "in the spirit and power of Elias" [St.Luke1:16], preparing and making way for the birth of Christ and His unfolding of the Salvation of the world. But he was not Elias. At the Transfiguration of our Savior on Mount Tabor, however, the Holy Elias himself appeared with Christ enshrouded in the Uncreated Light. Here he was seen by all who were present, which is to sat Saints John, James, and Peter who heard him conversing with Christ --"There appeared to them Elias with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus" [St.Mark9:3]. Moses, of course is dead, and the nature of his appearance remains a mystery to us. But Elias, like Christ, was surely present in his actual living body. Thus through bringing the Holy Prophet Elias from his unknown heavenly abode and the Holy Moses from among the dead, Christ manifests His power over the living and the dead, and, as a testimony to the Jews, revealed these two Saints as His servants.
The Transfiguration, according to Saint Basil the Great, is "an anticipation of the Glorious Second Coming" [St. Basil -- Homily on Ps.44,sec.5]; it conveys something of the future Kingdom beyond the terrible Judgment and catastrophic End of the World and of time. At the Transfiguration, our Lord appeared in His Heavenly aspect and Eternal Glory, in the very "brightness" with which He will destroy the Antichrist at His Second Coming [2Thess.2:8] And the Uncreated Light, the "Divine Brightness"is greater than the fire of Elias. Like the fire of Elias, it conquers evil and reveals the terrible Majesty of God, yet unlike the fire of Elias, it also transfigures, for it proceeds from the Person of Christ our Heavenly Basilius, "the Lord and Lover of men"; and it reveals not only His Majesty but also His Love, bringing joy and peace to those of whom Christ said, "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me" [St.John10:27]. To those who, like Antichrist, have aligned themselves with the rebellious powers of evil, however, we may assume that this same Light is a terrible and consuming "flame".
Yet , how fitting that the Holy Elias should appear at the Transfiguration, for this emphasizes the close connection of Elias with the Second Coming of Christ in His Glory, as foreshadowed on Mount Tabor. For we know the Holy Elias is to be the Forerunner of the Second Coming. "Behold, I will send you Elias the Prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord" [Malachai4:6]; and his truth is affirmed by the words of Christ Himself -- "Elias indeed shall come and restore all things" [St.Matt.17:11]. Thus, according to Holy Orthodox teaching, Elias, together with Enoch,* in the Last Days will suddenly be manifest on earth where they will expound the Truth of Christ, urge men to penitence, denounce the Antichrist, and finally die Martyrs' deaths in Jerusalem, being slain by the Antichrist in the days which immediately precede the End [see: Apoc.11:3-12].
*Enoch who "walked with God" also was translated, while still living, into the heavenly world in very ancient times. See Genesis V:22 and Hebrews XI:5
While Enoch is to "give repentance to the nations" [Eccles.44:16]], Elias is to give repentance to the Jews. And according to St. John Chrysostom, Christ, by saying that Elias "shall restore all things", means precisely the "return of the Jews from their unbelief" [see Homily57 on St.Matthew]. And we may note here that on their part, many devout "orthodox" Jews indeed still look to the Holy Prophet Elias as the Forerunner of the Messiah, venerating his memory, asking his prayers, and awaiting his appearance. Perhaps it is the testimony of the Holy Prophet Elias alone which will move them to accept Jesus Christ and His Holy Orthodoxy. To those devout Jews who look beyond worldly values and still venerate the Holy Elias, he indeed shall come,and they shall follow him -- perhaps even to that Martyrdom for Christ which he shall undergo.
Let us be inspired by the knowledge of the future martyrdom of the Holy Prophet Elias, Orthodox Christian people. For in the Last Days. all faithful Orthodox believers shall be called to martyrdom. Nor is the possibility of martyrdom ever entirely absent. Circumstances can change with terrible swiftness, as we know from the events of 112-18. In our times millions of faithful Orthodox believers have been martyred by the Communist beast. Are you ready to die for Christ and His Holy Orthodoxy?
Holy Prophet Elias, pray to Christ our God for us!
Orthodox Life, 1963