Feast of St. Elias the Prophet
The illustrious Old Testament Prophet and Wonderworker is the focused individual whom our blessed Church calls to mind today. He lived some 2800 years ago and certainly must have been a notable and remarkable man of God if he is still honored, remembered and revered for so many succeeding centuries.
In the hymnology of our Church he is called an "earthly angel and a heavenly man," which ought also be our description in the sight our heavenly Father, aided as we all are by baptismal and sacramental grace. He is also known as Elijah, the Jewish form of his given name. He is an honored and extraordinary prophet and teacher called to be a spokesman by God in a needy and dangerous time.
Like all other prophets, of the Old Covenant, he did indeed foretell future events, but within a certain context. He rightly predicted or prophesied doom for a people living in sin as well as blessing for a nation abiding in righteousness. Prophets in reality are men of great authority, inspired authority, in salvation history. They shared the message of salvation and purpose from our Creator. Naturally, if the people did not accept their teaching, horror would follow, for our God is not to be ignored or mocked.
It is a great mistake, certainly not realistic, when thinking of the life, vocation and work of the prophets to see them simply as some sort of worldly fortune-tellers. They are explicitly, inspired teachers of great authority in salvation history. Genuine believers respond to their integrity of purpose and recognize the validity of their message because it integrates honorably and positively with their faith response to God's first shown love. They are sharers of divine wisdom and recognize intimately the absolute necessity of responding with full ability to the message and path heaven chooses for us to travel that we save our souls. Since we cannot save ourselves from ourselves, and since only our Creator God can achieve this purpose for our lives, He sends particular men among us from time to time to lead us back to the path on which heaven alone is our destiny.
Our concerned God communicates to them in inspiration a special message of correction from our deviation to offer to those who fall away from the Lord a means of peaceably returning to his grace. The purpose of the prophet is to illuminate the mind and soul of man to be able to see a situation in all its stark reality and then He fires their will to proclaim God's message about the circumstances or the situation and the danger it holds if pursued. Simply put it is God's means to avoid catastrophe for man.
Obviously, the circumstances in which Elias found himself and his contemporaries was seriously dangerous. And of course, depending on the times, many prophets were reluctant, even afraid to assume the vocation shared with them by our God. And so, seeing he could not abdicate his responsibility, Elias took seriously the task given him, even at the risk of his life.
There were scores of fearless prophets who appeared on the scene at critical times in the life of God's chosen people who were commanded in the beginning to uphold the Commandments and remain faithful to their Creator and Saviour who had specially chosen them as witnesses of his love in the world. These men did not fear others, be they king or pauper. They denounced moral rottenness and decay wherever they saw or smelled it. Since they were faithful themselves, staunch believers in God's promises, they mourned the sins of God's people. They literally cried for the shortcomings of those called to an eternal destiny because on the road, they became satisfied with temporary distractions of sin and the imagined pleasure of immorality.
They spoke wherever possible, preached in God's name for repentance and added in words to the power of their own example. It is said with considerable truth that the prophets came to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, the lackadaisical and apathetic and indifferent. Surely the individual called by God as were be Jew, would not resist correction when God's mercy offered it.
They were, because of the holiness of their own lives, because of the perfection they sought after, the conscience of the nation. And of course, one of the greatest and outstanding of these prophets is Elias who lived some 900 years before Christ. Israel had a wicked king named Ahab. His wife Jezebel was even worse and she influenced for degeneracy the life of her ruling husband who thereupon was very eager to share his affliction with the nation.
They did not worship God, but chose stone idols, the principal of which was called Baal. What is more, the entire nation began to follow their degenerate example, for after all what is good for the king and his consort is just as good for the common folks. The wisdom of the ages understands it well: "The fish stinks from the head." They built a beautiful temple to these pagan gods for false worship and even brought forth human sacrifices as did non-believers surrounding them. They did not make an effort to resist evil, but joined enthusiastically in its pursuit.
Things went from bad to worst among the Israelite nation. Sin was rampant and virtue virtually non-existent. We complain about corruption in the world today, and in our nation in particular, but unfortunately, the same thinking preoccupied pious believers in the time of Elias as well.
One day a stranger appears at the door of Ahab the miserable king. It was the meek but persistent Elias. He looks the ruler straight in the eye and tells him because he has done such wicked things, had encouraged such deviation from the commandments of God, abandoning truth himself, the abominations had finally caught up with him. His message is staggeringly stinging, "there shall be no dew or rain for years until I give the word."
In other words Ahab permitted vibrant faith to dry up. He instigated the literal demise of vibrant faith. He listened to the dried up wisdom of his pagan consort rather than the living waters so necessary for belief to grow and persist. And this he could do because the blessings of heaven still were rained down upon the deviate nation.
Powerful words and powerful indeed were they from a powerful man of God. Of course, abject sinners never want to hear the truth, because as God's revelation to us in Scripture teaches, "The fool always thinks in his mind that he is right."
Ahab and Jezebel have a literal seizure of anger and Elias escapes with his life, but the ruler hunts him down day after day, seeking to kill him because he brought them bad news. They want to punish the messenger and never consider God is patently right. But through an exciting series of events, God protects, guides and affirms Elias. Initially he hides near a brook and ravens come and bring him necessary food each morning and evening. Still later he is drawn to live with a poor widow in Zarepath. All she had was a handful of flour and a bottle of oil, but God wonderfully multiplies this small bit so that as they are used each day for sustenance, the supply is replenished.
And of course, the prophecy of Elias to close the heavens came true. Not a drop of rain fell of the land. Rivers and lakes dried up; crops failed, famine stalked the land of Israel and beyond And the statue gods could do nothing about it.
Finally, Elias challenges the fake priests of Baal to a spiritual contest. They are to build , altar to their gods and He will also construct one to the eternal living God. They are to pray for relief. Nothing happens when hundreds of the pagans gather with their pseudo priests. Elias even wets down and literally soaks the wood for his sacrifice and then after a devoted pray fire and flame from heaven descends and ignites the sodden sacrifice. How could this be? What has happened? He is alone and is surrounded by hundreds of pagan priests. The prayer of one devout man is heard by God. The people turn on and physically put to death all those who were already spiritually dead, but did not have the integrity to fall over.
Faith is restored in this dramatic way. Elias is vindicated and his message believed. His faith is rewarded by being carried off into eternity on a fiery chariot He appears on the mount of Transfiguration centuries later with Moses, surrounding the Saviour as a prelude of enduring and eternal life.
Today, much worse has happened to our land, not physical famine, but spiritual famine has overrun us because we have failed to witness for our God and have forgotten him, while others have outright abandoned him!