In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be!

Today we celebrate the feast of the Old Testament Prophet St. Elias, or Elijah (not to be confused with his successor, Elisha). We have a nice tie to the Prophet Elias with our parish—he appear with Christ on Mt. Thabor at the Transfiguration (our patronal feast), our summer camp for children is officially called St. Elias Camp, and we have several people here who celebrate their nameday today as well. And St. Elias has always been one of my personal favorite figures from the Old Testament. So this morning I’d like us to think a little about what it means for a man or woman to be a prophet of the Most High God, and then look some at the life of St. Elias.

In the Old Testament, we have a group of men and women recognized as “prophets.” Now, in our modern context, we almost automatically think of a prophet as one who predicts the future. This is not the primary understanding of the Biblical prophet. So this week I got online and went to Dictionary.com to see the real definition in English of the word “prophet”—there were 7 definitions, and the 6th one was “a person who foretells or predicts what is to come.” The first definitions actually fit the Biblical understanding of a prophet quite well—“a person who speaks for God by divine inspiration; a person chosen to speak for God.” Bishop TIKHON (of Eastern Pennsylvania), my OT Prophets professor at St. Tikhon’s, defined prophet as—a person who speaks the truth about God and man. The prophet reveals the will of God to the people; the prophet points out the sin of the people; the prophet warns of the judgments of God for the people’s sin; the prophet calls the people of God to repentance. Sometimes these revelations of the prophets include predictions of the future, sometimes the revelations have nothing to do with the future. The primary duty of the Old Testament prophet (and the prophet in the Christian Church today—St. Paul says that prophecy is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit bestowed on the Church, in fact in the early Church there were ordained [recognized as] prophets); the primary duty of the prophet is to speak the truth about God and about man. To be a revealer of the will of God for the people.

And now we turn to the life of the Prophet of God Elias; several scenes from his life are very vivid examples of the work of the prophet for God. St. Elias lived about 900 years before the birth of Christ. Elias is sent to the people of Israel during one of their periods of backsliding; they had been drawn into idol worship and had abandoned God for the gods of neighboring kingdoms. So Elias was sent to call the people to repentance, to point out the errors of their ways and call them back to God. At their refusal to abandon idol worship and sinful living (voiced by the ruling couple, King Ahab and Queen Jezebel) Elias proclaimed to them God’s punishment—drought. For his defiance of the royal court, St. Elias was chased, and the orders of the king were to have him killed. This is an incredibly common pattern in the lives of the prophets: they proclaim God’s judgment, and then they’re blamed by the people for the judgments of God; the prophets are hated because the people are being punished for their sin. The people never realize that the prophets were sent to call them to repentance, the prophets were sent by God so the people could avoid the punishment that was to come. While he’s being pursued by King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, St. Elias is sent by God to a cave in the wilderness near a small stream to live. And we see the man of God cared for so tenderly by God, ravens are sent with meat and bread to nourish the prophet, and the stream runs until near the end of the drought. In fact, the icon of St. Elias we have this morning is of Elias at the cave with the raven bringing him food.

The end of the drought is one of the two most famous stories from the life of the Prophet. St. Elias summons all of the prophets of the false god Ba’al to Mt. Carmel for a competition. They are each to build an altar, and call on their respective G(g)od(s) to send a fire from heaven and consume the sacrificial animals on the altar. And so the priests of Ba’al build an altar and slaughter an animal, and spend the majority of the day calling on their false god to send a fire to consume the altar. They dance, and cry, and even cut themselves in an effort to force their god to act. And St. Elias doesn’t miss the opportunity to have a little fun with them, taunting them periodically during the day. In fact on of the funniest lines in the Scriptures occurs here, when St. Elias says the priests of Ba’al that perhaps their god is away, or sleeping, or chasing women, or in the toilet and they need to speak up, to be louder so he can hear them. I’m sure most of us know how the story ends—Elias builds his altar, drenches it with water, and then calls on the God of Israel, Who immediately sends a fire from heaven which consumes not only the sacrificial calf, but dries all the water and burns the altar as well. Upon seeing this miracle, the people repent, and the drought immediately comes to an end.

The other most famous segment of St. Elias’ life is the way that it ends. Near the end of his ministry, God reveals to him that Elisha is to be made his successor. And so Elias anoints Elisha, and Elisha follows him and serves him. And one day, the books of 3 and 4 Kings (1 and 2 Kings in many American Bibles) tells us that Elias and Elisha were walking near the Jordan River, and Elias struck the river with his mantle, and the two crossed the river on dry land. Elias then asked what Elisha would want before he (Elias) was to be taken away. He foreknew what was about to happen. After Elisha asked to receive a double portion of the grace that Elias had, a chariot of fire, drawn by horses of fire, descended from heaven onto the two prophets. “And Elias was taken up, as in a whirlwind, into heaven.” There are only two instances in the Scriptures of people being carried to heaven without dying—Enoch and the Prophet Elias. This event was witnessed by the Prophet Elisha, and is one of the most popular iconographic subjects from the life of the Prophet Elias.

Outside of his life as told in the Old Testament, we encounter St. Elias in two other places in Holy Scripture—as a forerunner of the Second Coming of Christ in the Revelation of St. John; [and on our patronal feast]—the Transfiguration. We see in the life of the Prophet Elias not only one who brings the word of God to the people, but he lives that word as well, trusting entirely in God for his life even when kings of nations are out to kill him. He lives the word of God constantly, which is another characteristic of the prophet, their lives will often mirror what God wants to show the people. He cares for Elias in the wilderness like He had cared for the people of Israel in the desert for 40 years. A widow receives Elias into her home during the drought, and he brings the presence of God, and the food for the household never runs out, and Elias even raises her only son from the dead. He’s fed a fiery coal in the desert by an angel at one point—and we mention this as we’re preparing to receive the fire of the Body and Blood of Christ in Holy Communion. Every aspect of the life of the Holy Prophet Elias is a revelation of God to the people.

It’s important for us to remember that the Orthodox Church is God’s prophet to today’s world. The Orthodox Christian Church constantly proclaims the fullness of the truth about both God and man to the world. This is our God given task as the Body of Christ. To witness, by our presence, to the love and to the Truth. And we personally play a part in it by our lives and our witness to the world around us. Christ comes into this world, the Fathers say, as Prophet, Priest, and King. And we, as members of His Body, together with the prophets of old, are called on to fulfill the prophetic ministry of Christ—to proclaim the truth about God and about man to the world both through our words, our presence, and our deeds.

Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!

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