Thursday 2 August 2012

Sermon on the day of the Holy Prophet Elias

20th July / 2nd August
Gospel Reading: St Luke 4:22-30

NOW we are making a prayerful commemoration in honour of one of the greatest prophets of ancient time, Elias the Thesbite (i.e. from the town of Thesbe). We generally think that people are called prophets who can foretell the future. But this is far from true. The prophets, these were pious people chosen by God, who instructed the people in the Faith, who dared to convict the dishonourable, threatening them with punishments from God. Pious people, however, they comforted with the hope of the coming into the world of the promised Saviour, and, to confirm that they had been sent by God, the Lord gave them the power to work miracles and to foretell the future.

In doing this, they sincerely and often boldly besought the Heavenly King with regard to those sinners who were dallying in lawlessness. And it is exactly such a man that the glorious Elias was, who is called an angel in the flesh by the Church because of his rigorous manner of life, full of every kind of deprivation, and the constant striving of his heart and mind towards God. He appeared in the days of the impious Israelite King Ahab and the latter’s evil wife, Jezebel, when almost all the people, forgetting the true God, had sunk into lawlessness. As stern instruction did not work, some other, stronger remedy was necessary. And so Elias appeared before Ahab and remonstrated with him: “As the Lord God of Israel liveth, in these years there shall be neither dew nor rain except at my word.”

The heavens were shut up, the earth dried up, and a great famine fell upon that land. Seeing such affliction, the people came to the understanding that this was a punishment from God, and little by little they began to repent. Ahab and his Jezebel alone would not humble themselves at all, and they sought Elias everywhere, because they considered that he was responsible for what had come to pass. How like our situation this is! When our behaviour is shown us as bad in some way, we never think of correcting this, but before anything else we dig ourselves in lest anyone might see this. Grant us here and now such a man that he might make us aware!

In the end Elias appeared before Ahab, his wife Jezebel and a multitude of pagan priests, all of whom still worhipped idols, and he proposed that he would demonstrate the power of the true God before all the people. For this purpose, two altars with sacrifices were made ready, one in honour of Baal and the other for the God Whom Elias worshipped. And it was agreed among all the people that the One who sent down fire from heaven on His sacrifice would be accepted as the true God.

The pagan priests of Baal prayed long and until they grew weak, and, of course, as soon as Elias prayed immediately a heavenly fire fell upon the sacrifice though it was soaked in the water, which had been poured around abundantly. And then all the people, struck by such a wonder, cried out: “The Lord, Whom Elias worhippeth, is the true God!” On that very day, at Elias’ word, rain fell, though there had been none for three years and six months.

Even before this the Lord had several times been attentive to the supplication of His servant. It is known that through the prayers of Elias a handful of flour and a small quantity of oil, belonging to a certain pious widow of Sarepta in Sidon, were sufficient, to feed several persons in the days of that dreadful famine. When the son of this widow died, then Elias prayed and he rose again. Such is the power of prayer!

But someone will say, he was a great prophet. Yes, that is true. That is why the Church calls us to emulate him, which is fully possible for Elias was a man like unto us (James 5:17). Know that it was not to the prophets and Apostles only that Christ said, “Ask and it shall be given you,” but it was said in general to all His true followers. Listen: “it shall be given you” provided only that we pray with perseverance, with deep faith, and that the object of our petition is not contrary to the wisdom and goodness of God or the good of the person who prays. Unfortunately, we confine ourselves only to exterior prayers. In actual fact, two or three prayers we have learned, the sign of the Cross with a prostration - and that is all! We skate, as one might say, on the surface, and we think that we have already prayed. No, this is only a preparation for real prayer. 

Imagine a cold, unheated room. Then you put wood in the stove; it flares up but still the room is not warmed. The desired temperature will be reached later, when the wood is burning through and the stove closed down. It is something like this with prayer. The holy words that you have learned are like the logs, warming up your soul and bringing it to the boil. Then, and only then, the reading of the appointed prayers may be curtailed, the soul speaks herself, and from the eyes tears of joy will flow.

Oh, what a blessed condition!… It does not last for long, and of course, it rarely happens, but should we experience it only once we will unremittingly yearn for it to be repeated. Here, indeed, is the prayer which is capable of bowing Heaven down and the mercy of God to work great signs and even miracles….

Holy Prophet of God, glorious Elias, such was thy power in prayer that the heavens were shut up, and again fire and water were called down from heaven, help us sinners that our hearts may be set alight with the flame of prayer and that tears of repentance might flow, that the Lord might also deem us worthy to be with thee….

Holy, glorious Elias, pray unto God for us! Amen.

From the “Collection of Teachings” of Archpriest Leonid Kolchev, published in Copenhagen in 1938

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