The Journey's End is Knowledge of God
The holy prophet Elias is remarkable among the prophets and fathers for many reasons. Our Church has reflected often on the life of this great prophet, marveling at his power over nature and his boldness before God and men. The texts for this feast call him the 'second fore-runner', and 'pure one'.
He is a fore-runner of the coming of Christ, a figure of John the Fore-runner, and of the Savior himself. He stands between God and man, calling all to faith and fidelity. Against idolatry and injustice, he is an uncompromising prophet of singular dedication.
Reflecting upon Elias' ascension in the chariot of fire, we see that Elias is not yet dead, but has ascended bodily into heaven. But all men must die, so his earthly mission must not yet be complete. So, we answer that Elias will return before the second coming of Christ, acting as a 'second fore-runner'. Elias will call us to prepare for the great day of the Lord's return. Then, it is said, he will suffer martyrdom, and die, giving his life in witness to the presence of the Lord.
But that is not Elias' only mission. In the canon for the feast, the prophet is called 'pure one', a title we hear often in reference to Mary the Mother of God (the Most Pure One) whom he also prefigures. Elias led a life of ascetic prayer, fasting on Carmel, wandering in the desert, wrapped in stillness upon Horeb. Our Orthodox Church has seen him also as a fore-runner of the Mother of God, because Elias in virginity and purity became, in the flesh, worthy of the vision of God's presence. Elias upon the mountain, fasting and praying, has become the icon of the hesychast at prayer. Not in earthquake, mighty wind, or many words; but in the "sound of sheer silence" Elias has encountered God. And this miracle while yet in the flesh! Even today, Elias stands in the body, before the throne of God in heaven. How is this possible? We do not know, but we are glad to wonder, at God whose generosity seems beyond all we might hope for.
Those of the East, who practice prayer of stillness, hesychastic prayer, see in the holy prophet proof, that yet in this life, yet in the body, God can reveal his glory to his servants. Those who in purity of heart, and inner stillness, wait upon God and yearn to enter into the his presence are filled with hope as they recall the gifts given to this prophet. Elias has known in the flesh the fulfillment of the beatitudes, for 'pure in heart, he sees God'.
Silence is discovered by those who know purity of heart. Purity of heart is the crown of the passions conquered. The weapons for this battle are the practice of the virtues and asceticism. This road is formidable and often frightening (Elias found it terrifying), but the journey's end is knowledge of God.
The 'Praises' of the Feast of Elias sums up this spiritual journey, for Elias who "by conquering of the passions" is brought into God's presence. An "angel in the flesh" and a "heavenly man" he dwells among the saints.
From the canon, ode 9:
You now dwell in the land of the blessed where you see the angelic powers, O all-wise prophet of God, Elias; for you were blessed with graces. Therefore all the faithful joyously glorify you. O all-glorious one, clearly seeing the fulfillment of your predictions from the past, we wonder at the grace that was given to you. We are amazed at the purity of your mind and soul in the clear sight of God.
Let us stand with Eliseus at the Jordan, and also pray for a share of Elias' boldness before God, his determination in prayer, his endurance in suffering, his victory over the passions, his patience in stillness, his intimacy with the Lord, that we might stand with him one day before the face of God.
Written by a monk of the Byzantine Catholic Church.
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