Tuesday, 20 July 2021

The Feast of St Elias

Today is the Feast of St Elias, also called Elijah in modern translations, the Founder of Carmel. He announced to Achad, King of Israel, who under the influence of his Tyrian wife Jezabel had erected a temple to Baal, that Jehovah had determined to avenge the apostasy of Israel by bringing a long drought on the land. During the drought which lasted three years, Elias withdrew to the vicinity of the brook Carith, where he was fed by the ravens. After the brook had dried up he crossed over to Sarepta, where he was hospitably received by a poor widow, whose charity he rewarded by increasing her store of meal and oil and by raising her child to life. At length he once more confronted the king and challenged the prophets of Baal to a contest on Mount Carmel, when Elias’s oblation was consumed by fire from heaven, and the false prophets were slain by the people at his command. He was obliged to flee from the wrath of Jezabel and while on Mount Horeb was commissioned by Jehovah to anoint Hazael to be King of Syria, Jehu to be King of Israel, and Eliseus to be his own successor. Subsequently, he denounced Achab for the murder of Naboth and reprimanded Ochozias and Joram, King of Juda. While conversing with Eliseus on the hills of Moab he was translated to heaven in a fiery chariot. The Carmelite Order traces its origin to him. An apocryphal Apocalypse of Elias was partly recovered in a Coptic translation.

"I have been most zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts.  But the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to the sword.  I alone am left, and they seek to take my life.”  (1 Kings 19:14)

The prophet Elijah is considered to be the greatest of the Old Testament prophets, as well as the Father of the Carmelite Order.  Not much is known of his background.  All that is known from scripture is that he was a Tishbite (or Thesbite), although scholars disagree on what the term refers to.  He lived sometime around the year 90 BC.  Some Jewish traditions maintain that he was of priestly descent.  Otherwise, Elijah's life before he is called by God in the First Book of Kings is a mystery.  Elijah was described as a wild and hairy man; "as a fire, and his word burnt like a torch."    He lived a very ascetic life, living in a cave and wearing clothes made of camel hair. His entire known life was a protest against the immorality of his time.  Pagan worship had corrupted the land, and King Ahab and Queen Jezebel had erected a shrine to the false god Baal.  Elijah informed Ahab that if they did not repent of the evils they had committed, God would scourge the land with a drought to punish them for their apostasy.  After delivering God's message, Elijah quickly disappeared, led by Yahweh to the land east of the Jordan, where he was fed by ravens.

Ahab ignored Elijah's warning, and for three years, not a drop of rain fell upon the land.  Furious, Ahab devastated the land in search of Elijah, but his efforts were futile.  After three years, Elijah returned and confronted the King.  Ahab fiercely accused Elijah of bringing the curse upon the land, but Elijah flung the accusation back at Ahab, pointing out that the drought was caused by his own stubbornness and sinfulness.  Next came the episode for which Elijah is most famous.  He challenged the priests of Baal to a contest.  Atop Mount Carmel, Elijah and the priests would each set up an altar and provide a sacrifice upon their altar.  They would then pray to their respective deities, the priests to Baal and Elijah to Yahweh, and whichever deity sent fire down from the sky to consume the sacrifice would be the true God.  The priests of Baal went first, and for hours and hours they chanted and danced and cut themselves, to no avail.  Finally, laughing at their failure, Elijah approached his altar.  He set twelve stones around the altar, for the twelve tribes of Israel, and poured water all over the sacrifice.  Then Elijah prayed to God, and suddenly a fire came down from heaven and consumed the sacrifice.  Elijah then killed all the priests of Baal, and the people once again believed in the true God. That very evening, torrential rains fell upon the land, thereby ending the three year drought.

Elijah went on to prophesy and perform many more wonders which can be found in the First Book of Kings.  He is considered to be the Father of Carmelites, as the Carmelite way of life embodies the Elijahan tradition.  Father Elijah's spirit of prayer, penance, contemplation, and zeal for the Lord is to this day the very spirit of the Carmelites.  During his ministry, Elijah went up to Mount Carmel in Palestine to live and to pray.  It was there that he taught and trained his followers, who are considered by some to be the first monks.  From that time onward, Mount Carmel has always been inhabited by men seeking union with God.  It is also believed that Elijah and the monks living on Mt. Carmel had a devotion to the woman who would be the mother of the Messiah, the Blessed Virgin Mary, long before she was born.

Elijah's end was as quick and mysterious as his beginning.  One day as he was speaking with his successor Elisha, "a fiery chariot, and fiery horses parted them both asunder, and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven" (2 Kings:11)  Elijah appeared along with Moses at the Transfiguration of the Jesus on Mount Tabor. His feast is celebrated on July 20.  

From the National Catholic Register

St. Elijah, Spiritual Father of the Carmelite Order

As they [Elijah and Elisha] walked on still conversing, a fiery chariot and fiery horses came between the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind.
―2 Kings 2:11
Elijah was a prophet of the northern kingdom of Israel at a time when the Israelites were unsteady with their religious convictions and began worshipping the false god Baal. King Ahab of Israel had married Jezebel, a daughter of the king of Sidon, and she aggressively promoted the adoration of Baal among her husband’s people, forcefully coercing many to abandon their true beliefs. Elijah was deeply troubled over their weak resolve and worked hard to persuade the Israelites to turn their hearts back toward the one true God, the God of Abraham.
Elijah warned King Ahab of an upcoming drought, which transpired and thrust the Israelites into a time of great distress and famine. However, God protected Elijah by directing him to a stream and having some ravens deliver food to him each day.
Sadly, even after three years of national suffering, Ahab and Jezebel still clung fiercely to the empty worship of Baal. Elijah then challenged a contest between the God of Israel and Baal upon Mount Carmel. Four hundred Baal prophets pathetically tried to prompt their “god,” Baal, to bring fire down upon a sacrificed bull but were unable to. Elijah then astonishingly had his water-drenched holocaust immediately obliterated with fire from heaven upon calling out to the true God of the universe. He then slaughtered the Baal prophets.
Jezebel was infuriated and threatened Elijah’s life, forcing him into hiding. Elijah fled to Mount Horeb (same as Mount Sinai) and while hiding in a cave, God spoke to him through a soft whispering sound, giving him guidance and assuring the prophet that all would be okay.
Elijah later met up with Elisha, who left his family and began to accompany the prophet. One day, as the two men were walking along, Elijah miraculously split open the Jordan River. When they crossed to the other side, a chariot of flames suddenly appeared and swept Elijah up to heaven, whereupon the amazed Elisha took Elijah’s place as prophet. About nine centuries later, St. Luke’s Gospel called John the Baptist as one “in the spirit and power of Elijah.”
Nine Days with St. Elijah
St. Elijah is honored on July 20; he is the patron of the Carmelite Order and Vehicle Blessings.  Below are some Bible passages to help you get to know better this great prophet-saint. Consider spending nine days with this holy man through these various passages, and during your novena of days, ask St. Elijah to pray for any special intentions you might have.
  • Day 1) 1 Kings 17:1–16
  • Day 2) 1 Kings 18:17–29
  • Day 3) 1 Kings 18:30-46
  • Day 4) 1 Kings 19: 1–12  
  • Day 5) 1 Kings 19: 19–21
  • Day 6) 2 Kings 2:1-7
  • Day 7) 2 Kings 2:8-15
  • Day 8) Malachi 3:23
  • Day 9) Luke 1:13-17

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