Feast of the Holy Prophet Elias

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Truly ourselves in Harmony with God
Feast of the Holy Prophet Elias
[Given outside the diocese]
5th Sunday after Pentecost
20 July, 2008
Romans 10:1-10 ; Matthew 8:28-9:1
James 5:10-20 ; Luke 4:22-30

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

One of the most important things in our Christian life is knowing who we really are. Knowing who we really are can often take most of our lives. It takes most of our lives, because knowing who we are depends on knowing who we are in Christ. We are all created by God. We are created by His love. He created us to live in a relationship of love with Him. Because of this relationship of love, and because of how distracted we are as human beings, it takes time to know who we really are.

Most people these days seem to think only of themselves. Because we are so surrounded by technology and various sorts of other advantages, we are falling into the temptation of thinking that we can do everything ourselves. We have a strong tendency to forget that we need the Lord. I would say that human beings have always been guilty of this ; but especially in our day, we seem to turn to the Lord only when we are in serious trouble. Because our relationship with the Lord is so broken, so distorted as this, we are taking an extra long time to discern who we really are in the Lord. Because we are living in such a technological time, we are tending to treat God as if He were simply a quick cure for our problems.

I remember reading a book some years ago by Christos Yannaras (and another time having a conversation with him), in which he is insisting that in the whole of human history, our day is the most difficult time to be a Christian. He says that because of so much convenience-technology, we are accustomed to having everything instantly. Nowadays, we do not have to do anything to have light in the house : we simply flip a switch, and instantly there is light. Sometimes there are automatic motion-sensors that do the job for us, so we do not even have to bother with a switch. We do not have to do anything much to cook our food except to turn a switch, and heat comes. For people who have the extra money, we have microwave ovens which cook things ten times as fast as a regular oven could cook them. If we are going to travel anywhere, we just turn a switch ; the car starts, and we go. We do this all on our own. I have to say, though, that Romania has an advantage : in Romania there still are horses actively on the roads. Those people who use these horses for daily life and work have to have a relationship with these horses in order to live. If people have to have this relationship with horses, they have an advantage because they have to do something in order to look after this animal, so that the animal will be able to help them. The animals must be fed and watered, groomed and sheltered. They require personal attention. What do we do with a car ? Do we not simply put in a little gas, and once in a while some oil ? Then it runs. We do not have to think, and we expend little effort. However, because of this, we are losing our balance. We human beings are all turned in on ourselves.

Today, we have heard the Gospel reading about the two demoniacs. The two men today came to be possessed by the devil because they were turning in on themselves. They allowed themselves to be overcome by lies because, of course, the devil is the father of lies (see John 8:44). They became paralysed by fear as well. In this condition, they became very angry and violent persons. Everyone was afraid of them. When the Lord comes into their presence, immediately, as He always does, He sets them free. He sets them free in His love. He sets you and me free in His love.

That is why it is important for us to remember this lesson of love. If we want to be free human beings, we can be free only in His love. If we want to be whole human beings, we can be whole only in His love. If we want to be alive human beings, we can be alive only in His love.

Today, we are celebrating the memory of the holy Prophet Elias. Since my childhood, the holy Prophet has been one of my favourite persons. I suppose that is because he is such a strong person. I was really impressed by his strength of character when I was little. He could stand up to a king who was weak. He could stand up to the king’s wife, Jezebel, who was an idol-worshipper, and who was rejecting God. She was trying to get rid of the worship of the true God altogether. What she wanted to worship was precisely these devils. She would not and did not understand anything about the truth in the Lord, so she was in as bad a condition as these two men whom the Saviour encountered amongst the Gadarenes today.

The Prophet Elias demonstrated who is who by overcoming those priests of the idols. This also from my childhood is one of my favourite memories. I could remember how it was that the priests of Baal and the Prophet Elias had agreed that, without lighting the fire themselves, whichever god would send down fire from heaven to consume the sacrifice would be accepted to be the real God. The priests of the idols first prepare a sacrifice with wood and animals. Then they jump and dance about, making all sorts of noise as they try to get the gods to send fire. They continue to do this for a long time until they finally become very tired. The Prophet Elias makes fun of them, and says, as it were : “Well, maybe your gods are asleep, or they are taking a walk, or they are doing something else. Perhaps you have to shout louder to catch their attention”. When they finally admit that they can see that they are not going to get anything from their god or gods, then the Prophet Elias asks people to pour plenty of water onto his altar, which had been dedicated to the one, true, and only God. Thus, they pour all this water over the sacrifice and the alter three times, so that everything is drenched and soaking on the altar. Not only are the altar and sacrifice wet, but everything round about the altar is also wet. Now, the Prophet Elias simply prays, and the fire comes. It consumes all the sacrifice, all the wood, and it evaporates all the water. The text actually says that the fire licks up the water. Now, seeing this, the people agree that God is God, and that all those idols, all those baals, are not God (see 3 Kingdoms 18:23-39).

However, the king’s very obstinate wife rejects all this. She threatens to kill the Prophet Elias. Now, at the same time that all this was happening, there had been a drought for a long time. Therefore, the Prophet Elias prays for rain at the right time, and the rain comes in a large quantity (see 3 Kingdoms 18:1, 41-45). Despite the resistance of the queen, Jezebel, in many ways the Prophet Elias is proving to the king and to the people that there is but one, true God. He is the Creator of everything.

When the Lord, through the Prophet, is blessing the land through the down-pour of rain, He is showing us an important lesson. When we are living our lives, for bad or for good, we are affecting other people round about, and we are affecting creation also. All this drought came about because the people had fallen into the trap of believing they could take shortcuts with these idols. Let us not forget that those idols are masks for evil spirits that woo everyone by fear. Because the people, along with their king and their queen had turned their backs on God, they had turned their backs on God’s blessing. How God’s blessing was rejected is shown by how it stopped raining. The people, in turning away from God, had turned away from His blessing.

It is important for us in this twenty-first century to remember this lesson, because if we treat all the things that we have as our own, and not as gifts that God is providing that must be used for His glory, then we, too, are going to be like those people at the time of the Prophet Elias. The blessing from God will dry up because God does not force Himself upon us. God in His love is always waiting for us. However, God does not grab hold of us by the neck and shake us. He does not force us. He waits. Therefore, if in our lives the blessing seems to be drying up, then it is important for us to ask ourselves : “What have I done wrong ?” “In what way have I turned my back on the Lord ?”

Going back to the Prophet Elias, the very obstinate, stubborn Queen Jezebel, who is full of hatred, is trying to pursue him ; but with God’s help he escapes to Mount Horeb (Mount Sinai). There, he complains to God that he is certain that he is the only prophet remaining, and perhaps the only one left who is faithful. However, the Lord says to him (to paraphrase) : “It is bad, but it is not as bad as you think it is, because there are still 7,000 people in Israel who did not bow the knee to the idols” (see 3 Kingdoms 19:10-18). The Lord sent the Prophet Elias back to the people of Israel, so that he would be an encouragement to those who were faithful, and so that he would remember that there are other people besides himself, who are still faithful. By supporting each other in their prayers, and in their faithfulness, as they co-operated with the Lord, they would turn things about for the Lord.

In our particular day, there are very many difficulties facing especially Orthodox Christians. One of these difficulties, apart from secularism, is that we are tending somehow to let small things separate us. Sometimes it is language ; sometimes it is some sort of customs ; sometimes it is government. There are many, many things that are possible sources for these divisions. Sometimes we are falling into the trap of believing that we are separated, and that somehow we are alone. There is very often a tendency to feel like the Prophet Elias. We are surrounded by all these other people and other things, and we think we are somehow small and alone. It is important for us to turn to the Lord, and remember that just as in the days of the Prophet Elias, we are not alone.

In North America, we have all sorts of problems with secularism and division. These problems are much greater there than they are here in Romania. Because people allow themselves to be separated from each other, Orthodox believers in North America begin to think that they are very small in numbers. The Greeks are more or less living to themselves ; they tend not to connect very much with other Orthodox Christians. The same situation is approximately the case with everyone else : Serbs, Antiochians, Romanians (to an extent), Russians, Ukrainians. There is a tendency to keep to people of one’s own language and customs. Each group, by itself, is not very large. However, the fact is, in North America, there are several million Orthodox Christians. Compared to the population of all North America, it is still small, but it is not such a small number – a few million people is not a small number. Perhaps, all together, we could begin to amount to a Bucharest.

The rest of us everywhere else in the world have to be careful to remember that there is only one Lord, Jesus Christ. There is only one Orthodox Church. The Lord has shown His love for us, His creatures, by spreading His love to all sorts of different languages and cultures. Our responsibility is not to continue the sin of the tower of Babel but instead, in the love of Jesus Christ, through the Grace of the Holy Spirit, to continue the blessing of Pentecost. Even though our one Faith is expressed in many languages and in many cultures, we are all united in the one Jesus Christ, in the one Orthodox Church, the one and the same Orthodox Faith, the one and the same love of Jesus Christ. He, alone, is our Hope. He, alone, is our Strength. He, alone, is the one Truth. He, alone, is the one Way.

It is important for us to give thanks to Him for His love, to give thanks to Him for everything, and to turn to Him in everything for help. If we do this, the Lord’s love will grow in us. The Lord’s love will increase in other people as well. The Lord will multiply us. The Orthodox Church in the whole world is not shrinking. It is, in fact, growing very fast. We have to have the eyes of the love of Jesus Christ to be able to see it.

Here I am, from North America, not at all a Romanian. However, I am an Orthodox Christian. Even if I am not Romanian, I feel that I might as well be because of how the love of Orthodox Christians in Romania receives me. You Romanian Orthodox Christians are showing exactly by your lives, by your love, how people are supposed to be in Christ. If you continue living in this sort of love, expressing this sort of love, you will become quickly spiritual adults. You will know who you truly are, because you know who you are in Christ.

Therefore, let us follow the words of one North American saint whom I like to quote very often because his words concisely express what is the Christian life. This is Saint Herman of Alaska, and he says to us : “From this day, from this hour, from this minute, let us love God above all, and do His holy will”. All together, let us glorify our Saviour, Jesus Christ, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.