Feast of the Prophet Elias (Old-Style)

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Trust in Christ
(Feast of the Prophet Elias Old-Style)
8th Sunday after Pentecost
2 August, 2009
1 Corinthians 1:10-18 ; Matthew 14:14-22

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

Human beings have a strong tendency to lose their sense of direction. This is mostly because we are so pre-occupied with ourselves, and also because in the course of our lives we suffer pain one way or another at the hands of each other. When this happens, we try to do things to protect ourselves. This definitely does not work in our relationship with the Lord.

We cannot protect ourselves against anything. Only the Lord can protect us. It is important that we all remember this. Today, the Apostle Paul is speaking to the members of the church in Corinth, and saying to them that they had made a very big mistake. People amongst them were saying that they belonged to the Apostle Paul or that they belonged to Apollos or some other apostle who happened to baptise them. Out of their gratitude, I suppose, they thought that they were attached emotionally to one apostle or another. However, as a result of their paying too much attention to a particular apostle, and giving their love to this apostle by himself, they took their focus off Jesus Christ. They let their sense of belonging slip away from Jesus Christ to a human being. Instead of living in the unity that is the Orthodox Christian way, they made parties by saying, in effect : “I belong to this apostle or that apostle”. Their love became distorted. It became reduced to possessiveness. The focus was taken off Christ and placed on human beings. That is why it stopped being love, in fact, and became a form of fear.

Therefore, the Apostle says to them : “I thank God that I baptised none of you except Crispus and Gaius, lest anyone should say that I had baptised in my own name” (1 Corinthians 1:14-16). He did not remember for certain, but he thought that He did not baptise more than these in all of Corinth (lest people would pay more attention to him rather than to Jesus Christ). The Apostle repeated over again that it is Jesus Christ Himself who is the Beginning and the End of everything for us all. If He is not first in our lives (but someone else is first in our lives), then we are idol-worshippers. The Apostle does not say this so explicitly, but it does boil down to that. Anything or anyone that comes between us and Jesus Christ becomes a substitute for Jesus Christ. Anything that is a substitute for Jesus Christ is, in the first place, a lie ; in the second place, an idol ; and in the third place, evil. The Apostle reminds us once again how important it is for us to keep our sense of direction and balance as Orthodox Christians. Jesus Christ must come first for us above everything else in our lives. Everything else follows afterwards. Everything else is life-giving when it is in this order – Jesus Christ first, and everything else afterwards.

Who is this Jesus Christ whom we are expected to trust ? He is the One whom we were with just now in the Gospel reading. He is healing the diseases of everyone who came to Him. He loves us so much that He is healing our diseases. This healing of diseases is not limited to 2,000 years ago when our Saviour was walking amongst us. That healing from diseases in His love is with us and for us today. We have to remember to turn to Him and accept healing from him. To underline Who He is, and what His love is for us, we see our Lord having compassion on the multitudes who had come to Him. They did not think about buying or bringing any food, so much was their total focus upon Him, so much His word their food. They did not notice how the day had slipped away. Time flew. Our Lord knew how hungry they were. Even the Sisterhood would not be able quickly to feed so many people. The Sisterhood here can do many wonderful things, but even as competent as they are, they cannot feed such a multitude.

There are 5,000 men today that our Saviour feeds with five loaves and two fish. They take up twelve baskets full of the fragments that are left over from the five loaves and the two fish. The Evangelist Matthew makes sure that we understand that there were 5,000 men there, but this does not count all the women and children. If we are going to use just basic arithmetic, then we could generously say that for every man there is a woman (his wife, or maybe his mother). There are children, and in those days families were not small families. Let us assume that there are only two children per family. Therefore, there is one man and one woman in equal number, which makes 10,000 men and women. If we add only two children for every couple (which is very much underestimating the number), we can easily come up to 20,000 people. There are very many people fed with five loaves of bread and two fish.

So many people came to the Lord because they had heard about His love. They experienced His love in His healing of their diseases and in His feeding of them. We see His love today. It is important for us to remember that His love for all those people in the Gospel reading today is the same love that He has for you and for me now, here, today. His love and His care for you and for me are no different from His care and His love for all that multitude of people. Five thousand does not sound so difficult to our modern ears (even though it is a huge number), but it is still far beyond the ability of the Sisterhood of this parish (even amplified by the Brotherhood). However, if we were to count the whole number that the Evangelist is suggesting to us (remembering the complete families present there), it is beyond anyone’s imagination to be able to feed so many people on no notice and no preparation. However, our Saviour does it.

In this context, I am grateful to God that we are also celebrating today the Feast of the great Prophet Elias. The Prophet Elias is for us an extremely strong example of how to be faithful to the Lord when, just as with him, all the circumstances around are saying that it is not sensible to be faithful. He ultimately felt that things were so difficult that there was no-one left in all Israel that was faithful. That is why after his successful confrontation with the false prophets of Baal, and after having been threatened with death by Queen Jezebel, he ran away to Mount Horeb, and there encountered the Lord. He had lost any confidence in the people of Israel but he did not lose confidence in God Himself. When the Lord met him on Mount Horeb, He said to the Prophet, as it were : “There are still 7,000 people left. You do not see them, but I know who they are. There are still 7,000 people left in Israel who have not betrayed Me, and who have not gone to the false gods. Go back to them” (see 3 Kingdoms 19:9-18). Therefore, Elias did go back to them.

The Prophet Elias is remembered amongst us not only because of the rain that he brought after the drought (although we certainly are grateful to God for what he did then), but also for his prayers now when it comes to the weather. He is remembered for raising people from the dead in the love of God. He is remembered because even hundreds of years before the Birth of our Lord, God, and Saviour, Jesus Christ, the Prophet Elias knew God’s love, knew the Promise of the Saviour, and was faithful to the Lord in the Promise of the Saviour no matter what opposition, what difficulty, what threats of death he had to face.

Let us take the Prophet Elias, his faithfulness and his love as a strong example and encouragement for ourselves when we are facing so many difficulties, pain, torments, betrayals, and opposition in life. Let us ask his intercession before the Lord to support us in our attempt to be faithful to our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Let us remember the words and exhortation of our own Saint Herman of Alaska, who said : “From this day, from this hour, from this minute, let us love God above all, and do His holy will”, and in so doing glorify with all our lives the all-holy Trinity : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.