Monday, July 21, 2008
The Prophet Elijah
July 20th is the Roman Catholic feast day of the great prophet Elijah (in Latin, Elias; in Hebrew, Eliyahu). Tradition holds him to be the founder of the Carmelite order, whose full name is the Order of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Elijah's connection to Mount Carmel in Judea begins with his contest on the mountainside with the priests of Ba'al (1 Kings 18), in which he definitively demonstrates that the God of Israel is the only God. In the next chapter of Kings, Elijah experiences another mountain adventure of great significance. He has gone up this time to Mount Horeb, where God instructs him to wait for Him. God then sets loose a terrifying display of natural events before the mouth of Elijah's cave, but Elijah is able to recognize that God, though He has set the disasters of hurricane, fire, and earthquake into motion, is not in these events. At the brink of despair, Elijah is able instead to discern God in what follows: the gentle whisper, the "still small voice." Carmelite spirituality seeks to imitate Elijah's ethos of deep listening -- listening for the voice of God, to paraphrase one of the order's great saints, in even in the darkest night of the soul.
Elijah is also a type of the Blessed Virgin Mary; he does not die, but is assumed into heaven, as she would be (2 Kings 2). Because he was assumed and did not die, Jesus's followers speculated that Jesus himself was the second coming of Elijah. Christ tells his disciples in Matthew 17:11-12: "To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things. But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished," drawing a parallel between Elijah and John the Baptist. In His Transfiguration, Christ is seen talking with Moses and Elijah.
In addition, according to Elena Maria Vidal at Tea at Trianon,
Most of the early fathers of the Church identify Elias as one of the "two witnesses" in Chapter 11 of the Apocalypse, who do battle with the Antichrist. The two witnesses are martyred by the son of perdition, but their resurrection and ascension into Heaven ushers in the final defeat of "the beast." (see Apocalypse 11) The exact manner in which such cryptic prophecies will be fulfilled remains to be seen. It is interesting, however, that Carmelites have always used red vestments on July 20 in honor of the martyrdom of Elias that is to come.