“God’s great love for the human race saw the prophet sorrowing over the great transgressions of all. Elijah was enraged, and he hurled these unmerciful words to the Merciful One: Become angry and cry out against those who turned against You, O just Judge. Move the heart of every good person to torment your enemies. The only Lover of Mankind always seeks the repentance of all.” Ikos for the Glorious Prophet Elijah
Glory to Jesus Christ! Today we commemorate the Glorious Prophet Elijah. It is a wonderful time to celebrate this mystical figure from the Old Testament. We often consider his last earthly moment, a fiery ascent into heaven. Chariots of Fire was his story long before it was another inspirational story about running. We further consider him coming back to earth in the dark brilliance of the Transfiguration.
Our Byzantine tradition also includes the blessing of vehicles because of Elijah’s “exit” from earth to heaven.
However, it does our hearts well to turn our gaze to his earlier earthly days, as expressed in the Ikos quoted above.
Picture this: Elijah was a righteous man living in unrighteous times (for example, read I Kings 17-19). He struggled against ungodly kings and queens, false prophets, siding with the truth. At times God came to his side and showed miraculously who was right. Think of the prophets of Baal and Elijah calling fire down from heaven, something that God granted at that time, but would later not grant with some other followers of God (Luke 9:54-55). What was the cry of his heart, according to the Ikos?
The Glorious Prophet Elijah was full of rage and unmerciful words, because he was living in such dark times. We could say about him, “Look at the corruption he faced. He was justified to call sin sin and to rebel against the evils of his day!”
But our liturgical tradition goes further than sharing his perspective. No, it does not deny the problems that Elijah saw in his life, nor does it deny that he spoke words of rage, and yet it has a beautiful thread of transformation. Elijah is a saint, a glorious prophet, but we see a divine and human interaction where words full of rage, despite being just words, are lacking mercy. And yet those same words come and interact with the One who is Himself Mercy.
From his human perspective, Elijah cried out for the heart of every good person to torment God’s enemies. He wanted God to become angry and to cry out against those enemies. At times this may even appear to be the perspective of God, but we must take extreme caution in understanding what is of God and what is coming from our hearts as followers of God trying to navigate this world.
The last sentence of the Ikos makes this clear: “The only Lover of Mankind always seeks the repentance of all.”
Is this your view of the world, that everyone should be reconciled through love and repentance? Is that what we seek, of even our greatest enemies?
Or are you more like me (and Elijah), often seeking to see the conquering of those who are “wrong” about a certain topic or “evil” with regard to a certain issue? I use quotes around wrong and evil not to deny objectivity but to get us to think of the words we speak in our own minds as we think of the most frustrating situations and people that we face.
For example–If the President of this country or some other country were your biggest enemy, or perhaps the most abusive religious figure is your biggest enemy, and you could have God do one thing to them, would it be that they would repent? Or would you like to see them rebuked, maybe even vanquished for all of the wrong that they have done? Elijah felt that way but God transformed his prayers, ultimately through Christ.
The Glorious Prophet Elijah can teach us so much about our humanity, as we meditate upon the conflict in his world, and our world today. Church corruption, political insanity, the overall inhumanity, loneliness and sin of our day can be faithfully documented. Will that bring us to a good vision of how to respond to it all? Perhaps, perhaps not. It must never cast us away from the most important vision of all, and that is the beauty of this world and all of creation, even our enemies who are currently our enemies. We are supposed to forgive them, right?
We may cry for un-mercy as did Elijah, and it may be because of the hurt we have received, but if we profess to follow the Merciful One, His response to our prayers may sometimes be a No that appears to contradict us. If we see more mystically, this response will transform us and take us to see the higher reality of reconciliation and repentance.
So I would implore you-let your heart meet mercy, whether it is content or full of rage. Transformation is real, and it it is what we all need.
Glory to Jesus Christ!