August 2, 2012

We Too Are Anxious As The Prophet Elijah!

There is a great lesson that we are given through the commemoration of the Prophet Elijah, those of us who have the Church at heart and thirst for its purity. We receive this lesson by reading chapter 19 of book III of Kings. What is said in this part of the Old Testament is the following:

The fiery Prophet Elijah, with a soul exhausted and almost broken-hearted as a result of his struggles against the idolatry which plagued the state of Israel, is found in a cave of the mountain Horeb. He opens his heart in prayer before God and overflows with feelings of grievance: “I have served you with zeal,” he says to his Divine Master. “See, however, the reasons which have discouraged me. The sons of Israel betrayed me. And, in spite of all that I did for them, in spite of the castigation which I addressed to them, and in spite of the punishment of the priests of Baal which your power brought about, the same situation continues to apply. Your altars are still ruined. Your Prophets are assassinated. And I have remained alone but my enemies seek to put me to death.”

Then, the Prophet Elijah heard a voice which said to him: “Tomorrow you must come out of your cave and you must stand at the peak of the mountain.” This is indeed what happened. The following day, the Prophet came out of his cave, and climbed up to the top of the Mountain. What a dreadful moment! A terrible thunderstorm had broken out. It seemed that its force would dissolve the rocky mass of Mount Horeb. At this moment he heard a voice which said to him: “The Lord is not inside this violent and destructive storm.” Then the storm passed and a terrible earthquake occurred. But again the voice informed him that the Lord was not inside this earthquake either. And then, the rocks of Horeb brought out flames. And the voice said to Elijah that the Lord was not in that fire either. After these breath-taking phenomena, a gentle Breeze began to blow. The Lord was in it. This is what the voice said to the Prophet, and he believed it and understood what God wanted to teach him. The lesson is this: that the presence of God is not expressed in any other way but as “a gentle Breeze”, as the sacred text calls it. This is an eternal lesson, which is addressed to us as well.

We, too, often become as anxious as Elijah. Our zeal makes us feel violent like the storm, and like the earthquake and vehement like the fire. Our sacred indignation pushes us to words and acts which do not have the freshness and the gentleness of the Breeze.

We believe that the Church, this new Israel, will not be cleansed from sin, unless we move vigorously, imitating the activity of Elijah, before he received this superb lesson on the mountain Horeb.

But the Lord loves His Church more than we do. He is concerned much more for her well being than we are. His grievance which he feels because of our sorry state is uncontainable not only in our heart, but also in our imagination.

And yet, He tells us that we must not be impatient and uncharitable. Rather we should be merciful and condescending as He is.

When God came down to the earth, and became a human being,  He repeated this lesson to us. We may recall here the verses from Isaiah which St. Matthew the Evangelist recalls in order to show the simplicity which characterizes the Son of God in his behavior towards those who exhibit an evil behavior in the Church. “He will not wrangle or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets; he will not break a bruised reed, or quench a smoldering wick” (Matth. 12:19-20). It is exactly because the Lord loves his Church more than us that he is genial and caring and delicate. He does not like screaming, lengthy expostulations of wild criticism, or unbridled victimization. He knows, because he is the only one who knows our heart, and so, even in the worst guises of evil, which stigmatize the body of the Church, there is always the hope of recovery. This recovery is accomplished only under the life-giving and distinctive breeze of the Spirit. Love, forbearance, meekness, humility, affection should distinguish the workers of the Church. The workers should imitate their divine employer, the Lord of the Vineyard. There is no room in them for rage, anger, or a judging tongue. What has to be gained on behalf of Christ on the earth will not be gained by force, but with love, harmlessness and non-aggressiveness.

Indeed, the Son of God himself teaches this most clearly in the Parable of the Weeds Among Wheat. We see the weeds among the wheat and this sight is unbearable to us. Our zeal pushes us to cut out the weeds. Nevertheless, this impulse is not the finger of God, but the finger of Lucifer. God does not want us to cut them out. Listen to what he says to us, when we take it to ourselves to strike persons and situations in His Church: “It is not I who inspires you to do so. This behavior is thoughtless and prejudicial. Because where you direct your beating, there are souls around which will be scandalized by your action, and you may damage them and even uproot them together with the evil which purportedly you tried to uproot.”

Do not misappropriate what is not your own task. I will purge my Church from all weeds on the Day of Judgment. Your judgment, your holy indignation, your anger will not bring only good, but also evil. You may uproot from the Church myriads of pharisees, vicious culprits and bribe-takers, but if with them you cast out even one soul which is scandalized by your behavior, for whom I shed my Blood, the damage to you will be infinitely greater than the benefit.

Do you want to bring glory to my Church, or to work for its progress and her purity? Imitate me. Do not run to cut out the weeds. Do not take recourse to violence. Become and remain to the end as “a gentle breeze,” because I am not present either in the storm, or in the earthquake, or in the fire. I am only present in the refreshing breeze.

Taken from the «Κιβωτός» - απάνθισμα, vol. 2. Translated from the Greek original by Fr. George Dion. Dragas.