June 14, 2015

Holy Prophet Elisha as a Model for our Lives

Holy Prophet Elisha (Feast Day - June 14)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

In the language of the Orthodox Church, a prophet is a theologian, namely a God-seer. It is someone who "in the Holy Spirit" sees God and has a personal experience of His existence and love. "From the Holy Spirit springs forth all wisdom ... and the prophets behold" and preach what they saw, heard and touched; "which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched" (1 Jn. 1:1). It is someone who internally experiences the Grace of the Holy Spirit and feels it inundating their entire existence, "He who believes in Me from his innermost being will flow rivers of living water" (Jn. 7:38), and their words have power, they are life-creating, regenerating and "seasoned with salt," going straight to the heart. Does it not also happen to us, when we hear the homily of a saint and feel touched in our soul because it goes straight to our heart? The words of the God-seeing saints bring contrition to the soul, an appetite and taste for prayer, it creates inspiration and leads to repentance. They are the words of the Holy Spirit, Who speaks through their mouths: "And in the Holy Spirit ... Who spoke through the prophets."

However, the lives and words of the prophets do not move the whole world, only the well-intentioned. To those who are not in the mind to believe, the saints are considered unnatural and irrational people. They are a burden and unwelcome, just as Christ was to the Pharisees. They didn't even want to see Him or hear Him, so they sought His disappearance. It was impossible for these people to understand Him because they were blinded by arrogance and envy, and they could not love because their hearts were as hard as stone. It was impossible for them to believe, because they were unwilling to repent. Faith requires self-denial and struggle. Elder Sophrony wrote in his book Saint Silouan the Athonite:

"There is no more difficult or painful feat than to struggle for love, and there is no sermon more challenging than the sermon of love. That few believe in the testimony of the saints is not whether or not the testimony is true, but because faith requires selfless struggle."

The lot of the saints, as a general rule, is to be challenged by their contemporaries, to be held in suspicion for their holiness, and to be persecuted. "Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?" (Is. 53:1). They are understood only by those who are tuned to the same frequency, those who have a similar lifestyle.

Elisha, when he was anointed a Prophet by his teacher Elijah, that zealous and fiery Prophet, understood very well the size and weight of this ministry, which is why he requested to receive twice the amount of God's Grace. When the Prophet Elijah was informed by God that he would be lifted up "in a whirlwind to the heavens," he said: "Ask me what you want me to do for you before I am taken up to the heavens." Elisha, as a responsible and spiritually mature man, did not ask for material things, money, lands, etc., but for the Grace of God, even a double outpouring. It was as if he said to his teacher that he is great and powerful and with the Grace he received he was able to do the work he was called to do, but I who am small and weak cannot complete this mission unless I receive a double outpouring of your Grace. The humble are the smartest people in the world. His desire was realized because of his humility, but also for the sake of his teacher. He understood the latter well, when he struck the waters of the Jordan with the mantle of the Prophet Elijah and it did not separate, as it happened shortly prior when the two crossed over. It was separated only when he asked the God of Elijah: "Where now is the Lord, the God of Elijah?" The true God is the "God of our Fathers" and He acts through our Fathers, the Prophets and the Saints.

Anyone who follows the teachings of the God-seeing saints while struggling for their own personal sanctification can also be called a theologian. And living in the Church they are nourished and fed with the solid food of the evangelical and liturgical life of the patristic tradition.

The prophetic word does not create false impressions, it does not cause fanaticism, but it causes contrition, repentance and true humility, which leads to prayer and the anticipation of the double anointing of Grace.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "Προφήτης Ἐλισσαῖος", June 1998. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.