July 20, 2015

The Fiery Saint, Elijah the Thesbite (Photios Kontoglou)

A sketch of the Prophet Elijah by Photios Kontoglou

By Photios Kontoglou

The Prophet Elijah is very honored by us Greeks. Wherever you go you will see his cliff-side chapels on the mountain tops, both small and large.

Saint Nicholas protects the seas and the Prophet Elijah the mountains. In his cliff-side chapels you will see him depicted by those old craftsmen as a shepherd with his flock, with rumpled hair and beard that is twisted like a wild oak, is hawk-nosed like an eagle, with fiery eyes. He sits on a stone, in front of a cave, like a vulture in its nest. He rests his head on his palm, and looks behind him, as if he hears the voice of God speaking to him from the void of those ruthless cliffs. Above him flies a raven with a piece of meat, soaring downwards to give it to him.

Just as he is depicted in his cliff-side chapels, its as if you are truly in his cave, hearing the wind buzzing in the grass and the vultures screeching cutting circles above the mountain. No ancient censer is hung beside him on the smoked wall, no unlit candle stands buried in the sand of a candelabra mountain, as if the Saint is the landlord of that cliff-side chapel.

Every year, on the 20th of July, Christians from the night before come from the villages with the priest, and they venerate the Prophet Elijah, lighting candles, censing, and some old man chanting and saying verses in his memory, and he listens with his wild head leaning on his hand, and the raven holds the ison with his hoarse voice: "Rejoice, earthly angel and heavenly man, great-named Elijah. Rejoice, Elijah the zealot, the emperor over your passions. O the wonder! For the man of clay, the heavens are allowed to pour rain, and he shoots up to the heavens in a fiery chariot."

And the next day, when the liturgy is finished, the people leave, and Elijah again sits by himself, alone, speechless, wrapped in sheepskin, like a perched vulture. He sits like this for thousands of years, and will sit like this for many more, "until there comes for him the day of the Lord, the great and dreadful."

Source: This portion was translated by John Sanidopoulos.