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Friday, June 14, 2019

Why the Prophet Elisha is Commemorated on June 14th


By John Sanidopoulos

Though there are no written sources to confirm my theory, as far as I know, I think it is quite obvious why the Prophet Elisha is commemorated by the Orthodox Church on June 14th. Let's break it down.

Orthodox Easter can fall any time between April 4th and May 8th (according to the Revised Julian Calendar; minus 13 days for the Julian Calendar currently, though less days centuries ago). The Ascension of Christ took place forty days after Easter, and Pentecost took place ten days after the Ascension. This means that the Ascension can fall any time between May 13th and June 16th, while Pentecost can fall any time between May 23rd and June 26th. Though these dates are based on the moveable calendar of the Church, the fixed immovable feast of the Prophet Elisha on June 14th falls comfortably within the period of the Ascension and Pentecost with the Revised Julian Calendar, while shortly after Pentecost with the Julian Calendar..

So what does the Prophet Elisha have to do with the Ascension and Pentecost? Well, some would say that the Prophet Elisha is the Prophet of Pentecost, mainly because of what we read in the second chapter of 2 Kings.

In vv. 1-6 we read of the Prophet Elijah going to the appointed place where he was to be taken by the Lord in a whirlwind and fiery chariot, and his disciple Elisha faithfully following him on that journey to that appointed place. In these passages it is clear that the Prophet Elijah is a type of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Prophet Elisha is a type of the Apostles.

In v. 7 we read: "Fifty men from the company of the prophets went and stood at a distance, facing the place where Elijah and Elisha had stopped at the Jordan." Having therefore arrived at the Jordan, where Elijah goes on to part the river with a strike from his cloak and both he and Elisha walked across it, we are told fifty prophets stood at a distance. One could see the fifty prophets figurative of Pentecost, since according to the Jewish reckoning Pentecost fell fifty days after Passover. That the fifty prophets stood at a distance could indicate that the prophetic gift of the Holy Spirit given on Pentecost was still at a distance in time. And with the miracle of the parting of the Jordan River, the Prophet Elijah is showing that he possesses divine grace to be able to do such a miracle.*

Then we read in vv. 9-10: "When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, 'Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?' 'Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,' Elisha replied. 'You have asked a difficult thing,' Elijah said, 'yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours — otherwise, it will not.'" These verses can be matched with what Jesus said to his Disciples in John 14:12-14: "Amen amen I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father." In other words, just as Elisha would go on to do all that Elijah could do, he did even more because his ministry expanded that of his predecessor, just as the ministry of the Apostles expanded that of Jesus.

In vv. 11-14 we go on to read of Elijah being taken up into the heavens in a whirlwind on a fiery chariot, and Elisha being able to see it. Then Elijah's cloak falls to the ground, Elisha picks it up, goes to the Jordan River, strikes it with the cloak, and the river divides in half just as it did for Elijah. In these verses we clearly have a foreshadowing of the Ascension of Christ with Elijah ascending into the heavens. The cloak falling to the ground is an image of the grace of the Holy Spirit, who came down upon the Apostles as flames of fire on Pentecost. With Elisha taking up the cloak of Elijah, it is indicated that he has received a double-portion of the spirit of Elijah, and can now do what he was able to do, and more. This double-portion of the spirit of Elijah foreshadows Pentecost, therefore in that moment Elisha participated in both the Ascension and Pentecost before the actual Ascension and Pentecost. Or one can say that the Ascension of Elijah became the Pentecost of Elisha, just as the Ascension of Christ became the Pentecost of the Apostles.

Since the Prophet Elisha experienced the foreshadowing of the Ascension and Pentecost, it would seem fitting that his feast fall some time when the Ascension and Pentecost could fall in the calendar of the Church. And as we pointed out, his feast indeed does fall fittingly around this time.

Notes:

* This event is, in turn, reminiscent of Moses’ passing of his leadership of Israel to Joshua on the far side of the Jordan, after which Joshua also entered the land through a miraculous parting of the Jordan River. It therefore also foreshadows in various ways the passing of John the Baptist’s ministry to Christ at Christ’s baptism in the Jordan.


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