20. july 2018
Elijah is strongly venerated in Russia. The evidence is the so called “Iľjin den“, the day of Elijah, which is celebrated not only as a feast of the Church, but also as a festivity of the people (20th of July, 2nd of August). The festivity is associated with the transition between summer and autumn, with harvest time that is accompanied with many traditions. The first Christian church in Kyiv was consecrated to Elijah. Even the holy countess Olga ordered to build a church in the Northern Russia, in the village of Vybuty, to honour the prophet. Orthodox believers perceived Elijah as the saint closest to God.
Elijah is normally depicted as an old man, with a scroll in his hands, or in a cave; but frequently there are also many events of his life shown on the icon. Often, there is also a depiction of his translation.
Our icon depicts the scenes from the Prophet Elijah’s life and his appearance in the sky on a fiery car. The name Elijah is of Hebrew origin and means "My God Is Yahweh." Elijah, the greatest prophet in the northern kingdom of Israel, came from Tisbe in the eastern Jordanian country of Gilead. His name foretold his profession and his life: the exclusive worship of Yahweh. Two Old Testament writings inform about the works of this wandering Prophet - The Books of the Kings. Elijah lived in the 9th century before Christ in the time of the kings Ahab (875-854) and Ahaziah (854-853).
Ahab married Jezebel, the daughter of the king Ethbaal of Tyre. Jezebel worshiped pagan gods of Baal and Astarte. Ahab not only permitted it, he also built Baal's temple with an altar in Samaria, and nurtured 450 Baal's priests - the "prophets." And he did not do anything when Jezebel had slain the prophets of Yahweh, the God of Israel. After that, Elijah the prophet came to Ahab, and announced God’s punishment to the kingdom of Ahab for idolatry: disastrous drought. It is often said that due to Elijah's prophecy there was no rain in the kingdom for three years. In reality, it was only a little over a year without rain: the end of one year, the second year and the beginning of the third.
The Prophet, on the command of God, remained at the brook of Kerith - the stream that flows from the east to the Jordan - during the first period of the drought. Ravens brought him food (bread and meat), water was provided by the brook. When it ran dry, God sent him to a certain widow to Zarephath (Sarephta, Sarefat, Sarafand) at Sidon to feed him. The woman had only a little flour and oil, however, Elijah gave her his word that her jug and jar would not get empty until the fertile rain comes. The widow had a son who, during Elijah's stay, was sick and died. Nevertheless, upon Elijah's prayer the son was revived. Some sources inform that the resurrected boy might be the prophet Jonah (source: https://azbyka.ru/days/sv-iona).
At the end of the draught period, Elijah came to King Ahab and asked him to call 450 prophets of Baal, and 400 prophets of Asherah to the top of the hill Karmel. There should also be as many Israeli people as possible. The meeting was probably held at the southeast edge of the mountain range. There Elijah preached to the priest of Baal to prepare a bull for sacrifice, but not fire. Let them invoke their deity to set fire to the sacrifice. When the fire of Baal did not come to the cry of the fire, Elijah set up an altar, and prepared another bull for sacrifice, and poured water on everything. Then he called to Yahweh to show in an extraordinary way that he was the true God. Then "the fire fell (probably lightning) and burned up the sacrifice, the wood and the stone." When people saw it, they publicly confessed the faith in Yahweh.
On this occasion Elijah had all Baal's prophets killed. After this cleansing of Israel from idolatry, heavy rain came. Queen Jezebel learned of the fate of her protectors and vowed to take revenge on Elijah. The prophet ran away from her to the Sinai Peninsula, to the hill of Horeb, where Moses had once received God's commandments. On the way, God strengthened the ruined prophet with food, so that he was able to walk "forty days and forty nights to God's Mount of Horeb." There he resorted to a cave where, in a bitter prayer, he complained to God about his fate. The response to Elijah's prayer was a special revelation of God. There was a violent wind, an earthquake and a fire. But none of these stormy elements was Lord. Then there was gentle breeze which revealed the closeness of God to the prophet.
On the hill of Sinai Elijah heard the voice of God in a gentle whisper. (1 Kings 19:9-13)
Then God ordered Elijah to go back to the kingdom of the king Ahab. He shall anoint Hazael as the king of the Aramites, and Jehu as the king of Israel. He was also to establish Elisha as a prophet and his successor. Elijah went to fulfil God's command. On the way, he found Elisha at work. Elijah threw his coat on him. Elisha accepted the calling to become a prophet without defiance and delay.
The mighty appearance of the Prophet Elijah was the religious and political support of the Israelites and contributed to the fall of the house of Ahab. Later, Elijah's struggle for Yahweh intensified so much that he started to be compared to Moses. Because Elijah was taken to heaven alive, the Jews believed that he should return shortly before the eschatological day of Yahweh.
In Christianity, Elijah became an idol of a warrior against godlessness and a forerunner of Christian monasticism and asceticism. In folk piety, he was regarded as a miraculous man and helper in urgent matters, especially in bad weather.
In Constantinople his cult was supported by the Byzantine Emperors Zenon (474-491) and Basil I (867-886). They regarded him as a helper in struggle and consecrated several temples to his honour. Through Constantinople his cult also reached the Slavs, where he pushed away the pagan deity of the lightning – Perun. In Greece, he replaced Helos who walked in the sky. Within the eastern tradition, there is a great number of places, temples and chapels consecrated to Elijah.
In Palestine, his holiday is commemorated by Christians, Jews as well as Muslims on Mount Carmel.
The Western Church was initially disrespectful of the cult of the Old Testament. In Roman martyrology, Elijah is mentioned for the first time in 1583.