This calendar of saints is drawn from several denominations, sects, and traditions. Although it will no longer be updated daily, the index on the right will guide visitors to a saint celebrated on any day they choose. Additional saints will be added as they present themselves to Major.

Friday, July 20, 2012

July 20 -- Feast of Elijah the Prophet

Saint Gregor Mendel
I must first note that July 20 is the Feast of Saint Gregor Mendel.  My mom tells me I don't have the authority to canonize anyone, but I continue to dispute her assertion by proclaiming new saints.  Within the hagiomajorian canon, at least, Gregor is the patron of geneticists, biologists, and pea farmers. And beekeepers and physicists.  

Among the prophets, few if any loom larger than Elijah.  Moses the lawgiver, for sure. Christians read a lot of Isaiah, but for all around popularity, Elijah's got the edge.  Consider: 
Transfigured Jesus with Elijah and Moses
  • Folks leave a seat for him at Passover seders.  They pour a glass of wine for him, and leave the door open for him. 
  • He's revered by Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Ba'hai.  He also shows up in the Holy Piby, a scripture for the proto-Rastafarian faith. 
  • He performed the first resurrection of the dead in the Bible.  
  • Lots of folktales include Elijah.  For example, when dogs are happy for no reason, it is attributed to Elijah having been nearby. 
  • In one non-Biblical story, Lilith, Adam's homicidal first wife, was confronted by Elijah just as she was about to kill a pregnant woman and devour the child.  He cursed her and would only lift the curse if she promised to grant safety to those who hung her name in their homes.  
  • There are several stories in which he teaches various rabbis moral and practical lessons.  When rabbis reach an impasse in a theological discussion, one way of tabling it is to set the question aside until Elijah comes.  
  • Elijah ascended corporeally into heaven in a fiery chariot.  In Malachi, his return is predicted to be the harbinger of the Messiah.  Although John the Baptist denied being the incarnation of Elijah, but Jesus tells the disciples that John is the forerunner, whom they understand to be Elijah. 
  • In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons), the linkage is less ambiguous.  On April 3, 1836, Elijah dropped by the Kirtland Temple in Ohio to visit Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery. 
  • In Eastern Europe, he is Elijah the Thunderer, who supplanted the god of rain, thunder, lightning, hail, and dew.  The association may result from his antagonism to the cult of Baal, the ancient Mesopotamian god of those same phenomena.
The list could go on, but there's other stuff to get to. 

Resurrection of the widow's son
I am not sure that Elijah is a spirit for the twenty-first century.  [Thin ice: I am open to more informed ideas and perspectives at this point.]  Sure, he's a "speak truth to power" sort of guy.  He rails on King Ahab for allowing Queen Jezebel to bring hundreds of foreign priests and priestesses into Israel to worship Baal and Asherah.  He foretells a devastating drought and then has to go into hiding.  Then he pops up again to decry Ahab's murder of Naboth so he can steal his vineyard.  And he comes back and speaks up yet again, criticizing Ahab's son Ahaziah for putting his faith in the priests of Baalzebub.

As I said, he spoke truth to power, as the bumpersticker admonishes us to do.  However, the truth he was speaking was that there was no room in Israel for more than one faith.  The peace and prosperity that had been achieved by the marriage of Ahab and Jezebel was meaningless because God would withdraw his favor from a pluralistic, multi-cultural land which tolerated the worship of Baal and Asherah.

Going to heaven in a fiery chariot, dropping his mantle to Elisha
There are limitations to the applicability of this portion of the scripture.  Plainly, folks have been picking and choosing from Elijah's story for a long time.  Messianics of all stripes love the part about him being a harbinger of the Messiah.   Hardcore theocratic fundamentalists no doubt find his message of theological purity useful, too. And his role as the arbiter of Judaic law has turned him into an endearing, somewhat misunderstood curmudgeon.  Check out the story of Elijah and Rabbi Joshua ben Levi

For my own part, I cannot embrace a message of religious absolutism.  Theocracy is a failed ideology and those who pursue it, from Kandahar to Kansas, are shoveling sand against the tide. 

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