As an example of suffering and patience, brethren, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we call those happy who were steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful. But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath, but let your yes be yes and your no be no, that you may not fall under condemnation. Is any one among you suffering? Let him pray. Is any cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects. Elijah was a man of like nature with ourselves and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth its fruit. My brethren, if any one among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
James 5: 10-20 (Epistle from the Feastday of Prophet Elias)
On July 20 each year, we celebrate the Prophet Elijah (or Elias). Today’s message will focus on the Epistle lesson of July 20 and tomorrow’s will focus on the Gospel. First, a little background on the Prophet Elijah. Elijah lived in the 8th century B.C. He is recognized as one of the major prophets of the Old Testament. He spent a lot of his life fighting against King Ahab and his wife Jezebel, who introduced the worship of the god Baal to the people of Israel. The Israelites believed in the God of Abraham as the one true God. The introduction of other gods was distracting to the Israelites and Elijah was the voice defending the God of Israel in the face of the idolatry of the king.
While Elijah was a prophet of God, the god Baal also had prophets. There came a time when Jezebel, the wife of Ahab, challenged Elijah to a test to see whose god was true. The priests of Baal would assemble an altar, as would Elijah, and they would call upon their god and he upon his God to see which altar would be set on fire. The priests of Baal tried in vain to get their god to ignite their altar. When Elijah prayed, immediately God ignited his altar and set it on fire. Later on, Elijah would call upon God to send rain to end a drought that had parched the land.
Elijah went to Mount Sinai, the same place where Moses had received the Ten Commandments, and brought instructions from God to the people of Israel, the same way that Moses had. God also told Elijah to appoint Elisha as his successor. Elijah is the only person who has lived, who never died. Elijah was taken up to heaven in a fiery chariot, prefiguring Christ and His Ascension into heaven.
The Epistle lesson on the feastday of Prophet Elias is taken from the Universal Letter of St. James. The portion of the Epistle that is read mentions both the Prophet Job and the Prophet Elijah and commends each for his patience and steadfastness in the face of suffering and persecution. Both prophets suffered because they spoke in the name of the Lord. Just because they were loyal servants did not make their lives easier. It will be the same for us if we speak boldly in the name of the Lord. Both men received their reward. Job was rewarded in a material way and with three beautiful daughters. This came after he lost all of his possessions as well as his family but remained steadfast with the Lord. Elijah, on the other hand, was persecuted by Ahab and Jezebel, and was ridiculed constantly by the priests of Baal. He remained steadfast in his loyalty as well.
This Epistle lesson is one of the pieces of Scripture on which the Sacrament of Holy Unction is based. In fact, it is the first Epistle read at the sacrament. It calls us on to pray when we are suffering, and to sing praises when we are cheerful. When we are sick, we are to call upon the “elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.” (James 5: 14) This is where the sacrament of Holy Unction has its origins—that the priests of the church bless oil and anoint those who are sick with it.
There is also a mention of confession in this short passage, that we are to “confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” (5:16) Originally, confession in the early church was done publicly. And even now, confession is still publicly, in the presence of a priest, following this admonition of Scripture.
Saint James writes that “The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects.” (5:16) He goes on to reference Elijah and his fervent prayer, first for no rain, and then for rain to fall on the earth. Finally, Saint James tells us that “whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” (5:20) This is where the phrase “if you save one soul, you will save your own” comes from. If we can bring others to Christ, Christ will reward us, for in bringing another to Christ, we bring ourselves closer to Him.
The angel incarnate and the Prophets’ pedestal, the second Forerunner of the coming of Christ, Elias the glorious, sent down to Elisha the divine grace from heaven. He drives away diseases and he cleanses lepers. Therefore he pours out healings to those who honor him. (Apolytikion of the Feast of St. Elias, Trans. By Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Stand fast in the face of persecution or ridicule of your faith. Pray with humility. Ask others to pray for you.