8th Sunday after Pentecost


July 20 1988


The Feeding of the 5000

St Elijah the Tishbite


The Epistle read for St Elijah:

Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience.  {11} Behold, we count them happy which endure.  Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.  {12} But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation.  {13} Is any among you afflicted?  let him pray.  Is any merry?  let him sing psalms.  {14} Is any sick among you?  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: {15} And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.  {16} Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed.  The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.  {17} Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months.  {18} And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit.  {19} Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; {20} Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.  (James 5:10-20)


In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen[1]


Today is the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, when we read about the feeding of the 5000.  Today is also the day that we commemorate the Holy Prophet Elijah (or Elias).  We hear of a great miracle in the feeding of the 5000.  It's full of great inner meaning, because it really points to the Church very, very clearly[2].  I would like to talk about that, and we will, later, after trapeza,, but I would like to talk about even more about something else right now, a GREATER miracle.  Christ has said to His disciples, "Greater things than these shall ye see."[3], and indeed it is true.  The great miracle I'm speaking of is one that is hidden in the Epistle for the Prophet Elias.  It mentions him a little bit in the epistle - not very much, only a sentence or two, but a great miracle is hidden in the words, and it is not that rain came or didn't come for three and a half years.


It says, "Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months."[4] This is the great miracle.  It was not the drought, nor the rain after the drought, but a man with passions prayed fervently to God, and God heard him.  Something that seemingly is impossible was asked for, to keep rain from falling.  It might seem rather possible nowadays in Texas that this could happen[5].  To keep rain from falling from the sky?  We have no ability to do that.  That's not within our province.  Can we heal the sick as is mentioned also in this Epistle of St.  James?  We don't have the ability to cure incurable diseases, to cleanse lepers.  All these things are impossibilities to us.  We don't have the ability.


The greatest miracle - the greatest miracle - that God works is when He changes a heart.  And if you see your heart start to change, if you see yourself turning to God, even if it's only happening slowly, you can be assured that this is a greater miracle than raising the dead.  God can raise the dead anytime He wants, but for a man to truly change, this involves great effort as well as God's grace.  It is the greatest news, the best news there has ever been, that a heart CAN turn to God. 


We celebrate Elias so extravagantly because he was a man of like passions as us.  You read his story[6].  He was not perfect, no not at all.  In fact, he showed great weakness even after he had performed perhaps the greatest of his signs, what most would call the greatest of his miracles.  This was when he went and rebuked Achab, and had them set up two sacrifices, one for the priests of Baal (or Baalim) and one for the True God, he gave them a little wager: We will pray.  You pray to your god and I will pray to mine, and no fire will be put underneath, and whichever holocaust is burned, He is God.  The people said, 'that's a good proposition'. 


The priests of Baal prayed the entire day through the afternoon, and Elias mocked them with great fervor and with great bravery, because these were people who wanted to kill him, and there were many of them and he was few.  Then we all know what happened.  He prayed to God with faith.  We are told that he was a man with passions now, a weak man.  And the entire sacrifice, and the twelve stones, and the water and everything, the dust, the stones and dirt was all consumed by the fire of the Lord.  And then the rain came and during this time of the rain coming, Jezebel, that name which will live in infamy, sent him a message saying my 'gods will do this to me and more besides if I don't have you dead by this time tomorrow.'  And what happened to Elias?  He was afraid.  It says right in the Scriptures, he was afraid.  So - yes, he has passions just like us, weaknesses just like us. 


It doesn't matter how weak a man is, not if he has faith in God.  This was just a slight misstep for the prophet, because a scant 40 days later, God appeared to him in the cave - not in the wind, not in the earthquake, not in the fire -but in the still, small voice.  Elias was very worthy of receiving this; it didn't matter that he had weaknesses.


Emulate Elias.  Not his fear.  We don't emulate the saints when they are weak.  We emulate their strengths, and this is a man with many strengths, great fervor, great love for God, and because of that, he could pray and that which is impossible would happen. 

Now each one of us, from my experience as a confessor, I tell you, each one of us has something we consider to be impossible in our life.  If you pray with fervor it will no longer be impossible.  You've got to believe this.  Despite the fact that there is so much evidence in the life of the Church, we find it difficult to really believe this.  This is why we celebrate the saints, that so magnificently show what faith can do.  Whether it is stopping the heavens and starting them again, or whether it is consuming a burnt offering that is soaked in water, or whether it is giving up one's life even in the bloom of youth, such as St.  Marina did, who was celebrated just a few days ago, this is from God changing a heart.

God can change your heart.  It will take an effort from you, though.  If you're lazy, your heart won't change.  You'll never believe.  You'll never really believe.  What a tragedy. 

We read in the Scriptures of these exploits of the saints, and is it going to be for us like watching a movie?  Watching a movie about, let's say, the Everglades, but never being there?  Never experiencing it?  Never understanding what it's like to be there?  The exploits of the saints are not a movie or a book for us.  They are a way of life and they lead us, if we follow the path, to the greatest of miracles - our heart changing.  Truly it excites me to think of the saints.  They are our destiny, you know.  God has shown in them what we will be like if we follow, if we live according to faith.  Even the ones that sin grievously sometimes, eh?  Even like David who combined two sins in one, adultery and murder.  And so many of the other saints that had difficulty in their lives.  But they also had great faith. 

We must exercise that faith, brothers and sisters.  You must believe that you can be changed.  If you believe this, then God will change you.  It's going to take some effort on your part.  It's going to take some pain as well, because there are things that we like that we don't want to let go of.  We hold onto them.  We get dragged along the ground with the wild horses that are our passions, but we don't let go of the rope.  But the first and foremost thing you must do if you are to conquer your passions - you must believe that they can be conquered.  This is just another way of saying that you must believe in the resurrection.


May God help you to truly have this belief, to truly know that the purpose of your life is an intimate knowledge with God.  That is your destiny.  It is the purpose of your being, and it is possible.  Through the prayers of the Holy Prophet Elias may we have firm, real, living faith in our Savior.  Amen. 


·         Questions and Answers about St Elijah: https://www.orthodox.net//questoins/elias_1.htm

·         The end of Third Kings, and part of Fourth Kings


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[1] This homily was transcribed from one given On July 20th, 1998 according to the church calendar, being the eighth Sunday after Pentecost, and the day appointed for the commemoration the Holy Prophet Elijah.  It is hoped that something in these words will help and edify the reader, but a sermon read from a page cannot enlighten a soul as much as attendance and reverent worship at the Vigil service, which prepares the soul for the Holy Liturgy, and the hearing of the scriptures and the preaching of them in the context of the Holy Divine Liturgy.  In such circumstances the soul is enlightened much more than when words are read on a page.

[2] See Questions and Answers about the Feeding of the 5000, at https://www.orthodox.net//questions/five_thousand.htm

[3] Cf. John 1:50

[4] James 5:17

[5] There was a drought at the time.

[6] For much information about St Elias, see https://www.orthodox.net//questions/elias_1.htm