Yesterday, I received in the mail the latest issue of The Orthodox Word. That prompted, for whatever reason, my combing through some back issues of some other magazines I had, and that led to thumbing one-by-one through back issues of AGAIN magazine, which I began last night but didn’t finish until this morning. And it was this morning, while thumbing through the summer 2006 issue of AGAIN, that an old bulletin from the Divine Liturgy at All Saints, my home parish, fell out. On the cover of that bulletin was an icon of the Prophet Elijah ascending to heaven in the fiery chariot. I do not know why I put that bulletin in that issue of AGAIN two years ago, but precisely two years later there it was.
Now, on the one hand it’s very dangerous to go about “looking for signs” of what God is saying to one. Our capacity for self-delusion is quite large and since “signs” require some level of interpretation, we tend to read into these “signs” pretty much what we want to read into them. On the other hand, sometimes the coincidence of events, the serendipity of the juxtaposition of things, leaves one a bit startled. And one is naturally led to think, “Okay. What’s going on here, Lord?”
Well, as those who know me can attest, I’m pretty thick-headed. And that’s why I probably need these sorts of coincidences. Any less obvious and I’d miss it. As far as the “what’s going on here”–I think it’s pretty simple: pay attention to Elijah. And in particular, pay attention to Elijah’s prayers. St. James tells us:
Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit. (James 5:16-18 NKJV)
I’m confessedly skeptical of the close identification St. James makes between Elijah and us–though notice he doesn’t say we are like Elijah, only that Elijah shares the same nature we do–but then I don’t really have any stand to quarrel the Scripture. So, to what about Elijah’s prayer ought I pay attention?
That will take some further reflection. But if I’m not mistaken, there’s another part of this juxtaposition of Elijah events that fits in here. For it was only last evening that I read part of Wounded by Love, a book detailing the life and teaching of Elder Porphyrios. That is to say, unless I am mistaken, I think the two things I am to take from the prayer life of Elijah are humility and abandonment of oneself to God. I leave you with the Elder’s words:
We shouldn’t blackmail God with our prayers. We shouldn’t ask God to release us from something, from an illness , for example, or to solve our problems, but we should ask for strength and support from Him to bear what we have to bear. Just as He knocks discretely at the door or our soul, so we should ask discretely for what we desire and if the Lord does not respond, we should cease to ask. When God does not give us something that we ask for insistently, then He has His reasons. God, too, has His ‘secrets.’ Since we believe in His good providence, since we believe that He knows everything about our lives and that He always desires what is good, why should we not trust Him? Let us pray naturally and gently, without forcing ourself and without passion. We know that past present and future are all known, ‘open and laid bare‘ before God. As Saint Paul says, Before him no creature is hidden, but all are open and laid bare to His eyes [Heb 4:13]. We should not insist; such persistence does harm instead of good. We shouldn’t continue relentlessly in order to acquire what we want; rather we should leave things to the will of God. Because the more we pursue something, the more it runs away from us. So what is required is patience, faith and composure. And if we forget it, the Lord never forgets; and if it is for our good, He will give us what we require when we require it.
In our prayer we should ask only for the salvation of our soul. Didn’t the Lord say, Seek first the Kingdom of God, and all these things will be added to you [Matt 6:33 & Luke 12:31]? Easily, without the slightest difficulty, Christ can give us what we want. And remember the secret. The secret is not to think about asking for the specific thing at all. The secret is to ask for your union with Christ with utter selflessness, without saying ‘give me this’ or ‘give me that.’ It suffices to say, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.’ God has no need to be informed by us about our various needs. He knows them all incomparably better than we do and He gives us His love. What is important is for us to respond to this love with prayer and with the keeping of His commandments. We should ask for the will of God to be done. That is what is in our best interest and the safest thing for us and for those fro whom we pray. Christ will give us everything abundantly. When there is even a trace of egotism, nothing happens.
–Elder Porphyrios, Wounded by Love, pp 116-117