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Saints of Carmel

+St. Elijah

"I have been most zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts.  But the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to the sword.  I alone am left, and they seek to take my life.”  (1 Kings 19:14)

The prophet Elijah is considered to be the greatest of the Old Testament prophets, as well as the Father of the Carmelite Order.  Not much is known of his background.  All that is known from scripture is that he was a Tishbite (or Thesbite), although scholars disagree on what the term refers to.  He lived sometime around the year 90 BC.  Some Jewish traditions maintain that he was of priestly descent.  Otherwise, Elijah's life before he is called by God in the First Book of Kings is a mystery.  Elijah was described as a wild and hairy man; "as a fire, and his word burnt like a torch."    He lived a very ascetic life, living in a cave and wearing clothes made of camel hair. His entire known life was a protest against the immorality of his time.  Pagan worship had corrupted the land, and King Ahab and Queen Jezebel had erected a shrine to the false god Baal.  Elijah informed Ahab that if they did not repent of the evils they had committed, God would scourge the land with a drought to punish them for their apostasy.  After delivering God's message, Elijah quickly disappeared, led by Yahweh to the land east of the Jordan, where he was fed by ravens.

Ahab ignored Elijah's warning, and for three years, not a drop of rain fell upon the land.  Furious, Ahab devastated the land in search of Elijah, but his efforts were futile.  After three years, Elijah returned and confronted the King.  Ahab fiercely accused Elijah of bringing the curse upon the land, but Elijah flung the accusation back at Ahab, pointing out that the drought was caused by his own stubbornness and sinfulness.  Next came the episode for which Elijah is most famous.  He challenged the priests of Baal to a contest.  Atop Mount Carmel, Elijah and the priests would each set up an altar and provide a sacrifice upon their altar.  They would then pray to their respective deities, the priests to Baal and Elijah to Yahweh, and whichever deity sent fire down from the sky to consume the sacrifice would be the true God.  The priests of Baal went first, and for hours and hours they chanted and danced and cut themselves, to no avail.  Finally, laughing at their failure, Elijah approached his altar.  He set twelve stones around the altar, for the twelve tribes of Israel, and poured water all over the sacrifice.  Then Elijah prayed to God, and suddenly a fire came down from heaven and consumed the sacrifice.  Elijah then killed all the priests of Baal, and the people once again believed in the true God. That very evening, torrential rains fell upon the land, thereby ending the three year drought.

Elijah went on to prophesy and perform many more wonders which can be found in the First Book of Kings.  He is considered to be the Father of Carmelites, as the Carmelite way of life embodies the Elijahan tradition.  Father Elijah's spirit of prayer, penance, contemplation, and zeal for the Lord is to this day the very spirit of the Carmelites.  During his ministry, Elijah went up to Mount Carmel in Palestine to live and to pray.  It was there that he taught and trained his followers, who are considered by some to be the first monks.  From that time onward, Mount Carmel has always been inhabited by men seeking union with God.  It is also believed that Elijah and the monks living on Mt. Carmel had a devotion to the woman who would be the mother of the Messiah, the Blessed Virgin Mary, long before she was born.

Elijah's end was as quick and mysterious as his beginning.  One day as he was speaking with his successor Elisha, "a fiery chariot, and fiery horses parted them both asunder, and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven" (2 Kings:11)  Elijah appeared along with Moses at the Transfiguration of the Jesus on Mount Tabor. His feast is celebrated on July 20.  

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