Saint Elisha, Prophet

Each of the religious orders has their own calendar, which contains a few “extra” saints, who are particularly connected with that order in some way. This allows us to celebrate our own, even if they are not usually celebrated by the rest of the church. For the Carmelites, that contains some saints who were themselves Carmelite nuns or friars, such as Frances d’Amboise, or Titus Brandsma. It contains some saints whose feast is celebrated with more solemnity by Carmelites than by the rest of the church: Teresa of Avila, for example or John of the Cross, but most particularly Our Lady of Mount Carmel. But the most unusual part of our calendar is the presence of two great Old Testament figures who we celebrated because of their importance to the Carmelite tradition: Elijah and Elisha.

We find both Elijah and Elisha in the Books of the Kings, about a third of the way through the Old Testament. They lived in a time when Israel was ruled by a series of kings, with differing attitudes towards the faith in Israel’s God. After Elijah’s famous experience of God in the silence of Mount Horeb, he anointed Elisha as his successor. Elisha was ploughing a field, with a team of twelve oxen pulling the plough. and Elijah placed his cloak on him. This appointment as a prophet, or a spokesman for the Lord in the country was an irreversible change in Elisha’s life and they marked it by a celebratory meal using the ploughing equipment to kindle the fire, and the animals as food (1 Kings 19. 19-21).

Elisha wasn’t the only successor that Elijah had: he also seems to have inspired a group of people known as the “sons of the prophets”. After Elijah has departed from the scene, Elisha seems to function as their leader.

In the Carmelite tradition, Elisha is a much less important figure than his predecessor, but he is interesting as an example of the way in which tradition can be handed on from one generation to the next. There was something unique about Elijah. The steward of the royal palace greeted Elijah with respect: “Is it you, my Lord Elijah?”. His boss, King Ahab was more ambivalent: “Is it you, you troubler of Israel?”. Elijah was willing to speak of God’s truth to all people no matter how powerful, and this was grounded in his uncompromising zeal for God. This was at the heart of Elijah’s prophetic charism, and through choosing Elisha as his successor, he ensured that it would continue.

As Carmelites, we are all in this position. Like Elisha, we receive the Carmelite tradition from those who have gone before us. We take on that cloak, and receive the spirit of our predecessors. We listen to what they have done, and take inspiration from it. With each generation the tradition deepens, as new stories get added to it. New ways in which that zeal for God is shown in our lives. New ways in which the experience of God in the silence – or in the gentle breeze – has become part of people’s lives. Through meditating on these stories we find a foundation for our own lives, an underlying solidity from which we can respond to the changes in the world, and the events in our lives.

Richard Green O.Carm

Weekly Reflections

Steps on the Journey - weekly Reflections from Carmel
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