Happy feast day of the Saint Elijah the Prophet, July 20! All of the Carmelites proclaim Elijah as Carmeli Dux et Pater, Carmel’s guide and father, our leader and founder.
In his writings, Saint John of the Cross calls Elijah “our holy Father”:
When King Ahab had committed a very serious sin, God, through our holy father Elijah, sent him a message threatening severe punishment on his person, his house, and his kingdom (Cf. 1 Kgs 21:17-19).Ascent of Mount Carmel, II.20.2
In her poem “On the Way to Heaven,” Saint Teresa of Avila wrote:
Elijah, our Father, leads,Poem 10
In our self-denying we follow him
Strongly and zealously,
Nuns of Carmel.
And the Carmelite Rule, written by Saint Albert of Jerusalem, mentions that the Carmelites were established on Mount Carmel “near Elijah’s spring.”
Albertus, Dei gratia Hierosolymitanae Ecclesiae vocatus Patriarcha, dilectis in Christo fillis B et caeteris Eremitis qui sub eius oboedientia iuxta fontem Eliae in monte Carmeli morantur, in Domino salutem et Sancti Spiritus benedictionem.Rule of Saint Albert, Chapter 1
The source of water in this icon, written by Sr. Petra Clare, OSB of Sancti Angeli Skete in Marydale, Scotland, represents Elijah’s spring in the Wadi Siah where the 13th c. Carmelite archaeological ruins are located. There, hidden away from tourists, lie the remains of the first monastery built by the early hermits.
The actual location is as rugged as one could imagine for ex-Crusader knights who left everything behind to dwell in mountainside caves.
If you have ever gone on a Holy Land pilgrimage, then perhaps your tour group visited one of the two Discalced Carmelite shrines on Mount Carmel.
On the south end of Mount Carmel, our friars care for the shrine of the sacrifice of Elijah on Mount Carmel at El-Muhraqa.
At the north end of Mount Carmel overlooking the Bay of Haifa and the Mediterranean Sea is our beautiful and historic Stella Maris Church, Monastery, and pilgrim’s hostel managed by the Carmelite Sisters of St. Teresa.
Stella Maris Church was built over the long-venerated grotto of Elijah
Some may be curious: what happened to Elijah?
Unlike Moses, the Holy Prophet Elijah did not die. The Bible tells us in 2 Kings 2:1-12 that Saint Elijah ascended to heaven.
1 Now when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. […] 6 Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; for the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.” But he said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them went on. 7 Fifty men of the company of prophets also went, and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan. 8 Then Elijah took his mantle and rolled it up, and struck the water; the water was parted to the one side and to the other, until the two of them crossed on dry ground. 9 When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you.” Elisha said, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.” 10 He responded, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not.” 11 As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven. 12 Elisha kept watching and crying out, “Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” But when he could no longer see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces (2 Kings 2:1, 6-12).
In 2 Kings 2:13-18 Elisha, the principle disciple of the holy prophet succeeds Elijah.
13 He picked up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. 14 He took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, saying, “Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” When he had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other, and Elisha went over (2 Kings 2:13-14).
Elisha performs miracles in 2 Kings 2:19-25; for example:
23 He went up from there to Bethel; and while he was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, “Go away, baldhead! Go away, baldhead!” 24 When he turned around and saw them, he cursed them in the name of the Lord. Then two she-bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys (2 Kings 2:23-24).
All of the Carmelite liturgies for this feast day are very rich in scripture, writings from our Doctors of the Church, and our Saints. You can find the Discalced Carmelite Liturgy of the Hours (Roman Rite, ordinary form) here.