Prophet Elijah and Modes of Prayer

St Gregory of  Sinai (d. 1346AD) offers us commentary on different modes of prayer.  He does so by using the text of 1 Kings 19 in which the Prophet Elijah encounters God.

And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. (1 Kings 19:11-13)

St. Gregory moves beyond any literal reading of the text to help us gain insight into how the Holy Spirit operates in different Christians in our present life.  In his comments, St. Gregory shows how the texts of the Old Testament were written for us today.  For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. (Romans 15:4)  The book of Kings was not written just to record history, it was written for our instruction.  St. Gregory shows how the Church has in fact made use of the Scriptures to give us hope – to form our hearts, souls and minds and not just to inform us about past history.   We read the Scriptures to understand what God is doing in our hearts today, not just what God may have done in ancient times and civilizations.


St. Gregory writes:

Grace begins to operate in people during prayer in different ways, for, as the apostle says, the Spirit distributes Himself as He wills in a variety of modes, and is perceived and known correspondingly (cf. Heb. 2:4). Elijah the Tishbite serves here as an example for us (cf. 1 Kgs. 19:11-12). In some the Spirit appears as a whirlwind of awe, dissolving the mountains of the passions and shattering the rocks of our hardened hearts, so that our worldly self is transpierced and mortified. In others the Spirit appears as an earthquake, that is to say as a sense of inward jubilation or what the fathers more clearly define as a sense of exultation. In others He is manifested inwardly as a fire that is non-material yet real; for what is unreal and imaginary is also non-existent. Finally, in others – particularly in those well advanced in prayer – God produces a gentle and serene flow of light. This is when Christ comes to dwell in the heart, as St Paul says (cf. Eph. 3:17), mystically disclosing Himself through the Holy Spirit. That is why God said to Elijah on Mount Horeb that the Lord was not in this or in that – not in the particular actions He manifests Himself in to beginners – but in the gentle flow of light; for it is in this that He attests the perfection of our prayer.  (THE PHILOKALIA, Kindle Location 42950-42968)