On July 20th we celebrate the feast of two remarkable Saints in our Church, the Holy Prophet Elijah and Saint Maria Skobtsova, of Paris. On paper both saints seem very very different. One was a Old Testament prophet who served thousands of years ago, and the other a Russian emigre in Paris in the living memory of many people. But for as many differences that exist between these two saints, the element of fire is one that connects them arm in arm in their witness of a loving and merciful God.
We all understand the benefits of fire. How it can transform and purify, it can warm, and even renew; yet it also can destroy and devastate. For this reason we teach our children about it and its proper uses. The same could be applied to our lives as Christians, for this fire is truly creative and merciful love of God, a love that seeks to transform, purify, warm and renew our nature grown old by sin. We have been baptized not just with water, but by the Holy Spirit and as the Evangelist notes “fire” (Mt. 3:11); it is the tongues of fire that not only came upon the Apostles on the feast of Pentecost, but upon all of us in the anointing of Chrism and the “Seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit”. It is by fire that we are saved (1 Cor. 3:15). For the Lord has come “to send fire on the earth” (Lk. 12:49). Indeed it is a fire that transforms us from being raw and without strength, to being mature and strong, purifying us like the purest silver. It is fire that warms our cold hearts. It is a fire that consumes that which is of no use to our salvation. “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and Godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire (Heb. 12:28-29)
It was this divine fire that both St. Elijah and Maria bore witness to in their lives. It was by fire that the Lord God revealed Himself to Israel and the priests of Baal, when the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the sacrifice of Elijah on Mount Carmel, and it was by fire that St. Maria’s heart was illuminated, causing her to abandon her bohemian and radical atheism. It was by fire that Israel was delivered from the wrath of God, and by fire that St. Maria delivered Jewish children to safety from the clutches of the Nazis. It was by fire that Elijah manifested the mercy of God in the rains that delivered Israel from drought. It was by fire that St. Maria, manifested the Love of God in her care of the homeless and alcoholics in Paris. It was by fire that Elijah was taken up to heaven on a chariot, and by fire that St. Maria entered the Kingdom of heaven through the gas chambers at the Ravensbruck concentration camp.
These Saints understood this fire as love, and bathed in it like the Three Holy Youths. A fire that would consume and destroy that which was not founded in the Lord, but transform and purify, warm and renew that which was offered to the Lord.
Our challenge is to also understand this fire that we are offered and confirmed in as being truly the Love of God and nothing else; for it is the very content of our faith. Or as St. Maria said “It is all crystal-clear to me. Either Christianity is fire, or else it doesn’t exist.