June 14 – Elisha the Prophet; Methodius of Constantinople

Elisha the Prophet (IX-VIII cent. BC(E)) succeeded Elijah (Jul 20), whom he served faithfully until a certain incident with a fiery chariot and a whirlwind. After that he was recognized by the Sons of the Prophets (a fraternal organization with many local chapters) as the number one prophet in Israel (“You’re number one! You’re number one!”). He proclaimed the word of God to those in power, and performed many wonders, most of which helped people, except one with bears which doesn’t bear going into. You can read stories about him in the Second (or Fourth, depending on your nihil obstat) Book of Kings. Here are two.

Story the First. For reasons of her own but doubtless including hospitality and generosity, a rich lady in Shunem built a room atop her house for Elisha and his servant Gehazi to stay in when they passed through town. (The Scriptures specify that it had a table and a lamp, but alas, no mention is made of wifi.) She refused to take anything in return, but when Gehazi mentioned she was barren, Elisha got her pregnant. I mean, her husband got her pregnant, through Elisha’s prayers. Not long after she gave birth to a healthy baby boy.

Years later, however, the boy had a sudden pain in his head (not from listening to Justin Bieber on his iPod; those hadn’t been invented yet), and within hours, he was dead. The Shunammite woman got on her ass (if you’ll excuse the expression) and rode off to seek Elisha. “Did I ask you for a son? I ask you?” she asked in her best Brooklyn accent. Elisha followed her home. Once there, he warmed the child with his own body, walked once around the house, warmed him some more, and behold! the boy sneezed seven times and sat up. Why seven times? Why did he walk around the house? Your Bible commentary’s guess is as good as mine’s.

Story the Second. When Naaman the Syrian general got leprosy, his Israelite slave girl said, “There’s a prophet in Samaria who can fix that” (she had seen Elisha’s ads in the Daily Cuneiform). Naaman sought Elisha, who told him to go dip in the Jordan seven (!) times. Naaman, clearly not the sharpest sword in the armory, refused, saying, “Bah, this is a stupid river. I’ll go dip in one of ours.” His servant, clearly underpaid, said, “If he’d told you to do something difficult like touch your tongue to the top of your head, you’d have done it. Surely you can swim in his stupid river?” Naaman saw the sense of this, did it, and was healed. He attempted to give Elisha remuneration, but he (perhaps with precedent in mind) refused. In the end he let Naaman take some Israelite dirt back to Syria, to sacrifice to the LORD on it. Thus there is a corner of some Syrian field that is forever Israel.

Methodius of Constantinople (ca. 788–847) was born in Syracuse (Sicily, not NY) and moved to Constantinople, hoping to become a government functionary. He got diverted into a monastery, however, and ended up becoming abbot. Somewhere in there, Leo the Armenian became emperor, and started the whole iconoclasm thing going again. When the Patriarch was replaced with an iconoclast, Methodius sailed off to Rome to inform the Pope (the mails were so unreliable you had to hand-deliver anything really important). When Leo was replaced by his murderer Michael II, Methodius sailed back to the capital with a letter from the Pope saying, “Restore the icons.” It didn’t work, and he was tossed in prison for seven (!) years, to be released just as Michael’s son Theophilus ascended the throne. He was a worse iconoclast than his dad, though, and tossed Methodius right back into prison (after a little torture). M. escaped, however, and went into hiding. When Theo died, his wife, Theodora the Restora (Feb 11), became regent. As befits her nickname, she restored the icons. The iconoclast patriarch was deposed, and replaced with Methodius, who surely deserved it.