Swing High, Fiery Chariot

The Prophet Elias in his fiery chariot from crystalinks.com

I hate to miss a good party. Tonight, in Greece, is the eve of the festival of the Prophet Elias, the patron saint of our village, Lia. There will be roast lambs and goats on spits, there will be pitas made by local ladies, there will be clarinets wailing and villagers dancing and various and sundry hijinks. And I will miss it all, by sitting in Miami Beach, gestating.

Tomorrow, the 20th, on the Prophet’s actual feast day, everyone with the inclination, the ability, and a nice strong cane will hike up to the highest peak in the village where the prophet has his chapel for a church service, a memorial prayer in memory of men named Elias (our village has a few), and a look at the view. Then everyone will hike halfway down, do a little more dancing, and go rest before the night’s festivities, a repeat of the night before.

Up at Prophet Elias' Chapel

A good time is had by all. Or at least a dramatic one. One year, my father crashed my rental car by joyriding around town, visiting his friends. The car was totaled, but, perhaps with the prophet’s intervention, he was able to crawl out a window and escape unharmed. (For details, read all about it in my travel memoir, North of Ithaka.)

Another year, I ran between the dance floor under the trees in the middle of town, where I was taking part in some of the opening folk dancing performances, to the inn at the edge of town where I was helping entertain a tour group. I had several relatives and friends around whom I thought might be of help, but they left me to race back and forth in woollen native dress managing both events while they sat in the cool of the air conditioned inn eating moussaka. That’s when I decided it was time to get serious about finding a life partner, someone who would make the business of life easier, cut the work in half and multiply the joy; it’s just too tiring to do it all yourself. Maybe it was the Prophet Elias who brought me the person whom I am now, according to our hypnobirthing handbook, supposed to refer to as my “birth companion” (coach being too loaded a term; I don’t need coaching, my body was meant to do this, says the manual. I just need company).

I was missing the festival and the Prophet as I sat in church this Sunday, when I noticed that the pamphlet accompanying the service referred to the Prophet Elias as the Prophet Elijah. So I realized that this is the same guy who gets a glass of wine poured for him at Passover (he, too, apparently, hates to miss a party), and is mentioned in the Quran as well as the Old Testament. This is great news for me, as faithful readers of this blog will recall that it turns out I am fractionally Jewish by marriage; I love a pan-denominational religious figure.

Helios in his flying chariot, courtesy of myastrologybook.com

But it turns out the Prophet E is even more multiculti than just appealing to religions of The Book. The fact that his chapels in Greece are always on the highest peak in an area link him to Helios, the Ancient Greek’s sun god.  So does the fact that Elias was ferried to heaven in a golden chariot in 895; Helios also liked to ride around in a golden chariot.

When I lived in Lia, Father Prokopi, the local priest, told me that before the Second Coming (and he wasn’t talking about the Rapture scheduled for this October 22), the Prophet Elias will return to earth to be martyred so that he will have experienced death, like the other saints. He opined, “Maybe we’ll watch it on TV?”

I like how Father Prokopi’s brain works, that he can imagine the Prophet Elias in a modern context. But I personally would not like to watch anyone be martyred on TV. When the Prophet Elias returns to earth, I hope it will be for a big party, one which we can both attend.


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