Saturday, May 27, 2017

Relics


Relics at St. Basil’s

Through the grace of God, the Church of St. Basil the Great houses many relics of the Saints. These include relics given to our parish by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, by various clergymen and relics that we obtained on Holy Mt. Athos, in Greece.  Here is a complete list of our relics: List of Relics at St. Basil

While many of our parishioners understand the veneration of holy relics and their place in Orthodox piety, for various reasons some people do not. To facilitate a greater understanding of holy relics we offer the following article. Also, any who would like to venerate a specific relic from the collection housed at St. Basil’s please contact Father Martin.

 

 

On the Veneration of the Holy Relics

An adaptation of an article written by Archpriest Vasily Demidov

In the apostolic Church, all the remains of the “friends of God,” (I Cor. 9:25), were referred to as relics—bones, heads, hair, hands, feet, and sometimes entire bodies– through which the Lord God is glorified by mysterious wonders. Most Protestants reject the veneration of the holy remains of Christian strugglers, and scoff at Orthodox Christians who call upon the friends of God in their prayers to intercede with Him. The sectarians, without any serious proof, maintain that it is nowhere stated in the Bible that we should honor the friends of God (Jn. 15:14),  reverence the remains of the holy martyrs, ascetics, confessors of the faith and pious Orthodox Christians or to glorify in sacred hymns those who have lived in and for Christ.

For believers, relics are objects of great veneration, and this is why, from the days of the apostles, Christians have reverently honored both the martyrs themselves and all the “friends of God”—the ascetics, and their bones, as well as their remains, and objects used by them or even touched to their remains.

Christians firmly believe that the “friends of God” who have come out of great tribulation and have made their robes white in the Blood of the Lamb, abide now before the throne of God and serve Him day and night in His temple (Rev. 7:14-15). Christians turn with prayer to God and believe in the power of the prayerful intercession of the Saints before Him, for they have that One Intercessor—Jesus Christ—and a multitude of intercessors in prayer (II Cor. 1:11).

Of all His creations on the earth, the Lord considered man alone worthy of great gifts, and invested in him the soul. He gave him the gift of speech, the feeling of shame, regret, sympathy, pity, reverence and worship for the Most High. Possessing the divine spark in his soul, man, enlightened by faith in Christ, already glorifies God, showing himself in his bodily form to be a temple of the Holy Spirit. “Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, which is in you, which ye have of God?” (I Cor. 6:19).

Christ Himself attests that He lives in His friends: “I in them and Thou in me” (Jn. 17:23). “If a man serve me, him will My Father honor” (Jn. 12:26). “And the glory which Thou gavest Me I have given them” (Jn. 17:22). “I am glorified in them” (Jn. 17:10). The Church of the apostles does not deify inanimate objects; it does not honor the Saints for any sort of divinity; it does not render to anyone any form of worship; being instructed by the word of the Scriptures, it humbly offers worship to the One Almighty God, deeply, with child-like simplicity, believing that the holy relics are divinely-chosen instruments of the power of God and His might. In the holy relics the power of God is shown forth.

Man was Created for Incorruption

“God made not death: neither hath He pleasure in the destruction of the living” (Wisdom 1:13). “God created man for incorruption and made him to be an image of His own eternity” (Wisdom 2:23). Corruption appeared after the fall. “Through the hatred of the devil death entered he world” (Wisdom 2:24). “Righteousness is immortal, but injustice causeth death” (Wisdom 1:15). “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom. 6:23).  As a result of the fall, the fate of man was altered. After death, his dust returned to the earth from which it had been taken, and his spirit returned to God Who had bestowed it (Eccl. 12:7). Therefore, the bodies of all men, both righteous and sinful, are interred in the earth. But the bodies of certain “friends of God,” in accordance with His will, escape the universal corruption and remain, at times whole, at times partially intact. Death is the common rule for all that live. However, the words of the Bible point out to us the exceptions to this law. Enoch and Elias, born on earth and subject to the common law of death, did not die; but having conquered the law of death, they were transported to the Kingdom of Heaven while yet in the body. The accounts of their translation and present state are recorded in Genesis 5:4 and III Kings 2. In the course of so great a time these righteous men have remained in that degree of growth in which they were taken up, in accordance with the special Providence of God. They have teeth, a stomach, reproductive members, even though they have no need of food or wives.

Who can comprehend or explain this mystery? The kingdom of death, the dominion of the Queen of terrors, was overcome by the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, the first fruits from among the dead. And “if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature” (II Cor. 5:17) and incorruption is given unto him. “Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord… Jesus Christ, Who hath abolished death and hath brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel” (II Tim. 1:8, 10).

The Lord Performed Miracles through Tangible Objects

“And they besought Him that they might touch, if it were, but the border of His garment; and as many as touched Him were made whole” (Mk. 6:56).

“And a certain woman, who had an issue of blood twelve years when she had heard of Jesus, came in the crowd behind, and touched His garment. For she said, ‘If I may touch but His clothes, I shall be whole.’ And straightway the fountain of her blood was dried up; and she felt in her body that she was healed of that plague. And Jesus immediately knowing in Himself that power had gone out of Him, turned about in the crowd, and said, ‘Who hath touched My clothes?'” (Mk. 5:25-30). The woman believed deeply in the Wonderworker, and received healing according to her faith, for, in the words of the Scriptures, faith can move mountains (cf. Mt. 17:20, Mk. 11:23).

The Holy Scriptures show us that Christ our Savior Himself was not unique in the performing of inexplicable, miraculous healings, but gave such power to His apostles as well and, after them, to their successors—the Christian ascetics.

It is not man who, by his own power and might, performs great deeds, but Almighty God, Who is wondrous in His Saints, “And God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul, so that from his body were brought unto the sick handkerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits went out of them” (Acts 19:11-12).

And it was not only through tangible objects such as the garments of Christ, or the kerchiefs and aprons of Paul that alleviation of pain and complete healing was bestowed upon them that believed, but even the shadow of the Apostle Peter worked healings. “And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women, insomuch that they brought forth the sick into the streets, and laid them on beds and couches, that at least the shadow of Peter passing by might overshadow some of them … and they were healed every one” (Acts 5:14-16).

Why were these mystical and inexplicable events necessary for the infant Christian Church? What purpose did the apostles pursue by using kerchiefs and aprons when they performed miraculous signs? What of Peter’s shadow? Would it not have been sufficient to utter a single sermon about Jesus Christ, His teaching, miracles and Resurrection? Why did the apostles consider special signs, outside the realm of ordinary life, necessary for the bestowal of healing upon those that suffered from bodily infirmities? The Holy Scriptures explain what the Lord’s purpose was in granting these signs and miracles. St. Luke, the author of the Book of Acts, presents such an explanation in this grace-bearing passage: “The Lord … gave testimony unto the word of His grace, and granted signs and wonders to be done by their hands” (Acts 14:3). The Church of Christ was then only in its infancy. Christians were surrounded by ravenous wolves, like a flock of meek sheep. To destroy this little community would not have been a great task. However, it was in God’s plan to convert the hard-hearted Jews to faith in Him Who was crucified and rose again, and through them, as with a tool, to plant the Church throughout the whole world, giving her the promise that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it… even unto the end of the ages” (Mt. 16:18; 28:20). In order to draw the hearts of stiff-necked Israel to the faith in the confirmation of the “word of grace”—the preaching of the apostles, -the Lord gave signs of healing and miracles which flowed forth abundantly upon the faithful who received manifold gifts of the Holy Spirit. If the Spirit will abide eternally in the Church of Christ as the Savior has promised (Jn. 14:16), the abundance of His gifts, poured forth in miracles and signs, shall be forever, even until the end of his age. The beginning of the Church of Christ shall be in accord with her end.

As in the first, apostolic community many miracles were observed, so shall it be at Christ’s Second Coming. The holy king and Psalmist states prophetically: “Many are the tribulations of the righteous, and the Lord shall deliver them out of them all” (Ps. 33:20). Dying a single death, the righteous man, like all men, paying back his earthly debt, returns to the earth, and his spirit returns to God (Eccles. 12:7), but by the special Providence of God, his bones are not destroyed, but made to be instrument of signs and wonders. Concerning this the holy Apostle Paul wrote cryptically to the Thessalonians: “The very God of peace sanctify you wholly, and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Thess.:23-24). “Spirit and soul” are the one, spiritual essence of man: it will be returned to God, for He gave it, but the body in all its fullness can be preserved by the almighty right hand of God without any decay until the Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. Righteous men will live forever, setting an example to all their brethren and co-workers by their struggles, and after death they shall edify Christians by the good works which they wrought during their lifetime. In his prophetical contemplation, St. John beheld the fate of those that died in the Lord: “Blessed are the dead that die in the Lord from henceforth. Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors, and their works do follow them” (Rev. 14:13).

The Gifts of the Spirit are Given to Man in Tangible Objects

In the body of a believing Christian, in that temple of the Holy Spirit, the life of Jesus is revealed, as in a vessel sanctified for the Master’s use (cf. II Tim. 2:21). Through the Communion of the Holy Mysteries of the Body and Blood of Christ, Christ Himself unites with the soul and body of believers in the closest possible manner, for His words are not false: “He that eateth My Flesh, and drinketh My Blood, dwelleth in Me, and I in him” (Jn. 6:56). “But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit with the Lord” (I Cor. 6:17).

As the deified Body of Christ wrought great wonders even through the simple material of His garments, so also the bodies of the ascetics, Saints and friends of God, who were permeated with the sanctifying grace of the Holy Spirit and were cleansed of their sins by the holy Body and Blood of Christ, of which they partook at the Lord’s Supper, work great signs and wonders by the power of God. The garments of Christ the Savior, the kerchiefs and aprons of the Apostle Paul, the shadow of the Apostle Peter as he passed by, the hands of the apostles, the bones of the holy Prophet Elisha, and even bread and wine, water and oil, in accordance with God’s will, are shown to be means or instruments whereby the Lord has been well pleased to bestow the gifts of His grace upon the faithful.

Not All, But Only Certain Saints’ Bodies are Glorified by Incorruption

As the struggles of Christians are not the same, but of various sorts, so also their glorification after death may take many forms. “There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for one star differeth from another star in glory” (I Cor. 15:41). Gifts of grace are also given to people in different degrees, although they flow from the same source. “Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit… Who worketh all in all” (I Cor. 12:4, 6).

According to the testimony of the ancient, apostolic Church, “We receive the witness of men” (I St. John 5:9). The relics of the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Obadiah, Zachariah and several of the apostles remained incorrupt. The relics of the holy Prophet Elisha, as we see from the Fourth Book of Kings, were preserved as bones.

Christians of the second century reverently gathered the remains of those who were martyred for Christ—Ignatius the God-bearer, Polycarp of Smyrna, Irenaeus of Lyons—and they constructed churches over them when freedom was given to Christianity; they erected altars and celebrated the Eucharist over their graves. By the word “relic” the ancient Christians always understood either an entire body preserved incorrupt or a portion thereof, or even the bones of the holy Saints, since the executioners quite often cut the Christians they had slaughtered in pieces, throwing them to the wild beasts to be devoured. What remained of the bodies of the martyrs, the Christians gathered with profound reverence and with hymns of prayer, often bribing those on guard with gold, and at such gatherings the annals and accounts of the heroes who endured torture and death for the name of Christ were read.

Conclusion

The veneration of the remains of the holy strugglers, the remembrance of our spiritual forebears, the friends of God, the communion with them in prayer—all of these constitute an object of faith. In the Christian religion much is mysterious and incomprehensible to many, but Christians do not doubt, continuing to honor the Saints’ remains, for the bases of this are to be found in the Sacred Scriptures. The American preacher Warren Kendler said: “He that harbors any doubts in our faith and who strives to twist it is doing the devil’s work.” Those of the Protestants and sectarians who have lost the remaining vestiges of their own faith and endeavor to spread their bankrupt belief among their neighbors indeed do “the devil’s work.” And we should recall the words of Christ the Savior which He spoke to the woman whom He had healed of an issue of blood: “Daughter, be of good comfort, thy faith hath made thee whole” (Mt. 9:22).

A translation of On the Veneration of the Holy Relics and Remains of the Saints, by Archpriest Vasily Demidov, (Jordanville: St. Job of Pochaev Press, 1950). Reprinted in Orthodox Life, Vol. 30, No. 2 (March-April 1980), pp. 23-33.