#80 Why Relics? (Featuring Andrew Boyd, OCA Youth and Young Adult Ministries Director)
Why are relics so important in the Church? Saints are sanctified in both body and soul, and in Scripture we see how their bodies continue to be temples of the Holy Spirit even after death. The relics of the martyrs are especially important, from early liturgies in the catacombs to their place in altars today.
1) Why do we keep relics?
2) Is it okay to keep relics with us?
3) Why do we venerate relics?
4) Why is it a sin to commit harm to the body?
Hey everybody this is Steve, and we're going on a field trip. I'm with my friend Andrew Boyd, director of Youth and Young Adult ministries for the Orthodox Church in America. And we're driving to the OCA's chancery out on Long Island. We're going to celebrate Liturgy for the After-feast of the Elevation of the Cross. And while we're at the chapel, we'll have a chance to venerate some amazing relics. "If you've ever been in an Orthodox Church and missed all the icons and the incense, you may have seen one these little boxes. These boxes contain relics. They're physical remains of the saint." These relics may be actual pieces of a saint's body, like bits of bone. Or they may be clothes or vestments or other things that they used or wore during their earthly lives. And our veneration of relics really confuses a lot of people, even including some Orthodox. I mean, for a Church that talks so much about eternal life, it seems like we keep an awful lot of dead things around doesn't it? "But that's the thing. Relics aren't about death, they're about life." We should remember that Christian spirituality doesn't ignore the physical world, our bodies are important. And physical stuff is important.
As Saint Justin Popovic wrote, "In the God-Man, the Lord Christ, and His Body, all matter had been set on a path towards Christ. The path of deification, transfiguration, sanctification, resurrection, and ascent to an eternal glory surpassing that of the Cherubim." "In Christ, simple matter shares in the life of God and can be a way for us to share in His life as well. And we have some pretty amazing examples of this in Scripture." For example, in Acts, Chapter 19, we read that when people gave the sick handkerchiefs and aprons that Saint Paul had simply touched, their illnesses were cured and the demons they had were cast out. And in Acts, Chapter 5, we read about how people would lay the sick out in the streets so that when Saint Peter would pass by, his shadow would pass over the sick and heal them. If we go back to the Gospels, we read about how a woman who's suffered from a flow of blood for 12 whole year just touched the edge of Christ's robe, and was healed. Even in the Old Testament. In the second book of Kings, Chapter 13, we read about how a man was buried in the same tomb as the great Prophet Elisha. When his body touched the Prophet's bones, he instantly came back to life. From the very beginning, Christians have treated relics with the greatest respect. For instance, they gathered the nails that were used to crucify Christ and the shroud He was buried in. And later, they collected the belt that the Theotokos wore during her life.
As the Church began to be persecuted, as people began to accept death rather than deny the Lord, Christians began gathering the remains of the Martyrs. In fact, early Christians used to celebrate the Divine Liturgy on the very graves of those Martyrs. You've probably heard about how early Christians used to meet in the catacombs, and underground tunnels where the dead were buried, under cities like Rome. This wasn't simply to hide from the persecution they were enduring, it was because the people who buried in the catacombs, were still members of the Church. So Christians celebrated the Liturgy and received Holy Communion over the graves of their brothers and sisters in Christ.
Our faith ultimately rests on the belief that Christ has defeated death. And that we have no reason to fear death anymore. "And the Martyrs are the greatest witnesses of that. Not simply because they didn't fear death, but because they are still alive in Christ. Every Compline, which is the evening service we pray after dinner and before bed, we proclaim that the Church is adorned by the blood of the Martyrs. Like the royal purple robe of a king. To this day, when new Church buildings are consecrated, the relics of Martyrs are placed in the Altar. So that even now, just like in the catacombs, every Liturgy is grounded on the truth of the Resurrection, and sanctification of all. We honor relics because Christ is Risen. We honor relics because the saints are sanctified in both body and soul. Because not ever death can stop the bodies of the saints from being the living temples of the Holy Spirit. When we honor relics, when we kiss them and use them as part of our prayer, we aren't simply remembering people who died long ago.
We're communing with people who remain alive in Christ. "We aren't remembering the past, but we're experiencing in the present a taste of God's Kingdom, and the reality of Christ's triumph over death. And we see that especially in situations that are hard to understand and to explain." For instance, I've been blessed to venerate the relics of Saint Demetrios the Martyr in Thessaloniki. His relics stream this incredibly fragrant myrrh. I've been blessed to venerate the hand of St. Mary Magdalene on Mount Athos, which somehow remains warm, like a living hand. I've been blessed to venerate a tiny relic of Saint Emilianos, which radiates this smell that is so powerful and so otherworldly, so beyond anything I've ever smelled before, that the first time I encountered it, it literally almost knocked me out. This all seems as supernatural, in a world that still seems under the grip of sin and death, but it's all perfectly natural if we remember that death has been defeated. That Christ is Risen.
Here at the OCA's chapel, I am blessed to venerate the relics of amazing saints, like Saint Seraphim of Sarov, as well as the relics of saints who were crucial to the growth of the Church in America, like Saint Herman of Alaska, St. Innocent, and Saint Raphael of Brooklyn which is super cool because I live in Brooklyn. Relics are an incredible part of the inheritance we've received in our union with Christ. They're a beautiful way we receive God's grace and a living reminder that nothing is powerful enough to overcome God's love, not even death. So let's be the bee, and venerate the relics of the saints who alive in Christ. "Be the Bee and live Orthodoxy." Remember to like and subscribe and share. "He'll see you all next week."
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